November 24, 1999

Craig Wishart Raring To Go Again After Injury

Zimbabwe's Craig Wishart began the 1998/99 season in prime form, with a one-day century against India followed by two good Test innings. But a mixture of reduced opportunity, with the return of Grant Flower after injury, and a run of bad luck culminated in his being omitted from the World Cup touring party.

Then at the start of the new season he suffered a knee injury which kept him out of cricket for almost two months. He returned to club cricket for Old Georgians Sports Club in Harare with a burst of runs, and scored a superb 152 in last weekend's top-of-the-table clash with Alexandra Sports Club. John Ward spoke to him and found him positive and eager to regain his place in the national side.

Craig Wishart's knee injury at the start of this season may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise. The powerful and talented right-handed batsman feels that it has helped him to mature as a player and sharpened his hunger for the game.

The problem flared up just before the national side's departure for Singapore in early September, a tour for which Craig had been restored to the Zimbabwean side after missing out on the World Cup. He hurt it in practice, while the team was playing 'touch hockey'. A team-mate came to touch him and it felt as if his left knee had just snapped. It was quickly diagnosed as a ligament injury. He suffered increasing pain on tour, and on his return went to see a specialist, who said he had torn a cartilage and needed an operation.

He had a minor operation; he could walk after two days, but the specialist told him to give it six weeks to recover. It took eight weeks, in fact, but when Craig returned to see him as it was giving him a little trouble he was told not to worry as that was normal, and that he could play again.

While Craig was recovering he still attended Old Georgians club matches to support his team and found his attitudes were changing. "I found that sitting on the sidelines was a bit of an eye-opener for me," he says. "When you are playing you get so caught up in the game that you don't notice that much, but from the side you see different aspects of the game; you see where your mates are going wrong and you say to yourself, 'Well, I don't want to do that,' and you set yourself targets for when you come back. And since I've come back all I want to do is get myself some decent runs by batting a full fifty overs, which is all I've got to play at the moment, and concentrate on occupation of the crease; I want to put a price on my wicket now."

He began practising again about a month after his operation - batting only, no running; just a knock in the nets. He played his first club match about three weeks ago, a 35-over match against Alex, and then a Vigne Cup match against Universals. He scored a 60-odd, a thirty, and then last weekend 152.

While batting and bowling his knee has given him no trouble, but when he has been exercising for some time and then stops, he can feel it stiffening up. There is no pain, but it feels as if it is going to seize up, although it doesn't.

He batted number three last Sunday against Alex, a match between two unbeaten teams in the Vigne Cup while the national players were taking on Sri Lanka in Bulawayo. He went in about the fourth over when the first wicket fell. The pitch was very green and a little damp after a great deal of rain the day before. The ball moved around a bit, but there were no bowlers of any great pace in the Alex attack, with Andy Blignaut feeling his way back after injury. Also bowling were Mashonaland A players Gary du Plessis and Craig Anticevich among others; "a mix-and-match attack, really," says Craig.

He and wicket-keeper Bruce Moore-Gordon, who had opened the innings, decided to bide their time and see off the new ball. Craig encouraged his junior partner just to be patient and play straight. The weather conditions were improving, so the pitch was going to dry out and batting would become easier. Craig found it quite difficult at the beginning and left a lot of balls to start with. His first fifty runs came slowly; from 50 to 100 he accelerated, and then opened his shoulders for his final 52 runs, as the team entered the last twelve overs of the innings. "My main aim was to play straight, occupy the crease, and the shots would come after that."

Craig concentrated on hitting straight, especially over the bowlers' heads, and recorded seven straight sixes. Team-mate Craig Evans says, "This was one of the best innings I've seen him play. Right from ball one when the ball was moving around he knuckled down, left the good balls and hit the bad balls for four - simple as that. If other players in the country learn from that we'll have a better national side, I think. He waited very patiently until he got his hundred and then just took the bowling apart. It wasn't the greatest bowling attack I've ever seen, but it doesn't matter what the bowling is like, you still have to scored 150 runs, which he did. He hit the ball very methodically and showed the way it should be done. Any youngster starting out in cricket should have been made to watch that innings."

Craig feels rather frustrated that he now has three weeks without any club cricket, as the national side is playing Sri Lanka in Harare then and club matches cease. He and Evans both feel that club cricket should continue despite the international matches; in fact, Evans makes the suggestion that two-day cricket should be played between club sides - one match per month is his thought.

So Craig's present realistic hope is that he will be selected to play in the next Zimbabwe Board XI match, against Gauteng B in Mutare next month. His target after that is to force his way back into the touring party which will participate in the triangular tournament in South Africa, along with England, next January and February.

"I'm dying to get back in and play," he confesses. "All I want is to be given another opportunity and hope I take it. I want to take it with both hands; I feel much better equipped now upstairs."