Mark Burmester - a short biography

John Ward

March 16, 2000

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FULL NAME: Mark Greville Burmester

BORN: 24 January 1968, at Durban (South Africa)

MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (1991/92-1994/95), Mashonaland (1993/94), Manicaland (1999/2000)

KNOWN AS: Mark Burmester. Nickname: Burmie

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat

BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Medium Fast

OCCUPATION: Marketing manager, finance house

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe B v Pakistan B, at Harare South Country Club, 3-5 October 1990

TEST DEBUT: Zimbabwe v India, at Harare Sports Club, 18-23 October 1992

ODI DEBUT: Zimbabwe v New Zealand, at Napier, 3 March 1992

BIOGRAPHY (March 2000)

Mark Burmester, one of the eleven to play in Zimbabwe's inaugural Test match against India in 1992 and the taker of Zimbabwe's first wicket in Test cricket, may well be remembered more in the future as the man who revived Manicaland cricket. When he returned to Mutare in 1996, cricket in the province had stagnated. With his ability and enthusiasm he revived it, and today captains the province in the Logan Cup competition.

Mark was born in Durban, South Africa, and his father had played a lot of cricket at school without taking it much further. The family moved up to Rhodesia, as the country then was, when Mark was very young. They moved to a small cattle farm where they also did market gardening about ten kilometres from Denis Streak's ranch near Turk Mine in Matabeleland, and he remembers Denis throwing a ball to him in his early years. The family did not stay there long; afflicted by drought, Mark's father got a job in Bulawayo while his mother worked on the farm, and they soon sold up and moved into Bulawayo, and then Mutare.

It was in Mutare that Mark says he really began to learn the game. Robin Jackman, the Surrey and Rhodesian professional, coached at different schools around the country, including Mutare Junior School where Mark went, and had his influence on him. "He was the one who always believed in playing straight and bowling as upright as you could, the best advice you can give any youngster," Mark says. Current Manicaland players Steve Lawson and Dion Yatras were also at the school at the same time, giving them a good team.

Mark was always an all-rounder, opening both batting and bowling, as he has often done since. In his first match for the school first team, playing against a school in Rusape, he recorded an unbeaten fifty and took eight wickets for 18 runs. He feels he did not have a chance possibly to play for the Partridges, the national primary school team, because out at Mutare 'nobody used to look at us much'.

In his high-school years Mark boarded at Eaglesvale in Harare, and was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, and then played for two years in the Zimbabwe Schools team. He remembers at Under-16 level playing the full Prince Edward team when, after conceding a big score, he and Steve Lawson put on 150 for the first wicket against the opposition fast bowlers in about 15 overs; unfortunately a later batting collapse still resulted in defeat. He also scored a couple of centuries and took a couple of hat-tricks for the school, as well as taking all ten wickets in an innings, for about 20 runs, against Cranborne School.

In those days, without South African contacts, it was difficult for a Zimbabwe schools team to find adequate opposition. Mark's team was captained by Andy Flower, who was in the same year, and instead of travelling to the South African Schools week, they toured the country districts and play teams composed mainly of Saturday afternoon cricketers, which could also include Districts players like Kevin Arnott and Graeme Hick. According to Mark, though, there was little depth and they tended to win more matches than they lost. He did manage to go on one Eaglesvale tour to England, though, and remembers going on a cycle ride from Harare to Kariba to raise money for the trip. They had 16 games scheduled but only managed to finish seven, thanks to a particularly wet ending to the English summer that year. He found he had to adjust his game to suit the slower, seaming English pitches.

It was not until he reached Under-25 level that Mark had the opportunity to go on many tours, and at this time Zimbabwe were on the point of gaining Test status. Mark says, "It was only then that I realised that I was capable of playing at a much higher level. I had always taken the game as what we did to kill time at the weekends; it was only just after school that I began to realise that I could do something in this game and take it a bit further."

At the age of 17 Mark began to play for Harare Sports Club, although without batting or bowling for his first four or five matches. Andy Flower was at Old Georgians, who were a weak team in those days, and he encouraged Mark to join them. So Mark moved across and has played for them ever since when in Harare. He was one of a number of talented young players of about the same age at the club, which was soon to enjoy several years of great success under Andy Flower's captaincy; others included Grant Flower, Gus Mackay and Craig Evans.

After leaving school Mark spent a year beginning a bachelor of commerce degree at Rhodes University in South Africa, where he played quite a lot of club cricket in the Eastern Province, and meeting in the opposition at times such players as Kepler Wessels and Rod McCurdy. He feels he should have gone to the South African Universities Week, but with county sides visiting Zimbabwe Mark decided to return and vie for selection, which he didn't actually achieve.

He did not return to university to complete his course, having established a contact through Andy Flower to play cricket in the Birmingham area. He still didn't feel he was good enough to play first-class cricket, but others encouraged him, and he persuaded his father to allow him to leave the university for cricket. In the event he did not take up the position in England, having met his future wife and married young. Instead he took up a job in the construction industry for Gardini and Sons in Harare, despite a bias towards sales, but later joined TS Timbers, one of Gardini's suppliers. He pays tribute to the support he received from both companies regarding his cricket.

Mark went to England again in 1989 with a Zimbabwe Under-25 team, and found his experience with the Eaglesvale team a few years earlier was invaluable. He made his first-class debut for Zimbabwe B against Pakistan B in 1990/91, without much success, and the following year played a match against Australia B; these were to be his only first-class matches before playing in Zimbabwe's inaugural Test. He forced his way into the national squad as a possibility for the 1991/92 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as an all-rounder. Opening the batting for Old Georgians with Grant Flower, he averaged just under 50 for the season and was also second or third in the bowling average and the leading wicket-taker. These performances were instrumental in his selection for that tour.

Mark's main memories of that tour were dismissing Sachin Tendulkar and Dean Jones. He took three wickets for 34 against India, having Tendulkar caught deep on the off side from a wide swinging half-volley. Against Australia he bowled Jones with a slower ball. He played in four of the eight matches but, batting at number eight or nine, he did not have much chance with the bat.

The next season Zimbabwe was finally granted Test status, and Mark was in the final twelve for the inaugural Test match against India. On the eve of the match the weather was cloudy and Mark knew the final choice would be between himself and an extra spinner. He got the vote, and made his first appearance on the field as night-watchman on the first day; he survived but was out for 7. When Zimbabwe took the field he had a lot of bowling to do, as Eddo Brandes injured his ankle and was able to bowl only two overs.

He bowled a nine-over spell before the teams took drinks; with his second ball after the interval he delivered what he describes as 'a bit of a warmer after the break', a wide swinging half-volley that Woorkeri Raman had a full go at, only to snick the ball to Andy Pycroft in the slips. This, he considers, is his biggest achievement in the game. "The sad thing is, it was the worst ball I bowled all morning," he says. "But I'm taking it; it doesn't matter how they come!" He came back later and dismissed Kiran More and Anil Kumble to take three wickets in the innings.

Mark has a lot of respect for the Yorkshire and England batsman John Hampshire, who was the Zimbabwe team coach for their first four years in international cricket. Mark credits him with first installing a fully professional attitude in the players. He always used to say, "Simple things done well," and Mark recognises this as a basic for cricketers at any level.

He also played in the two Tests against New Zealand, little knowing that these would be the end of his brief Test career. The teams played first on a very flat pitch at the small Bulawayo Athletic Club ground in Bulawayo, and with Martin Crowe in fine form the Zimbabwe bowling had a hard time of it. Mark took no wickets in either of the two Tests against New Zealand.

Mark was in the squad for the brief 1993 tour of England, which did not include any international matches, but injury ruled him out. At squad practice about three weeks before the team left, he dived to stop a ball and put his shoulder out. Eager to tour, Mark underwent a fitness test before he was ready and, favouring his shoulder which put a strain on his action, he did some permanent damage to his back. For two full seasons after that he was unable to bowl, although he batted in club matches. After that he decided to try bowling again, changing his action to bowl a lot more side-on, he stopped trying to swing the ball away, and has managed to make a comeback, although he feels he has never regained his best bowling form.

He did enough to earn back his place in one-day internationals temporarily, playing in the three-match series against Pakistan in 1995/96. He was selected as an attacking top-order batsman who could bowl a bit, though, scoring 81 runs in his three innings, but bowling just seven overs without taking a wicket.

After this he virtually ended his international career by moving to Mutare, "out of town, out of sight, I suppose; I just faded into oblivion." He continued to play for Old Georgians for the next season, travelling from Mutare, but found he was also getting out of shape as he was unable to train properly. That season he captained the team when Andy Flower was on international duty, his first real experience of the job. In Mutare he found that competitive cricket had virtually died, and he managed to start up a local league again.

He applied to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union for Manicaland to enter a team in the national second league during the following season, which was accepted, so he left Old Georgians and began to play for his new province. Manicaland won the second league comfortably and won promotion to the national first league for the 1998/99 season. With the alteration of the Logan Cup in 1999/2000, Manicaland were promoted to first-class status and, bolstered by some ex-Academy players, won their first two matches, with Mark as captain. "Things are on the up," he says. "I was getting a bit tired and thinking of hanging up the boots, and I'll give it another couple of years."

The highest score of Mark's career is 125 not out, which he scored off 81 balls against Harare Sports Club second team in the year that Manicaland were playing in the second league, out of a total of over 400 in 60 overs. Although batting now at number three for Manicaland, he prefers five or six in the longer game, but likes to open in one-day cricket.

He is basically an attacking batsman; in his younger days he used to be a strong puller and hooker of the ball, but he tries to play straighter nowadays, concentrating on playing in the V, partly as a role model for younger players. "You must play through the line, play as straight as you possibly can, and give yourself as much chance as possible to get bat on ball," is his advice. He has always been a better player of pace than spin. "I tend to fall over a bit when I play the spin," he admits, "although I've got better over the years. Davy Houghton used to help a lot in getting me to start sweeping, which added an extra dimension and meant I wasn't looking to go down the wicket as much as I used to in my younger days."

"I've always been pretty aggressive," he says. "I'm not one to pat back half-volleys in any situation. If the ship goes down, it must go down fighting. Negative cricketers never won anybody anything. It's not good for the game. I'd rather see bowlers running in, bowling at a batter and making him play, and if the guy's bowling wide half-volleys then he must go and fetch the thing. It's been the way I've played: keep it simple, don't complicate it, and enjoy yourself."

Mark used to bowl 'huge, wicket-taking awayswingers' before his injury. He still moves the ball away in the air at times since remodelling action, but he uses the off-cutter a little more. "I really used to swing the ball quite prodigiously in my younger days. Now it tends to go a little bit late and carry on with the swing." As a fielder he often goes in the slips, avoiding the boundary when he can as his arm is not as good as it used to be. He enjoys the covers or mid-off where he can keep involved in the game.

Mark played rugby at school and at university and 'wasn't a bad fly-half'. He also played provincial schools hockey, and has played golf from a young age, at one stage getting as low as a one handicap, but holding a steady four now. He played in a couple of provincial golf teams, at school and afterwards. He usually keeps golf to the winter, though. He enjoys fishing, especially with his children, and enjoys getting outdoors and relaxing with his family. He is now looking forward to seeing his children progress in sport.

Toughest opponents: "Eddo [Brandes] used to swing the ball a lot, bowling quick and putting them in the right place. He was always a difficult man to contend with. But I always enjoyed playing against Harare Sports Club. Davy Brain used to bowl well, and Jarvie {Malcolm Jarvis]. Jarvie has a heart the size of a bull elephant, and he never ever gave up, and he was always up to something. Jarvie was a good exponent of what the track was doing. He had a very good change of pace: he used to roll his wrists over the top and the ball going away from the bat for any right-hander is a bit of a nightmare. I think if more young cricketers could have that attitude and that guts and go, we wouldn't have a problem in having a good bowling attack for the bowling side.

"Battingwise, I think I'm lucky that I played most of the time with Andy [Flower], but if I had to put it down to someone to bat for my life, I think it would be Andy Flower. His attitude towards the game and the way in which he applies himself out in the middle - I think it's been a privilege playing with someone like that. He had the same attitude when he was 14 or 15 years old, and he's gone a long way in the game. I think you've got to rate him in the top three wicket-keeper/batsmen in the world. It's always a privilege to play with someone like that. I think battingwise, in the few times that I did have to bowl against him, Andy was definitely the toughest wicket to get. He doesn't like to give it away.

"International opponents: bowlingwise, I think Wasim Akram when he came with the Pakistanis was deadly. He swung the ball prodigiously both ways and had a great change of pace. To get into the one-day games to play against them, I played in a match at Harare South for the B side. In the second innings I saw Andy on the sidelines and I said, 'Can you tell the captain I'd like to open the batting, please? Sitting on the handle here is not a good thing, and we should show these okes we can actually play. If we do get our butts kicked, we must do it positively.' They thought that was a fair enough attitude, or else that I was crazy, and I opened with Mark Dekker and put on 95 with him in double-quick time. Unfortunately he got out to a 'jaffa' by Wasim on 95, but I suppose if you talk about getting back into the game, that was the turning-point, that got me into those one-days, and that was my finest knock against any international side. It was chanceless until I got out [for 67] - full of boundaries, which I always enjoy.

"Martin Crowe was without a doubt the best batsman I ever bowled to. He hit the ball all around the park; he had a shot for pretty much everything that you delivered to him. He and, in the one-day game, Dean Jones was the guy I feared the most. He hit us around for a few before I got him out and he was a top player. Bowling to Tendulkar was never an easy task. We bowled to him in those Test matches here and we got him quite cheaply. Dave Brain seemed to have him sussed out."

Ambitions in the game: "I think to see the Manicaland youngsters who are coming through here to a higher level, where they can start to look after themselves, and I want to get the ground down there up to international standard so we can start playing more games down there against better opponents. We've got a little mini-academy going that should be finished in the next couple of weeks, and I'd like to give something back to the game. I've got a lot out of it, but in another three or four years I'll be 35 years old. The youngsters must start coming in; if I was making a living out of it I could really drive myself hard and stay fit. But I definitely want to get involved in the administration. I don't think I'd umpire; I've given them too much stick over the years to warrant my standing behind the stumps. But you never know!

"I can't stay out of it; it's so much part of my blood. Every year I say, 'I'm going to sit down and take it a little bit easier.' I get out there and after one or two games I get up in the morning, start running again and want to keep playing. If it's in your blood, you can't get rid of it."

On captaincy: "I didn't captain at school, but was always involved as a fairly senior player in the odd decision. I started captaining at OGs [Old Georgians], the first time I actually looked after a side, when Andy was away on national duty and I was only playing one-dayers in those days, and I used to look after the OGs side. When you're rubbing shoulders with someone like Andy for a number of years it's not a hell of a thing to take over. You've always got to have your own ideas; I won't say I took to it like a duck to water but I think I'm all right! It keeps me involved in the game and is probably the reason why I'm still playing, something to do."

Best friends in cricket: "Andy Flower without a doubt. He was groomsman at my wedding; we still see each other when he's not on national duty. Andy and somebody I don't see so much any more but I mentioned earlier, Malcolm Jarvis, I have a lot of respect for. He was an illustration for me as a youngster. He always had a kind thing to say, he always had a way of bringing the best out of you. Those two are the ones I look up to the most, the two gutsiest performers that I've ever had the luxury of playing with."

General views on cricket: "One thing that must go down is that you've got to be enjoying the game. Some people get forced into it or get into a bad rut. The game's about ups and downs, but the bottom line is it's having fun on and off the field, and meeting new and interesting people. I think that one aspect that has gone out of the game is playing it hard on the field and mixing afterwards, but nowadays there is a big divide. Chat to people, learn something about people form other parts of the world and the way in which things happen, and make lifelong friends out of the game. I certainly have; I stay in touch with a lot of people overseas. And enjoy it - you've got to be enjoying the game. It's the most important thing of all."

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