No teeth, no problem
When Shingi Masakadza bowled a bouncer to Keegan Meth during his comeback match in Mutare last weekend, Meth said he saw his "life flash in front of me, again". For a split second, he wondered what would happen if the ball hit him, particularly if it found its way to his mouth, still raw after what happened the last time he had played cricket. Luckily it didn't.
Meth ducked underneath and continued batting, and his aggressive 43 off 37 balls took the Matabeleland Tuskers to what turned out to be a match-winning total of 240. On the face of it, there was nothing remarkable about his innings, besides its swiftness, but it was a brave knock and a way for Meth to show that his determination is as strong as over.
It's been just over a month since he had four teeth knocked out when he was struck during his follow-through while bowling to Bangladesh's Nasir Hossain, in the fifth ODI, in Bulawayo. The match was Meth's first appearance in the five-match series and the ball that injured him was the last delivery of his spell. Meth said he "just didn't see the ball" when it came back at him, and he learned the hard way what the consequences of taking one's eye off the game, even for a moment, could be.
The injury caused him to drip so much blood onto the pitch, the umpires had to ask for him to be removed from the field as a matter of urgency. It took 18 stitches to sew him back together that afternoon but Meth was back at the ground in time to bat, and would have, had he not been advised to stay off the park. For five days after that, he could not eat, and he lost nine kilograms as a result. His team-mates did not expect to see him back on the field for at least three months.
The thought of spending that much time out of the game was unthinkable for Meth, who was back in training two weeks after the incident. He had to wear a mask over his face, and had gaping holes in the front of his mouth, where his teeth should have been, but he wanted to practise. Having missed out on selection for Zimbabwe's comeback Test against Bangladesh, and their subsequent match against Pakistan through injury, he did not want to fall further out of favour come the New Zealand visit in October.
"I'm not injured to the extent that I can't play," he told ESPNcricinfo. "When I played in that limited-overs match, it was just great to be on the field and even better to know that I hadn't lost form from some time out of the game." Meth was named Man of the Match in that game, after taking 4 for 21 in addition to his quickfire stint at the crease. It was an achievement worth much more to him than simply the numbers.
His tenacity is enough to get him noticed but it is Meth's form, in fact, that should see him earn a national recall. As one of the country's premier allrounders, he is competing primarily with Elton Chigumbura but also against the likes of Malcolm Waller for a place in the starting XI. Meth was the second highest wicket-taker in last season's first-class competition, and he has been identified as one of the players who will help shape Zimbabwe's cricketing future.
He played in a first-class match in Mutare last week, where his unbeaten 41 was the highest second-innings score by a Tuskers batsman. He took 1 for 40 in the first innings and 3 for 19 in the second. Importantly, he has yet to show any fear of being in close contact with a hard ball. "When it comes to fielding, I am a little tentative, especially because it's quite a bumpy outfield here, but I'm not scared," he said. He patrolled the boundary edge and did not get too close in - a sign of genuine concern from his captain, Gavin Ewing.
But it's not the consideration Meth appreciates. "Nobody is treating me any differently and I wouldn't want them to," he said. "It's actually been quite nice that some of my Tuskers team-mates have started making some humorous comments." The most common, and expected, ones have not been in particularly good taste and have included references to Meth considering a move to Cape Town. A popular caricature of Cape Coloureds shows them as having no front teeth.
Meth's healing process is not complete. In about a week, he will have titanium screws put in his mouth, where his teeth once were, and once those have settled, he will go under the knife a third time to have replacement teeth put on. He is not sure how long he will wait before that can happen. "But I am going to be playing as much cricket as I can in between," he said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent