Gavin Rennie joins the Zimbabwe exodus
The drain of experienced players from Zimbabwean cricket has continued with the retirement of the former left-hand opener, Gavin Rennie. Though he is only 27 years old, Rennie has chosen not to renew his contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, and has instead opted to venture into business.
Rennie started his career brightly by scoring a fifty in each of his first four Tests in 1997-98 but, like Craig Wishart and Stuart Carlisle, he had been in and out of the side ever since. For the recent tour of England, he was overlooked despite the serious shortage of experienced batsmen, and he has admitted he was losing his enjoyment of the game.
"I certainly didn't expect my international career to end this prematurely," said Rennie at the start of the new season. "I think that the management of my career by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and the poor timing of selection forced me into this decision. I understand that the ZCU and the selectors have a tough task in trying to fulfil the policies they have, but I believe that in the best interests of Zimbabwe cricket the ZCU have lacked forward planning and player management."
Rennie insisted that he is not departing in bitterness or under pressure, but that it was entirely a personal decision. "I also had to consider my personal life and my marriage," he said. "And I have certainly been under a lot of strain during the past 18 months with the way cricket has gone in this country and with my non-selection, even though my performances have justified my selection for some tours."
The recent tour of England failed to vindicate the selectors' policy of playing a young, inexperienced side, and often the team went into the field with only four specialist batsmen. Dion Ebrahim battled manfully, but lacked a reliable opening partner, while the only two experienced players in Carlisle and Grant Flower generally struggled for runs in the international matches. Even when Carlisle was injured, the selectors failed to call on either Rennie or Wishart, and it was clear to all that more experience was vital.
"It's unfortunate that I was not selected for the tour, because the position I find myself in now might have been a little different," he said. "But the ZCU and selectors had their reasons for not selecting me, and perhaps they have realised their error in preferring so many young players on such an important tour. A lot of the senior players and a large portion of the cricketing community felt I should have been on that tour."
Had he struck good early-season form, Rennie may well have found himself in the frame for national selection again, but by now he had lost his passion and enjoyment of the game. "There's only so much disappointment a cricketer can take, and I've found I have reached that level," he said. "With selection there are no guarantees and I'm not asking for any, but I feel I have done my years as a Zimbabwe A cricketer and toured with the national team many times, successfully and otherwise."
He did not make his decision without a great deal of thought, as he spoke to ZCU managing director Vince Hogg, and then to Heath Streak and Geoff Marsh as well as two of the selectors. They understood the reasons for his decision and asked him to reconsider but, as Rennie said, "it had got to the stage where it was no longer a financial issue but an enjoyment issue. I found that the passion I had for playing cricket had been eroded."
Most batsmen tend to reach their peak in their late twenties and early thirties, so Rennie has wisely not burnt his boats. He does not plan to play any cricket this season at any level, but has not ruled out the possibility of a return to the game in the future. "I need a complete break, but perhaps the passion I had will be rekindled in the years to come," he said. "At my stage of life I'm looking for financial security and stability, which is obviously not evident at present with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union for various reasons. Maybe in the future when I have regained my passion for the game, maybe I will be ready to come back into cricket."
He has moved into business as a transport broker, on a consultancy basis, and as he realises, once his business is established, it should be possible for him to become financially secure and take time off to play cricket again should he wish. He has a great deal to offer to Zimbabwe cricket, not just with the bat and ball, but as a senior player capable of nurturing the youngsters when there are so few father figures to turn to at present. He has also been respected as a quiet, capable captain who handles his team well on the field but, apart from a short spell in charge of Zimbabwe A, this ability has been recognised less than it should.
His first four Tests he names as the most memorable time of his career, although since then he made his highest scores of 84 against India and 93 against New Zealand, both as opener. Yet after that 93 he was dropped for a year. He scored 1023 Test runs, with seven fifties, at an average of 22, which would surely have been higher given a good run in the side. He played 40 one-day matches, averaging almost 20, and was one of the most skilful players at keeping the score bubbling over at the death. Many believe that increasing political pressure to fast-track young black players into the national side has worked against players like him.
Team highlights for him were his involvement in Zimbabwe's first Test series win away from home, against Pakistan in 1998-99, and their first one-day series away, in New Zealand in 2000-01. Both are `fantastic memories', and he concludes by saying, "I would like to thank the Zimbabwe Cricket Union for the memories I have had, and I wish them the very best in the future as they continue to manage cricket in this country. I would also like to thank the supporters I've had, who have gone a long way to inspiring me to reach greater heights." No doubt they too are hoping Gavin Rennie's retirement will be a brief one.