November 2, 1999

Craig Wishart - a short biography

FULL NAME: Craig Brian Wishart

BORN: 9 January 1974, Harare

MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (since 1995/96), Mashonaland Under-24 (1993/94- 1995/96), Mashonaland (1996/97- ). Present club team: Alexandra

KNOWN AS: Craig Wishart. Nickname 'Lionel', 'Wish'.

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat

BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Off-Breaks (changed from Medium Pace)

OCCUPATION: Professional Cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe B v Kent, at Old Hararians Sports Club, 30 March 1993

TEST DEBUT: Inaugural Test v South Africa, at Harare Sports Club, 1994/95

ODI DEBUT: 26 August 1996, v Australia, at Colombo (Singer World Series)

BIOGRAPHY (revised November 1999)

Craig Wishart has for several seasons been one of Zimbabwe's most promising young batsmen. Early in his career he was earmarked as a player for the future, but so far he has rarely lived up to his full potential.

Craig's father was a well-known local cricketer who played much club and Logan Cup cricket, and also represented Rhodesia B during the early Seventies, all in pre-first-class days. So Craig grew up with the game, and first played formal cricket during the Eagles holiday programme, run by George Goodwin, father of Murray, at the age of five. He was one of the youngest of a group containing players several years his senior, but his talent stood out. George Goodwin was also a family friend who invited Craig round to his house to play with his own sons, and gave him most of his early coaching. Craig looked the part of a batsman right from the start, and at the age of seven was batting Number Four for the Groombridge School Colts team (consisting mainly of ten-year-olds) and making useful scores. He was always big for his age, and even then had the power and skill to outclass most of his seniors.

The following year he moved to St John's Preparatory School and was a leading light in a very strong team. He was well known for his consistently heavy scoring, but he remembers few details apart from raking all ten wickets in an innings with his `little seamers' in a match against Alfred Beit School in Harare; he cannot remember when he scored his first century. In his final year he was selected for the Partridges, the national primary schools team.

Like so many other leading Zimbabwean players, his high-school years were spent at Falcon College, near Esigodeni. He was selected for the school first team when still in Form Three, played for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, and then for Zimbabwe Schools in 1991. At about this time he made his highest score in any cricket to date, 198 not out against the Welsh school Darfed, out in Zimbabwe on tour.

He was fortunate to be developing at the time when Zimbabwe cricket was just entering the Test arena and beginning to expand in other directions. This opened up new opportunities for young players like Craig, and he had the benefit of going on tours with the national Under-19 team to Denmark and Cape Town. Andy Pycroft was coach, and Craig particularly acknowledges all that he learnt from him. He produced a few good fifties, but already people were saying that he should be scoring more heavily.

In club cricket, he played first for Harare Sports Club, and then moved to his present club, known universally as Alex. He made his first-class debut at the close of the 1992/93 season, against the touring Kent county side, and impressed by making the top score of 65 in the first innings, off exactly 100 balls, showing his ability to hit the ball hard with 8 fours and 3 sixes.

The following two seasons were busy ones for Craig, as the selectors had noted him as one to be encouraged and given all possible experience, and Craig found himself included in almost every team short of international level -- Logan Cup for Mashonaland Under-24s, the Zimbabwe Board XI and most of the select teams to play the various tourists. He took a long time to find his feet. In 1993/94 he was usually out before reaching double figures, although he scored two good fifties; the following season he overcame that problem so well that only twice in 20 innings did he fail to reach 10, but only three times did he pass 50. He feels that at this stage he had not learnt to build an innings and tended to lose concentration or become impatient, while others suspect that he also tends to lack belief in his own outstanding ability. He can be very nervous at the start of an innings, but is learning to fight through that and is making fewer single-figure scores.

Craig had now done enough to convince the selectors that he was ready for Test cricket, although unusually for a batsman he made his Test debut before he had scored a first-class century. He now felt he was really part of first-class cricket, although scores of 24 and 13 added to his reputation for failing to build on solid starts. He held out with determination for a while against Allan Donald, whom he rates as being in a class of his own as the best individual bowler he has faced.

Craig has yet to establish himself fully in Test cricket; in his first six Tests his only score of substance was a praiseworthy 51 in Sri Lanka. Generally, though, he struggled against the Sri Lankan spinners on their home pitches, and even more so in Pakistan against Wasim and Waqar, whom he rates almost as highly as Donald. Waqar gave him particular problems and frequently trapped him lbw not moving his feet to swinging yorkers. He has also recorded his first century in first-class cricket at last, in a Logan Cup match against Matabeleland in Bulawayo.

Craig's main aim now was to earn a regular Test place, and he was keen enough not to mind what place this was. After the England tour, when he was unable to gain selection, it became clear that the main vacancy in the Zimbabwean batting line-up was that of opening batsman, with Mark Dekker suffering a confidence crisis and Stuart Carlisle displaying a back-foot technical weakness. So Craig, after discussions with selector Andy Pycroft, was drafted in to open the innings. While he is probably better suited to the middle order, he is quite prepared to open the batting, and accepts that in this position there will be times he will score runs and times he will fail. He prefers opening in many ways, as it gives him less time to sit and wait and anticipate his innings. He changed his emphasis while batting, concentrating on taking the shine off the new ball and building a long innings instead of simply seeking to dominate.

The 1996/97 season, Craig felt, was a very up-and-down one for him and his main need was to improve his shot selection, especially against the new ball. In one-day matches Andy Waller partnered Grant Flower for most of the season, but he retired after the triangular tournament in South Africa, opening the way for Craig to take his place in Sharjah. He found a great difference in his situation; batting was easier with the old ball, but on the other hand in the middle order it was harder to build an innings because of pressure of time. He would try to rush his innings more in this situation and hit the ball too much in the air. At this time, though, he was still finding his way, and four innings brought only 66 runs.

During the off season in 1997, Craig was very much at a loose end, as his contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union was at that time effective for only six months of the year. During the 1997/98 season he received more opportunities at international level but was still unable to make the most of them. He scored three forties in one-day cricket, two of them opening the batting, but realised that this was not good enough and he was still yielding to a tendency to throw his wicket away. He admitted to himself that he was not yet mentally tough enough, and did a lot of work with Andy Flower in the nets, talking with him and reading books he recommended. As a result he found himself fitter; he put more emphasis on training during the winter and early in the season and found himself tiring less quickly at the crease.

Craig was one of the leading candidates to open the batting with Grant Flower against New Zealand at the start of the 1997/98 season. He scored a fine century in the opening Logan Cup match, but did not show consistency, and instead the place went to Gavin Rennie, who made it his own. He did not get an international match against the New Zealanders, but was selected for the tour to Kenya. Batting at number six or seven against weak opposition, his opportunities were limited, but some powerful hitting in partnership with Alistair Campbell brought victory in a tight, rain-affected finish against Kenya.

Then came the disastrous tours to Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Craig lost his Test place after four failures in Sri Lanka, batting between numbers six to eight and being out three times cheaply to Muralitharan. On the other hand he regained his place as opener in the one-day team, beginning with a fine 45 against Sri Lanka and then enjoying mixed success in New Zealand. Back in Zimbabwe to face Pakistan, he lost his place as Alistair Campbell decided to open himself, and it looked almost back to square one.

1998/99 therefore looked like a crucial season for Craig. He had a stroke of luck when Grant Flower broke a finger before the brief home series by India, leaving a vacancy for an opening batsman. Craig played in the first two one-day internationals with little success at number six while Trevor Madondo partnered Campbell; when Madondo failed, he was promoted to open again. He seized his chance with both hands.

In the third match he opened with Campbell and stood firm despite losing his partner in the first over. He became rather bogged down in the twenties and, in desperation, played a couple of rash strokes. He got away with them, settled down and never looked back. The result was a fine 102, a rare century for Zimbabwe in a limited-overs match. Opening in the Test with Gavin Rennie, he played a vital role in Zimbabwe's eventual victory with innings of 21 and 63, his Test highest now, in opening stands of 42 and 138. It should have been enough to ensure his place for a long time to come.

Unfortunately for him, the return of Flower presented the selectors with a problem, and as the stand-in Craig had to yield his place to others again. He found himself back at six or seven in the order, going in with only ten or twelve overs left, scoring useful runs but getting himself out trying to force the pace because he had had no time to settle in. He did not do too badly in Sharjah, but was disappointed with the one-day series in Pakistan. Back at number seven in the Test team, he did little better, although his 28 with Zimbabwe's second-best score in the Second Test. As a result he lost his place again, and also missed out on the World Cup.

Craig has had some disappointing treatment from the selectors, and is perhaps paying a heavy price for his inconsistency of the past. With several more established players in the side and promising youngsters trying to force their way in, his career is still uncertain and unfulfilled. He faces extra pressure every time he bats in the knowledge that his place is insecure and he is liable to lose it unless he strikes oil immediately and continues to score heavily for so long that it becomes impossible to drop him. His situation became more difficult at the start of the 1999/2000 season with a first-ball dismissal at number three in the Singapore tournament, following which he was left out of the team for the next match, and then a long layoff from the game with a knee injury. With Trevor Gripper and Trevor Madondo enjoying success in his absence in the Test and one-day teams respectively, it may be very difficult for him to regain his place in the team. And then he has to face the pressure of knowing that his place is only as secure as his last innings.

One of Craig's best innings was his 53 in his second official one-day international, against India during the Singer World Series in Sri Lanka in 1996/97, when he came in at a vital time and shared in a fine partnership with Andy Flower. He also feels justifiable pride in his fifty in the Test in Sri Lanka on a viciously turning pitch, when he successfully batted with application over a long period of time. However, that innings was spoilt for him by the timing and manner of his dismissal, when he lobbed an easy catch to mid-on and blames this error for Zimbabwe's failure to avoid the follow-on.

Craig also developed briefly as an `occasional' bowler in first-class cricket, still bowling seamers and taking useful wickets at times. In 1994/95 he startled everybody, not least himself, by taking nine wickets in a Logan Cup match against Matabeleland, which shows that the potential for better things is there. After experiencing frequent shin soreness, though, he has changed to bowling off-breaks, although at present he feels it is wise to concentrate on his batting and has done less bowling recently.

Craig names Dave Houghton as his cricket mentor and role model, and particularly admires the way he so often comes up with the goods when under pressure, admitting that he still tends to get too hyped-up himself in pressure situations. Craig looks to mould himself on Houghton and learn from the way he occupies the crease and handles the bowlers. He also finds Andy Flower very helpful and willing to give him useful tips.

Craig used to play rugby and hockey at school, but now devotes his full attention to cricket. For relaxation he enjoys fishing.

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