February 23, 2001

Eddo Brandes: ambling round Australia

Eddo Brandes, Zimbabwe cricketer since 1985, has been awarded a benefit this year by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. As part of it, he took a small party to watch Zimbabwe play in Australia. He talks to John Ward on his return.

I have just been with a supporters' tour to Australia. Just before the national side left for India, I bumped into [coach] Carl Rackemann, who said there was a sports company in Australia who had put a package together and asked if I thought it would go down well. I decided to see if I could do anything with regard to my benefit and take a supporters' group over.

We have now been back for about ten days. It was a good trip and everything was well organized, but unfortunately we didn't have the numbers we had hoped for. This was due to several factors. The tobacco farmers, many of whom would have been eager to come, struggle in January as it is the busiest time of the year for them, especially with the current situation in the country. I also advertised quite late, and many people were already committed to holidays at Christmas and following the golf in South Africa.

So it was a small party of five, but it was close knit and we did just about everything together, which meant I didn't have to try to organize two or three things at a time. Ideally a nice number would have been 15 to 20, but there would be disadvantages there: with a bigger group it's harder to make decisions, and I would have found it more difficult after the game, with some people wanting to go back to the hotel, others wanting to carry on and others wanting to go out for a meal. It could become quite disjointed, but with our small group we were all able to accommodate each other and we moved as one body.

We saw some great cricket and it was well organized by the sports company - the flights, the buses, the hotels, and everything went like clockwork. As tour leader, I just tried to make sure the buses were there and checked us into the hotels and the airports so that our party could basically relax. I was just the butler for them; hopefully I did that job well and there were no complaints!

We flew to Adelaide to start with and watched the first game there. We also managed to watch the Australia-West Indies game in Adelaide, and we bumped into some friends. All the Zimbabweans we met who are living in Australia were very accommodating and the hospitality was incredible. We had a braai [barbecue] with some friends of the party, and then flew out the following day to Sydney.

We were there for a very short time, stayed in a lovely hotel and watched the game at the SCG. The following day had a walk round the city, went to Bondi Beach, and that evening went out and had a meal. We flew out for Hobart early the following morning and went straight to the game.

Hobart is a very nice place and we watched a good game. We batted very well, but unfortunately they got a flier and took the game away from us. We had a free day afterwards, so we hired a minibus and went up to one of the rivers where we had a jet-ski ride. Instead of having a motor and a propeller it works on a jet of water, and it was quite incredible how these boats can pass over about eight inches of water over rocks. We came back down the other side of the big river that flows into Hobart and down a wine route, where we stopped at a few wineries. It was most interesting and very good fun. Finally we went down on to the water front, had a meal and then flew out to Perth, where we were for about a week.

We saw two games in Perth, where there is a very strong Zimbabwean influence. So we were well looked after there and we went out quite a lot. We took one day trip to a farm, quite a big operation with about ten thousand cattle, two thousand sheep and about six thousand acres of arable crops. The last two days I left open to the party to finish their shopping and their goodbyes to friends and relatives. I caught up with John Traicos and had an evening meal with him at his house.

I really enjoyed the experience and would like to do that sort of thing again. Now I've done one I know a couple of pointers I could iron out to make things go more smoothly. One is to advertise a bit earlier. West Indies could be a good place to visit because it does get a bit exciting there and they love cricket.

On the whole I think the Zimbabwe side did well, but the sad thing for me was the very big difference between the highs and the lows. We need to be more consistent, with less difference between the highs and the lows. It's quite incredible with the small number of players that we do have to be able to perform on the big stage and the results that we do turn out are remarkable. I think the international world is starting to understand how amazing it is that we can churn out cricketers from such small numbers to perform at the highest level. I think these small numbers account for the extremes of those highs and lows.

But in between there were some very good performances. Andy Flower has been well publicized and he is at the top of his game, both mentally and physically. He has worked it all out and he really is playing well. I am thrilled to see him ranked at number two in the world, and that hasn't come just because he batted well in India. He has actually worked very, very hard for probably five or six years at his game and it is now starting to bear the fruits. I think he will continue to bear these fruits for a long time because he has taken a long time to get to this position. It's not going to be just a flash in the pan.

There were other good performances: Alistair Campbell did well in the one-day games and it was nice to see Grant get some runs at the tail end of the one-dayers. On the bowling side Heath Streak stands out, and he was really at the top of his game in the last three matches in Australia. The bowling is a good, strong, hardworking unit, although they are lacking a bit of variation there. So we are struggling in the middle overs of one-day games to exert any authority. That to me is the saddest part of our cricket at the moment.

I keep referring to `Black Friday', which was the last match we lost against West Indies. If there was ever a position given to a team to get into a final, it was on that day. If somebody offered you 170 to chase in any conditions, on any pitch, you would always take it. But that's how cricket is and that's why it's a lovely game. You just don't know what will happen until it's all over. That one day spoiled everything, not for me but for the players and what it meant to Zimbabwean cricket.

Then we followed it up with that incredible game when we chased 304 runs, only to lose by one. This would have been a great set-up for the finals. It would have said, "Here we are; we want to give it a crack." It was a sad weekend, but the more we have games like that, competing against the best, subconsciously the mental side of the game gets stronger.

It was a great two weeks and I'd love to take another trip, if I can recruit people to come to me - and I hope they feel the same!

I have been given a benefit by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union this year, for which I am obviously very grateful. I've played as an amateur all my life, and I look on this as an opportunity to earn myself a small pension. I want to use this year to say thank you to the people who have supported me, and obviously the public. That's also why I'm playing again this year, to give a little bit back to the game.

I've got a few projects on the road for this year. We would like to hold a dinner and I am trying to invite the West Indian team to the dinner. We plan to run a couple of golf days and I have been given an international game, the match against India on 24 June. I would also like to run a personalized coaching clinic over a couple of weekends during the school holidays.

As a player I think my days are numbered. I'm playing in this Logan Cup competition and if the selectors see fit I'm available. If I can help in any way, whatever it may be, I'd like to do that. What I'd like to do at my benefit game is organize a tent, get a group of people together who have been influential in my career, and have them for the day, including a lunch or something like that, which it would be a nice way to say thank you.

I do have some memorabilia which I am hoping to sell as part of my benefit. Anybody who is interested might like to contact me on e-mail at brandes@mweb.co.zw. I have some personal stuff from the highlights of my career, items that I have collected. I do know that in England and round the world there are people who collect such things, so anybody who is interested can contact me on that address and I will get back to them.