October 27, 1999

Trevor Gripper - a short biography

FULL NAME: Trevor Raymond Gripper

BORN: 28 December 1975, at Harare

MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland (1998/99- ), Zimbabwe (1999/2000- ). Present club side: Harare Sports Club

KNOWN AS: Trevor Gripper

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Batsman

BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Off Spin

OCCUPATION: Professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: 28 March 1997, Matabeleland Invitation XI v Worcestershire, at Bulawayo Athletic Club

TEST DEBUT: 14 October 1999, v Australia, at Harare Sports Club

ODI DEBUT: No appearances yet

BIOGRAPHY (October 1999)

Trevor Gripper may be thought of in some quarters as a chip off the old block, son of Ray Gripper, opening batsman for Rhodesia from 1957 to 1972. Trevor himself shrugs off the analogy, as his father's career finished before he was born and he therefore has no first-hand memory of him as a batsman.

Ray did play a part in Trevor's early cricketing experience, of course, and Trevor remembers when he was young playing in the garden with him and learning to catch with a tennis ball as Ray hit it to him with a racquet. Trevor also pays tribute to his help especially on the mental side of the game. The family have always been keen on ball sports, and Trevor used to play tennis with his two older sisters, although he did not appreciate being beaten by them! His mother played hockey for the country, and Trevor preferred hockey himself to rugby as a winter sport at school.

Trevor attended St John's Preparatory School in Harare, where he had his first memories of organised cricket -- which he nevertheless describes as 'hit-and-giggle games, so long as you're having fun . . .' He cannot remember any major innings, although he did well enough to earn selection for the Harare Primary Schools Cricket Week. He remembers billeting out players from other centres for the Week, and Henry Olonga was one who stayed with the Gripper family at that time. At the age of ten he transferred from St John's to Hartmann House in order to gain admission to St George's College, his father's old school, and then progressed to the College for his high-school education.

His first century did not come until about the age of 16 or 17, given the fact that he is primarily a defensive batsman and matches at a lower level tend to be severely restricted by either time or overs. This was for the second eleven at St George's College, scored he thinks against Eaglesvale. He feels he was a late developer. He pays particular tribute to Mike Nash, his coach at Under-14 level, who helped him a great deal in 'getting my mind right', at a stage where he was just beginning to open the batting. At Under-15 level he was also fortunate enough to be coached by Bill Flower, father of Andy and Grant, and he remembers particularly the painful but invaluable catching sessions he had with him! In that year he was selected for Mashonaland in the national cricket week for that age-group, although he did not make the national side, the Fawns.

He did not open the batting regularly until he reached first-team level. He soon realised he had found his niche, and has preferred to open ever since. In his final year at St George's College he was selected for the Mashonaland Schools team, and followed this up with selection for the national Under-19 side to play in the South African Nuffield Week in 1993. The team as a whole did not do particularly well, though.

After this tour Trevor left St George's a year younger than usual, and spent a year with Kingswood College at Grahamstown in the eastern Cape of South Africa. He read an article about the College when he was in South Africa with the Under-19 team, with reference to the 'bridging year' between high school and university, and he felt he would enjoy the experience as giving him another year of cricket at school level and also a chance to see what university was like. At the end of that year he won selection as vice-captain of the Eastern Province Nuffield side.

From Kingswood he applied for and was offered a place at the Eastern Province Cricket Academy, which had been started by Kepler Wessels. While there he decided to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Port Elizabeth, and hopes to use it when his cricket career is over.

His cricket at the Academy, he says, had its ups and downs. He had a lot of runs behind him as an opening batsman, but this was now the time when he worked the hardest on perfecting his technique. He had hitherto played most of the time off the front foot at the Academy, but now worked hard to develop his back-foot technique. He also had the advantage now of playing in a strong league in Port Elizabeth. He pays tribute to the coaching of Colin Bland at the Academy; he had a few sessions with him and rates him as perhaps the best batting coach he ever had.

At school level Trevor did no bowling at all; in fact, he had a reputation as a 'chucker'. He did not bowl seamers particularly well and had a tendency to throw the ball to try to improve it. When he was in the Academy, though, he began to bowl off-spinners, with guidance from one of the coaches there.

He made his first-class debut in early 1997 at the Bulawayo Athletic Club, for a Matabeleland Invitation XI against the touring English county team Worcestershire. He had flown back to Zimbabwe for a ten-day vacation and contacted Zimbabwe Cricket Union officials to let them know his credentials as a graduate of the Eastern Province Academy and his wish to play some cricket during his holiday. They were impressed enough to draft him into the team. He scored 45 and 0 in the match. With a now sound technique he batted positively in the first innings, enjoying the pull, and felt very good about his effort, although regretting his failure to turn it into a fifty or more. He particularly remembers the bowling of left-arm spinner Richard Illingworth, who he feels was the best bowler he had faced at that stage.

Trevor's full-time university career lasted from 1996 to 1998, following which he returned to Harare. He returned to Harare Sports Club, for which he first played in his last year at St George's College and had continued to play every year when he was home during the Christmas holidays. He had played several matches for the Zimbabwe Board XI over the previous seasons which had not been granted first-class status; in one of these matches, against Griqualand West, he scored 151 not out, his highest score to date in any form of cricket.

He was selected for the second unofficial Test between Zimbabwe A and England A at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo and earned some notoriety in the second innings when, in a valiant but vain effort to save the game, he batted for 263 minutes and 222 balls to score 28. A month later on the same ground he scored a fine 62, this time off only 108 balls, for a Matabeleland Invitation XI against the touring Australian Cricket Academy team, more than half the total of 121. But he had little other success and finished with a first-class average for the season of under 20.

At the last minute he found himself able to play in England during the 1999 season. Dirk Viljoen had a contract with Cranleigh in Surrey, but was then selected for the Zimbabwe World Cup team; looking for somebody to take over his contact, he found Trevor eager and willing. Trevor enjoyed himself with eleven centuries during the course of the season, three in the league, and he was able to play a great deal of mid-week cricket as well against such teams as MCC and Stoics.

He was awarded a professional contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union at the start of the 1999/2000 season, and soon celebrated with 114 in a national league club match against Alexandra Sports Club; this was his first century in Zimbabwean league cricket, but it was the start of his first full season. He was selected for the ZCU President's XI to play the touring Australians at Queens Sports Club, where he scored a dogged fifty in the first innings which so impressed the selectors that they immediately added him to the squad for the Test match in Harare. Two days later he was told he was playing.

It was a selection that took everyone by surprise, and it meant that Zimbabwe were playing an extra batsman at the expense of a bowler. It may have seemed a defensive strategy, but it turned out to be an inspired decision. With a settled opening pair of Grant Flower and Gavin Rennie, he batted number seven in the first innings, scoring only 4 before being given out lbw, perhaps dubiously.

In the second innings he received his big chance. The Zimbabwe camp had noticed that Glenn McGrath bowled particularly well to left-handers, while Shane Warne did not. It was decided that, since Trevor was a regular opener, he should go in first with Flower to face McGrath with the new ball, with the left-handed Rennie held back to the middle order when it was expected that Warne would be more prominent. Trevor began very slowly, playing himself in with tremendous pains, but was still there at the close of play, and in fact was only dismissed, lbw to Miller ('plumb' this time, he admits) for 60.

It was not only an outstanding performance for a debutant, but it was also a learning experience. He learned a great deal from batting with Flower and also Murray Goodwin, with whom he shared a second-wicket partnership of 98. At one stage he tried several times to cut Warne dangerously close to off stump, but Flower had a word with him, advising him that it was not a percentage shot in the circumstances. Goodwin also gave him a great deal of advice. Slow going it may have been, but he batted well through his slow periods and at one stage played a superb off-drive on the up which went for four. His fine performance amid much dismal Zimbabwean batting seemed to have ensured him a place in the team for some while to come.

Trevor also has ambitions to win a place in the national one-day side, although he recognises that at present he is far better suited to the longer version of the game. His technique is basically sound, and he is simply working on the right times to play forward or play back; he will be looking in future to develop his strokes on the off side, where he is at present limited. He can cut, but gets most of his runs through on-drives and working the ball through midwicket.

In the field he was particularly impressed by Steve Waugh, who despite two dropped catches survived to score a big century and teach the Zimbabweans a stern lesson. Waugh, along with Kepler Wessels, was a player Trevor admired as a youngster, and he actually names Waugh as his mentor, particularly admiring the mental side of his game as well as his technique. He spoke to Waugh after the test match and the Australian captain had some encouraging words to say about his technique.

His father Ray scored 279 not out for Rhodesia against Orange Free State in 1967/68, which remained a Currie Cup record for many years, but this hardly concerns Trevor, as it took place several years before he was born and his father has scarcely mentioned it to him. He himself has no thoughts of any possibility of matching this score; as he says, "I'm not here to break records; I'm here to help the team win games."

Trevor enjoys playing golf in his spare time, but he enjoys all sports. In his university days he played second-team hockey and also squash, while at school he was a useful athlete, particularly in long-distance running. In his spare time, which is limited these days, he enjoys listening to music and going out and meeting new people. He found London and seeing how different people live there a particularly enjoyable experience.

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