Fringe Benefits: John Traicos November 11, 2014

Zimbabwe's understated supporting actor

Mohammad Isam
Journeyman John Traicos played effective roles in the country's memorable World Cup wins in 1983 and 1992

"Our fielding at Trent Bridge was exceptional", remembers John Traicos of the 1983 win against Australia © Getty Images

It is easy to skim over figures of 0 for 27 in 12 overs and 0 for 16 in ten overs when you are looking at scorecards of a minnow beating a big fish. But John Traicos, the man who turned the screws on Australia and England nine years apart, in Nottingham in 1983 and Albury in 1992, played a major part in Zimbabwe's biggest triumphs in the World Cup before they played their first Test.

Traicos was always about economy on the cricket field. Coming off a couple of steps, he put vigour into his bowling action only at the moment of delivery, when it was time to give the ball a tweak in the batsman's direction. Everywhere he was posted, he was a safe fielder.

When he made his one-day international debut for Zimbabwe, 13 years after his Test debut for South Africa, he added his experience to the mix of the excitement that bubbled around his team-mates in their country's first ever international match - the one in the Prudential World Cup against Australia in Nottingham, on June 9, 1983.

Zimbabwe had qualified for the 1983 World Cup after becoming champions in the ICC Trophy the previous year, where they stormed through the group stages, beat Bangladesh in the semi-final, and Bermuda in the final by five wickets.

"The Zimbabwe team was a very committed group of amateurs who had built up great team spirit through sharing experiences, and following a very high work ethic based upon intense physical fitness training and a strong emphasis on fielding skills," Traicos says. "There is little doubt that team spirit and the closeness of the team was a major factor in the 1983 World Cup."

While Duncan Fletcher's all-round performance in the game against Australia gave him instant international recognition, and Iain Butchart bashed it about, it was Traicos' spell that stopped the Australians from taking over the chase of 240.

"Our overall strategy was to contain as effectively as possible utilising our fielding skills to supplement tight bowling," Traicos, now settled in Australia, says. "In 1983 we were fortunate to be able to have six leg-side fielders, which made it easier to contain batsmen, particularly left-handers, with three fielders in the 30-metre inner-ring and three fielders in the outer boundary protection area." The ODI field restrictions that fans are familiar with today were only introduced two World Cups later.

"The Zimbabwe team [of 1983] was a very committed group of amateurs who had built up great team spirit through sharing experiences and following a very high work ethic"

Australia, despite their class and experience, were always going to be tested chasing 240. The absence of field restrictions and the general batting conventions of that era contributed - only three times in the 61 ODIs played until then had teams chased 240 runs or more successfully. Add to that, they were up against a fielding team of extraordinary quality.

"Our fielding at Trent Bridge was exceptional," Traicos says. "We saved so many runs and dived and caught nearly everything.

"Jack Heron's sideways-on throw to run out Kepler Wessels was outstanding. And Andy Pycroft's two catches on the backward square-leg boundary to dismiss Graham Yallop and Allan Border."

He also remembers well his own role in the fielding performance - a low catch to dismiss Hookes, which ended a threatening third-wicket partnership of 51 runs with Kepler Wessels. "I [and David Hookes] did not think it would carry to me but I was lucky to get my hands underneath the ball and complete the catch."

He remembers standing in the field and thinking of an unlikely victory when the seventh Australian wicket fell. "I felt that we were in with a good chance when Iain Butchart yorked Geoff Lawson, but I do not think that any of the team were confident until the final over. Rod Marsh was near fifty and striking the ball well and Rodney Hogg was in double figures. After the victory it all took time to sink in.

"I recall that we were the toast of our Zimbabwe supporters at Trent Bridge and that we kept on being bought drinks by English cricket supporters, who were so delighted that we had beaten Australia."

He laughs remembering Albury nine years later, when Zimbabwe beat England. The drinks came from another bunch of fans - Australians, "delighted that we had beaten England!"

After the 13-run win over Australia, Zimbabwe had an impressive run at the World Cup, despite the lack of attention everywhere else or any other victories. They ran the Australians close again in Southampton, and reduced eventual winners India to 17 for 5. But it was the win against Australia that stuck in the memory for these cricketers who had been building up to the tournament for years.

After 1983, Zimbabwe qualified for the next two World Cups by clinching the ICC Trophy, in 1986 and 1990. After a winless 1987 World Cup, they were going down the same route in the 1992 tournament until they met England in Albury. The night before the game, at dinner, Zimbabwe pace bowler Eddo Brandes ran into a former team-mate, Graeme Hick, now an England star. Traicos remembers Brandes wishing Hick well. He then said to Hick that he would get his wicket the next day.

As it happened, cricket's most famous chicken farmer produced what Traicos remembers as "an outstanding piece of fast bowling". He had Graham Gooch lbw off the first ball of the match, then had Allan Lamb caught at mid-on and Robin Smith and Hick clean bowled. Traicos' own typically parsimonious bowling rounded off a happy day in which he played a supporting role in keeping England to 125 and winning by nine runs.

Traicos would go on to be part of another piece of history - as the man who had the longest hiatus between two Test matches. When he became part of the Zimbabwe XI in the country's debut Test, versus India in October 1992 in Harare, Traicos had completed 22 years between games.

His last Test before Harare 1992 was in February 1970 for South Africa against Australia, but it was like he had not missed a beat. He produced a career best of 5 for 86, his victims including Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev.

"Both victories [against England and Australia] were career highlights for me," Traicos says. He put the two World Cup wins "on par" with his Test achievements - for South Africa in 1970 and for Zimbabwe 22 years later.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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