Full Name: John Alexander Rennie
Born: 29 July 1970, Fort Victoria (now Masvingo)
Major teams: Matabeleland (1993/94-2000/01).
Known as: John Rennie
Batting Style: Right Hand Bat
Bowling Style: Right Arm Medium Fast
Occupation: with storage company
Test Debut: First Test v Pakistan, at Karachi, 1993/94
ODI Debut: 18 November 1993, v India, Indore (Hero Cup)
BIOGRAPHY (updated December 2002)
John Rennie was a prime example of a cricketer who, though endowed with fewer natural gifts than most other first-class players, nevertheless made himself into a quality player and even reached Test status through his own sheer hard work and determination. As John himself says, "As long as you show keenness and want to get out there and play, with even a little bit of talent you can start achieving."
Although born in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), John's family moved to Salisbury (now Harare) when he was young, and he was first introduced to the game properly at Groombridge Primary School at the age of about eight. His first coach was Greg Bell, a former Midlands cricketer, under whom John thrived. He started to learn slowly, and also played with his cousin in their garden in Harare. His father Peter was also a keen cricketer who played Logan Cup cricket for Midlands.
When in Grade 7, he moved to Hartmann House, where his coach was Mike Nash; he was then bowling off-breaks, and Mr Nash played a major part in correcting his batting technique. Hartmann House is the junior school for St George's College, where he captained the Under-13B team, making one wonder what happened to all the A team players. Robin Stokes, and for the next two years after that Bill Flower (father of Andy and Grant), gave him help and encouragement, appreciating the effort he always put into his game. Throughout his career, in fact, Bill Flower was there as a mentor. At Under-15 level he attended the Fawns trials as a member of the Mashonaland B team; he had been badly handicapped by a bout of malaria during the term, so he had no record behind him, but he had a good trial and was unfortunate not to make the national side.
While in Form 4 he was promoted to his school second team, and then to the firsts, with Robin Stokes again as his coach. While in the Upper Sixth he captained the school team and won a place in the Mashonaland Schools team, but did not make the national side. At the age of 17 he joined Old Georgians Sports Club, his school's old boys' club and also the club of the Flower family. This was another step up the ladder for him, and at each level he came up against better players and found his own game improving as he kept working at it. Kevin Murphy was then the club captain and wicket-keeper, and he gave John a lot of help. In those days Old Georgians was a young, unsuccessful team, but this was the change radically as the Flower brothers and their youthful associates developed.
John was perhaps fortunate to be chosen for the national team's tour of England in 1993, with a depleted team which was then short of pace bowlers at the best of times. His bowling steadily improved, but he had still taken only six first-class wickets when he was chosen for the tours to India, for the Hero Cup, and Pakistan. One of his most memorable matches was his official one-day debut in the tied match against India. Entrusted with bowling at the end of the Indian innings, he restrained Azharuddin and Tendulkar to four runs an over, and then came in to bat, last man in, with Zimbabwe needing a further 12 runs for victory. He struck a superb shot, right into the setting sun; the umpires eventually signalled four, although many, even in the crowd, believed it should have been a six. In the end, Heath Streak was run out and the match was tied. His bowling figures on those tours were not remarkable, but he was becoming known for his control of the ball and his ability to move it in the air.
On his return after Pakistan, he moved to Bulawayo to work for Bak Storage Company. He joined Old Miltonians, the strongest of the Bulawayo clubs, which contained most of the top Matabele players but had few reserves of quality. He had a most successful first season for Matabeleland, taking 20 wickets in their four matches.
The following season, 1994/95, was to be a major disappointment. He suffered from a back injury that not only handicapped his bowling but also interfered with his rhythm. His arm was lower and he lost the ability to swing the ball; he frequently bowled wides and no-balls. Yet such was his determination that, perhaps unwisely, he tried to play through it all and had a most unsuccessful season with the ball. On the other hand, he often made useful runs, averaging almost 30 during the season. It is the main regret of his career that at times he unwisely tried to play through injuries that really needed resting.
The following season, things began to come right again, and he was at his best in the Logan Cup final. He bowled throughout the Districts' second innings and was into his twentieth over when he dismissed their last batsman; Districts were out for 128 and John had taken six wickets. Matabeleland went on to win the match and the Cup.
With the emergence of such promising young talent as Henry Olonga, `Pom' Mbangwa and Everton Matambanadzo, it seemed as if John's international career might be over. Yet, even if the general public did not appreciate him and had written him off, the national selectors knew that he was still one of their most accurate bowlers and better suited to the one-day game than the newcomers. To general surprise, he was chosen for the one-day series against England and fully justified his place. He also played a leading role in some of Zimbabwe's matches in the triangular series in South Africa, and startled a great many people with his considerable swing on the ball. At sea level, though, he found it more difficult to control.
He felt that 1996/97 was a good season for him, that he always performed well for Zimbabwe and was very proud to be part of their one-day series win over England, which he names as the highlight of his career. Most vital of all was his three wickets in the first one-day match, with his juggling caught-and-bowled off Ronnie Irani the golden moment. He was also pleased with his performance in South Africa, feeling that he was now considered to be a genuine national player instead of an also-ran. He feels that Zimbabwe put up a superb performance as a team, thanks to coach Dave Houghton who, he says, inspires and instils confidence and unified the team.
Few felt that John would play a major part in 1997/98, except perhaps for the one-day matches. But he began the season in fine bowling form, and was a surprise selection for the First Test against New Zealand, despite the absence through injury of Eddo Brandes and Henry Olonga. He fielded well and played a couple of useful innings with the bat, but his bowling was unsuccessful. He was given only 11 overs in the match, perhaps swinging the ball too much to find the edge, and failed to take a wicket. He was an automatic choice for the three one-day internationals, and as usual took early wickets in the first two matches. Unfortunately he failed to bowl as well as usual at the end of the innings, and was expensive. He withdrew from the tour to Kenya due to business commitments. In the Logan Cup, though, he recorded a first nine-wicket haul since it was awarded first-class status, at a cost of 76 runs against Mashonaland A at Bulawayo Athletic Club.
John did not play much in 1998/99 for personal reasons, mainly through the loss of his premature baby son; since then he and his wife have had another son. He did play an unsuccessful one-day international against India and one first-class match against the touring Australian Academy team, when he took five wickets.
He played more regularly in 1999/2000, but this was to be his last season in top-class cricket. He took seven economical wickets in four one-day internationals against the Sri Lankan tourists, but was less successful against England and lost his place. In the Logan Cup, a good double of 63 runs and five wickets for 70 failed to prevent a huge Mashonaland victory; significantly, the opposition only started to dominate the match after John had to leave the field through injury.
Business and family reasons increasingly curtailed his cricket, and at first-class level he made one final appearance for Matabeleland in 2000/01 in a rain-ruined match. He then faded gradually out of cricket.
John played quite a bit of cricket in England: in 1989 he played for Bewdley, in Worcestershire, and the following two seasons for Widnes in Lancashire, then in 1993 for Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Each time he put in some good all-round performances, gained useful experience, and also in one match scored about 130 not out, his highest score in any class of cricket. As a batsman he felt his main virtue was his ability to stay in there and bat patiently, especially in support of a specialist batsman, but he can unleash some fine strokes at times too.
John captained Matabeleland in several matches in 1996/97, after the resignation of Wayne James, but resigned before the end of the season due to business pressures. Although he did not enjoy a prolonged Test career, he was nevertheless a very useful all-round cricketer whose determination and effort could never be questioned.
He nominated Aravinda de Silva as the most difficult batsman he bowled against, as the Sri Lankan was always likely to score heavily off anything but the perfect delivery. He is married to Terry, who also does much good work in promoting Matabeleland cricket.
Alistair Campbell said of John, "He must be the biggest trier the game has ever seen! He has the biggest heart, and whenever you call on him to do a job, he has done it wonderfully well, especially opening the bowling with the new ball in one-day cricket. He gives the team a lift because he's always got a buzz in the field, and he's a very positive character."