The Sunday Mail
When an aspiring international pace bowler gets a batsman’s nickname, it is kind of strange, isn’t it?
I am left-arm seamer good enough to have Tino Mawoyo, Hamilton Masakadza, Prince Masvaure and Brian Chari amongst my 30 List A wickets to date.
But for a certain period, I was ‘Justin Langer!’
Yes please, the great Australian opening batsman and incumbent coach was me.
How did it get there?
Well, here is my third episode of my Net Diaries, a series of stories on my encounters or interactions with local and international cricketers.
My first instalment had Dale Steyn and the second innings was my all-time favourite – Mitchell Johnson.
And Mitch, being the nice fellow he is, direct messaged me on Instagram.
How is that!
In this episode I give an account of my encounter with JL.
I love telling stories from the end, the goodbye moments.
My farewell with Justin was cool.
He gave me a firm handshake, looked me in the eye and said: “Be well, buddie, and stay in touch.”
He handed me my notebook in which he had written his email address.
I couldn’t believe it.
Well, maybe I did, because that week Langer had given me an exclusive interview conducted on the balcony of Harare Sports Club changing room after the Aussie’s practice session.
Australia and Pakistan were in Zimbabwe for a T20 Tri-series popularly remembered for Aaron Finch’s world record batting performance – 172 against Zimbabwe in 2018.
For me, the major highlight was meeting Langer, the man I hugely respect for his mindset, approach to life and love for the game.
I like positive-minded people.
My exclusive interview with Langer was a 45-minute chat filled with laughter and smiles.
I like how most of my interviews turn into conversations; this one was no exception, it was a cool chat.
“You got all you wanted mate? Are you sure? Happy with it?” Langer asked as we concluded our interview.
Langer had the whole day for Brighton Zhawi.
He talked about his first visit to Zimbabwe in 1999 during his playing days and how he loved this ‘beautiful’ country, especially the visit to Victoria Falls.
Langer didn’t hide his admiration for tall pace bowler, Blessing Muzarabani, before he quit international cricket for the English County.
Langer called the 2-meters tall bowler “Big Blessing.”
The Aussies coach also had positive rave views for former international Solomon Mire, who blasted Zimbabwe’s highest individual T20s score – 94 – against Pakistan in that Tri-series.
We had a nice ‘conversation’ with Justin and to cap off the fantastic interview, he invited me to their changing room.
“Come over buddy and see how the Australian changing room is like.
“Come say hi to the boys.”
I ambled behind Justin, not too sure why he was doing this, and not sure if it was the right thing.
I got into the Aussie change room as the players and staff where going about their business after a morning practice.
“Hey guys, we got a visitor.”
There was a moment of silence.
But confidence is the best outfit one can wear and, moreover, this dude was coming from a 45-minute long exclusive interview with Langer.
“Hi guys,” I said while waving my right arm.
“Hey matey,” said the boys in unison.
“Just wanted to show him the Australia changing room,” said Langer.
“Welcome buddy,” Finch said with a smile.
Some of the guys came over to give me a handshake.
I remember D’Arcy Short and Ashton Agar walking across to say hi, and Nick Maddinson went an extra mile by giving me a pair of batting gloves.
It was a warm welcome indeed.
I bid Langer farewell and he said: “See you on the last day, okay, come say goodbye, okay.”
I was all smiles going to the newsroom.
I was all smiles transcribing the interview audio.
Transcribing is tedious, but I didn’t care.
The farewell aforementioned is when Langer shared his email, the day he had invited me to come say bye.
He wasn’t really in a good mood because Australia had lost the Tri-series final to Pakistan.
So how did I become Justin Langer?
Why were some of my best mates – Kuda Munyede, Kuda Chirume, Brendon Timoni – calling me Justin Langer.
It goes back to Langer’s appointment in May 2018.
When Langer was appointed head coach of the Australia mens’ cricket team, I was in Bulawayo on tour with Eagles.
If you ask most local cricket players, the tour to Bulawayo to play Tuskers is awesome; moreso, if you play a Four-dayer and a One Day match, as was our case.
So it was a week in Bulawayo.
I love cricket, I am so in love with this game that if not playing, I am watching; if not, then it’s definitely reading articles.
The news that Langer has been appointed Australia coach was everywhere.
So I was reading articles on that and went further to dig more about the man.
That is when I came across an article on how Langer had the saying “The pain of discipline is nothing than the pain of regret” on his shower wall at his house.
Who does that!
But that’s Justin Langer for you, the man who played with his heart on his sleeve.
Langer was a resilient batsman, a fighter who had so much ‘self-belief’ and ‘faith.’
He did martial arts too!
I was fascinated by his philosophies that I kept digging.
One night after our One Day match loss to Tuskers, the guys decided to go out.
Not me, I was busy replaying the game in my mind, correcting where I could have done better with my performance.
I wasn’t happy with my three wickets in the match despite being the pick of the bowlers.
I love playing Tuskers; I always take wickets against them, almost half of my 30 List A wickets are Tuskers.
So I am busy watching the match in my head and here comes the boys.
“We going out Zhawi, come let’s go!”
“Go where?” I asked.
“Out to have fun and forget cricket and chill a bit. We have a free day tomorrow as well.”
“It’s time to switch off. Surely, you can’t be all cricket, brother.”
“Mates, I ain’t going out nowhere, I rather be here reading about Justin Langer than being out about at night.”
They were aghast!
“Justin Langer?” I remember Munyede and Lavet Masunda’s shocked faces.
Munya Timoni laughed out loud.
I was damn serious.
I put the Wi-Fi to good use watching cricket highlights – the best performances of Justin Langer, of course.
Fast forward, Australia and Pakistan tour for the T20 Tri-series and I got the privilege of being a netbowler for the Aussies.
I was going to meet Justin Langer!
Old Hararians was the setting; I was calm and cool.
My headband on, wrist band as well, time to bowl.
I was focused on the important duty of giving quality practice to the tourists and I did my best to swing the ball, including using the slower ball bouncers (taught by Tendai Chatara) to good use.
All the while I was keeping tabs on JL, waiting for the right opportunity to chat with the man.
I didn’t want to look silly, so I waited for perfect moment.
Patience paid…I found myself bowling to Jack Wildernmuth and Langer happened to be umpiring in the net.
“Well bowled buddy,” he said as I walked back to my mark.
He acknowledged after I nailed a yorker.
But I wasn’t the star of the show, there was “Malinga”, Daniel Jackiel, my Rainbow Cricket Club new ball partner.
Langer and most of the Aussie guys were also impressed by Jakiel.
Jakiel is known as Malinga in Zimbabwe domestic circles because of his sling-like bowling action, which is similar to that of the great Sri Lankan, Lasith.
Jakiel bowls yorkers at will; no surprise even the Aussies started calling him ‘Malinga’ after appreciating his skill.
It pleases me that Jakiel has earned an international T20 cap, for he is arguably the best death bowler in Zimbabwe.
Hopefully more games await him.
As we were bowling, my connection with Langer got stronger and we started talking about several issues, including his great batting partnership(s) with his great buddy and former Australia opener Mathew Hayden.
“He is my man, he is my brother, we talk almost daily,” said Langer.
We were joined by Academy player Gilford Muzeya – another cricket addict – who had opted to help the Aussies with wicket-keeping duties.
Travis Head, who appeared to Langer’s favourite, was also part of the conversation.
Langer started talking about batting.
“You got to watch the ball…forget everything else and watch the ball.”
He explained how he kept his head straight and his balance and footwork.
After practice, he thanked all the net bowlers, so did most of the Aussie players and coaches.
As netbowlers, naturally we have our own lunch in our own sitting area, but interestingly Langer and the Aussie team manager (I am forgetting his name, but he is one of nicest people) invited us to join them for lunch.
We were reluctant, but they insisted and went further to allow us to be served first.
For the remainder of their tour, Langer and I became sort of ‘friends’ that I found it easy to tell him about my other hobby, writing, hence he gave me an exclusive interview.
My buddies – Munyede, who was doing changing room attendancy for Australia, and Kuda Chirume, net bowling – always teased me around Langer.
“Hey buddy, hey Justin we are tired of hearing Langer stories from this guy, I think you can carry him in one of you kit bags back to Australia,” joked Chirume.
And Munyede later revealed how he told Langer the Bulawayo story (when I declined to join the boys out in order to read about Langer).
To be honest, I am glad he did that.
Langer now knows how much I respected him, at least through someone.
That was cool.
We have stayed in touch with JL.
He is a busy man, but always finds time to reply my emails.
In most of his replies, he asks how my family is and reminds me to stay fit and swing the ball.
I have watched the latest Australia cricket team documentary “The Test” several times and seeing JL in that documentary makes me smile.
The man loves cricket, he is a nuffie for real.
I always say ‘sport is a beautiful thing; it connects people.’