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The Lowdown - Prosper Utseya

Utseya prospers in his own right

The Lowdown on Prosper Utseya by Jamie Alter

Jamie Alter

August 2, 2006

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With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or as an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Prosper Utseya, the Zimbabwean offspinner and interim captain.



Prosper Utseya is an integral part of an inexperienced Zimbabwean side © Getty Images
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His team-mates dubbed him `Mr. Scrooge' for his miserly offspin, Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle repeatedly harped on him as 'The Professor' during the Videocon Tri-series last August, and he has grown in stature with each ten-over spell he has bowled in one-day cricket. Call him what you may, but Prosper Utseya is one of the rare bright spots in a Zimbabwe side creaking under the strains of political tension and international cricket's demands.

Utseya, all of 21 and captaining the national side for five one-day internationals at home, has enjoyed something of a minor cult status in the commentary box - and this word is used sparingly given the manner it has been thrust on England's Monty Panesar - since he turned heads with his offspin bowling. Commentators keep calling on him, they effuse words of praise, his team-mates cheer on his every move, his coach has marked him out as special, and when he bowls, you are endeared with him. And he has been blogged out for having such an interesting name.

Utseya was a promising talent at the school level. Like many other young black players, he was first introduced to the game at Chipembere Primary School in the Harare township of Highfield, and won a Zimbabwe Cricket Union scholarship to Churchill High School. From the school level, he moved into the Under-19 and Zimbabwe A sides, and there were notable performances along the way.

In a warm-up match between Zimbabwe A and a Zimbabwe Cricket Board XI in November 2004 - prior to England's arrival - Utseya was the pick of the Board XI bowlers on show, and finished with three for 32. For Zimbabwe A, against the visiting Sri Lankans, and only just 19, he slammed eight fours and three sixes in a career-best 89, which lasted 193 minutes - not bad for someone whose first-class average before this match was a modest 16.55.

Utseya was called up to the national side during the exodus of many of Zimbabwe's leading cricketers and Heath Streak's dismissal from the captaincy of the team. Though not a natural wicket-taker, he stood out for his impressive line and length in tight situations. When his mates were getting creamed in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and at home by England, Utseya continued to finish with highly respectable figures. During West Indies' ODI whitewash of Zimbabwe earlier this year, Utseya emerged with kudos for his maturity on the field. He imparted spin with confidence - and beat a certain Brian Lara with successive deliveries in the first match at Trinidad - and overall played with a level headedness that his team-mates would have done well to learn from.

Perhaps that is the prime reason why, just 18 hours before the start of a five-match series against Bangladesh, he was named captain of Zimbabwe. With Terry Duffin failing to ignite any real threat in the Caribbean, Utseya was appointed, albeit on an interim basis, to lead against a side that Zimbabwe owned a 15-4 record over before the series. That record would improve by one as Utseya won his first toss, judged the pitch accurately and inserted Bangladesh. Thanks to a fine display, his bowlers, himself included, and sterling efforts from Stuart Matsikenyeri - Utseya's cousin, interestingly enough - and Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe clinched a thriller by two wickets. In the third match, he bowled even better to help stem a middle-order batting attack and keep Bangladesh down to 238, which was overhauled in death-defying style off the final ball of the match.

Timeline

March 2002
Made his first-class debut - as an opener, in the first innings - for Mashonaland A at the age of 15. Picked up 4 for 72 in the first innings.

February 2004
Takes 4 for 41 against Canada in the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh as Zimbabwe win by eight wickets at Bogra.

April 2004
ODI debut v Sri Lanka at Bulawaya. Soon after, was sent to Manicaland to strengthen the provincial side there, and was selected for the CFX Academy in 2004.

May 2004
In his Zimbabwe A debut, against the visiting Sri Lankans, hits his highest first-class score of 89 from No.3, in a drawn encounter.

Test debut v Sri Lanka at Harare. Scores 45 off 57 deliveries and a first-ball duck, and goes wicketless.

October 2004
Takes his first first-class five-wicket haul - 5 for 32 - against Manicaland.

July 2006

Two days after being drubbed by nine wickets by the South African National Academy, the Zimbabweans, inspired by Utseya's 4 for 25, bounce back to thrash Highveld Lions Academy by seven wickets in Pretoria.

In his first match at the helm, wins the toss, inserts Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe clinch a thriller by two wickets. Captains Zimbabwe to a series-leading win in the third match, also at Harare.

Current form

Though he has yet to take a wicket in the first three games against Bangladesh, Utseya has sent down nagging ten-over spells that the batsmen have been unable to dominate. He gave away just 22 runs in the third game - including a first spell that read 6-1-6-0- and troubled every batsman he bowled to. His fielding has been relatively good, though his batting leaves a lot to be desired. His slog at Mashrafe Mortaza during the series opener, with victory just 5 runs away, was both needless and immature, and he was the unfortunate final wicket in Shahadat Hossain's hat-trick in the third ODI.

What they say - Kevin Curran, Zimbabwe's coach, after the ODI series against West Indies

"Prosper Utseya has been very economical and this is commendable especially given the class of the opposition. In fielding, he also performed very well. Utseya has really improved over the last year, and is one of the key members of this squad."

What you may not know

Utseya scored a fifty in a tight situation in just his second Logan Cup match, against Manicaland, a day before his 16th birthday. Henry Olonga, his captain, tossed the ball to him in the 33rd over as a burgeoning partnership threatened to run Mashonaland A into the ground. The move paid off immediately as Utseya dismissed Whittall, deceived by a slow ball, off the fifth ball of his very first over. He then had Sims out caught and bowled, and finished the day with three wickets off nine overs.

Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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Jamie Alter Senior sub-editor While teachers in high school droned on about Fukuyama and communism, young Jamie's mind tended to wander to Old Trafford and the MCG. Subsequently, having spent six years in the States - studying Political Science, then working for an insurance company - and having failed miserably at winning any cricket converts, he moved back to India. No such problem in Bangalore, where he can endlessly pontificate on a chinaman who turned it around with a flipper, and why Ricky Ponting is such a good hooker. These days he divides his time between playing office cricket and constant replenishments at one of the city's many pubs.
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