Guy Whittall - a Short Biography

John Ward

October 1, 1999

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Full Name: Guy James Whittall

Born: 5 September 1972, at Chipinga (now Chipinge)

Major teams: Zimbabwe (since 1993/94), Matabeleland (since 1993/94).

Present club team: Manicaland

Known as: Guy Whittall

Batting Style: Right Hand Bat

Bowling Style: Right Arm Medium Pace

Occupation: Professional Cricketer

Test Debut: First Test v Pakistan, at Karachi, 1993/94

ODI Debut: 15 November 1993, v Sri Lanka, Patna (Hero Cup)

First-class debut: Young Zimbabwe v Pakistan B, at Alexandra Sports Club (Harare), 16 October 1990

BIOGRAPHY: (updated September 1999)

Guy Whittall is the sort of all-rounder that England would love to have: an aggressive middle-order batsman who can score useful runs, even centuries, at Test level, and a nippy medium-pace change bowler with the knack of taking useful wickets, besides being a very good outfielder with a fine throw. Since making his debut in Pakistan, he has been a regular in the national side.

Guy is one of the many national cricketers to attend Ruzawi School and Falcon College. His early life was spent on the family ranch in the Lowveld (see also the biography for Andrew Whittall), and he attended his schools as a boarder. His parents would often play cricket with Guy and his cousin Andrew, and his grandfather had been a good cricketer at Rugby School, England. Guy remembers that once, after scoring a century in a school match and feeling very pleased with himself, his grandfather bowled him out first ball. Guy said to him, "You won't do that again" -- whereupon he promptly bowled him second ball as well!

At Ruzawi, at the age of 7, he was first introduced to formal cricket, although this was mostly in the form of a tip-and-run game. When in Grade 4 he graduated to inter-school league cricket and scored his first century at an early age, 108 not out in a house match. In Grade 5 he scored a century against St John's, one of the country's strongest junior school teams. He was regularly the captain of his school teams and scored four or five centuries in junior school cricket. He pays tribute to the head of Ruzawi, Mr Bryan Curtis, whom he regards as a great coach who encouraged him a lot, and the man who equipped him well for his cricketing career.

While at Ruzawi, he and his schoolmates would often travel to Harare to watch the national team play against visiting sides, and his particular heroes were the big-hitting all-rounders Peter Rawson and Iain Butchart. In Grade 6 he was selected for the Partridges national primary school team, and in Grade 7 he captained the Marondera area team at the Cricket Week, when he scored a century and a fifty and took a few wickets, and still today cannot understand why he failed to make the national side that year as well, although he is philosophical about it.

Moving on to Falcon College, he was appointed captain of his age-group team at the end of his first year, and he kept the captaincy for the rest of his school career. With so many other future Zimbabwean players around, Falcon naturally won most of their matches, and Guy scored about six or seven centuries during his time there. It was a disappointment, though, that his father did not often get to see him play, as the ranch is so far from the school and he was usually unable to get away for long enough. Guy's academic career did not keep up with his sport, though, as he admits he was quite lazy at school, and rugby and hockey took over in the winter; he also represented Falcon at both these sports.

At Under-15 level he scored two centuries during the inter-provincial cricket week and was appointed vice-captain of the Fawns, the national under-15 team. At the age of 16 he was selected for the national schools side and toured New Zealand in 1989 and England in 1990, when they were unbeaten, with Dave Houghton as coach and Peter Whalley as manager. He scored a century in the Logan Cup (in its pre-first-class days) for Zimbabwe Schools against the Harare Central team. He was also selected for the national schools rugby team as centre during his final two years at school, and he pays tribute to Lionel Reynolds of Falcon College as an outstanding rugby coach.

Guy scored more centuries at school than most other top players; part of this was due to the fact that at Ruzawi and Falcon he had greater opportunity to play all-day matches, and he also attributes this to his father's advice. At one stage Guy was frequently getting dismissed in the twenties or thirties, and his father would frequently tell him he must cut out that habit and concentrate for longer and higher innings. Even today Guy realises there is a tendency for his concentration to lapse at this stage, and he has to be prepared to play through it and keep his eye on big scores; even during his Test century against Pakistan, he offered a chance at this point, which was dropped. "If you look at my Test record, you'll see I get out a lot around there," he admits. "Even in my club games. That's a most annoying time to get out, because you're just getting set, you've done the hard work. To get out for 0 or 5 or whatever, that's not so bad, but if you keep getting out in the twenties, thirties or forties, that's no good at all."

After leaving school, Guy put his mind to cricket, and did two years of professional coaching, employed by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, at Petra Primary School and Milton High School in Bulawayo. He then found a job as a sales rep in the city, and also worked as a hunter on Denis Streak's ranch. He was still playing rugby, and went as a centre to the World Cup qualifying tournament in Kenya.

He made his first-class debut at the age of 18, and played for the national side against Worcestershire as an opening batsman. But, before the Logan Cup was upgraded to first-class status, he got little first-class cricket. He played some useful innings against the Kent touring team, just before their 1993 season, and was selected for the Zimbabwean team to tour England that year. He did not do much in the first-class matches, and many considered him lucky to be selected for the tour to Pakistan.

Until then, Guy had been considered purely as a batsman in first-class cricket, although he enjoyed bowling and insisted to his team-mates that he could do the job. He loved bowling and was always willing to have a go in the nets, and John Hampshire, the coach, seeing his away-swingers, suggested to captain Andy Flower that he might prove useful. He will always remember his first Test wicket, having Basit Ali caught down the leg side flicking off his legs. Since then Guy has been a regular bowler for every team he has played in, although he has lost some of his nip at times. He does not find it easy to keep on top of his game in both batting and bowling at the same time.

When Pakistan came to Zimbabwe, Guy played a major part in Zimbabwe's first Test victory. The ball was moving around a lot off the pitch and, when the Flower brothers came together at 42 for three, Guy was on tenterhooks, ready to go in next at any moment. The hardest part, he says, was the waiting, as Andy and Grant batted through the rest of the day as they wore down the Pakistani attack. He found it quite nerve-racking sitting there, having to concentrate on every ball, and finding himself still sitting there with his pads on at the close of play. At one stage, he arranged for Stuart Carlisle to go in before him should a wicket have fallen before the close.

When he finally went in on the dismissal of Andy next morning, he wanted to ram home the advantage and scored quite quickly at first. With the help of a couple of dropped catches, he was soon setting his sights on a big score. After the second, dropped at third man as he tried to cut, he felt in control of his game. He aimed to keep the board ticking over and to support Grant Flower, who was moving towards his double-century. He was stuck on 98 for a while, when he was dropped in the slips; he remembers seeing the ball go all the way from the bat to Aamer Sohail in the slips, and then going down. But then, about two balls later, he enjoyed the relief of pulling a ball through midwicket for the runs he needed. Then, when Zimbabwe were in the field, he had the pleasure of coming on early in the second innings to dismiss Saeed Anwar lbw.

The following season, 1995/96, was one of consistency without making any headlines. Against South Africa and on tour in New Zealand, he kept making a start to an innings, only to get himself out when he should have been looking to make a big score. The 1996/97 season was, by his own admission, a bad one. He suffered from nagging injuries and a bout of illness, which caused him to miss a match in Sharjah. The only noteworthy performances in six Tests were a fifty against England, which turned out to be vital in saving Zimbabwe from defeat, and a burst of four wickets in the next Test against the same opposition for just 18 runs, although the Englishmen batted badly. He did have one top-quality first-class innings, 159 opening the innings for Matabeleland against Mashonaland in the Logan Cup, again helping his team to earn a draw.

A mixture of a rest, renewed commitment and additional responsibility brought Guy to the fore again in 1997/98, just as he seemed to be on the verge of losing his place. Dave Houghton, approaching the end of his career, wanted to vacate the number four batting position and go in lower down, so as to give the younger batsmen a better chance of assuming responsibility. It was decided to promote Guy.

He rose to the challenge magnificently. After a quiet Test in Harare against New Zealand, he struck gold in Bulawayo. He did give a sharp early chance in his first innings, but this time he took full advantage of it and did not give another. He played an admittedly mediocre New Zealand attack superbly, in particular pulling forcefully anything short of a length. He passed 100, but kept going. He was well short of his double-century when last man Everton Matambanadzo reached the crease, but Everton held his ground while Guy continued the battle, while the tourists set frustrating field placings designed to give him singles and keep him away from the bowling. The plan was generally for Everton to take the spin of Daniel Vettori while Guy handled the seam bowlers. Alistair Campbell controversially withheld his declaration, which many felt should have come at tea on the second day, at which point Guy was only a handful of runs short of 200. The feeling was doubtless that achieving a double-century would pay dividends in building Guy's confidence for the future. Eventually, a fine nudge to the boundary through the slips brought Guy to the coveted landmark. Following this Everton, who had kept his end up with great determination, went for a big hit and was caught.

Guy was going well in the second innings when, backing up and on 45, he was run out by the deflection of a straight drive from his partner off the bowler's hand on to the stumps at the bowler's end. This may have created some sort of bizarre record, as he was fortuitously dismissed in the same way during the Harare Test. Certainly it highlighted an anomaly in the laws of the game which needs attention that it will probably never receive; surely any 'knock-ons' by a bowler should claim a run-out only if intentional.

He had begun the tour, he says, hungry for success. Many felt he was on the point of being dropped from the national side, and his confidence was shaky. He paid careful attention to his shot selection, consciously trying to be patient and avoid forcing the pace. For most of the time during his great innings he was more concerned with the Zimbabwe total rather than his own score, and it was not until he reached about 185 that he realised a double-century was possible.

Guy continued to bat usefully in the one-day matches against the New Zealanders and also in the Three Nations tournament in Kenya, when Bangladesh were the third team; in fact, he began in Kenya with three consecutive fifties. Unfortunately his bowling again showed some decline; he still picked up occasional wickets but was not bowling consistently enough to warrant classification as a front-line bowler that season. Then he had to have an appendix operation, which put him out of action for several weeks, and he never quite regained his form when he returned.

This was on the double tour of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, when he turned in reasonable one-day performances but failed in the Tests. He wanted a good tour abroad, as most of his best performances have been at home, but it was not to be this time. He was not bowling well, a problem for Zimbabwe who were now using him as a third seamer, and he found this affected his batting as well. In New Zealand he had a chat with Sir Richard Hadlee and discovered some faults in his basic action, which he proceeded to work out in the nets. He had kept breaking his wrist while bowling, which had led to inaccuracy, and needed to practise keeping his wrist upright with the fingers placed correctly behind the ball.

This was to lead to much better form against Pakistan at home. He took wickets in both Tests and one-day internationals, and found he could swing the ball again. He also benefited from some net sessions with Wasim Akram, who generously taught the Zimbabweans how to bowl reverse swing; until then nobody in the country knew how to apply this new development in the game. In the triangular tournament in India he actually opened the bowling in the first one-day international and was first change after that; he was once again an important part of the bowling attack and bowled well at the death. His batting, though, took longer to recover.

He was becoming increasingly handicapped by a knee injury he first noticed in Sri Lanka, more a problem of wear and tear than anything else. It became worse during the cold weather of New Zealand, and he suffered more when he was hit on the knee in a match against Pakistan. The pain increased, but he thought that a winter on the farm would enable it to recover. It did improve briefly, strengthened by walking, but then he snapped a ligament. He was forced to have it operated on in September 1998, and then spend several weeks rebuilding it; he thus missed all of Zimbabwe's limited Test programme that season, including their two victories.

He played a few matches for Zimbabwe A against England A, and finally returned to the national team for the triangular tournament in Bangladesh, although not fit enough to do much bowling, and scored runs against the weak opposition. He went to the World Cup and, his knee virtually back to normal, played in all the matches. He turned in one or two useful bowling performances but was very disappointing with the bat, several times making a good start to an innings but failing to carry it through.

Guy also loves hunting, and from the age of about 13 or 14 he used to return to the ranch and spend most of his time doing just that. He has told his father that he is considering the possibility of being a professional cricketer for perhaps another four or five years and then returning to the ranch and to his life as a professional hunter. During the 1996 season he played for Rawtenstall in the Lancashire League and so had been playing non-stop for eighteen months. Knowing he needed a rest, he returned to the farm for the close season, and his early 1997/98 form showed how refreshed he returned. He tends to find himself just getting into the swing of hunting again when it is time to start training all over again for the next cricket season. Still, he feels he is really getting the best of both worlds, although with so much travelling involved in cricket he finds it difficult to feel settled.

Now that he has taken up a professional post with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, which started in September 1997, Guy is enjoying financial security during the cricket season. In the past, he had to rely on the money he made from hunting during the winter to see him through. Living so far from Harare and Bulawayo, he could not commute from there during the season, and had to find lodgings. Since most of the Zimbabwean team are based in Harare, he spends quite a bit of time there, staying with relatives, but wants to remain loyal to Matabeleland and keep playing for them. He recognises the danger of a reduction of standards in Bulawayo should more top players leave for the greater opportunities of Harare, as has happened in Manicaland and the Midlands since independence.

He has also played his part by turning out for Manicaland in the national league club competition. At the end of the 1997/98 season his Bulawayo club Old Miltonians disbanded, mainly due to their lack of a ground. Almost all of the top Matabeleland players were members, and most of them now joined Queens or Bulawayo Athletic Club. Guy though talked to Mark Burmester of Manicaland that winter and decided to join them, the ranch being in the south of the province. His normal residence at this time was in Harare, so the Manicaland capital Mutare was between the two. He has been very much the leading player in a weak but enthusiastic province.

Guy pays tribute to the two national coaches during his time in the Zimbabwe team: John Hampshire, he says, was a tough man but only because he wanted him to be better; he taught Guy a lot and built his confidence, while Dave Houghton has been `absolutely brilliant', constantly introducing new ideas and techniques, and a wide variety of activities.

Guy is a popular player wherever he goes, both for his easy-going manner and certain amusing eccentricities. According to Alistair Campbell, he has no sense of time, and on the 1996/97 tour of South Africa he was apparently fined more than the rest of the team put together for such misdemeanours as being late for team meetings. At the start of the 1997/98 season, he arrived sporting a bushy mane of hair that reached down to his shoulders. When asked how he planned to put his helmet on, he replied, "I've got a new one!" However, he did have it trimmed a little for the New Zealand series! He is always willing to socialise and talk with anybody and everybody, and relates easily to all ages.

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