Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
FORMER Zimbabwe Cricket captain, Hamilton Masakadza, was back in the international news headlines this week.
Not for what he has done recently but for what he achieved exactly 19 years ago on his historic Test debut.
On Wednesday, the cricket world remembered the day Masakadza, then a 17-year-old schoolboy, engraved his name into the annals of cricket history when he became the youngest batsman to rack up a Test ton on debut.
“On this day in 2001, Hamilton Masakadza, aged 17 years and 352 days, became the youngest man to score a Test century on debut!” the International Cricket Council announced on their social platforms on Wednesday.
“His 316-ball 119 helped Zimbabwe stave defeat, after having been bundled for just 131, in the first innings by West Indies.”
Similarly, Zimbabwe Cricket posted almost the same message and the world again went down memory lane. It is sad that, from the promising years at the turn of the millennium, the Chevrons appear to have been hopping two steps forward, and then three steps backwards.
As a result, they have lost their place, on the Test rankings, to the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But, that winter afternoon at Harare Sports Club, will not easily be scrapped off from the history books despite Zimbabwe losing the two-match series 1-0.
The Chevrons had lost the first match of the series in Bulawayo and it appeared another defeat was on the horizon after they had been bundled out for 131 in the first innings.
But, a spirited fightback began on the third day and Zimbabwe declared on 563/9, in a match that later ended in a draw.
Masakadza’s knock was a massive boost for black cricketers in the country. For the record, he became only the second Zimbabwean, and 68th batsman in Test cricket history, to score a century on Test debut.
Pakistan’s Salim Malik was the previous holder of this record. It was a big entrance into the world of cricket for the Highfield-born star, moreso against a competitive side like West Indies.
Many records were set on the day. Masakadza also became the third youngest player to score a Test century in all matches after Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mohammad and India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Only Dave Houghton had scored a century on Test debut for Zimbabwe before Masakadza but he did it at 35 years, 119 days, almost twice the age.
On the opening day of the match, Masakadza had achieved the distinction of becoming the youngest player to represent Zimbabwe in Test cricket, beating Tatenda Taibu’s record of 18 years, 66 days.
Masakadza’s feat was not only a testimony of the success story of Zimbabwe cricket’s development efforts but also of the talent reserves in the black community.
“It feels wonderful and I owe a lot to my coach Mr Stephen Mangongo — he started me off on the game,’’ he said back then.
“I had no idea of the records I was breaking. When I went out to bat I just thought, ‘this is third day and there was no way we were going to beaten by the end of it’.
“I wanted to take responsibility and bat the whole day.’’
Masakadza was awarded the Player of the Match for his contribution with the bat.
But, his record was broken by Bangladesh batsman, Mohammad Ashraful, in the same year after he achieved the feat at the age of 17 years and 61 days against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
However, Masakadza’s teammate, and former Zimbabwe skipper, Alistair Campbell, still saw a bright future in the Zimbabwe Cricket development programmes.
But, the game has struggled to reach its full potential because of a number of on-and-off-the-field factors in the last two decades.
Masakadza, who announced his retirement last year after a remarkable playing career spanning 18 years, now spends most of his time quietly in administration. He played 38 Tests, 209 ODIs and 66 T20Is for Zimbabwe.
The 36-year-old scored 9 543 international runs, registering 10 centuries and 53 half-tons.
He was appointed as the director of cricket by Zimbabwe Cricket last year.
His job is, among other things, meant to help transform the game, both on and off the field.
But, how far his experiences will rub off to the younger generation, it’s yet to be seen.
However, that can wait for another day.
What has been important, this week, has been for the world to remember the day when, as a raw teenager, the Zimbabwean powered his way into the history books of Test cricket.