Patience is a virtue for Masakadza
When Hamilton Masakadza was playing cricket for his primary school, in Highfields, the second-oldest suburb in Harare, his friends gave him a special, but complimentary nickname. They called him "Test cricketer" because of his extraordinary staying power for someone so young.
"Growing up I was always patient," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Tatenda [Taibu] and Vusi [Sibanda] and those guys were the ones being aggressive and I was the one holding up the other end."
It turned out to be an apt description of his character, because Masakadza is one of the most-patient men cricket has seen; the fifth most to be exact, if you take the amount of time between Test centuries as a yardstick. He had to wait 10 years and six days between his first Test century, in 2001, and his second, which he brought up on Friday in Harare, in Zimbabwe's first Test since returning to Test cricket. That is a length of time surpassed only by India's Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant, England's Frank Woolley and Australia's Warren Bardsley, who waited 13 years and 346 days between his fifth and sixth centuries. All those players had their careers interrupted by the World Wars.
Although Masakadza's wait didn't involve an event as catastrophic, the political and cricketing turmoil Zimbabwe has been through in the last decade has not made his interval easy. Besides the country's cricketing woes, he has also had to deal with the expectation that came from registering his first Test hundred - a match-saving knock on debut - at the age of 17, and the disappointment of not being able to push on from that.
When the pressures of sport can become overwhelming, Masakadza said strong support kept him grounded and that he felt his early achievement helped build his confidence. "At that age if you don't do well you will spend a lot of time wondering if you are good enough or not, so I was pleased that I was able to do well for that reason. Even when I didn't follow it up in the best way, people encouraged me and believed in me."
Those people may have been surprised when, a year after his debut, Masakadza took a break from the game. He went to complete a degree in marketing at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where he spent three years. There, he played for the varsity's club team alongside Ryan McLaren, Cornelius de Villiers and against Rusty Theron.
He said the time away from the international game helped him improve. "I learnt a bit more about how to play seam bowling while I was there. I also worked on my off-side game; I think before I was stronger on the leg side but now if you look at my wagon wheels, I play all around the wicket."
When he came back to Zimbabwe, in 2004, he established himself as a regular in the one-day team, but missed out on selection for both the 2007 and 2011 World Cup squads. His career was punctuated with breaks and so he was hardly surprised when it took him eight years to score his first ODI century. "When I eventually scored it, it was one of the highest points in my career," he said, laughing as he remembered the opposition. "And it was against Bangladesh."
Now, he has brought up his second Test century against the same team, and Masakadza cannot contain his joy at being able to achieve it, especially because there was a time when he thought it would never come. In the middle of Zimbabwe's self-imposed exile from Test cricket, Masakadza thought he would have to forget his dreams of Test success. "I thought I may have retired by the time we get Test cricket back. That question definitely went through my mind. But now I understand that I am an integral part of the team and I relish being a senior player."
He admits that he had some doubts during the course of this innings in Harare, but they only crept in later on. "I only actually got nervous when I was on 99. [When on 95], I hit the ball through mid-off and I thought it was three and that I would be able to wait at the other end for a while but then I saw it trickled down for four and I knew I was close. Getting past the hundred was the best part of my innings today."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent