October 7, 1999

Andy Whittall - a short biography

FULL NAME: Andrew Richard Whittall

BORN: 28 March 1973, Umtali (now Mutare)

MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (1996/97- ); Matabeleland (1996/97- ); Cambridge University (1993-1996). Present club team: Macdonald Club (Bulawayo).

KNOWN AS: Andrew/Andy Whittall. Nickname 'Structure'

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat

BOWLING STYLE: Off Breaks

OCCUPATION: Professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Cambridge University v Derbyshire, at Cambridge, 14 April 1993

TEST DEBUT: First Test v Sri Lanka, at Colombo, 1996/97

ODI DEBUT: 3 September 1996, v Sri Lanka, Colombo

BIOGRAPHY (updated October 1999)

Andy Whittall has the unusual, but not unique, distinction of representing his country overseas before playing first-class cricket at home. (Peter Rawson, Eddo Brandes and Dan Rowett among others also share this distinction.) But Andy is very much a Zimbabwean, and after a profitable time at Cambridge University returned home to stay.

He was born in the eastern border town of Umtali, now Mutare, but spent most of his boyhood outside school on Humani Ranch, which is about 120 kilometres from Chiredzi in the Lowveld. He and his cousin Guy, almost a year older, lived together on the ranch which was started by his grandfather and later taken over by his two sons, the respective fathers of Guy and Andy. Andy's grandfather had captained Rugby School at rugby, but decided to hunt in Africa at the age of 18 instead of staying in England and probably playing international rugby. He had just enough money to complete the trip; he then worked on a farm in Borrowdale, Salisbury (now Harare), until he had enough money to buy a ranch in the Lowveld in partnership with another man. Humani is near to the original ranch.

Although Andy's father did not have much personal interest in cricket, he encouraged him, and the boys played together a great deal on the ranch. Andy was fortunate in attending schools which fostered his talent for and interest in the game.

Living so far from an urban centre, Andy was naturally a boarder at school. His junior school was Ruzawi, a well-known cricketing school, and the headmaster at that time, Bryan Curtis, was a strong influence on Andy's early progress. He found both good coaching and excellent support there, as he did at his high school, Falcon College, near Essexvale (now Esigodeni). He was always an off-spinner, from his early junior school days, but he still feels he did not really get into the game until he was selected for the Fawns, the Zimbabwe Under-15 team, for whom he also opened the batting. During his final two years at Falcon he represented the school's first team and also the Zimbabwe Schools team. The major highlight was the visit of the national schools side to Australia, where he played with such other well-known current players as Heath Streak, Craig Wishart and Stuart Carlisle.

Despite opening the batting for a while, Andy has yet to score a century in any form of cricket, an omission that he has the ability to correct before long. His highest score, as far as he can remember, was his unbeaten 91 against Oxford University in 1994. Probably his greatest achievement in school cricket was his eight wickets for 11 runs, together with a fifty, in a key match for Falcon against their rivals Plumtree School. He also played hockey and rugby at school.

While still at school, Andy played club cricket for Old Miltonians in Bulawayo, the club to which he first returned after leaving Cambridge. He had nine months to wait between the end of his school career and his departure for England to read an engineering degree at Cambridge University. It was then a further six months before the English cricket season began; he immediately found a place in the University team, with John Crawley as his first captain and Graham Saville the coach. He played as one of two off-spinners in a bowling line-up that relied primarily on spin; his batting was hardly considered and he spent the season batting at 10 or even 11. This was a mistake, as shown in the University match: in the Cambridge second innings he hit 40 out of a last-wicket stand of 70, which saved his team from an innings defeat, although they still lost the match. His bowling average of 51, and indeed his bowling figures through most of his career, do not do him justice, but he has spent most of his career so far playing for struggling teams. He found it a big step upwards from schoolboy cricket to playing against professionals, and soon realised the importance of personal discipline if he was going to make the grade.

In 1994, Andy was appointed captain of a very weak team, and his own bowling form suffered as he struggled to make his side competitive. However, he did have the satisfaction of saving his team from another defeat in the University match against Oxford. He scored 40 in the first innings, but Cambridge were forced to follow on. An innings defeat looked inevitable, but Andy stood firm and also played some fine aggressive strokes in his unbeaten 91. When time ran out, he and his team were still batting but would undoubtedly have lost without the fighting spirit of their captain.

1995, Andy's second year as captain, was his most successful at Cambridge. His team also did well, and Andy himself said that they constantly surprised by playing above the level expected -- although this did not extend to winning a first-class match. He took 29 wickets in a good personal bowling season, and again his best batting came in adverse circumstances, staving off defeat against Nottinghamshire. However, the University match was lost after Cambridge collapsed in their second innings.

In his fourth and final year, Andy decided not to stand for a third year as captain, but continued playing. His figures were disappointing, but he was still highly regarded by English critics. That great character Derek Randall was now the university coach, and Andy particularly benefited from his exceptionally good mental approach to the game, which rubbed off on everyone else, and his ability to help keep the players' spirits up despite the uphill battles that university cricketers have to face throughout every season against county opposition. While at Cambridge, Andy played rugby for his college, Trinity, hockey for the university Under-21 team and also represented the university at the pole vault.

With his university career coming to a successful conclusion, he had to make decisions about his future. He did apply for jobs in London, but his heart was not really in it; he wanted to return to Zimbabwe and continue his cricket career there. Had he stayed in England, he would either have had to take up a full-time engineering job or join a county staff as a professional. However, he could not use his qualifications in Zimbabwe and stay on the ranch; neither Harare nor Bulawayo was his home. After speaking to his cousin Guy, he decided to return to Zimbabwe even without an assured future.

He arrived back just in time for some trial matches in preparation for the tour of Sri Lanka, and with a first-class record in England behind him he was included. He had had experience and exposure, and his success in the trial games won him his place on tour. Although he earned praise for his perseverance on helpful wickets, he again failed to take the wickets he deserved and is not yet in the class of the Sri Lankan spinners or Paul Strang. With the presence in the team of other prominent all-rounders, he batted low in the order, but his batting ability should be encouraged. He has shown in the past that his batting thrives on pressure situations. He played in the First Test in Pakistan, where his figures were badly spoilt by Wasim Akram.

Back in Zimbabwe, he did not play in the international matches against England, being kept out of the team by Paul Strang, who claimed the one spinner's berth. He was a member of the squad which toured South Africa for the triangular series, but spent most of his time as twelfth man in conditions that generally favoured the pace bowler. He got his chance again in the Sharjah tournament, where conditions were more favourable to spinners, but with limited success. However, he remained close to the national side throughout the season, and was happy to see how the team picked up during that season and the enthusiasm of the players and public. He took most pleasure in the Sharjah victory over Sri Lanka; a win over Pakistan and a place in the final would have capped a fine season.

Hard work and continued personal coaching from John Traicos enabled his bowling to improve still further, and by the start of the New Zealand tour in 1997/98 it was acknowledged that Zimbabwe now had three spin bowlers of genuine Test class -- Strang and the recently returned Adam Huckle, both leg-spinners, and Andy himself. Huckle kept Andy out of the Test team against New Zealand, although the possibility of playing three spinners in the Bulawayo Test was strongly considered. In retrospect, it was admitted that this might in fact have been the best move in both Tests, rather than play a third seamer who did little in either match. Andy did replace the more erratic Huckle in the one-day internationals, though, and did a fine job in containing the opposing batsmen.

He was a natural choice for the Three Nations tournament in Kenya, but he took a while to adjust to the different conditions and to batsmen well used to playing off-spin. Alistair Campbell in three matches opened the bowling with him. But he learnt well and triumphed in the final match of the tournament, an 82-run victory over Kenya, when he took three wickets for just 23 runs in 10 overs, opening the attack and bowling out the first three batsmen. For this he deservedly received the Man of the Match award.

He looked forward to the tour of Sri Lanka, where on spinners' pitches he knew he was likely to play in the Test team. He was well pleased with his bowling, although taking only four wickets in the two Tests against batsmen well used to playing quality spin. He also felt he bowled well in New Zealand, even though he failed to take a wicket in the two Tests there. Returning to Zimbabwe, he played one more wicket-less Test against Pakistan in Bulawayo, where he has found the pitches generally to be flat and give him little encouragement. His failure to take wickets despite bowling well encouraged many in their belief that he is mainly a defensive one-day bowler without the extra quality to bring him success in Test cricket.

Certainly he was doing much better in the one-day internationals, where more recently he has been put on to bowl, with success, at key periods, in the first 15 overs or at the death. Recently one list of ODI player ratings had him as eighth in the world. Even here, though, wicket-taking was at times difficult, as he took just one wicket in the three matches he played in the triangular tournament in India. He was considered to do a valuable job in containing the batsmen, however, often more important than wicket-taking in one-day cricket.

In 1998/99 he accepted a full-time contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union; he played in all three one-day matches against India, but took only one wicket. Adam Huckle, a more attacking spinner, was chosen for the Test match. In Sharjah he continued his containing role, although Sachin Tendulkar got hold of him at times. In the first match against Sri Lanka he took one of his favourite wickets, and a valuable one at that; sensing that the captain Arjuna Ranatunga was going to come down the pitch to him, he beat him in the air and had him stumped.

When the team moved on to Pakistan, Andy was to play a vital role with the ball in Zimbabwe's victory in the second one-day international, the team's first victory over Pakistan in three tours to that country. In bowling his ten overs for only 23 runs, he tied down the Pakistan batting and dismissed two major batsmen in Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana. He had little bowling to do, though, in Zimbabwe's famous Test victory on a seamer's pitch in Peshawar, although he had the honour of being chosen as the only specialist spinner.

He turned in some good performances in the triangular tournament in Bangladesh, also involving Kenya, and was Zimbabwe's most successful bowler in the final, when he took three wickets for 29. He was a natural choice for the World Cup in England, but he did not immediately strike form and played in only four of the eight matches, uncharacter-istically conceding more than five runs an over. He played a valuable part in the great victory over South Africa, though, taking two vital wickets and also three catches. His superb fielding is often ignored, but he has taken some brilliant catches over the years.

Once he became virtually a regular member of Zimbabwe's one-day team, Andy felt more at ease with his game in international cricket. He feels that he has vastly improved as a bowler since his early days with Zimbabwe, with experience being a major factor. He has learned to think as batsmen think, and how individual opponents think and play. In Test cricket he has learned either to attack or defend, and has become content with his role on a seamer's pitch to close up the game to rest the seamers when necessary. He now bowls at a slightly quicker pace in both Tests and one-day internationals, partly for technical reasons. He has an open bowling action, so when he slows down his pace he does not pivot as he should or get enough purchase on the ball. In Test matches he generally aims to hit off stump, while in one-day cricket he aims more for middle stump, although this naturally depends on the situation of the game. As a one-day fielder he has now been accepted as a vital member of the inner circle. One of his targets now is to improve his batting, and it is indeed a puzzle why he has not scored more runs, as he has a sound technique and is the regular night-watchman in Test cricket.

Andy is regarded by some as a possible future national captain, as despite his quiet demeanour he has good man-management skills and a good tactical brain. He was appointed captain of Matabeleland for the 1998/99 season and immediately started by regaining the Logan Cup for his province, although he did have some help from the weather.

When he first returned to Zimbabwe, Andy was offered a part-time professional contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, keeping him in employment for six months of the year. During 1997, he spent his time out of employment in England, playing for Wembley in the Middlesex league. When he became a regular one-day player this was expanded to a full-time contract for the 1998.99 season.

Andy is a lover of the outdoors, as befits one brought up on a ranch: he enjoys travelling, going skiing, fishing, and has recently taken up golf for fun. His cricket continues to develop: as a fellow off-spinner, he found the advice of John Traicos particularly helpful. John has helped him to put more body into his bowling action, and also taught him a great deal about tactics and the mental approach to the game. Traicos, though, tended to be lack the vital variations that might have made him a great bowler, and national coach Dave Houghton has spent time encouraging Andy to be more flexible and attacking in his approach. He has also learnt a great deal by simply playing with the national side, especially from Houghton and Andy Flower.

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