Eleven years ago in Harare, Solomon Mire played his first professional cricket match. Just 17 years old and batting at no. 9 for Centrals in Zimbabwe's domestic one-day cup, he cracked 94 from just 67 deliveries, hitting five sixes. The very next day, he was shifted up to no. 8 and made an unbeaten 79, this time with two sixes. Before the week was up, he added an unbeaten 52, this time from no. 7, and his reputation as a fearsome hitter started to precede him. Fast forward a decade, and Mire has transformed from a rangy teenager into one of the best strikers of a cricket ball in Zimbabwe.
He's moved all the way up to the top of the order now, and against Pakistan - the world's top T20I side - he came within one stroke of becoming the first Zimbabwean to hit a T20I hundred, providing a neat little bit of symmetry by once again making 94 (but from 63 balls this time) in the city where he made his start as a pro. Not that that was playing on his mind - he didn't even know about the feat he was so close to, and was thinking only of trying to keep pushing his team's score up.
"I actually didn't know that stat until it got mentioned during the break," Mire said. "At that point it was more about getting the runs. I didn't really feel nervous at all being in the 90s because it wasn't important for me today. It was more about trying to hit out at the end. I realised that I was seeing the ball a bit better than I had anticipated, and I knew I had to kick on. Today was about trying to utilise the good form I feel I have at the moment."
Mire has looked in the best touch of all Zimbabwe's batsmen in this tri-series so far, despite the fact that he has played no serious cricket since the World Cup Qualifiers in March and wasn't part of the warm-ups against Kenya. But after a couple of 20s in the first two matches, he took the attack to Pakistan today and put together Zimbabwe's best start of the tournament with the recalled Cephas Zhuwao.
"I try and complement Cephas a bit because he's obviously an attacking guy and I just try to reinforce that he has to play his game," Mire said. "For someone like him, it's very small things like telling him to stay still and not move around too much. Because for a striker the worst thing you can do is move around. I'm just trying to help him clear his mind so he can hit the ball better. And if he's going off I just try and give him as much of the strike as possible, because he can go much faster than I can. If it's not working, then I take that role. But the most important is just trying to build a partnership."
Against Pakistan, Mire shared in partnerships of 49 with Zhuwao, 33 with Hamilton Masakadza (of which Mire scored 30) and 64 with young batsman Tarisai Musakanda, with whom Mire shares a special connection. "Tari and I go back a long way, so I'm happy to see him starting to find his feet," he explained. "We're both from Kadoma. I knew him as a young kid, and I also know his dad very well. I try and guide him as much as possible. He looks up to me as a bit of a big brother to him. I try to help him as much as possible on the field too. I'm sure he's going to kick on from here."
Mire is, in many ways, the perfect role model for a young cricketer, particularly in a Zimbabwean context. He might have been building a reputation even as a teenager in this country, but he quickly realised the value of expanding his horizons. After a couple of years in domestic cricket, he emigrated to Australia and found a home playing for Essendon in the Victoria Cricket Association Premiership. His first grade ton came against St. Kilda, and in 2014 he made community paper headlines when he walloped 260, including 21 sixes, for Waratahs to set a new tournament record in the Darwin and District Cricket Competition. "That was just one of those days where everything came out of the middle," he remembers. "Every cricketer dreams of those days. You saw it with Finchy the other day. When it comes off, it's really nice."
Grade success led to some games for Victoria Under-23s, and then a rookie contract with Melbourne Renegades, where he was captained by Aaron Finch (before he left for national duty) and played alongside the likes of Dwayne Bravo and Muttiah Muralitharan. His time in Australia has been vital to the player he has become today.
"I had to develop certain skills [in Australia]. Just swinging at the ball wasn't enough. I had to devise a gameplan and work around having a more stable technique. A more stable base to hit from. Also being able to rotate the strike, which is still an area of concern. I'm still working on it. But playing consistently in a competitive environment was the best thing. Having that week in week out, that competitive structure, really helped my cricket. I've been in a few academies as well, and I've worked with some great coaches. But the continuous improvement [in Australia] was the biggest [factor]."
Continuous improvement is a mantra that would serve Zimbabwe well, and Mire insisted that their remaining games in the tri-series - as well as the ODIs which will follow - are an opportunity for his team to get better even if they're not winning. "It's an opportunity for the team to keep improving," he said. "There are also a couple of guys there still looking at this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves and cement their position in the squad. For us, it's also about confidence building because there's also a one-day series after this.
"You have to be careful making promises, but I'll try and be as consistent as possible with my game. If I'm seeing the ball well and timing it well, I'll definitely keep playing my shots."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town