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It was Brian Vitori's first Test in 19 months, and his selection had caused a few raised eyebrows, but a five-for underlined his value
September 12, 2013
Zimbabwe's victory in their comeback Test against Bangladesh unveiled two men who on whose shoulders the future of the country's attack was thought to rest. Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori shared ten wickets between them and brought to the national team an intent they lacked in the past. Only one of them is still delivering on that promise.
Jarvis' premature retirement from the international game in the aftermath of the long-running payments issue, left Zimbabwean fans reeling. Jarvis played in all eight Tests Zimbabwe competed in over the last two years and his gradual improvement led to him being regarded as the spearhead of the attack.
Many wondered how they would cope without him.
Instead of his absence being a cause for despair, it proved the catalyst for others to step out of the shadows. In the first Test, Tinashe Panyangara repaid the persistence the selectors showed in him, Tendai Chatara built on the expectation he had set for himself in the West Indies and Shingi Masakadza was the workhorse, tirelessly maintaining the line outside off stump and giving little away.
When Masakadza was replaced with Vitori for this match, there were some raised eyebrows. Masakadza had done little wrong with ball in hand and is a useful lower-order batsmen while Vitori had not played a Test in 19 months. But the gamble paid off handsomely as Vitori put in a performance even better than his memorable debut two years ago.
Then, he was thought of as the ying to the Jarvis' yang - Vitori had swing and Jarvis pace. They both attacked in a way Zimbabwean seamers had not done for a while. Jarvis seemed to be earmarked as a Test specialist while Vitori looked as though he could do it all. After his debut Test, he took two five-wicket hauls in his first two ODIs and Zimbabwe seemed to have found someone special.
Talent, being such a valuable commodity, is often stretched to its limits and Vitori's was used as much as it could be. He featured in as many matches as was possible without much attention paid to workload management and he soon broke down. Vitori could not play in Zimbabwe's home series against New Zealand in November 2011 because of shin splints.
He recovered in time to travel with them to New Zealand the following year. He played only one ODI and managed a single wicket in the Test, which was his last international appearance.
The range of injuries Vitori picked up was typical of a young fast bowler. The shin niggle proved to be a stress fracture and he also battled a calf injury and a side strain. He returned to his home town of Masvingo for rehabilitation and those close to the quick believe he had to carry many of the medical expenses himself.
Desperate to come back and prove himself, Vitori tried to rush his return as much as he could. The results were a lesson in why forcing a physique before it is ready is a bad idea. Last season, he played only four first-class matches and his List A performance read four wickets at 40.50. He was also dropped from the Southern Rocks team.
What Vitori needed was a mentor but the resources were not always in place for him to a find a permanent one. Heath Streak, the bowling coach who nurtured him in the early days, was not re-contracted this year so Vitori had to find a way to make it largely on his own.
Eventually, convinced he was fit again, ZC included him in their training squad to play Bangladesh this April. Many had not seen him since he first came up and were surprised by how much he had changed. He had obviously bulked up and seemed stronger than before. He also appeared to have picked up a bit of pace and was aggressive in net sessions.
Importantly, he was managed with a little more caution. Vitori was eased back into the Bangladesh series in the third ODI, even though initial talk was that he may play a Test. He bowled nine overs for 43, took two wickets but was wayward, with five wides and a no-ball. In the Twenty20s which followed, he was the most economical bowler in the first match and led the attack well in the second.
And after that, he just kept working. Commentator Mluleki Nkala said Vitori was one of those first in, last out types, who "trained very hard." His team-mate Panyangara called him a "very fit guy." He showed glimpses of what he was capable of against India and, satisfied that he was ready for longer spells, made a comeback in the second Test against Pakistan.
When Vitori opened the bowling, he did so a little uncertainly, as could be expected of someone who had been out of the game for the length of time he had been. He was unsure which length to use, sometimes veering on too short. He learned quickly, as he had right at the beginning, and once he found a fuller length, the movement he was able to get could be used to his advantage.
One thing Vitori has always been able to do is swing the ball. He got two of Pakistan's biggest names, Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq, with appreciable away movement. Adnan Akmal went in a similar fashion after Vitori had created a greater angle by coming from around the wicket.
But the best part of his performance today was the way he finished things off. Armed with the new-ball in hand and a tail-ender at the other end, he smelled blood and went for it. Saeed Ajmal was dismissed driving the fuller ball and he should have Rahat Ali the same way but the catch was dropped. Then, he trapped Junaid Khan on the crease, gave him no room to work with and forced him to play on to one that was just short of a good length, as it should be to tail-enders. The resulting five-for was richly deserved.
It was also an indication Vitori has grown up: from the youngster with potential who was too scared to say much ahead of the comeback Test in 2011 to the confident character he is now. All it needed was a little bit of time, the experience that comes with some disappointment and maybe even the nervousness with being pushed by equally capable compatriots.
"When there is competition in the squad and things are not going your way, you may get a bit of rest and that's happened to Brian," Panyangara said. "But he has come back with such good energy, its great to see. Hopefully he can keep that up because we will need him in the second innings." On a pitch that has not misbehaved as much as was predicted, Zimbabwe will need Vitori at his best if they are to pull off a memorable coup.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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