Zimbabwe v South Africa, only Test, Harare, 3rd day

Nyumbu dances his way into the spotlight

John Nyumbu started playing cricket because he was a safe bet in the slips, discovered his skills for spinning a ball by chance, did his time on the domestic circuit, and then took a five-for on Test debut. Reason enough for anyone to dance

Firdose Moonda in Harare

August 11, 2014

Comments: 5 | Text size: A | A

John Nyumbu: It's an honour to bowl to the best batsman in the world and an even bigger honour to get him out © AFP

Where John Nyumbu's lives - in Bulawayo - dancing is a language of its own. Not the poised prancing you'd see at a ball, not the sultry salsa of South America, not the terrible twitching of a teenager at a trance party; not the kind that can be taught or leant or practiced. It's the kind of dancing that comes from the soul to the soles.

Watch Nyumbu's celebration after he had AB de Villiers caught at short midwicket on the second afternoon of this Test match to properly understand this.

He had just begun his fourth spell and although he had enjoyed success earlier in the day when he claimed the first South African wicket, the afternoon had been testing for him. He had a catch dropped at short leg that could have given him the wicket of Faf du Plessis and another, off Hashim Amla's bat, fall short at slip. Those were two big names. Nyumbu could be forgiven for his frustration at not being able to scratch them into his bedpost but that evaporated when he got a bigger one - the biggest one. De Villiers.

In an innings that turned comatose, de Villiers grew wary of the wait and wafted at a nondescript delivery. Vusi Sibanda only had to accept the catch at midwicket to push play on Nyumbu's dance moves. To a tune only he could hear, Nyumbu's feet led the way, his hips followed and his arms finished off. Even a day and a half later, recalling that wicket was music to Nyumbu's ears.

"It's an honour to bowl to the best batsman in the world and an even bigger honour to get him out," Nyumbu said when asked which of his five wickets was the one he treasured most. That's why de Villiers was the only wicket Nyumbu danced to in celebration; a gesture he attributed to "being from Bulawayo, where dancing like that is second nature".

The truth is that Nyumbu has been mixing dance with cricket since he first started playing. "I was the guy who would go to a net session and, instead of bowling or doing any cricketing skills, would keep juggling the cricket ball with my feet," he told Zimbabwe Cricket's official website a year ago. "That was how I started my cricket - just for fun." And just as a specialist slip fielder.

Nyumbu was roped into playing for Milton High School because the coach thought he had good hands. When he held on to an important chance in his first match, he was retained but his role was just about limited to the cordon until one day, when the team found something else for him to do.

"We were dead and buried in one match, I think the opposition were five down and then needed 10 runs so it was over. The coach said to me, 'You've been loyal to us, you've been with us for a while, so just go and show what you can do,'" Nyumbu remembered. "And I took the wickets and we won the match."

In a leap of faith, Nyumbu discovered offspin and he began to work on that department of his game. He was noticed by the men who matter and was named in the Matabeleland Under-19 team, which he also captained, but was not picked to be part of Zimbabwe's Under-19 side which Tino Mawoyo captained at the 2004 age-group World Cup.

But that year, Nyumbu made his franchise debut. For a handful of summers he put in middling performances but in the 2009-10 season he showed what he was capable of with a haul of 31 wickets. Still, Nyumbu struggled to find his place in a side that was more focused on grooming quick bowlers and where left-arm spinner Keith Dabengwa was already established.

When he did get opportunity, Nyumbu used it to show he was about attack and not containment. "I strive to take wickets. If I get hit for six, I will toss the ball up because the guy might get a top edge and I'll get a wicket. If I get hit for six and then take the wicket, I will have won the battle," he told ZC's website. "The greatest arsenal in my bowling is that I can spin the ball."

So when Nyumbu saw the amount of turn Dane Piedt got with his first delivery, his grin widened and has not narrowed since. He knew the Harare Sports Club put would "not be a bad surface to debut on", as he had said after the second day, in which he had already taken two wickets.

On day three there was more turn on offer and with Nyumbu bowling almost a third of the total overs, there was more opportunity for him to add to his tally. He should have had one early when Quinton de Kock was put down at short cover and then beaten by turn next ball, but he was made to toil until late in the first session before Faf du Plessis came down the track in search of his century and edged to backward short leg.

He should have had another when Dale Steyn completely missed one and was well out of crease when the ball spun past him and Richmond Mutumbami missed the stumping chance but he eventually accounted for both Steyn and JP Duminy's scalps from shots they may regretted playing. Those dismissals cannot take away from the number of chances Nyumbu created and the pressure he built through discipline, which du Plessis praised.

"He bowled a lot of overs and not many bad balls," du Plessis said. "Generally you have a young guy making his debut you get a lot more stuff to hit off him but I didn't get any bad balls from him." That may be because Nyumbu is not that young. He is 29 and has already had a decade in the first-class game.

He has just always had to operate in the shadows of someone else. Dabengwa at the Tuskers and Prosper Utseya at national level. Had Prosper Utseya not come down with a case of chicken pox shortly before this Test match, Nyumbu may not have played at all and there is every chance he may have to give up his place for the veteran in the future. Nyumbu knows that's not worth thinking about now, in the hours after becoming just the second Zimbabwean to take a five-for on Test debut.

"I was hoping my chance would come. So many people had written me off, whether it was friends or in the cricket fraternity," he said. "It has been a rocky road for me but when everything culminates in this, you don't seem to remember what happened in the past. You just want to be in the now and be grateful for what you have now." And maybe spare a moment for a dance.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Cric_Janbaz on (August 12, 2014, 10:10 GMT)

I think it has more to do with South Africa's inability to play spin well rather than Nyumbu's bowling,who was ineffective against Afghanistan. . . We saw that against SriLanka and have seen it from time to time in past SA's spin playing inability . . . one or two exceptions like devilliers . . .

Posted by THEBEAST7 on (August 12, 2014, 4:34 GMT)

@ Sir_Francis, de Villiers is one of the most dangerous test batters in the cricketing arena. He is only second to Sangakkara. Give credit where it is due man. For a first timer to pick de Villiers' wicket in the highest format representing his country means a LOT!

Good to see Zimbos giving a fight to Saffers. We need you in the top 8 in all formats Zimbabweans. Remember the good old days when Flower brothers, Olonga, Taibu used to give headaches to all big teams in the cricketing world? Really happy for Nyumbu

Posted by Sir_Francis on (August 12, 2014, 3:11 GMT)

Good on him for getting de Villiers but he's not even the best batsman in SA, let alone the world.

Posted by Sexysteven on (August 12, 2014, 1:48 GMT)

Good to see a zimbo player having success against one of the better teams around best of luck to them keep fighting push the game as far as they can would be good

Posted by tmol on (August 11, 2014, 18:18 GMT)

way to go Nyumbu, hope you take another 5for in SA's 2nd innings, that will really give the selectors a headache!

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