'It's the best time of my career' - Mpofu
Chris Mpofu is feeling good. He might be feeling better, if Zimbabwe were winning, but he's back playing international cricket, having cut some bad habits out of his life, and enjoying a game he had fallen out of love with more than ever.
"I think it's the best time of my career," Mpofu said after Zimbabwe's first Twenty20 match against India. "I'm enjoying cricket more than before. I think it's the things I've changed in my life - I've turned into more of a religious person and there are a lot of things that I've cut out. I'll tell you right now that I'm enjoying the game more than ever."
While Zimbabwe plummeted to a 54-run defeat, Mpofu did an admirable job in taking 3 for 33. All three dismissals came after the 15th over and helped to hold India back after they'd threatened a massive total by cruising to 123 for 2 with five overs remaining. "At the end of the day we pulled it back, especially at the death," he said. "With the fire-power that we've got I thought we did quite well because at one stage I thought they could have got to 200."
Mpofu's wickets came via a canny combination of cutters and slower balls, and for a tall quick he adapted well to a slow, low wicket. Surprisingly, he gave some of the credit for his success to some advice from the Indians themselves.
"Because some of these guys are my heroes, I've watched them playing in India and I've asked them a few things about when they play IPL. They said that you can't just be predictable and try and bowl length," Mpofu said. "No matter how quick you are, you have to be a step ahead of them. So I tried to mix my pace and back my skills up, because at the end of the day if I get hit trying to do my skills I'm not worried about that. I'm just trying to make what I do in the nets work in the game. Thank God it worked my way today," Mpofu said.
With fifty T20 games to his name, Mpofu was by far the most experienced member of Zimbabwe's attack today, and his performance stood in contrast to some of the greener members of the home attack. "I thought maybe the pressure got to our youngsters, which I can understand. If I speak for myself, I don't think I had too much pressure. I just think we have done it before, so we need to keep our heads up and look forward to the next match.
"Maybe there has to be more belief with each and every individual. Maybe it might be the pressure that most of the guys we are playing against are highly rated in the IPL. But guys just need to realise that if you do well against them then you have the opportunity to get recognised. So I think guys need to be free when they come out to play."
After four straight losses during India's visit, Zimbabwe can only hope for a consolation win in Sunday's match. The frustration from Zimbabwe's supporters as the match drew to a close was evident, but Mpofu suggested that the easing of pressure that comes with a lack of expectation may help to provide them with something to cheer about in the final game.
"[Victories] are going to come as time goes on. It's hard when you're losing, but there are a lot of positives that we can take out of the game. I think we'll get there. It's frustrating for the supporters but I think we'll get there. For us going to the last match we have nothing to lose, so if we can go out and express ourselves… Not many people will expect us to win, but if we go out there with the attitude that we have everything to gain I think we will come out with a victory."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town