Masakadza rewarded for new goals

Shingirai Masakadza celebrates one of his four wickets AFP

Shingi Masakadza's job was to defend. But that was when he was a professional footballer. Now, as an international fast bowler, his role is to attack.

"It's all about being aggressive and showing your presence," he said. "So it was definitely part of the plan not to give the Bangladesh batsmen width, and try to get them with the short ball."

Masakadza finished the first Test with five wickets, including 4 for 32 in the first innings, in a performance that showed the progress Zimbabwe have made in developing seamers. On a surface with a healthy grass covering that required patience and careful application from batsmen, quicks who bowled challenging lengths were rewarded.

For the opening pair of Kyle Jarvis and Keegan Meth, it meant not overpitching, and getting their deliveries to swing from a length. For Masakadza it meant extracting extra bounce from just back of it. With his height, his ability to do that was evident from the second evening, when he beat the bat regularly as the batsmen were unsure whether to drive off front or back foot.

As pressure was created and runs dried up, Masakadza struck. His first victim was the "big man", Shakib-Al-Hasan, who was done by a delivery that lifted on him. Two of his other three scalps, Mohammad Ashraful and Sohag Gazi, were caught on the pull.

The three quicks shared all ten Bangladesh wickets in the first innings, an indication that they blend well together. "I thought we made a really good team. That was probably our first time playing together, because we play for different franchises, and it seemed to go very well," Masakadza said.

Few would have predicted that outcome because, from the outset, they seemed an unlikely trio. While Jarvis is an automatic pick for the Test team now and Meth fought his way in with his progression in the nets, Masakadza was the odd man out. Tendai Chatara, who had a good tour of West Indies, was thought to be ahead of him but Masakadza's batting prowess sent him up the pecking order.

Before the series, he was asked to try to fulfil his potential as an allrounder. With a first-class century and two fifties to his name, the coaching staff believed he could play a dual role. "When we got together in the training camp, the coach came to me and said what he wanted me to do was to chip in with a few runs in the lower order. So I've been working on the mental and the technical side of things."

Masakadza spent longer than any other player in the nets on Monday, three days before the second Test, as he hoped to put in a repeat of his showing in the first. In the opening match he batted for more than an hour for 21 runs and put on 37 for the ninth wicket with Meth in a show of temperament that not even some in the top-order could muster. "I told myself if I give myself a couple of overs to settle, things would get easier," he said. "I just had to look at Brendan Taylor, he gave himself time and soon it was coming out of the middle."

That performance could go some way to help Masakadza establish himself as a genuine lower-order allrounder. It could even create some distance between himself and the other quick-bowling candidates: Chatara, Brian Vitori and Michael Chinouya. "I hope I get to play in all our games," he said. "Especially Test cricket. We could have more Test cricket - it will be good for the nation and it would help us get used to different conditions."

Masakadza made his debut in New Zealand, in Zimbabwe's first overseas Test after their comeback from an almost six-year self-imposed exile from the longest format. They lost by an innings and 301 runs and he managed only a single wicket. "It was quite hard to adjust to the wind there, especially bowling into it," he remembered. "But if we played more matches on different tours, we would get better."

Talk like that is very different from the discussions Masakadza had when he first crafted his sporting career on the soccer field. He spent two years playing football, which included a stint at one of Zimbabwe's most popular clubs, Dynamos. The highlight was playing in a derby against their arch-rivals Highlanders but he drifted back to cricket after completing his schooling.

"When I was 14, I went to a school where there was no cricket so I used to return to the sport at our club, Takashinga, during the holidays. There were good structures at the club so it was easy for me to go back and play," he said.

In that time, his older brother, Hamilton, made his Test debut and by the time Shingi finished at school, he wanted to do the same. "I wanted to do as well as he was doing. We used to play backyard cricket together all the time. I guess I went back to cricket because I wanted to be around family."

Although, like anyone, he had to work his way into international contention, he had an advantage from the outset. "My fitness levels because of soccer helped a lot. I could bowl for long spells," he said. He had Allan Donald, a childhood hero, as his coach at the Mountaineers franchise, and that helped him hone his wicket-taking skills and develop his aggression.

Masakadza was first picked for Zimbabwe in 2010 and remembers a three-match ODI tour of South Africa as the most important phase of his development. "I was coming up as a young bowler and even though we didn't do well on that visit, it was more about the experience than anything else. I learnt a lot about bowling to good batsmen when I was there," he said.

With seasons of consistent performances under his belt, Masakadza was included in the Test squad to New Zealand but left out of the group that toured West Indies. He was then included in the current squad after an impressive 2012-13 season where he was the joint second-leading wicket-taker in the Logan Cup, with 37 scalps at 24.00.

Although he is not one of the ten centrally contracted players, he is on a winter contract and a strong performance in the second Test could see him cement his spot in the side for the matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan later in the year. Masakadza exudes the confidence to do that. He speaks authoritatively, much like Hamilton, and his self-belief is obvious.

He showed no anxiety in the first Test, even when bowling to openers who were willing to take him on. Luckily for him, Hamilton was stressed enough for both of them. "I am more nervous when Shingi is bowling than when I am batting," he admitted.

The family have one more cricketer, left-arm spinner Wellington played for Zimbabwe's Under-19 side and he is hopeful of playing for the senior side in years to come. Their three other brothers and one sister do not play the game, but Masakadza hopes they will one day be able to sit in the stadium to watch the three siblings represent the country.