David Mutendera - updated biography

John Ward

March 15, 2002

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FULL NAME: David Travolta Mutendera
BORN: 25 January 1979, at Highfield (Harare)
MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland A. Present club team: Universals
KNOWN AS: David Mutendera. Nicknames: Diva; Curtley (as in Ambrose, from his height); Courteney (from his admiration for Courteney Walsh)
BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Fast Medium
OCCUPATION: Professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe Cricket Academy v Australian Cricket Academy, at Alexandra Sports Club, Harare; 27 March 1999
TEST DEBUT: Zimbabwe v New Zealand, at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo; 12-16 September 2000
ODI DEBUT: Zimbabwe v Kenya, at Nairobi, 25 September 1999

BIOGRAPHY (updated March 2002)

For more than twenty years now the Zimbabwe Cricket Union has been promoting cricket in the black townships of Harare. Certain critics, ignorant of how long it takes to develop quality cricketers with no home or cultural background in the sport, have for a long time made cynical comments about the motives of those responsible for it.

It took almost the full twenty years for the first development cricketer to break through to the Zimbabwe national side, paving the way for many more to follow in years to come. The man in question was pace bowler David Mutendera, who made his international debut in the one-day series in Kenya in 1999/2000.

David was born in 1979, the year before independence, in the Harare high-density suburb of Highfield, although he grew up in neighbouring Glen Norah, one of the first high-density areas earmarked by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union for development. He went to Shiriyedenga Primary School and followed his elder brother into the game there in Grade 6, when his coach was Richard Munjoma. He began as a wicket-keeper, a natural follow-up for one who was a goal-keeper in soccer, but gradually switched over to bowling in his second year. All of his early cricket was played on the concrete pitches built to give an early start to the game in areas where cricket had never ventured before.

David's talent soon became evident. He did well in local matches against other schools also in the development scheme and was selected after only one year of cricket as a member of the Harare South team to play in the national primary schools cricket week; in his next year he captained the side. He was by now primarily a fast bowler, quick for his age, who could also bat usefully. It was his good fortune that his parents sacrificed a great deal to send him to Prince Edward High School, always a stronghold of cricket, again following his brother, who regrettably gave up the game after Form Four. By the time David reached the Sixth Form, though, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union had taken such an interest in him that they awarded him a scholarship for his last two years at high school. He lived 15 kilometres from the school and had to commute there each day.

He won a place in the national Under-15 team and went on his first tour with that side, to the South African Under-15 cricket week in Bloemfontein. He missed the Under-18 side the following year, but was a member the following two seasons. For much of his time at Prince Edward he played as an all-rounder, batting in the middle order with a highest score of 92 not out against St John's. He also scored 52 against Western Province at Grahamstown in his final Under-18 Week. Later, however, he decided to concentrate more on his bowling. In his final year he captained the side. His best bowling performance was a seven-wicket haul, including a hat-trick, against the strong St George's College team.

The next steps were the national Under-19 team to South Africa for their cricket week, and then to England in 1997. In England he played in two of the three unofficial Tests against the home country's Under-19 side, which included such players as Andy Flintoff, Chris Read, Graeme Swann and Paul Franks. He has fond memories of Canterbury, where in the final match of the series he took for wickets for 51 in the first innings.

The following home season he played in the Under-19 World Cup tournament held in South Africa, and took five cheap wickets against Papua-New Guinea in an overwhelming Zimbabwean victory. However, he rated much more highly his spell of 10 overs for 13 runs without taking a wicket against Sri Lanka, when he bowled as quickly and accurately as he had ever done.

While still at Prince Edward he began playing club cricket, at first for the school's Old Boys association, Old Hararians. Living so far from the school, though, he found transport difficult, and the following season he was happy to switch to Universals, as he had friends able to help him with transport to that club, which is much closer to Glen Norah. He has played for Universals ever since then.

David names Richard Munjoma and `Bunny' Brereton, his Under-15 coach at Prince Edward, as important influences in his early career, but believes that it was his time with Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Bowling Foundation in Madras that really transformed his career. His bowling action used to be very much a slinging one, but Lillee made him get his arm high and worked on his run-up and follow-through; even more important, though, was the encouragement he received to believe in himself and realize his own potential. He returned home a changed bowler, he states.

He finished the 1997/98 season in the Zimbabwe Board team which played against the B sides of South African provinces. He then went on a scholarship to the Plascon Academy in South Africa, but unfortunately a season with a heavy workload had taken its toll of his back. The ligaments in his lower back became inflamed, and he had to return home from Plascon after three weeks. This injury cost him ten months' cricket and put him out of most of the 1998/99 season just as people were beginning to look at him as a future international player.

He came back gradually and was offered a place in the first intake of the new Zimbabwe Cricket Academy. He was still unable to bowl at full pace, but was selected for the Academy's first match, against the visiting Australian Cricket Academy team. The local team was overwhelmed, but David was able to take three wickets in the match, his only first-class match before making his one-day international debut.

In 1999 he had another and much more successful spell for four months at the Plascon Academy. He began slowly, aware of his recent injury, but then improved. He gained particular benefit from the physical fitness side that helped to strengthen his body. After finishing his year at the CFX Academy he completed his contract with two years in Kwekwe, playing for Midlands.

After two impressive club games at the start of the 1999/2000 season, the Zimbabwean selectors pounced on their man, selecting him for the quadrangular tournament in Kenya. He admits he had not done much to be selected for the tour itself, but had doubtless been selected mainly for his past performances and potential, as well as the good report he had received at Plascon.

David enjoyed the tour, where he was made to feel very much at home by his team-mates, who were still mostly white. He opened the bowling in the first match against Kenya, when he remembers the great support and encouragement he had from his opening partner Neil Johnson in particular and indeed the whole team. He soon learned, though, that in inter-national cricket there is a very small margin for error, which was brought home to him in the match against South Africa, where Lance Klusener devastated the Zimbabwean attack for a dynamic century on a flat batting pitch. He found Klusener was able to punish even his good balls, and conceded 26 runs in his four-over opening spell, as did Johnson, despite winning credit for using the new ball well.

Neil Johnson sadly left Zimbabwe with a reputation as a selfish player who was a poor team man, but David has seen the better side of him. "He was the one who used to give me a lot of help with my bowling," he says. "He was a big encouragement in the team, and if we were playing in a match he used to be behind my back all the way, saying, `Come on, Dave, let's do this or that.' Even in my batting he was a big help."

Despite his failure to take a wicket, David was pleased with his tour, and clearly others were too, as he was selected in the twelve for the Test match against the Australians. The expectation was, though, that should all players remain fit he would be twelfth man, which would nevertheless be an invaluable experience for one who can hope for a long and successful international career in the future.

At the end of the 1999/2000 season, David was selected to tour Sri Lanka with the Zimbabwe A team. The pitches did not suit his bowling, but he earned valuable lessons. The next season began with the tour by New Zealand, and there were big holes in the Zimbabwe side with the departure of Murray Goodwin and all-rounder Neil Johnson. It was then that David made his unfortunately controversial Test debut, after being named in the twelve for the First Test in Bulawayo.

At the team meeting on the eve of the Test, coach Kevin Curran announced the eleven to play in the Test the following day, with David as twelfth man. The senior players firmly believed that political interference then brought about the replacement of Craig Wishart with David, and vice-captain Guy Whittall was so incensed that he refused to play on a matter of principle. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union, for their part, insist that this was merely a misunderstanding and that the twelfth man had not actually been named. The first David knew of the change was the following morning at the hotel, when he received a call from Curran telling him that the selectors wanted him to play.

Taken by surprise, David admits that he was not mentally prepared, but he says, "I just put that behind my back before the match and just concentrated on the game. I think I did all right; I didn't get wickets but I bowled well, and I was economical." His figures were 14-4-29-0 in the first innings and he did not bowl in the second. "It's a pity I didn't get another chance, but if I get another chance I feel I can improve on these."

David, it seemed, was not yet ready for Test cricket and has not yet been selected again, though he has played in more one-day internationals, making a current total of nine. He has taken nine wickets at 37, conceding just over five runs an over, although these are boosted by six wickets in three matches against the weak Bangladesh team.

He continued to play regularly for the Zimbabwe Board XI in the UCBSA Bowl competition, and feels that it was his success here that led to his recall against Bangladesh. But he only played in one unsuccessful match against India in the triangular tournament, despite some impressive bowling in warm-up matches against both India and West Indies. Against India he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar twice, for 11 and 33; against the West Indians, playing for the ZCU President's XI, he opened with a sensational spell in which he dismissed both openers, Garrick and the prolific Gayle, without scoring. His lack of consistency told against him, perhaps, as he would often bowl superbly in one spell, but then look quite innocuous when he returned later, as he did in that match. He spent much of that winter's cricket doing twelfth-man duties for the national side.

In 2001/02 he began with the tour to Kenya with Zimbabwe A, but without much success, and only played two matches in the Bowl competition. He remained positive, though, and felt that he was regaining his form. He accepts that he has to continue to work hard to renew his challenge for a place in the national side.

David is six foot four inches tall and his main asset is the lift he can extract from a good length off the pitch, using his height well. His stock delivery is the off-cutter, although he can also bowl the ball that moves the other way. He knows he cannot bowl as quickly as many people expect, looking at his strong build, and needs to rely on other weapons.

"I need to be more consistent in my pace," he says. "I've got the advantage of height and can make the ball bounce off a good length, when I remember to bowl over the top. That's one thing I need to work on, and I know the fault is that I tend to fall over in my action, and I need to practise that all the time."

He realizes that it can be fatal to experiment in one-day cricket, and with 50-over club matches predominant in Zimbabwe he does not have much freedom to try out new developments in the middle. His one-day philosophy, quickly learned, is to let the batsman make the mistakes by bowling a tight line and length and maintaining the pressure; he names Adam Dale of Australia as a bowler who is an example worth copying in one-day cricket. His batting ability is still evident, and the likelihood is that he will, given time and experience, develop into a very useful all-round player.

David emphasized again his commitment to hard work as a vital part of his career. "I want to be selected again to play Test cricket or play in the one-dayers," he says. "All I have to do is work hard and see what happens, if the selectors have faith in me. I'm ready to go. There's nothing else for a cricketer but to play for his country in Tests or one-day internationals. Those are my goals and that's why I'm here at the gym, working hard every day. I can't afford to take a day off or relax because there's always competition. If you're going to play at the top level you've got to be prepared, you've got to be fit, you've got to be mentally fit as well. You've got to be raring to go, every day of your life, ready to fight, and I think any day if I'm called up to play for my national team I'll be there to do it."

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