March 22, 2002

Everton Matambanadzo - updated biography

FULL NAME: Everton Matambanadzo
BORN: 13 April 1976, Salisbury (now Harare)
MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland Under-24/Young Mashonaland (1993/94-1995/96), Mashonaland (1996/97-2000/01). Most recent club side: Universals
KNOWN AS: Everton Matambanadzo
BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Fast Medium
OCCUPATION: Former professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Mashonaland Under-24 v Mashonaland, at Harare Sports Club, 11 February 1994
TEST DEBUT: Second Test v Pakistan, at Faisalabad, 1996/97
ODI DEBUT: 3 November 1996, v Pakistan, at Peshawar

BIOGRAPHY (updated March 2002)

Everton Matambanadzo was an example of Zimbabwe's ability to take promising young cricketers almost out of nowhere, and pitch them into international cricket, with success. Strictly speaking, he did not come from nowhere, as he had been regarded as a promising player for several seasons, but certainly at the end of the 1995/96 season nobody thought his international debut was imminent.

Sadly, he was to fade away in his early twenties, and became an example instead of how Zimbabwe often loses talented players while still in their prime. Unable quite to regain his best form, he missed selection for several seasons and has now married and emigrated to the United States; it seems he has been lost to cricket at the age of 25.

Everton is a twin, about five minutes younger than his brother Darlington. For years their careers had run almost parallel courses, with perhaps Darlington being considered as the more promising of the two to start with. They are not identical, which is a relief for scorers, spectators and reporters: most noticeably, Everton is taller, has the darker complexion of the two and prefers to wear a West-Indian maroon cap on the field. They have no cricketing background at home, which makes their rise to prominence more surprising and commendable.

Although they are quite happy to be twins and enjoy each other's company, they are independent enough to choose their individual paths at times. Darlington was first attracted to cricket early in junior school - they attended Sharon School, in Harare - while Everton's primary interest at that time was in swimming. Nevertheless he did play, although he did not even bowl until he went to high school at Eaglesvale. He was actually Sharon's wicketkeeper for two years, having volunteered when there was no obvious candidate for the job. His brother, however, vouches for the high quality of his keeping.

When they arrived at Eaglesvale, Darlington found himself the only real pace bowler among the Form Ones, and it was then that Everton was successfully encouraged to try out his arm. They did nothing outstanding in their Under-13 or early Under-14 years, being content to enjoy the game without a great deal of determination or discipline. The turning point came when Mr Iain (`Poll') Campbell, of Lilfordia School and father of the former Zimbabwe captain Alistair, watched them play a match at Eaglesvale, recognised their potential and took the trouble to chat with them, give them hints, and encourage them to take the game more seriously.

Everton began to work harder at his bowling now, increased his pace and began to take more wickets. He did not receive representative honours at school as early as Darlington, though, and it was not until his final two years that he made a representative side, when both brothers were selected for the national schools team to attend the cricket week in South Africa. Everton enjoyed considerable success, although the first week provided him with perhaps his worst moment in cricket when, in a match against Northern Transvaal, he dropped a vital catch in the final overs of the match, which may have cost his team victory.

By now, Darlington was a batsman who could bowl, while Everton considered himself simply as a bowler. At school he recalls taking six for 20 against Watershed, a performance that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and seven for 14 against Lomagundi College. He was encouraged, though, by Mr Barry Lake, the Eaglesvale coach, also to take his batting more seriously.

The brothers were already playing first-class cricket; in 1993/94, the Logan Cup's first season as a first-class competition, Darlington was selected for the first match played by Grant Flower's Mashonaland Under-24 team, while Everton joined him a match later, to play against the senior Mashonaland side. His bowling was still very wild and woolly at times, but he was fatally underestimated by some of the senior players. Mark Burmester and David Brain both fell to superb yorkers, while Andy Flower chased a very wide ball to be caught in the covers. He took five wickets in the match, and added another three in the next match, against Mashonaland Country Districts, where he also completed a fine batting double of 32 not out and 17. Both innings were vital to the result of the match, and his team would probably have lost without them.

This earned him selection for the Zimbabwe B team to play against the touring English county Worcestershire, although it must be admitted that this team was not at full strength. He did not do particularly well, but it did show that the selectors had already earmarked him as a player for the future.

Everton admits that he found the first year after leaving school and starting at the University very hard. He eventually completed a three-year course in business studies, and for much of his time he found it difficult to adjust to the change of life-style and at the same time keep in good practice at cricket. He and Darlington, also at the university studying economics, tried to revive the university cricket club, but without making much progress. For two seasons, both played first-class cricket irregularly, with little real success, and hopes for a bright future for the two of them began to fade. People were asking what had happened to the Matambanadzo brothers, if they thought to ask at all.

Things changed for Everton during the Zimbabwean winter of 1996. Having adjusted to university life, he now decided it was time to get working on his cricket again in a big way. Darlington, who was taking a more difficult and time-consuming course, was not able to join him for much of the time. Everton spent most of the winter in the gym, getting himself fully fit, and also bowled at the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy nets, four days a week and twice a day. As he kept practising, he found he was improving noticeably, and was also able to bowl for much longer spells than he had previously. In the opening match of the season, against the touring Western Province side, his results did not set the world on fire, but the improvement in his pace, accuracy and stamina was fully evident.

One day, as he was at the nets, the newly appointed Zimbabwean captain Alistair Campbell told him that he would be going to Pakistan with the national side. Everton thought at first that this would be purely to help out as a net bowler, and was stunned to find himself as a full member of the team. The injury to Heath Streak and unavailability of Eddo Brandes had given him an unexpected chance. He walked around in a daze for the next couple of weeks, unable to believe in his quick promotion. Even now, he did not expect to be selected to play in a Test or one-day international.

He enjoyed Pakistan, once he had adjusted to a very different country. He found the people there very friendly, and was impressed by their love for the game. Then Henry Olonga broke down with a groin injury, and Everton unexpectedly found himself chosen for the Second Test. Again, he felt stunned, and it took a long time to sink in. He found himself shaking with nerves on the morning of the match, but felt better once he was actually called upon to bowl. Although he was not as accurate as he would have liked, he felt happy with his first spell in Test cricket. He particularly remembers his first wicket: it was an inswinger to the left-handed Aamer Sohail, who played back and was trapped lbw. Later on he also dismissed the other opener Saeed Anwar, but not before he had scored 81.

With the return of Streak, Brandes and Olonga, Everton did not get the chance to play for the full national team on the England tour of 1996/97. His opportunities were inevitably going to be restricted, as there was an unprecedented number of quality pace bowlers all clamouring for selection. He played in only one match of the triangular series in South Africa, in which he was most expensive, but had better fortune in Sharjah. Playing regularly, he opened the bowling with Eddo Brandes and in three matches out of four took at least one early wicket.

Unfortunately, he trained rather too hard during the winter of 1997 and ended up developing shin soreness. This was to frustrate him during the New Zealand tour. He played in the Bulawayo Test, although probably only due to the absence through injury of Eddo Brandes, but had lost his rhythm and accuracy. He was not selected for any of the one-day matches, but made the trip to Kenya. On unsuitable pitches, he played in the first match, taking an early wicket as he so often does, but was expensive and was not picked again.

He toured Sri Lanka and New Zealand with the national side, but without success. The team was overloaded with pace bowlers on the slow pitches of Sri Lanka, and he only played in a single one-day warm-up match. Then in New Zealand, before he had time to play at all, he fell and dislocated a shoulder during fielding practice and had to return home. This put an end to his season.

As soon as he could, he began bowling again, but found it most painful. He visited a specialist in May 1998, and was given manipulation and a steroid injection, which helped to solve the problem, if slowly. He had his first net in August, and found he could now bowl without pain, but was unable to throw.

He played throughout the next season, although he was never fully fit, the injury affecting his throwing more than his bowling. He felt his bowling was coming together well, although he was still holding back a little. Under the circumstances he did not try to develop any new bowling skills but simply concentrated on regaining his rhythm and bowling line and length. In club cricket he captained Universals in the absence of Alistair Campbell and even opened the batting, as that area of his game was improving.

He won a place on the tour of Pakistan in 1998/99, but without playing in a Test match. But then things seemed to start turning for the better again. He feels that a visit to the Australian Academy in August 1999 was the turning point.

"I learnt a lot there, and since then my game started turning around," he said. "I had been struggling with injuries since 1997. But I was given a programme in Australia that I pretty well keep to now. It focuses more on cardio-vascular and suppleness, which I find has helped me a lot. The suppleness has helped me to stay injury-free - touch wood! - for the longest time in the last three years. The cardio-vascular has helped me to perform consistently in games, which I need to get back into the team. Last season I was bowling well and I got a Test match against Sri Lanka; I didn't do particularly well, but I didn't bowl badly."

It was very disappointing for him that this was his only chance, and as it turned out his last chance at full international level. At the end of the season he bowled well for Zimbabwe A in the Emerging Nations tournament held in Harare, but that was too late for selection for the tour of England. He did tour Sri Lanka with Zimbabwe A, no doubt hopeful that a good performance would lead to late selection for England, but after bowling well on unhelpful pitches he injured a knee after the first unofficial Test and did not play again.

He never really regained his best form the following season, although the selectors never wrote him off, and during the Logan Cup competition he was appointed captain of Mashonaland A. Then, in 2002, came the news, not widely publicized, that he had emigrated and was probably lost to Zimbabwe cricket. They could ill afford his loss.

Past tributes to Everton Matambanadzo:

Dave Houghton: "Everton has good potential and bowls quick. He is getting better with every season and he's still only young. Hopefully he will play a major part in our Test attack, as with Eddo out he should be in the reckoning to play. I would love to give him a run out against the New Zealanders in his own country."

Andy Flower: "Everton has a huge heart and he works really hard at his game. Because of that, he has earned a contract with the Zimbabwe cricket now and I think is pretty sure in the absence of Eddo Brandes to play in the coming Test series. I think that because of his attitude and his heart, he will be a success. In the past he has shown that he can bowl well, although he has had problems with his accuracy and that is primarily why he was not a regular. He's quick enough and he swings the ball, but he's not always accurate enough to bowl sustained spells."

Alistair Campbell: "Everton had a really good season last year; this season he missed the First Test through injury, but bowled in the Second without much success, on a flat wicket not conducive to pace bowling. He is very much a rhythm bowler; he has a rather unorthodox action and therefore has to rely on getting his rhythm right to bowl well. During the last couple of weeks he has been working really hard and has got it right. He should be one of the contenders for the Sri Lankan tour, and if Eddo Brandes isn't fit he will be one of our strike bowlers."

Guy Whittall: "He's a great man, a really funny guy. He has a good outswinger and is becoming quicker. He just needs a bit more experience and coaching to become one of our top bowlers."