Hamilton Masakadza made his debut in 2001 and after 18 years, he has decided to retire from international cricket. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Consider this situation. The politics in the country is bloody, with people getting killed regularly. Farmlands have been forcefully confiscated by the government by force. The country's inflation and economy has tanked so badly that people have to get briefcases loaded with money for one loaf of bread. Two of their great players leave the team and never set foot in Zimbabwe for their 'The Death of Democracy' protest. A team is rid of all their talent due to political interference and because they were not black. The country's cricket board, seeing how bad the status of their game has fallen, decides on a self-imposed exile for six years. After return, there is a brief spark but once again government interference stunts their growth. This interference has seen their cricket board suspended. There are no funds, so much so that the players and many members of the board have not been paid salaries for months. Cricket is being played but the player is not sure of when he/she will be paid. There are conflicts between players and the union. All the past gains in the earlier millennium have been wiped out because of the existing situation.
With all these things going on in the backdrop, it is a miracle as to how Hamilton Masakadza managed to play 18 years for Zimbabwe. His debut in 2001 till the end of his playing career in 2019 in the final Twenty20 International against Afghanistan consisted of all the events mentioned above. Masakadza's career has coincided with the turmoil that has gripped Zimbabwe in the 21st century, mainly thanks to former President Robert Mugabe's governance. Yet, despite all this, Masakadza still had impressive numbers. A total of 9543 runs, 63 fifty-plus scores, third most runs for Zimbabwe and the second youngest centurion on Test debut.
However, this is the real tragedy with Zimbabwe cricket. An average of 30 in Tests, 27 in ODIs and 25 in Twenty20 Internationals will be considered mediocre. In the age where an average of over 50 and 60 is dominant by majority of cricketerers, Masakadza's numbers will be just a footnote. The standard of cricket for Zimbabwe has deteriorated to such an extent that whenver cricket journalists want to do a numbers piece, they give the disclaimer that these stats exclude numbers against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
When one balances these numbers against the situation, Masakadza's story is of grit and love for the game. Even he quit the game for three years in order to pursue further studies. He might have hoped that time away from the game and Zimbabwe might have improved the situation. Call it fate or bad luck. When Masakadza returned, there was a bitter player dispute over pay. However, he has persevered and when he spoke in Chittagong, Masakadza's love for Zimbabwe and the cricket shone through. "I am not someone who wears his heart on his sleeve but I think this is the one thing that brought a few emotions out of me. Even when I tried to tell the guys and the team before I made the official announcement, I barely got through three sentences so it's been a really emotional time for me," Masakadza said.
The future is uncertain for Zimbabwe cricket after the departure of Masakadza. Players like Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, who rejected county deals with Nottinghamshire and Lancashire respectively and returned to Zimbabwe in the hope of improvement, now find themselves at the crossroads. The ICC suspension of Zimbabwe will once again be considered in October. Zimbabwe might not even make it to the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, having missed out on qualification for the 2019 event in front of their heartbroken fans in Harare.
The 19 years of turmoil has resulted in plenty of cricketers and their talent getting lost. Masakadza is the ultimate symbol of how his career was affected. That he survived 18 years with all the situations is a tribute to his survival. In Masakadza's case, one should not be blinded by numbers of team contribution. A team that has been engulfed in turmoil should never be looked at by those prisms.