ANDREW WHITTALL -- BIOGRAPHY
Full Name: Andrew Richard Whittall
Born: 28 March 1973, Umtali (now Mutare)
Major teams: Zimbabwe (1996/97- ); Matabeleland (1996/97-); Cambridge University (1993- 1996).
Present club team: Old Miltonians (Bulawayo)
Known as: Andrew/Andy Whittall
Batting Style: Right Hand Bat
Bowling Style: Off Breaks
Occupation: Currently unemployed
Test debut: First Test v Sri Lanka, at Colombo, 1996/97
ODI Debut: 3 September 1996, v Sri Lanka, Colombo
Biography (December 1996)
Andy Whittall has the unusual, but not unique, distinction of representing his country overseas before playing first-class cricket at home. (Peter Rawson, Eddo Brandes and Dan Rowett among others also share this distinction.) But Andy is very much a Zimbabwean, and after a profitable time at Cambridge University has now come home to stay.
He was born in the eastern border town of Umtali, now Mutare, but spent most of his boyhood outside school on Humani Ranch, which is about 120 kilometres from Chiredzi in the Lowveld. He and his cousin Guy, almost a year older, lived together on the ranch which was started by his grandfather and later taken over by his two sons, the respective fathers of Guy and Andy. Andy's grandfather had captained Rugby School at rugby, but decided to hunt in Africa at the age of 18 instead of staying in England and probably playing international rugby. He had just enough money to complete the trip; he then worked on a farm in Borrowdale, Salisbury (now Harare) until he had enough money to buy a ranch in the Lowveld in partnership with another man. Humani is near to the original ranch.
Although Andy's father did not have much interest in cricket himself, he encouraged him and the boys played together a great deal on the ranch. Andy was fortunate in attending schools which fostered his talent for and interest in the game. Living so far from an urban centre, Andy was naturally a boarder at school. His junior school was Ruzawi, a well-known cricketing school, and the headmaster at that time, Bryan Curtis, was a strong influence on Andy's early progress. He found both good coaching and excellent support there, as he did at his high school, Falcon College, near Essexvale (now Esigodeni). He was always an off-spinner, from his early junior school days, but he still feels he did not really get into the game until he was selected for the Fawns, the Zimbabwe Under-15 team, for whom he also opened the batting. During his final two years at Falcon he represented the school's first team and also the Zimbabwe Schools team. The major highlight was the visit of the national schools side to Australia, where he played with such other well-known current players as Heath Streak, Craig Wishart and Stuart Carlisle.
Despite opening the batting for a while, Andy has yet to score a century in any form of cricket, an omission that he will surely correct before long. His highest score, he thinks, was his unbeaten 91 against Oxford University in 1994. Probably his greatest achievement in school cricket was his eight wickets for 11 runs, together with a fifty, in a key match for Falcon against their rivals Plumtree School. He also played hockey and rugby at school. While still at school, Andy played club cricket for Old Miltonians in Bulawayo, the club to which he has now returned. He had nine months to wait between the end of his school career and his departure for England to read an engineering degree at Cambridge University. It was then a further six months before the English cricket season began; he immediately found a place in the University team, with John Crawley as his first captain and Graham Saville the coach. He played as one of two off-spinners in abowling line-up that relied primarily on spin; his batting was hardly considered and he spent the season batting at 10 or even 11. This was a mistake, as shown in the University match: in the Cambridge second innings he hit 40 out of a last-wicket stand of 70, which saved his team from an innings defeat, although they still lost the match. His bowling average of 51, and indeed his bowling figures through most of his career, do not do him justice, but he has spent all his career so far playing for struggling teams.
He found it a big step upwards from schoolboy cricket to playing against professionals, and soon realised the importance of personal discipline if he was going to make the grade. In 1994, Andy was appointed captain of a very weak team, and his own bowling form suffered as he struggled to make his side competitive. However, he did have the satisfaction of saving his team from another defeat in the University match against Oxford. He scored 40 in the first innings, but Cambridge were forced to follow on. An innings defeat looked inevitable, but Andy stood firm and also played some fine aggressive strokes in his unbeaten 91. When time ran out, he and his team were still batting but would undoubtedly have lost without the fighting spirit of their captain. 1995, Andy's second year as captain, was his most successful at Cambridge. His team also did well, and Andy himself said that they constantly surprised by playing above the level expected -- although this did not extend to winning a first-class match. He took 29 wickets in a good personal bowling season, and again his best batting came in adverse circumstances, staving off defeat against Nottinghamshire. However, the University match was lost after Cambridge collapsed in their second innings. In his fourth and final year, Andy decided not to stand for a third year as captain, but continued playing. His figures were disappointing, but he was still highly regarded by English critics. That great character Derek Randall was now the university coach, and Andy particularly benefited from his exceptionally good mental approach to the game, which rubbed off on everyone else, and his ability to help keep the players' spirits up despite the uphill battles that university cricketers have to face throughout every season against county opposition. While at Cambridge, Andy played rugby for his college, Trinity, hockey for the university Under-21 team and also represented the university at the pole vault.
With his university career coming to a successful conclusion, he had to make decisions about his future. He did apply for jobs in London, but his heart was not really in it; he wanted to return to Zimbabwe and continue his cricket career there. Had he stayed in England, he would either have had to take up a full-time engineering job or join a county staff as a professional. However, he could not use his qualifications in Zimbabwe and stay on the ranch; neither Harare nor Bulawayo was his home. After speaking to his cousin Guy, he decided to return to Zimbabwe even without an assured future. He arrived back just in time for some trial matches in preparation for the tour of Sri Lanka, and with a first-class record behind him he was included. He had had experience and exposure, and his success in the trial games won him his place on tour. Although he earned praise for his perseverance on helpful wickets, he again failed to take the wickets he deserved and is not yet in the class of the Sri Lankan spinners or Paul Strang. With the presence in the team of other prominent all-rounders, he batted low in the order, but his batting ability should be encouraged. He has shown in the past that his batting thrives on pressure situations. He played in the First Test in Pakistan, where his figures were badly spoilt by Wasim Akram. Andy still has no regular job, but has the option of employment at the start of February 1997, with Chase Minerals, near Kwekwe. If taken up, it will make it more difficult for him to play quality cricket, but if his career develops he may well be offered a professional contract. Andy is a lover of the outdoors, as befits one brought up on a ranch: he enjoys travelling, going skiing, fishing, and has recently taken up golf for fun. His cricket continues to develop: as a fellow off-spinner, he finds the advice of John Traicos particularly helpful. John has helped him to put more body into his bowling action, and also taught him a great deal about tactics and the mental approach to the game. He has also learnt a great deal by simply playing with the national side, especially from Dave Houghton and Andy Flower.
Andy enters the tour by England as Zimbabwe's second spinner, and therefore his place in the team is uncertain. However, he has played against most of the touring team and has a good knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses to offer. He will be looking to develop his all-round ability to the point where Zimbabwe can afford to employ two spinners again. Andy Flower says, "Andy has come into the side from Cambridge University without playing much local cricket, which surprised some people. He struggled a little in Sri Lanka, not because he bowled badly, but because the Sri Lankans play the spinners really well and if they are offered any sight of a bad ball they do dispatch it. I think he could do a good job for Zimbabwe; he's young and he has a good cricketing brain. I think he needs to be more disciplined in bowling tightly as he tends to let the batsman off the hook every now and then."