World Cup success, Zim cricket’s curse: Carlisle

MAKING his Test debut for Zimbabwe late January 1995 as a young, talented and keen batsman, Stuart Carlisle had to endure 11 agonising hours padded up as the next batsman in at number six, but the moment never came.

MAKING his Test debut for Zimbabwe late January 1995 as a young, talented and keen batsman, Stuart Carlisle had to endure 11 agonising hours padded up as the next batsman in at number six, but the moment never came.

Yesteryear Profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

Legendary top batsman Grant Flower teamed up with all-rounder Guy Whittall, who had come on to bat at number five and the two batted on and on.

Stuart Carlisle
Stuart Carlisle

Zimbabwe eventually declared at a humongous 544/4 total, setting the stage for the country’s historic first ever Test win at Harare Sports Club, getting the better of Pakistan by an innings and 64 runs.

“It’s always an amazing feeling for any sportsman to walk out into the field for the first time for your country. What most people don’t know is I was in my pads at number 6 for 11 hours and I never got to bat, that was my debut. I had to sleep overnight waiting to bat and into the next day and I never got to bat,” Carlisle told Standardsport in an exclusive interview last week.

“But I took three great catches, which were very important for the team. It was a really funny debut made even more special by the fact that I was part of a historic win for my country,” Carlisle added, speaking of his 10-year cricket career which would sadly end prematurely.

When he finally got to bat in the second game, he was removed for just one run by Pakistan’s Wasim Akram.

However, it was the start of a remarkable career for Carlisle, who went on to become an integral part of the golden age of Zimbabwe cricket in the mid-90s, which included the likes of the Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, Dave Houghton, Alistair Campbell, Paul Strang, Heath Streak and Guy Whittall, to mention but a few.

Together they hoped to help a country new to the Test arena up the rankings and to be rated among the best before politics, allegations of racism, mismanagement and greed ripped the country’s potential apart.

And today the sport lies in “intensive care unit”, a far cry from what it used to be as it continues to sink to new lows with each passing season.

Carlisle’s heart bleeds at the current state of the game of cricket in the country and the former captain, who was dumped by Zimbabwe Cricket at the ripe age of 32, has become a critic of the association.

“We always knew it was going to take several years to climb the ladder on the Test arena. We have always had a smaller pool of players; we knew we were minnows back then. Our goal was to make sure that we were competitive and that we won some Test matches, and we did,” he said.

“We beat Pakistan, India and New Zealand. Realistically, we thought we would try to climb to fifth or sixth position because we knew there was no way we could ever be number one and we enjoyed a good period. It’s sad we never really got to reach those targets,” Carlisle added with a hint of disappointment.

Carlisle went on to make his One Day International debut in February 1995 and upon retirement, he had represented Zimbabwe in 111 ODIs and 37 Tests, with a combined total of five centuries in both versions of the game.

While things went on smoothly for Zimbabwe cricket for about four years since the famous Test win over Pakistan, Carlisle believes that the 1999 World Cup was and still remains the pinnacle of local cricket. Sadly, according to him, it also became the country’s curse, cricket wise.

“The biggest boost for Zimbabwe cricket was the 1999 World Cup when we reached the Super Six stage. That World Cup put us onto another level and it also injected big money into Zimbabwe cricket, which might have been the evil that destroyed cricket in the country, in my view.

“After that Zimbabwe cricket was financially sound and that was a key for development. In my view, I don’t think enough was done for development in cricket. Basically, since the money came in 1999, a lot of people wanted to have roles in Zimbabwe cricket and it led to a situation where players had fights with the union.

“It was a very sad time because our team got on very well, black and white. One thing about that era was the team spirit, a good camaraderie, we all got along very well and that was a big thing for us,” Carlisle said.

The former Zimbabwe hockey player reckons that the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union used the race card and the damaging quota system to cause divisions between the black and white players after the 1999 World Cup.

In reality, the relationship between the cricket union and the senior players, who were predominantly whites, soured going into the new millennium. Other top players such as Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin left. Zimbabwe changed captains a lot in a short space of time and Carlisle was next in for promotion amid chaos in 2002.

“At one time we sat in Bangladesh in a situation where no one wanted to captain the team because of bad blood between players and the union. As the next senior player, I was made captain and as much as I wanted to captain my country, it was detrimental to my career. I questioned the selection criteria after they sent one spinner to Sri Lanka leaving Paul Strang. I was not only dropped as captain but they refused to pick me for the World Cup because then I was top of the averages,” the 44-year-old former cricketer revealed.

And when in 2004, 15 white players namely Heath Streak, Grant Flower, Andy Blignaut, Travis Friend, Doug Marillier, Ray Price, Gary Brent, Barney Rogers, Craig Wishart, Trevor Gripper, Neil Ferreira, Sean Ervine, Charles Coventry and Gavin Ewing went on strike, Carlisle was among them.

Even when he attempted a comeback a year later, it was difficult for him to concentrate on his game having made a lot of enemies in the association, leaving him with no choice but to quit for good.

“When you know that your selectors are against you, it’s difficult. It is so difficult when you love to play and do well for your country and other people are pulling you down. It’s one of the reasons which forced a lot of us to make a decision. I would never have stopped my career at 32.

“But if I had to live again, I would go the same route. the only sad part of my career is that I finished too early. When you have a guy like Ozias Bvute [the then ZCU’s director of integration] telling me that I was too old and was supposed to retire at 32, that means he had no idea about cricket and having such people in charge was really sad,” said Carlisle.

Born to Alistair and Heather on May 10 1972 in Harare, Carlisle emerges from a hockey-oriented family in which sister Lindsey Carlisle is one of the most capped players in South Africa’s hockey and brother Gary having also represented Zimbabwe in hockey.

Carlisle himself also represented Zimbabwe in hockey but eventually chose cricket.

While he came into contact with cricket at Courtney Selous primary school, he is a product of George Godwin’s holidays cricket programme, Eagles Cricket where Murray Goodwin (George’s son) and Grant Flower came from and developed as cricketers.

While Carlisle began to take the game seriously at Peterhouse College, his father Alistair — who played for Transvaal in South Africa in the late 1960s — was a big influence. However, his father would not let him pursue sport full-time without a university degree and he enrolled at Natal Technicon in SA for a degree in Marketing.

It explains why he made his debut for Zimbabwe at the age of 22 in spite of his vast talent and only went professional in 1998 after making his debut in 1995 on the same day that Henry Olonga also did.

But what has he been up to since he quit cricket a decade ago?

“I have got Absolute Sports, a sports equipment shop. We are into year six now. After cricket I imported Bokomo cereals and imported beacon sweets and chocolates but when the country dollarised, bigger companies took all the business. I had plans to do coaching but it was not going to pay the bills so that is how this shop came about,” he said.

Carlisle has been married to wife Tracy for 15 years and the couple is blessed with two daughters Jay (14) and Jordan (7) who are already taking the route of hockey at their respective schools Peterhouse Girls and Chisipite Junior School.