Back from the Cold
Harare – Elton Chugumbura has played more ODIs than Stuart Broad, Dale Steyn and Darren Sammy.
At 27, he is older than Broad.
In May he will commemorate nine years as an international cricketer. If he had lived anywhere else, he may have been in the early years of establishing himself on the scene.
Not in Zimbabwe.
Here, cricketers grow old even while they remain young; sometimes what they skip altogether is growing up.
None more so than Chigumbura.
He has equal parts of youth and maturity but until two months ago, he had not crossed the bridge that allows one to develop into the other. Before February 2013, Chigumbura had never had the experience of being dropped from the Zimbabwean squad altogether.
He was permanently their main all-rounder.
Even when his batting average dropped to 15.45 in 2008 and his bowling numbers swelled to a wicket every 68 runs in 2011, Chigumbura was a default pick.
Since April 2004, Zimbabwe played 151 ODIs and Chigumbura played 142 of those.
He missed an occasional match through injury but if Zimbabwe were playing a series, he was there.
He never experienced the ageing caused by the anxiety to get back into the reckoning, until a few months ago.
A prolonged period of poor form exacerbated by a knee injury resulted in his exclusion from the tour to West Indies.
It was a decision that surprised many and it left Chigumbura to do some soul-searching as his team-mates battled it out in the Caribbean.
He dealt with his exclusion and his hurt quietly, realised he had plenty to work on and found a way to prove he could.
“Nobody wants to be dropped. It's always disappointing,” he admitted. “But I knew I had to see where I was going wrong. I knew I wasn't scoring enough runs and I wasn't converting bigger scores. I wasn't bowling badly but I didn't get wickets.”
Distilled to its raw truth, he wasn't effective enough and that was a difficult thing to deal with.
He knew the only way to become better was to play more.
When the Bangladesh Premier League offered him a contract, it came as a blessing.
Bangladesh is a familiar place for Zimbabwe's players. Many of them look at it as a second cricketing home and they know the players well.
Chigumbura was comfortable going to Sylhet Royals to work on his game.
“I know I would be playing with different guys from different countries and so I would learn a lot.
“It was also different to go there to play along with Bangladesh players, compared to when I went there with Zimbabwe. You learn how they play on those wickets.
“You go around town with the Bangladesh players. It was just a very good experience.”
In a new environment, and with most of the pressure off, Chigumbura thrived.
He learnt from Dirk Nannes and Shivnarine Chanderpaul and got to know Sohag Gazi and Monimul Haque, who are in the squad touring Zimbabwe.
From the distance of Dhaka, he watched as his national team-mates struggled in the Caribbean.
And he empathised.
“It was our first tour there since the World Twenty20 in 2010 and it's always hard when you are going out of the country. With West Indies on the high and playing well, it was going to be difficult.
“As a player, I wanted to be there and maybe make a slight difference. But the guys who went there were capable and played well.”
So he tried harder to make sure he would be there next time.
He scored 266 to end as the third highest run-scorer for his team and took 13 wickets at 26.53 to end in third place on Sylhet's bowling charts.
Chigumbura was recalled to the national squad on the strength of those figures.
It is likely he will be part of the starting XI in the first Test against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will rely on him to repeat performances like those, albeit in a different format, to help redeem themselves.
Chigumbura always understood the responsibility he had to bear and that has not changed. What has, is the desire to do it properly.
“I know I just need to do well. I have to play an important role in the team because I also bring balance. If I can give my best, that's all I can ask for. I'm feeling quite good about where I am at the moment and I am happy with all the preparation that I've done.”
He is probably one of the few cricketers who can say that confidently.
Zimbabwe's build-up to the two-Test series has been fractured, with two days lost to a threatened player boycott because of payment issues.
Those have been resolved but confusion remains.
The day before the first Test, no player except captain Brendan Taylor was sure of his place in the team because the selectors had only just arrived to discuss the composition of the XI.
They will bank on the returnee, Chigumbura, to show that when you are forced to grow up, you can make experience count. – Cricinfo.com