Warrior with a streak of quality

Stephen Brenkley meets a paceman of promise from the bush country
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The Independent Online
IN case the name of Heath Streak is thought to be anything other than perfect for a fast bowler, the young man in question has a soubriquet. Deep in the bush of Matabeleland, which is his home both actual and spiritual, he is known as Mgibisi. Batsmen may care to note now that this translates as Warrior.

While it is difficult to see Mgibisi catching on with any regularity in the Southampton dressing room it is perfectly possible to envisage that its possessor will discharge the responsibilities it suggests in terms of performance and approach. His early returns on strange pitches may have been inauspicious and his pace somewhat muted. In a Benson and Hedges Cup match on Tuesday he was taken out of the attack after conceding 28 runs in three overs, but Streak is phlegmatic enough to ensure that matters will improve, wise enought to know that this could be a significant chance to learn considerably more about his art. His early figures should not cast doubt on his pedigree.

He has arrived in Hampshire as their overseas player on the back of a marvellous Test series for Zimbabwe against Pakistan. In three matches he took 22 wickets at little more than 13 runs each and at a rate of one every 36 balls.

He now has 43 Test wickets in nine matches at an average of 19. He bowled Javed Miandad twice in only his second match. He has a natural outswinger, perhaps the most potent of all bowling weapons. He is ranked 12th in the world ratings. His pace is quickening by the match. He is but 21 years and one month old. The threat he is likely to pose to the cream of the world's strokeplayers in the next decade or so is plain.

Nor has Streak overlooked the possibility that it could all be dissipated by churning out over after over on the English county circuit, thus blunting his appetite and his strength in the arenas where there is more serious business to conduct.

"Obviously, overwork is a worry," he said a few days before leaving for England while surveying the Streak family plot, which extends to some 20,000 acres in the rural heart of Matabeleland, an hour by car from metropolitan Bulawayo and a light year in culture. "I'm going to have to make sure I know when to say that's enough. Being one of the main strike bowlers, it's important not to push to bowl that little bit longer whether or not you've got a wicket. As long as everybody recognises that I think I'll be OK."

Streak places great faith in the Hampshire captain, Mark Nicholas. The phone call, when it came in early March, was unexpected but it took only seconds to accept the offer being made. Nicholas, he said with certainty and respect, would look after him properly. Of course, it could be that it was easy for an understandably flattered, if mature young man to speak like this during a late summer Zimbabwean sunset. He may just think differently if Nicholas is forced to ask him for "just one more over, Mgibisi" some decidedly unbalmy Monday evening in Colchester in early August.

"At this stage of my career it's got to be worth it in cricket terms, to bowl against full-time players every day on different pitches," said Streak. "Competition's good for me and I enjoy it. It's probably easier to perform when there's something to play for. If I don't learn plenty there must be something wrong with me. And the contract was a good one. With the exchange rate being the way it is [there are 13 Zimbabwean dollars to the pound when once there were two] financially it has to be worth it."

Still, the arrangement will definitely be temporary. Streak is a child of the southern African bush country. If he does not quite talk to the animals he is at home with them and with the rugged people who live there. They travel, routinely, hundreds of miles to play cricket on a lovely, serene ground, carved out of the jungle on the Streaks' homestead. Heath loves playing there, where he is still one of the boys, not the latest Test sensation. His last match before he left for Hampshire was against a touring team of old boys from Barnard Castle School (from Durham, to their embarrassment when they heard of Streak's experiences in the county) when he twirled his arm with enthusiasm rather than out of duty. Between Zimbabwean Test matches and the World Cup this winter he will find his way back there.

Streak, built like a fast bowler with broad shoulders and beam and a huge throwing arm to match, is remarkably composed.Two men called Dennis have been important to him. The first and most significant is his father, himself a vastly confident and accomplished cricketer (and big game hunter) who played for Zimbabwe when, in cricketing terms, they were a mere province of South Africa.

The second Dennis is Lillee who has already given young Streak important tips like retaining the model action when tired, developing different balls, looking over the left shoulder.

"He knows so much you hang on every word. But I'm lucky I come from Zimbabwe, I think. I've been given my chance when young and that might not have happened elsewhere where there are more players and they tend to keep them waiting. I like to think I know so much more already." Quite how much, the Streak outswing and England's finest are about to discover together.