January 10, 2003

Biography: Gus Mackay

FULL NAME: Angus James Mackay
BORN: 13 June 1967, at Harare
MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland A, Zimbabwe Board XI. Current club team: Old Georgians
KNOWN AS: Gus Mackay
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Fast Medium
OCCUPATION: General Manager, Mashonaland Cricket Association

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: ZCU President's XI v Indians, at Sunrise Sports Club, 2-4 October 1998
ODI DEBUT: 4 January 2001; Zimbabwe v New Zealand, at Wellington

BIOGRAPHY (updated January 2003)

Gus Mackay is an unusual cricketer in that he did not make his first-class debut until the age of 31, and after that he went on to represent his country in three one-day internationals. There is little unusual, merely consistent, in his accurate seam bowling, but his batting in the lower middle order is scarcely common, either: many who have seen him bat declare they have never seen a more powerful striker of the ball.

There was mild surprise in both local English and Zimbabwean cricket circles in 1998 when it was learned that Gus, a prominent Midlands cricketer, after eight years in that area, was returning home to Zimbabwe and hoped to win a place in that country's team for the World Cup. Unfortunately Gus perhaps left the return a little too late in his career, as the Zimbabwean selectors were looking more at younger players, but he did play one-day cricket for Zimbabwe in Australia and New Zealand, and re-established himself as a leading player in Zimbabwean cricket.

Gus is a player ideally suited to one-day cricket, and a valuable performer in the longer game as well. He is a powerful hitter, especially straight, and is especially severe on overpitched deliveries, as well as a dangerous new-ball bowler of good line and length with a habit of achieving an early break-through. Had he not spent eight years of his prime overseas, he could well have enjoyed a more profitable international career for Zimbabwe. Even now, at the age of 35, he might well have bolstered the Zimbabwe team in the last year or two with an accuracy and economy that most younger players do not possess.

Like many other leading Zimbabwe cricketers, Gus enjoyed the advantage of a strong family background in cricket. His father Alan played Districts cricket for Bindura and Glendale for years, and began a love of the game in his three sons, of whom Gus is the youngest. When young he played frequently with his brothers and began to develop his skills at home.

He first attended Marlborough Junior School in Harare, commuting in from the farm each day, and played in the team there at all levels, but he does not remember any outstanding performances. At this early stage he was already primarily a bowler and it was only later that he developed his batting skills.

He progressed to Marlborough High School for three years as a boarder, where he received a lot of quality coaching from George Goodwin, father of Test player Murray, and this was when his game really began to develop. He played in the first team for each age-group there. In the main, though, Gus has been largely a self-taught cricketer who set his own goals and worked extremely hard to achieve them. "I wanted to do it myself and just worked hard at my game," he says.

After three years Gus moved to Plumtree High School, southwest of Bulawayo in Matabeleland, where Mike Whiley as headmaster, Mike Cummings and Neil Todd were coaches. He was in the school first team during all his three years at Plumtree, captaining the team in his final year. In his very first match he took five wickets for nine runs against Chaplin School, Gweru, and never looked back. He hit a couple of fifties during his time there, in the middle order, as he was now working harder on his batting - one against Milton in Bulawayo, he remembers. He also played for Matabeleland Schools and went on the Zimbabwe Colts tour to England in 1984, before representing Zimbabwe Schools in his final two school years. He was also a keen rugby player for the Plumtree first eleven.

Gus played no adult club cricket while at Plumtree, but on his return to Harare played a season for Harare Sports Club before moving to Old Georgians to get more opportunities. At Sports Club he played alongside such players as Andy Pycroft, John Traicos, Kevin Curran and Grant Paterson, with whom he enjoyed playing and who helped him a lot, but he felt his chances were restricted there and moved. He played for Mashonaland in the Logan Cup before it became a first-class competition, and became a well-known Districts player when he was not in England. He represented Zimbabwe Country Districts in one-day matches against touring teams from England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand during the eighties.

After leaving school he returned to work on the family farm, and in 1986 went over to England to spend a year playing for Essex second eleven, but without great success. On his return he suffered an ankle injury that prevented him from returning until 1989, when he played for Barnt Green in the Midlands. When he returned there the following year, it was to be another eight years before he returned to Zimbabwe for good. He always thought of Zimbabwe as home and kept his Zimbabwean passport so he was free to return when he felt like doing so.

He continued to play for Barnt Green for two years before moving to West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham League, and then returned to Barnt Green as captain. He also played matches for MCC, having been invited to join as a playing member by the former Oxford University Blue Giles Toogood, and this included a tour to Bangladesh. In his time there he also represented the England amateur team, the ECB eleven, for one season and the Midlands Club Cricket Conference. His best performances included an innings of 105 for Barnt Green against West Bromwich Dartmouth and an analysis of seven for 40 in another match.

He made plenty of friends over there, including many on the playing staffs of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire county teams. The league cricket he played in is semi-professional and he feels it is of a very high standard. When he took over as general manager of Mashonaland cricket, he immediately introduced their league regulations, which is not strict limited-overs cricket but allows for `winning' or `losing' draws, to replace the 50-over limitation that was used in the Mashonaland Vigne Cup competition.

To earn a living he joined the financial world, working for the Royal Bank of Scotland and then as a finance broker. When he returned to Zimbabwe he continued this line of business and became manager of the finance house UDC's agricultural division in Harare.

In June 1998 he decided to return to Zimbabwe with his English wife Clare, as he had always intended sooner or later. He immediately set his sights on gaining a place in the national side, but probably his age of 31 was an obstacle in the minds of the selectors, despite a most successful season. He rejoined Old Georgians, and was to be elected captain in his second season there. He had already spoken to Alistair Campbell, then national captain, about his return, and had particular encouragement from Andy and Grant Flower to give it a try.

Gus has always enjoyed playing for Old Georgians, although the club has had some trying times recently, and Gus himself has done much to keep them going, being instrumental among other things in obtaining sponsorship for the club from Ray-ban Sunglasses for the 1999/2000 season. He proved himself a dynamic leader on the field, although not universally popular, as some regard him as too intense and intolerant of failure, whether his own or those of others.

He was soon given a chance to show his worth, making his first-class debut for a ZCU President's XI against the touring Indian team, but without success. He did better in his first Logan Cup match for Mashonaland A; playing against Matabeleland he hammered 35 off 21 balls, including four sixes, and took six wickets in the match, although his team lost in the end. For a President's XI against England A he hit 44 off 38 balls (four fours, two sixes) and took two wickets, but was not selected for the Zimbabwe A team or for the World Cup team.

He did win selection for the Zimbabwe Board XI, firstly for the one-day side against Gauteng, and then in the three-day match against Namibia. In 1999/2000 he took over as captain from Trevor Penney, frequently took valuable wickets opening the bowling and also opened the batting in one-day matches, often with telling if brief effect. He scored a fifty against KwaZulu-Natal in their three-day match.

The highlight of his career came late in 2000, when he was called upon to join the Zimbabwe team in New Zealand and Australia, mainly with a view to the one-day tournaments. He played in three one-day internationals altogether, but without much luck: thanks to one or two missed catches, he did not take a wicket, and neither did he get to bat, despite his well-known ability to score at generally better than a run a ball even at first-class level. The cricket world may never know whether his powerful hitting would have succeeded against bowlers of the highest order.

He has not represented Zimbabwe since, with the selectors preferring youth to experience, even if that youth cannot produce the pressure and accuracy with the new ball that Gus can. But in domestic cricket other highlights were to come. As captain of Mashonaland, he opened the 2001/02 Logan Cup season with a devastating century against Matabeleland at Bulawayo Athletic Club. It was an inexperienced attack, but it was still no mean achievement to reach three figures off only 45 balls, the fastest known century in first-class cricket in Zimbabwe, while his ten sixes were also a Zimbabwean record. He took 19 wickets in the five matches at an average of 24, showing great consistency.

Before the start of the 2002/03 season, during which Gus was to continue as a bowler with perhaps reduced pace but with great economy, it was decided to appoint general managers of Zimbabwe's four main provinces. Gus decided his heart lay with cricket rather than the world of finance; he applied for the Mashonaland job and was successful.

He immediately started to transform an administration that had gained the reputation of being stagnant into a dynamic, forward-looking unit. He won an excellent sponsorship deal from P.G. Timbers for the Mashonaland team and also the Vigne Cup, and as was mentioned earlier revamped the competition.

Comparing his experiences in Zimbabwe with those in England, Gus prefers batting in Zimbabwe as the ball comes on to the bat better, but bowling is more difficult as the pitches are flatter and it becomes more of a priority to bowl to a good line and length. He feels his game has continued to develop well since his return to Zimbabwe, that he has bowled well, especially for the Zimbabwe Board XI, and that his batting has progressed considerably. He is keeping himself fitter in the knowledge that he is growing older, but he is nevertheless still improving. He would love to play international cricket again, but realizes that it is now unlikely, although few doubt he would do himself justice were he selected.

Regarding his batting, he says, "I just try to hit the ball straight and hit it hard." Perhaps only Old Georgians team-mate Craig Evans can rival Gus in the power he puts into his hitting. His highest score any class of cricket is 113, scored for Old Georgians against Old Miltonians in Bulawayo back in 1986/87. His best bowling figures are seven for about 40 in the Birmingham League.

Gus is now living in Harare with his wife Clare and a young son, and plays golf for recreation.