The World Cup really came alive for me way back in 1983 when I was 11-years-old. I was in the ‘line-up’ for breakfast at Boarding School when we heard the news that Zimbabwe had beaten Australia at Trent Bridge. The news was magical – almost too hard to imagine, let alone believe.
It was a pretty good team, mind you. The players were heroes to us, of course, but we didn’t expect them to compete with the ‘big’ countries. Duncan Fletcher was captain and was man-of-the-match against Australia, but there were a couple of other fine all-rounders, Kevin Curran and Iain Butchart to name just two.
There was no TV, of course, so we relied on the radio commentary from then on. I’ll never forget listening when India were reduced to 17-5. We assumed somebody must have tuned into the wrong station. Maybe it was a hoax? Then Kapil Dev smashed 175 and ended the dream in emphatic fashion.
My own turn came eight years later when I was selected in the squad for the ’92 tournament in Australia. I was still a teenager. South Africa had been invited to participate at the last minute and they came to Harare for a warm-up game en route to Australia. I was bowled, first ball, by Allan Donald and the middle stump cartwheeled so far back it almost wicket keeper Dave Richardson between the eyes. It was quite an introduction to international cricket. As they say, you can’t hit what you can’t see.
My official debut came against the West Indies a few weeks later. Kevin Arnott had a finger broken and Andy Pycroft, wearing a visorless helmet, was hit by a bouncer. There was blood. I walked in to bat at number six thinking ‘this will be interesting.’ Or something to that effect.
Dave Houghton was at the other end. He said: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Carl Hooper is coming on to bowl. The bad news,” he said, indicating to third man, “is that he’s also warming up.” It was Patrick Patterson, one of the fastest in the world at that stage. Unsurprisingly, I was dismissed very quickly for a single, having a slog at Hooper.
But the highlight was the win against England in Albury. I was 12th man for the game but that didn’t matter. The sense of joy and satisfaction I felt at sharing in the win has stayed with me forever. We didn’t think we had any chance after being bowled out for 134 but Eddo Brandes took 4-21 and John Traicos, at the age of 45, bowled his ten overs for just 16 runs. England were dismissed for 125 with five balls to spare. It was extraordinary stuff. A top order of Gooch, Botham, Lamb, Robin Smith and our former countryman, Graeme Hick, wasn’t good enough to beat us. And Neil Fairbrother and Alec Stewart. Mind blowing.
Although we made the Super Six stage in 2003, it was nothing like doing it in 1999, in England. In 2003 we were given points because two teams declined to play their group games in Zimbabwe. In England, we got there on merit. That will always rank amongst my proudest achievements as captain.
We were appalling to start with. Three warm-up matches against county teams were all lost. I called an emergency team meeting to address our performances, and there were a lot of blank faces. We beat Kenya comfortably in our first game but were well beaten by Sri Lanka in Worcester.