Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
IT’S being called England cricket’s greatest summer – a maiden World Cup trophy in the cabinet and a 2-2 Ashes draw, for the first time in 47 years.
And, inevitably, the closing chapter at the Oval on Sunday had to feature a player with Zimbabwean roots.
The empire might have collapsed a long time ago but England continues to ride on the rich pickings from its former colonies.
And, fast bowler Jofra Archer, born in Bridgetown, Barbados, was named player-of-the-match on Sunday as the hosts won the final match to level the Ashes contest.
England’s 135-run win at the Oval ensured they avoided a first series home loss, at the hands of the Australians, since 2001 and although the men from Down Under kept the urn, the drawn series was a fitting conclusion to a summer of phenomenal success for the hosts.
“It has been a huge success for English cricket and a great opportunity to spring the game forward in this country,” captain Joe Root told the BBC. “It’s been phenomenal. That World Cup was incredible, for it to finish how it did, made for fantastic viewing – not just the England games, but across the board.
“It was backed up by such an evenly-matched Ashes series. A 2-2 score looks a hell of a lot better than 3-1.”
And, needing characters who could help them avoid a depressing 1-3 series loss, England turned to Sam Curran, a 21-year-old all-rounder earning his first Ashes cap.
Seven years since representing the Zimbabwe Under-13 at the 2011/12 Cricket South Africa Under-13 Week tournament, Curran was now being thrown into the deep end of this 137-year-old contest, by England and he delivered. He scored 15 runs in the first innings, batting at number seven, before he was caught by Steve Smith off the bowling of Mitch Marsh, ironically someone he used to play with in Harare. Back in the days when they stayed at the same house when the Aussie’s father, Geoff, coached the Chevrons.
But, it was his bowling performance, on day two of the final contest on Friday, which caught the eye as Australia were bundled out for 225 with Curran taking 3-46 in his 17 overs.
Bowling in tandem with Archer, who took 6-62 in his 23.5 overs, Curran provided something which caught the attention of many seasoned cricket observers.
‘‘England fans may be entitled to ask where Sam Curran has been all this series after a very impressive effort with the ball on Friday,’’ former England captain, Nasser Hussain, wrote in The Daily Mail.
‘‘We already knew he had the character to succeed at the highest level – he was player of the series against India last year. It will not have been easy for him to come in for a one-off Test, and it speaks volumes for him that he was able to respond to the challenge.
‘‘For me he is your fourth seamer in England and he is good enough to bat at seven. We saw that against India last summer when he got some useful runs and wickets.
‘‘He did really well. He swung it more than any other bowler, and while his pace was 82mph and lower than the others, he created a different angle.
‘‘Just before tea Curran really had Smith in trouble, and Australia’s premier batsman needed all his skill to keep him out.’’
Barney Ronay, writing in The Guardian newspaper, said ‘’Sam Curran gives England a snarl they have lacked in Ashes summer of Steve, left-armer brought intensity to a side that have been short of bite in the face of Steve Smith’s remorseless brilliance.
‘‘Curran, with his 81mph full-pitch swingers, is an unlikely enforcer. But his outstanding quality is his intensity of purpose.’’
Jonathan Liew, writing in The Independent newspaper, said both Curran and Archer provided England with a glimpse of the future of their attack.
‘‘Curran should have played at Old Trafford instead of Craig Overton, and more than justified his selection here. His detractors point to his lack of pace, but he persistently challenges the stumps with swing and aggression, and has that indefinable ability to change the momentum of a day’s cricket, both with bat and ball,’’ Liew wrote.
‘‘An attack of Archer, Curran, Ben Stokes and one more conventional seamer offers a captain balance, penetration and most importantly variety.’’ And his director of cricket at Surrey, Alec Stewart, also weighed in the debate.
“With the ball, he wants to take a wicket every ball and we keep telling him you can’t do that, you have to set the batsman up,’’ Stewart told the BBC.
“That spell he bowled with Jofra Archer was exceptional.” He comes from a cricket family, his uncle Kevin Curran played for this country in first-class cricket in the ‘40s and ‘50s while his father, also named Kevin, also represented Zimbabwe and was the Chevrons coach between August 2005 and 2007.
On October 10, 2012, Kevin collapsed, while jogging in Mutare, and died at the age of 53 at a time when he was the head of the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy.
Sam is the youngest of his sons and went to Springvale House, in Rusape, and St George’s College before moving to England.
His brother Tom was part of the England squad that won the World Cup on July 14, this year, at Lord’s after that dramatic super over victory over New Zealand but did not feature in any of the matches.
Tom also went to Springvale House and St George’s College before relocating to England.
The losing team in that World Cup final, New Zealand, also featured a former Zimbabwe cricketer, all-rounder Collin de Grandhomme who scored 16 runs, off 28 balls, and took 1-25, in his 10 overs, in that Lord’s showdown. De Grandhomme started his cricket career playing for Manicaland and was part of the Zimbabwe team at the 2004 Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh.
That Zimbabwe Under-19 team featured the likes of Tino Mawoyo (captain), Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Tinashe Panyangara, Ed Rainsford, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya and Sean Williams.
They thrashed an Aussie side, led by the same man who captained Australia at the Ashes, Tim Paine, by seven wickets and made it into the Super League where the highlight of their campaign was beaten New Zealand by 92 runs.
And, Zimbabwe’s influence in world sport will not just end with the English cricket summer. At the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Australia forward David Pocock, who was born in Gweru, is set to make one final appearance at the tournament after dominating it four years ago.
The Beast, Tendai Mtawarira, is also expected to make one final World Cup campaign for South Africa’s Springboks.
Which begs the question – what would the global sporting scene be like without the Midas Touch of Zimbabwe’s endless supply of talent?