Coventry longs for another chance
It was mid-afternoon in the nets in Bulawayo and the Zimbabwe players were starting to train. In the middle of the field, the local franchise, Matabeleland, had gathered. The players had to undergo fitness tests before they would be allowed to sign on for the new season.
While their national counterparts milled around for a few minutes, the franchise players sweated through their bleep tests. Most of them did not have a moment to look elsewhere. But, one of them did. He threw the national team the slightest of glances, the kind that screamed, "I wish I was there".
"Obviously you get a bit jealous sitting on the sidelines," Charles Coventry told ESPNcricinfo. "But, it's a part of your career, sometimes you're in the team, sometimes you're out and you just have to keep working towards becoming a regular."
To those who will associate Coventry with 194* forever, it will probably come as a surprise that the spectacled, tousle-haired batsman was not training in the national camp. For seven months since August 2009, until Sachin Tendulkar's 200 in February 2010, Coventry held the joint world-record for the highest individual score in ODIs with Saeed Anwar.
One innings can't build a career, but in that innings that came out of nowhere, Coventry showed glimpses of greatness. Before that effort, he had only scored 301 runs in 14 ODIs, and his marathon effort somewhat eroded the criticism he had to cop for not having the discipline to build an innings over a long period of time.
To disappear, almost into nowhere, after that was just as unexpected. Not many would be able to live up to a score like that, but fewer people would live it down like Coventry has. Since then, he played in 22 matches, crossed the half-century mark just once and was out in single-figures six times. "I think I put myself under a bit too much pressure," he said. "I lost a bit of the enjoyment for the game."
With him failing to steady up the middle order, and perhaps with memories of the 194 in mind, Zimbabwe's selectors thought of a new role for Coventry as they went to the 2011 World Cup. "I had a bit of a tough World Cup, being pushed to open the batting and now I find myself on the sidelines."
Scores of 14, 4 and 0 in his three World Cup outings were clear evidence of a failed experiment and a build-up of frustration for Coventry. "I think they tried to give me a chance at the top because I started getting into some bad form in the middle order," he said. "I was usually the guy who had to make sure I was there to finish things off but at the time [during the World Cup], my role was more to come in upfront and play a few shots and that didn't work very well. When that failed I had to get back on the sidelines."
He has now decided that the yo-yo has to stop and that he will concentrate on the middle-order spot from now on. "I've done well batting lower down the order so I've just got to keep getting runs at the franchise level and hopefully I can get back in the national side," he said. Last season, Coventry was not able to impress at that level. His seven List A games fetched only 90 runs but he did manage 272 in the same number of first-class matches.
Coventry acknowledged that those numbers do not do him any favours, but said his previous performances mean he can't be written off. "I've played for the national side before and it's not like I don't know what I'm doing," he said. It's doing it more consistently, and now at the level below the national side, he needs to get right.
The plan has already been mapped out and it sounds like a fairly simple one. "I've just got to work hard, make sure my fitness levels are up there and start scoring some runs at franchise level," Coventry said. The realities of that plan are little more serious, because it will involve more than becoming a run machine. "I'm trying to enjoy myself and trying not to put myself under too much pressure when I fail, and understand that I've got another innings to put that right."
That kind of determination and persistence is echoed throughout the Zimbabwe national team, with players from Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda to Elton Chigumbura and Prosper Utseya showing what can be achieved through hard grit and grind. By the time the four of them, and the rest of the squad had completed their session, Coventry had left the ground, but if he was there and had stolen a stare at them then, he may have seen the level of commitment he will have to show to break back in to this Zimbabwean side.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent