December 2, 1999

Everton Matambanadzo: Two Years In The Wilderness

Everton Matambanadzo has just played in his first Test match for two years after a slow recovery from an old injury. He talks to John Ward about this the Second Test match against Sri Lanka at Harare Sports Club.

JW: Everton, when was your last Test match?

EM: It was against New Zealand at Bulawayo in 1997.

JW: Can you outline the two years since then, when you have been troubled by injury and lack of rhythm at times?

EM: I had quite a serious injury. I injured my shoulder on the first day of our tour to New Zealand at the start of last year, and I've only just recovered from it and got back to full pace now. Until now I haven't been quite as strong or as fit as I was before.

I saw a doctor who put me under manipulation under anaesthetic and had steroid injections. The ZCU sent me to Australia, where they have a guy called Stu McCormack, who specialises in injuries to fast bowlers. He looked at me and told me areas I needed to work on to recover, so I followed his advice and now I'm much better.

JW: But you kept playing through last season even though you weren't fully fit.

EM: Yes, it's my job, my livelihood, so I had to play and make a living. But it took a long time to recover, obviously because of the nature of the job. I found I could bowl but for a long time I couldn't throw.

JW: What did you do this last winter?

EM: Dave Ellman-Brown gave me some time off, so I went to the United States and visited my girlfriend's family. I was off bowling from April until I came back in August, so I think the break did me good.

I've got steadily better since then, bowling well and taking some wickets for the Board XI and for my club as well. You know our structure, how we can play a game and have two weeks without playing, so I had a twoor three-week period after I got back before my first club game, and I took a four-for against OGs. Since then I've been taking twos and threes, but I haven't taken a five-for yet.

JW: I see you are now captaining Universals and even opening the batting!

EM: I'm only captaining the side in Alistair Campbell's absence; when he's not there I take over the captaincy. I've worked quite hard on my batting; since I haven't played so much cricket for two years I've had the time to work on that area of my game. I've spent a lot of time in the nets with Max Ebrahim who's in charge of Universals and he took a lot of time to feed the bowling machine to me in his spare time, which is fantastic.

JW: So it must have been a bit frustrating to be sent in at number eleven in this match!

EM: (Laughs.) Yeah, but if you look at the people ahead of me there's Bryan Strang who has scored a Test fifty and Henry Olonga has played a lot more than I have, although we're the same age. Gary Brent scored a fifty against the Sri Lankans and above them we have batsmen who have scored Test hundreds, so understandably I had to be number eleven.

JW: I thought it would be a toss-up between you and Henry, but hopefully your batting will come along. When did you first hear any news about being in the Test squad?

EM: I was in the squad for the South African Test, but I wasn't picked for the final eleven. Then the CFX Academy, which I'm a part of, was playing down at Kwekwe against Sri Lanka, so instead of doing twelfthie I went down there to get some decent bowling. Gary [Brent] and I both bowled well there; he took six and I only got one wicket, but had quite a few catches dropped off me. The pitch was not really bad; it spun, which suited Sri Lanka, and there was a lot of complaining about it, but there wasn't much wrong with it. It started going through the top when we played a one-day match against them on the final day, after the main match had been over in two.

Last Monday afternoon I was told to fly down and join the squad in Bulawayo in training for this Test, and then on the day before I was told I was playing. After two years it was a big boost. I had been working very hard for it and really wanted to get back in.

JW: Can you talk us through this match, then, please?

EM: It's like most first days of a Test match, when you're a bit nervous; I'm always nervous before the first day. It's always nice to bowl first; I always want to get on and do it and get that first ball out of the way. So I had to it through that first day and part of the second day before we finally got on the field.

JW: It must have been pretty shattering in the dressing room when there was that hat-trick almost straight away.

EM: Absolutely; when you lose three wickets in three balls in the second over of the match it really outs you on the back foot! We would have liked to make more runs than we did, but 170 was quite a good effort after having three of our best batters back in the hut without a run on the board. It was pretty jittery - we hadn't been doing so well recently in the first place - and there was always that feeling of "Here we go again," but at least people were optimistic that we could save something out of the game. All it needed was for two people to bat well, like Alistair and Andy did then and things could turn around. Unfortunately we lost Alistair and then Andy got out, but that's how it goes.

I knew when I went in to bat just before the end of the first day that we needed as many runs as we could get and it was important to stay there, because you need to bat for as long as you can in a Test match. When I went in it was only Henry and I there, so it was up to us to make sure we batted for as long as we could and get as many runs as we could.

We went in again the following morning, and wickets always seem to fall in the morning, and Davy [Houghton] said to us in the evening, "Tomorrow don't be afraid to play your shots; anything can happen; you can come off and make runs, or you might not come off, so just try and be positive and get something out of this innings." So we did get a few together.

My first bowl was a bit tense, but I had a second spell from this [the clubhouse] end, which I prefer, and bowled better, but unfortunately I had cramps and had to come off the field for treatment, so that spell was short. The third day was much more enjoyable and I bowled a good spell from the far end. Before I started Andy Flower just told me to relax and enjoy myself, so I did that.

JW: We thought as one of our two fastest bowlers you would be given the new ball.

EM: Yes, but Gary [Brent] bowls so well to left-handers, with Sanath [Jayasuriya] opening and Arnold in next; he swings the ball away from them and so he got the new ball instead of me. Gary nicked off Jayasuriya after he was dropped at third slip, but fortunately in the next over Henry knocked him over and he was back in the hut for not many. And then there was that brilliant fielding effort by Neil Johnson to get rid of that danger man Atapattu, their in-form player.

From there we knew that they had a lot of inexperienced players, and the game pattern then was just to apply a lot of pressure, stop the runs and the wickets would come. Jayawardene played very well, and Dilshan got a hundred, but he was quite lucky at the same time because he played and missed a lot and a lot of edges went just wide of the slips. It could have gone either way, but all credit to him; he played well and the innings was built on the back of his hundred and Jayawardene's ninety. Their partnership really knocked the stuffing out of us.

Dilshan was pulling quite well, and on a slow pitch we put a man out in the deep, which made him tentative to get on the front foot because he was expecting a short ball any time. I think he played and missed a lot because he wasn't as far forward as he should have been; he was always looking for that short one to pull. When he had settled down a bit after that fielding change he started playing some big cover drives and Andy put a sweeper out, which hindered his stroke. That shot and the pull shot were the two strokes he was scoring with, and after that he didn't really look that good; he looked like he was going to get out any minute, but he survived and ended up getting 160 runs. He had an lbw shout that looked pretty dead and he survived that, and he got an extra 60 runs. But it was good batting.

Once Jayawardene had gone we took some more wickets quickly and it was quite a good session for us. After about twenty minutes after lunch we just bowled and did the right thing, bowled in the right area, swung the ball and we picked up wickets. That's what happens even in Test cricket: if you put the ball in the right area often enough wickets are going to fall.

JW: You had a good long bowling spell from the far end on that third day and bowled very well, but it must have been pretty tiring.

EM: It wasn't that bad. I had prepared well; I had just spoken to the physio Amato about my cramps the day before and explained to him what was going on, and he felt I was dehydrated, so he wanted me to make sure I took all my electrolytes and taking on enough fluid. So I had a good spell, had a nice rhythm and so wasn't dehydrated as I had been the day before. So I was able to bowl a long consistent spell, which was fantastic.

I got two wickets, first of all de Saram. Andy Flower suggested I tie him down for a while then bowl him a wide half-volley and see if he went for it, and he did. The first one went for four and the second one got him, a catch to Murray Goodwin at point. Then I bowled Vaas a few yorkers, then a length ball, and I think he thought it was much shorter than it was, and he tried to pull it, and instead miscued it to Trevor Gripper at mid-off.

I thought everyone bowled quite well in that innings. We didn't bowl badly, but we had patches when we didn't bowl as well as we could. Henry generated a bit of pace in one session, just before I came on for the long spell, and Bryan [Strang] was superb as always. He gave away nothing; he swung it and he seamed it, and got two wickets through really good bowling. Gary was a bit tense at times but he still bowled well and stopped the runs.

JW: My only complaint was rather too many short balls at times, when the Sri Lankans are so good at pulling.

EM: I agree with you, and it was a slow deck, which made it a lot easier for them, so maybe it wasn't as good an option as perhaps slower balls.

JW: And then we got off to a bad start in our second innings and you had to go in as night-watchman.

EM: Yes; I was quite confident, though; it's something I've done not at Test level but for the Board team, which I've done successfully. I felt very happy about my batting and was comfortable facing Muralitharan. I thought I had worked out a game plan; I had spoken to Davy [Houghton] and Andy about playing him and was quite confident I would be able to survive that evening against him. Of the seamers Wickramasinghe wasn't really doing anything with the ball, just bowling straight, and you won't get people out with bowling straight when it's a question of just looking to survive. So I thought I'd last that evening, but unfortunately there was that run-out - a good pick-up and throw, and I was back in the hut.

I think Murray was nervous because there was one more over from Muralitharan to go and he thought I was going to get knocked over. He wanted to get that end and face Muri himself to save my wicket. That was a decision he made at the time which he obviously thought was in the interests of the team.

We discussed it just before that over started. He asked me if I was comfortable and I said not to worry because I didn't think he would et me out, and Murray said that if there was a run on he was going to take it. So I told him not to take any dicey ones as I didn't mind facing and was sure I could see out the day. He said all right, but make sure you are backing up.

Then he hit the ball towards midwicket and I could tell by his body language he was going to run, so I took off. And then he stopped, and then said yes, but by then it was too late. That's one of those things; it was quite incredible. I think he felt he needed to take that run in the interests of the team, and if the throw had missed the stumps it would have been a good call.

Anyway Murray and Andy batted very well the next day, just what we needed. They never looked in any trouble whatsoever against their bowlers, which I guess is why they reverted to what they did to get Murray out. Obviously it's legal in cricket but it's just not sportsmanlike.

Guy Whittall batted well; you can always tell when Guy's going to make runs because he had that intensity about him and he was very focused. He and Andy never looked like they were going to get out, but then Andy got out. He felt down a bit because the ball that got him out he had been hitting for four before, but the ball just held its line a little bit, hit the outside of his bat and went to point.

[We could not let Everton comment on the rest of the innings, which contained two dubious lbw decisions to the dismay of the Zimbabwean players.]

JW: At least we made Sri Lanka fight for the 35 they needed for victory, but they did look as if they weren't properly prepared mentally for this innings.

EM: I think they just expected us to lie down and give up. In the changing room we said we would go out and just show them what we can do, the kind of attitude we'll approach the Third Test with. So we went out there and bowled really well, taking three wickets and a run-out. We might have had four - Bryan looked like he was going to get a wicket as well. If we had had a few more runs we might have had quite a good battle.

JW: And you might have had a bowl as well.

EM: That would have been fantastic. I was looking forward to it, actually; I would like to have had a go at them. The wicket was starting to bounce a bit and there might have been a few bruised rib-cages!

JW: And when there is only a small target it must be easier in one way for you quick bowlers because you know you aren't going to be run into the ground.

EM: You can run in and give it everything you've got because you've only got a few overs. You never know, you could turn the game on its head.

JW: What influence did Andy Flower as captain have on the team on and off the field?

EM: Andy is a very positive person. Whatever the situation, you never hear him utter a negative word; he's always aiming to get something positive out of any situation we're in, so it was very refreshing. When things were going badly for us he still had positive things to say, and as a player you start to look at things more positively and ways of getting out of the rut.

JW: And what about your brother Darlington? I hear he's been making some good runs for Universals this season. Do you think he's ambitious enough to want to play Test cricket?

EM: Yes, he's taking wickets and also making some runs. I think he'd like to play Test cricket, but he doesn't have enough time at the moment. He's still got one more year to go at university and he has to take care of his career first.