TWC.com reader Alex Fensome is the second winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition for his entry on Zimbabwe spinner Ray Price
I can’t remember exactly when I became infatuated with Zimbabwean cricket. It was a while back. They are all heroes to me, from Flower and Streak through to blokes who never even wore the falcon. They played in places called Matabeleland and Kadoma, Kwekwe and Chimanimani. They were tough men who shot animals and attended boarding schools and despite never being able to match the rest of the cricket world man-for-man they never gave up. They hated losing, even if they lost more often than not. For me one player more than any other typifies them.
Ray Price should never have played international cricket. He is partially deaf, caused by meningitis caught as a premature baby which he beat the odds to survive. The operation he had at six to restore his hearing affected his coordination so badly it took years of effort to reach even a normal level. Yet he became an international cricketer, and a good one, a miser from Mashonaland. As a dyspraxic, knowing someone had faced a worse coordination-affecting condition- far worse- gave me new hope. He inspired me to work harder at cricket, to never give up, to always try to play the game I loved. I followed his career unstintingly; he became my hero, a human counterpart to Andy Flower’s astronomically distant feats.
It helped that he was a lot of fun to watch bowling. Any Price spell is full of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, theatrical gestures, laughter, glares, perplexed looks as one of his stratagems fails to defeat his foe. He is a good bowler. But he could make himself out a genius. As the nation plunged into the abyss and all hopes for the future of the sport there disappeared, he raged against the dying of Zimbabwe’s light as much, in his way, as Flower did. He still does even now, taking 4-22 and hitting 24* to scramble a victory over Bangladesh, and continually tying down the best in one-sided contests in front of sparse crowds . He once said he hated to lose and didn’t like drawing; you can tell in everything he does. And like most of his countrymen, he never, ever gives up until it’s all over. They still haven’t given up even though hope seems to diminish with every passing day.
Ray’s finest hour was typical of Zimbabwe. It was 2003, the first Test against the West Indies, and a declining Zimbabwe had matched their opponents over four days in the shadow of Mugabe’s palace. Left with a day to bowl the Windies out, Ray twirled away almost without relief to take four wickets (he had taken six in the first innings), his celebrations mounting; ever more determined to prove the doubters wrong and show them Zimbabwe could still hack it.
As the sun began to set on the beautiful old ground, he took the ninth wicket. But Zimbabwe would pay a cruel penalty for a freak accident; on the third morning, a ball had dribbled under the roller as Robin Brown prepared the pitch, costing two hours of play. In failing light Heath Streak was forced to bowl the unthreatening Trevor Gripper, and no matter what Ray did he couldn’t break through at the other end. The Windies tail survived. God knows how Zimbabwe felt walking off that pitch. John Ward wrote at the time that they “paid the penalty for living in a country where nothing ever seems to go right”. For his part, Ray said he would have traded all ten of his wickets just to take the last one. I didn’t need to read that to know it.
Alex Fensome wins a year’s free subscription to The Wisden Cricketer
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