An outstanding all-round performance by Everton Matambanadzo in the recent crucial first-league club match against Alexandra Sports Club should have served as a reminder to the selectors that here is a fine bowler who seems to have been quietly forgotten by his country. Although fit and in form, Everton played in only one Test match and no one-day internationals, and missed out on all the major tours.
He takes his omissions philosophically, but clearly wants to be back. He seemed to lose the favour of the selectors during a period of two years when he was often unfit, suffering first mainly from shin soreness and then from a shoulder injury that allowed him to bowl but not throw in from the outfield. But he hopes now those are things of the past.
A visit to the Australian Academy in August 1999 was the turning point, he feels. "I learnt a lot there, and since then my game started turning around. I had been struggling with injuries since 1997. But I was given a programme in Australia that I pretty well keep to now. It focuses more on cardio-vascular and suppleness, which I find has helped me a lot. The suppleness has helped me to stay injury-free - touch wood! - for the longest time in the last three years. The cardio-vascular has helped me to perform consistently in games, which I need to get back into the team. Last season I was bowling well and I got a Test match against Sri Lanka; I didn't do particularly well, but I didn't bowl badly." It was very disappointing for him that this was his only chance.
He did make the Zimbabwe A team that toured Sri Lanka at the end of last season, but injured his knee after the first unofficial Test match, and was unable to play again. "It was a pity, as I was bowling really well at the time," he says. It may also have reinforced the selectors' apparent belief that he is too injury-prone. It was his second visit to Sri Lanka, his first being on the national side's tour of 1997/98.
After the Sri Lankan tour he spent a few months visiting his fiancée, an American girl, in the United States before returning to Zimbabwe for pre-season training and the New Zealand tour. He had a boost when chosen for both first-class warm-up matches against the tourists, but two expensive wickets did his prospects for further advancement no favours. "At the start of the season I felt I was unlucky; I was bowling well but not getting wickets," he says. "But the last couple of weeks I've been going all right."
Everton has also been playing for the Zimbabwe Board XI and feels he bowled well on their tour in South Africa, although not taking as many wickets as he felt he deserved. But he feels his luck will change soon and he will be among the wickets again.
Everton is captain of Universals Sports Club in Harare, and actually opened the batting for them regularly in the past, although he has yet to make his mark with the bat in first-class cricket. His highest score remains the 32 not out he made in his second first-class match, a Logan Cup fixture, seven years ago at the age of 17.
"We're doing okay," he says of his team's performances this season to date. "We lost a couple of games at the start of the season but since then things have been going all right. Unfortunately we lose a lot of players to the main team and the A team. Half our team goes when the team is on tour, but when the whole team is there we're quite a strong side."
Who are the leading Universals players when the internationals are away? "My brother (Darlington) has done really well," Everton says. "He made a few fifties. Hamid Adam has batted well for us. We lost Hitesh Hira, who was having a blinder of a season, taking two five-fers and three eighties, but then he injured his ankle. David (Mutendera) is bowling really well at the moment. We lost Douglas Hondo to Kwekwe Sports Club when he was bowling really well. But everyone contributes, which is extremely good."
Just over a week ago Universals had a crucial match against Alexandra Sports Club in which Everton made a superb all-round contribution. "I won the toss and decided to bat," he recalls. "It was a bit green and overcast, but it was one of those times when you feel that if you bat long enough you can put a total on the board, and if it stayed overcast all day the moisture would probably stay in the wicket, which wouldn't dry out, so the bowling would still be difficult in the afternoon. That's how it worked out.
"We managed to make a pretty good total of 230. Ali Shah batted well for us at the start. I made 55, batting number six. Ali and I put on about 40 together, and then David came to the crease and he and I put on about 40 together. Then I made a 20-run partnership for the last wicket. In the 30th over we were about 80 for four, and then everyone chipped in and we got a good total."
It sounded as if Everton was playing a steady, orthodox innings rather than a Gus Mackay-style assault. He agrees. "I had a few hits at the end, but I needed to bat the whole innings," he said.
Alex were up against it from the start. "David bowled the first over, and off my first ball a catch was dropped," he remembers. Then with his second ball he trapped the left-handed opener Andrew Gilmour lbw. Then after a brief break for rain he bowled a few bouncers before yorking the number three batsman. "The next batsman was `Tomato' - Craig Anticevich," he continues. "He fended off a short-pitched delivery and was caught at slip. Then I got Eian Marillier with a yorker, my best ball. My fifth wicket was a yorker - three of them were yorkers, and an lbw and a caught behind."
When Everton has been selected for the national side, it has generally been in tests rather than one-day internationals. He has played in only seven one-dayers over the past four years, despite taking 11 wickets at a cost of less than 20. He tends to be an expensive bowler, with a more impressive strike rate than economy rate, which is probably held against him. Does he consider himself more of a Test than a one-day bowler?
"No, I don't think so," he says immediately. "If you look at my one-day international record I'm equally effective, but I think as a cricketer I prefer first-class cricket. I think it's more of a test of ability than one-day cricket; even more so Test cricket.
"I'm hoping things go well for me and I continue playing as well as I'm doing now," he says, thinking of the future. "I haven't had this kind of form for a long time and I hope that I can keep it and perform consistently, and I hope to get back into the main team." Barring a surprise call-up to New Zealand or Australia, he expects his next major cricket to be the Logan Cup, where he expects to represent Mashonaland, after being vice-captain last season.