John Rennie had a major effect on the recent Logan Cup match between Matabeleland and Mashonaland at Bulawayo Athletic Club, both by his presence and his absence. His five wickets played a major part in bowling Mashonaland out for 170; his 63 was instrumental in Matabeleland's first-innings lead of 86. But then an arm injury put him out of the match; Mashonaland recovered and completed an eventual 276-run victory. Here he talks to John Ward about the match and his recent cricket career.
JW: It's good to see you back this season, John, because last season was a difficult one for you.
JR: Last season was just a season that went by probably without me. I had a couple of injuries, and it was actually very difficult to get into the side. The side was playing well, it was very settled, and I didn't really get that much opportunity to play, so I can't really complain about last season at all. Then the World Cup came and went, which is disappointing always to miss, but I thought that the side that went to the World Cup performed admirably.
JW: And how did you approach this season?
JR: Well, I started the season off just hoping I could get into a few sides and play some good cricket and show the selectors that I'm not a spent force, to prove that I'm more than capable of holding my own, both in domestic league and at Logan Cup level, and also at international level, which I think I've done.
JW: How did you come about to return to the national side?
JR: Well, there were a few injuries and the side had performed badly; they needed to make some changes in the bowling attack, and against the Australians I got the opportunity to play in a President's XI game here. I got some wickets, got some runs against them and was considered for the national side in the one-day games. It's always a privilege playing against the Australians, and I've learned a lot against them.
JW: What other international matches have you played this season?
JR: We then played against Sri Lanka, and again I played in the President's XI side here, took a few wickets and made some more runs. Then I got a couple of games against them in the one-dayers; I actually played four out of the five and in each game I got a couple of wickets and I think I was probably going for an average of threes [runs per over]. Opening the bowling, I got wickets early doors and managed to get Jayasuriya out - which was the big wicket - trying to swing the ball away from him, and in these conditions it seemed to work.
And then it was off to South Africa with the national side, where again I was playing well, putting good performances together. I had a few opportunities and I thought I took them, but was left out of the side on occasion - being the third seamer, you always tend to get left out whenever they're looking to make a change. I ended up playing against England here, and I bowled reasonably well and held the side together with a decent batting performance, and we nearly won the game. So yes, it's been a pretty good season for me: I'm bowling well, I'm batting well. I can't complain, the form is good, but work commitments at the moment are quite tough, so I'm not able to play as much cricket as I'd like.
JW: Have you made any changes to your batting or bowling this season.
JR: I think I've got a bit more control, the swing is still there, the control is still good, so yes - as long as I'm swinging it I'm competitive at international levels, but when I get into conditions where the ball doesn't swing, or I've got a fault in my action and I'm not swinging it, then I find it really tough to compete.
JW: You were unavailable for the first two Logan Cup matches.
JR: Yes, the partnership I'm in landed up taking over the management contract for Irvin and Johnson, as well as the current distribution that we're doing; we only took that over on 1 March, which was about the start of the first Logan Cup match. So I couldn't play, but you've got to make a living and make sure you make yourself available for what pays bills.
JW: Have you been able to get in much practice recently?
JR: No, unfortunately not. Setting up a new business makes it very difficult to find the time to do that. There are no night facilities!
JW: So this current match: perhaps you can set the scene first.
JR: On the first day, we won the toss. The wicket was a little green, there was a bit of moisture in it, it seamed around a lot and there were overcast conditions which helped me swing it. We made a couple of early breakthroughs, then Gavin Rennie and Dirk Viljoen put a partnership together that was quite difficult to break. Eventually we managed to get the break-through; I got a few more poles and I was bowling really well. We looked as if we were going to knock them over pretty cheaply, which we did - 170 is more than acceptable. We unfortunately now have a problem with my getting injured on the afternoon of the first day; we now have all three of our mainline bowling attack out, which made it very difficult to get the penetration we needed in the second innings.
When I was bowling my 22nd over without a break - maybe that was a little bit too much - as I bowled a ball I felt a click directly under my armpit. I subsequently found out that it's probably a ligament tear or a ligament strain under there. I tried to bowl a couple more balls but it was just too sore. It seems to have eased quite considerably over the last couple of days, so it will probably take six to eight days to heal. I've got to see a physio and see if we can get the healing process up and running quite quickly.
JW: What are your chances of playing next weekend, do you think?
JR: Well, I'm going to see what the physio says. It's very difficult to say right now, but I don't think I'll be able to play at this stage. It's still very, very sore, but you never know - injuries tend to heal quite quickly, so we'll see how it goes.
We then went in to bat after bowling them out for 170 - I managed to get five - and we started to play really well. We lost a couple of early wickets, but Mark Vermeulen played extremely well. Then we looked all of a sudden as if we would get bowled out below their score. I managed to get a decent partnership going with Jason Hitz. I tried to coach him on the field, the mental aspects of the three-day game, and he responded well, played well within himself and we got a partnership together. It settled our innings eventually 80-odd ahead.
Then in the second innings, with my being injured it was very difficult to make any kind of penetration as the pitch got flatter and flatter on the second day. We made a couple of early breakthroughs, and they were 118 for three. Then Craig Evans and Dirk Viljoen came together, we dropped catches - apparently we dropped seven catches, and when you've got players of that class batting against you, you can't afford to drop them, especially the way they both strike the ball. They put a fantastic partnership together, but if we had taken our catches that would have effectively made them 40 for five with Gavin Rennie out because of health problems. He had some food poisoning . . .
JW: He was also sharing a room with Craig Evans!
JR: (Laughs.) No, I don't think that has anything to do with his food poisoning! Sharing a room with Craig is always a lot of fun; there's always good humour and a good banter and he keeps the game alive.
Then Craig and Dirk started to bat really well together; they took their chances and as bad balls came they put them away. Then they started to put good balls away, and by the end of it they were putting every ball away. Congratulations to both of them; they both played fantastically well. Craig was particularly impressive this morning, hitting the ball very straight and very clean, and Dirk played well. You can't complain; they both batted us out of the game. I wasn't able to field because I was afraid of re-injuring myself, and the Matabele fielders started to let their heads go down. That affected them mentally from their batting side, and their performance in the second innings just shows how affected they were by those innings of Craig Evans and Dirk Viljoen.
They batted poorly, but credit to the bowlers. Gus Mackay bowled well, there was a bit of moisture that got on to the pitch and I think that helped the team a little but with the new ball if you banged it in. As I found on the first day, the new ball did tend to go a bit. They bowled well and we played badly, and it's as simple as that! With that sort of combination, they had the penetration, they took their catches, and that was the end of the game.
JW: It looked to be pretty competitive when you were bowling to Gavin on the first day!
JR: We always compete hard together. Never anything acrimonious in it, but we always compete hard. I don't think it would be right otherwise; no quarter is ever given, which is the way you would expect it and that's the way it is. You've got to play hard and play the game like I play against any other batsman.