David Mutendera - bowling better than ever
It is to be hoped that David Mutendera will not eventually be remembered for the controversy of his Test debut. Against New Zealand in Bulawayo at the start of the season, his last-minute inclusion caused a serious problem among the players and administrators that was seized upon by those seeking to make political capital out of racial issues.
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 had 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's international debut came in Kenya in September 1999, when he played his first one-day international against the home side in a quadrangular tournament. This is his fondest memory of last season, together with his selection for all three one-dayers against Australia. His first experience of Test cricket was as twelfth man in Bloemfontein for the one-off Test against South Africa, and he also particularly remembers the UCBSA Bowl one-day final against Free State B, although the memories here are not so fond as the Zimbabwe Board XI lost.
Much of his success was due to his visit, along with Douglas Hondo, to the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, where he received coaching from Dennis Lillee. He had his action and run-up adjusted and this is paying rich dividends.
Neil Johnson sadly left Zimbabwe with a reputation as 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."
David fully realizes how much hard work is needed to reach the top and to stay there. He spent the off-season working out at the gymnasium, doing weight training and getting fit, concentrating especially on his back, as two years ago he had a restricting back problem.
Then came his Test match against New Zealand, after which he was omitted. His only representative cricket since then has been in the UCBSA Bowl for the Zimbabwe Board XI. He played in the three-day match against Natal B in Kwekwe, where he suffered a minor knee injury, and was then dropped for the tour to South Africa. He was restored for the fixtures against Easterns in Mutare, but played in only the one-day match.
Since then he feels he has struck his best form in club cricket, taking 14 wickets in three matches. The highlight was the match last weekend for Universals against Harare Sports Club, when he took eight wickets in an innings for the first time, conceding only 23 runs in the process.
"We batted first and lost our top order very cheaply," he says. "We thought we were going to be 150 all out, but Everton Matambanadzo scored a good 52 not out and we ended up with 196. The only way we could win that game was to bowl the other side out. We really had to bowl tight on a pitch that was fine for both batting and bowling: if you put something into it you would always get something out of it.
"I was actually inspired from ball one. It was just one of those days when everything was working well for me. My first wicket was Trevor Gripper to the first ball of their innings. I bowled him an off-cutter, a beautiful ball that swung back in and took his middle stump out. From then on, that just got me fired up to take more wickets. We needed wickets because we didn't have enough runs and couldn't afford to let them loose, put it that way. We had to bowl as tightly as we could and get the wickets, to be as attacking as we could.
"I had three slips and two gullies, and most of my wickets were caught behind or bowled. I was generating a good pace and getting bounce, and they couldn't play me on the on side or hit me over the top, so I had two gullies, three slips, a man in the covers, a mid-off, a fine leg and a square leg, nobody else on the on side. That was my game plan, bowling in the channel so they got caught behind or bowled out. But my main aim was to get them caught in the slips.
"I was a bit lucky because I had been beating the bat and not getting the edge, but this time it really worked out, and I'm just going to keep on with the bowling I'm doing at the moment. They had a reasonably strong side, with Don Campbell and Eddo Brandes playing for them. It was my best match this season and the best performance I've put up in my whole career. I've bowled as well as that before but I haven't taken wickets. In the Under-19 World Cup against Sri Lanka, in South Africa, I bowled one of my quickest spells ever, which was very economical - I went for only 10 runs in 10 overs - but I never got a wicket. But this one was special because I got wickets."
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.
"I've only worked once with Carl Rackemann and he was the one who sorted out my run-up a bit, but I'd love to spend some time with him again if I can. You've got to look for some help from the coaches, but you've got to be willing to do it yourself. You've got to use what you think is right for you, what you think is going to make you successful."
Barring a surprise call-up to the national side in New Zealand or Australia, David's next major cricket will not come until February and March, when he hopes to be busy every weekend playing either Logan Cup cricket or for the Zimbabwe Board XI in their final matches. Last season he played for Midlands but has moved back to Harare for family reasons, so he expects to represent one of the Mashonaland teams. "There's not much cricket for some of us if we're not playing in the national side," he says. "We've only got club matches, and we have a big break over the New Year, and then we come back and wait for the Logan Cup matches. So during that time you've got to be working right and hoping you get that call from the selectors."