A feeling of hope and optimism

Arriving in Harare airport I was hit by this suffocating dry African heat but I suppose when I’ve just got a text messages from mate back in the UK saying that it was just above freezing, I could hardly complain. The drive from the airport to Avondale – the suburb I’m staying in - was mildly hazardous. Joseph, who had come to collect me, had his work cut out avoiding the potholes that are a feature of Harare’s road networks. The other thing that struck me almost immediately was the rarity of the air. Harare is 1483 metres – that’s 4865 feet above sea level – not quite as high as Johannesburg, but enough to leave you gasping in your early workouts. It is wonderful though to be training in warm weather – in a T shirt and Shorts – to feel loose and unimpeded.

It’s a great group of guys. Player-coach Andrew Hall and my old mate from Middlesex, Chad Keegan and I are the overseas players and the rest of the team is local. Familiar names to guys back home are Elton Chigumbura, the captain, Doug Hondo and Ray Price. There is a fair bit of talent around and a number of youngsters in our squad – there’s no question Zimbabwean Cricket has an international future – and a lot of enthusiasm for the game. The Eagles haven’t had the greatest of starts to the season, but in Grant Flower and Hall, we have competitive and determined coaches who have the credentials to turn it all round. Football is still the major influence in a city like Harare, but there are more children than I would expect playing their frenetic games of street cricket – more interest in the game than I had expected. There is a lot of athleticism and competition. There is enormous potential.

Zimbabwe is a complex country. Back in the UK we are bombarded with stories about the political power struggle between the Mashona and the Matabele, the forced removal of white farmers from their farms, the destruction of a once prosperous economy. But the overwhelming feeling I have is that this is a country full of hope and optimism. There are a lot of flashing smiles and good humour. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it has been an uplifting experience. The heat, the altitude, the familiar musty smell of Africa, the currency (Zimb $25,000,000 to the pound) had all assailed my senses, but I truly realised I had arrived when I was invited to the local animal orphanage and got close to the largest male lion in captivity in Africa. It was a majestic animal - a true symbol of Africa.

It’s an exciting time here at the moment because on Saturday morning the local Twenty20 competition gets underway. Some big names will be turning out - the likes of Brian Lara, Lou Vincent, Sean Ervine, PCA player of the year Neil Carter, Andrew Hall, Steve Tikolo, Grant Flower, Paul Franks, Ryan ten Doeschate and many others. As far as my team, Mashonaland Eagles, goes I’m confident we’ll have a good run. We've won two practice games and drawn another and so far I must say the skill level of some of our local players has been really impressive. They have good death bowling and Andrew Hall has provided real impetus with his skill level. Grant, even at the bright and breezy age of 39, still has a work ethic and fitness that few can beat...quite simply he's a machine. I can’t think of a better person to have when it comes to discipline, commitment and attitude perhaps the area that some lesser teams sometimes lack.

There’s a huge buzz in Harare. The locals have been fantastic, always smiling and to be sharing what is a huge cultural experience with African cricketers is special.Playi ng for Somerset last summer was a great time. I began poorly but believe I turned the corner in the last third of the season. It was an outstanding side – as was proven by finishing in two one-day finals and finishing runners-up in the County Championship. It is a privilege to be part of Marcus Trescothick’s squad. I know I need to improve – to become a better player if I am to make a significant impact at Taunton – and what could be better than a season of cut-and-thrust in Southern Africa.

Published 12 November 2010