April 4, 2003

Biography: Craig Evans

FULL NAME: Craig Neil Evans
BORN: 29 November 1969, Salisbury (now Harare)
MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland Under-24 (1993/94), Mashonaland (since 1994/95).
Present club team: Old Georgians (Harare).
KNOWN AS: Craig Evans. Nicknames: Moggy, Magoo.
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Medium Pace
OCCUPATION: Tobacco auctioneer
FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe B v Pakistan B, at Harare South Country Club, 3 October 1990
TEST DEBUT: First Test v Sri Lanka, at Colombo, 1996/97
ODI DEBUT: 25 October 1992, v India, at Harare

BIOGRAPHY (updated March 2003)

Craig Evans has in the past been one of Zimbabwe's most frustrating cricketers. Although abounding in natural talent, in the past he often appeared not to take the game seriously enough and to waste the opportunities he had.

Craig himself admits that in the past he lacked full commitment to the game, but in his late twenties his priorities changed. He achieved his aim of a regular place in the national one-day team, although his hopes of becoming an established Test player remain unfulfilled. Then, in his thirties, he became a major force in Zimbabwe domestic cricket as he applied himself as never before to success in the game.

Craig, like so many of the country's other top cricketers, attended Ruzawi School and Falcon College. The Ruzawi headmaster, Bryan Curtis, was his first major formal influence, but he also had much encouragement from his father on the family farm near Harare. His first century, he thinks, was scored for Ruzawi against St John's School in Harare when he was about ten years of age.

Representing the Districts in the primary schools cricket week in his final year at Ruzawi, Craig opened the batting and scored three centuries in five days. Unfortunately for him, in those days there was no official national primary schools team. He considers himself to have been mainly a batsman, but as a pace bowler his peers found him frighteningly fast. Tall and well-built, he was much quicker than any other junior school player at that time, but he admits that he did not always fully apply himself or try his hardest.

At Falcon College, he usually batted at Number 3 or 4 and opened the bowling, and was selected for the first team at the age of 15. They went on a tour to Australia, which was Craig's first experience of top-level cricket outside the local scene. Throughout his school years he and Glen Bruk-Jackson played together and shared many excellent batting partnerships; there was a degree of rivalry between them, but Craig also felt Glen to be an encouragement to him, one who helped to give him confidence. Although in the national schools team, Craig felt that Zimbabwe's comparative isolation in those days before the granting of Test status and the reinstatement of South Africa was a handicap to himself and his contemporaries, depriving them of a vital part of their cricketing education and experience.

Craig was already playing in the Mashonaland Country Districts Winter Cricket League, for Enterprise, under the captaincy of Roger Staunton, who also gave him much help and encouragement. Later on he moved to Ruwa, as his father moved farms, and played for the Goromonzi team. Craig's highest score in any class of cricket is 253, playing for Goromonzi now against Shamva in the semi-final of the Lilthurbridge Cup competition in 1997. This broke the league record of 245, set by Kevin Arnott. Craig still plays winter cricket, liking to keep in touch all year round. In 1997 he scored five centuries, including his 253, and also 151 against Glendale in the victorious final.

On leaving high school and moving to Harare, Craig joined Old Georgians Sports Club. The captain at that time, Kevin Murphy, wanted him to concentrate on his batting, and Craig found his bowling losing pace and rhythm. He has never again approached the speed, comparatively speaking, at which he bowled during his school years, but he began to work harder at his bowling again to assist him in his efforts to cement his place in Zimbabwe's one-day team.

During that Zimbabwean winter, he decided to get some experience overseas in England, and played for the Lancashire club Widnes for six months. He averaged 60 with the bat and took some good wickets, enjoying the experience, but found the English pitches much slower than those at home and took a while adjusting on his return. He was temporarily dropped to the second team at Old Georgians, but responded with an innings of 175 not out, which regained him his place. His job in the tobacco industry has since prevented him from returning to English cricket.

He felt that the 1996/97 season was an above average season for him; he kept his place in the one-day team almost throughout and enjoyed a good triangular series in South Africa. The highlights were innings of 40 and 43, both against India, the latter being scored in a vital partnership with Paul Strang and leading eventually to a thrilling Zimbabwean victory. He opted out of the visit to Sharjah, staying at home for the birth of his son. He felt that he matured further as a cricketer during the season and finished as a better player. He was now thinking more like a cricketer and playing straighter.

He did play one Test match, on the tour to Sri Lanka, but without success. His aim was to earn a Test place batting at number 6 or 7, as a batsman who can also bowl, but realized that there was more work to be done first. He names Muttiah Muralitharan and Wasim Akram as the most difficult bowlers he has ever faced in his career, and also mentions Saqlain Mushtaq; "Streaky [Heath Streak] can also be quite difficult to face on his day," he adds.

As a bowler he found the Australians most difficult to bowl to, naming Michael Bevan and also Sachin Tendulkar as very tough opponents. "Andy Flower is a nightmare to bowl at times when he gets in," he adds. "He works you to both sides of the wicket; my good balls used to go for one, while when I bowl to other guys I just get left alone."

He kept up his reputation as a one-day specialist into the 1997/98 season, but did little with the bat in nine matches, until he played a valuable innings of 48 not out in the second final against Kenya. He took some useful wickets at times, especially against New Zealand at home, but then lost his rhythm, and realized that his place was in danger unless he could perform with more consistency.

He did not find that consistency immediately, playing just one good innings in the rest of the season, 46 off 34 balls against India in Baroda as Zimbabwe chased a target of 275 bravely but in vain. His bowling improved against Pakistan and helped to keep his place in the side, and he feels he bowled better than he batted in India. He now had a reputation, though, as a batsman who might fail nine times out of ten but was liable to play a devastating innings the tenth time round. Unfortunately the following season was to see the absence of that tenth innings.

He felt he was finding his best batting form again against India at home, with one-day innings of 34, 17 and 31 at an ever-increasing strike rate. He also played another Test match, but only because several first-choice players were injured, and was sadly the only player in the team who failed to make a significant contribution to the victory over India. It seems unlikely he will play Test cricket again.

In Sharjah he took three wickets for 11 runs, a remarkable one-day return, against Sri Lanka, but failed with the bat. After a few further failures with the bat in Sharjah and Pakistan the selectors decided to look elsewhere. To his disappointment Craig was left out of the Bangladesh tournament and also the World Cup.

He was rather puzzled by his own failures as he felt confident going out to bat, yet failed to produce the goods. He admitted that his bowling too was not as consistent as it should have been and realized that once again he would have to work harder at his game to fight his way back. He was given another chance in Singapore at the start of the 1999/2000 season, his selection owing a lot to the fact that the matches would be played on a small ground where his ability to hit sixes would be of extra value. But, with scores of 2 and 0, he failed to reach the boundary at all and was again omitted when he returned.

Many players would have called it a day, especially at the age of 30, but Craig was enjoying the game and never gave up hope of a return to the national team. He set his sights on playing in the World Cup of 2002/03, and drew attention to himself for setting out his stall for big scores in the Logan Cup competition.

In early 2000, playing for Mashonaland against Matabeleland at Bulawayo Athletic Club, he hit what was then the highest first-class score of his career, 153. His partnership of 330 with Dirk Viljoen was the highest for any wicket ever recorded in Zimbabwean first-class cricket. He followed it up with four wickets for five runs as Matabeleland gave up the ghost.

He had a quiet time the following season, but in 2001/02, the season before the World Cup, his determination brought him his best season ever. He missed one Logan Cup match through selection for the Zimbabwean development side that played in the Africa Cup, but in each of the other four matches he hit a century.

His greatest match began on 1 March in Mutare, as Mashonaland played Manicaland. Mashonaland, overconfident, were brought up short as Manicaland amassed 513 for nine declared, with Guy Whittall recording a double-century. Mashonaland subsided to 226 all out, and it seemed the champions were about to be subjected to a humiliating defeat.

In the second innings they had lost four wickets for 101, still 186 behind, when Craig arrived at the crease. Playing with a remarkable mixture of aggression and discipline, he stayed there over six hours while hitting 210, including 33 fours but only one six as he concentrated on keeping the ball on the ground. His game plan, as he said later, was simply to keep out the good balls and wait for the bad deliveries that he knew would come from an attack variable in quality. Manicaland, set 220 to win, collapsed as Craig came on with the ball and he took six wickets for 37 with teasing slow-medium seamers.

Mashonaland thus won an astonishing victory by 73 runs, thanks mainly to Craig's astounding all-round performance. He is one of the few individuals with a significant career to have recorded their best batting and bowling performances in the same match.

At the end of that season Craig said, "I think this has probably been my best season ever. I think I've matured as a player in the longer game, and I hope I can build on that for whatever cricket I may play from now on.

"I think I'm a lot more circumspect nowadays in choosing what balls I should be playing and what I shouldn't be playing. Over the last four or five years I've been playing too often at balls I shouldn't have played, and got out. It's simple, basic cricket that I'm playing now - time at the crease, occupation of the crease - and I think that's why I've scored the runs I have this season. I think my concentration has been more circumspect recently, and that has helped me a lot this season."

Another century at the start of the 2002/03 season finally persuaded the selectors that Craig deserved another try at international level. At the age of almost 33, he made his return to the one-day side against the touring Pakistan team.

In the first one-day international Pakistan ran up 302 for four and Zimbabwe were reeling at 32 for four when Craig came to the wicket. Beginning cautiously, he dug in and then began to bat more aggressively in partnership with Andy Flower. The pair added 135 together and given Zimbabwe hope of a remarkable victory when a tragic mix-up led to Craig being run out.

Then the dream faded. Three failures followed, and the selectors, ignoring the quality of that innings, dropped him again without giving him a chance to show what he could do against Kenya. Craig missed the final World Cup cut, and that will probably end his career in international cricket.

Golf has been the main rival for Craig's affections, and he has been rated as the best amateur golfer in the country, playing off scratch. "You need to practise to stay in the golf camp," says Craig, "and you can't really play cricket when you're playing golf, and you can't play golf when you're playing cricket. There are two different styles of play: golf using the right hand and cricket using the left hand. When I was playing a lot of golf, I wasn't totally committed to cricket. The golf took up a lot of my time when I should have been concentrating on cricket, so my cricket fell behind quite a long way. But during these last two years [said in 1997] I've started to catch up now, virtually starting all over again. If I had concentrated more on cricket and left my golf for a while, I would have been all right." It is, in fact, the greatest regret of his career that he did not concentrate exclusively on cricket from the start, as his development has been retarded as a result.

As a big hitter and a bowler who can turn his arm over usefully for a few overs, Craig fits the image more of a one-day cricketer rather than a Test player. He is a very powerful hitter, and against the visiting county Northamptonshire in 1994/95 hit a ball at Harare Sports Club over the swimming pool and full on to the roof of the squash courts, a remarkable carry. In a Vigne Cup (Mashonaland league) semi-final in 1998/99 he scored a remarkable 159 not out against an admittedly weak Alexandra Sports Club bowling attack. He reached his century off 87 balls, and took only another 12 deliveries to reach 150, hitting altogether 11 fours and 9 sixes off 105 balls. A gigantic six off Sean Davies not only went out of the ground, but also cleared the tall trees on the edge of the ground and a private house on the far side.

He is essentially a straight hitter who plays down the line and is not afraid to hit over the top. Because of his experience opening the innings, he has at times been asked to do so in one-day internationals, but with little success. "My technique and defence against the quicker bowlers is not really up to scratch," he admits, which is part of the reason also why he has rarely been considered for Tests. "But I have been working on it over the last couple of years, and it's a little better. But it's got to be a hell of a lot better when you're playing in this kind of league! My foot movement is not great, and I'm looking to improve that over the next couple of years. Facing the likes of Heath Streak, Henry Olonga and Eddo Brandes in the nets, you can't help but get better!"

Craig names Grant Flower, his colleague at Old Georgians, as the man who has helped him the most in his cricket, through both good and lean times, "but I try to do things myself, my own way, which is very wrong." Craig's honest analysis of his own faults and his determination to overcome them helped him to secure a place in the national one-day side for more than two years.

Craig maintains his enthusiasm for club cricket and continues to make good scores and hit big sixes with regularity. If only he had matured earlier as a player and concentrated primarily on cricket, he might have enjoyed a much longer and more prosperous career on the international stage. Even now, it may not be over.