'I think we got Test status too late'

Former Zimbabwe bowler Eddo Brandes on the famous wins over England, and dismissing Viv Richards first ball

Interview by Scott Oliver  |  

"In the early days, we played not to lose. We played very defensive cricket. But it was necessary while we learned how to play Test cricket" © Getty Images

After the hat-trick [against England in 1997], one of the papers did a caricature of myself running down and celebrating. I had my hand round David Lloyd's throat. The caption said: Now that's what we call flipping murdered!

Losing to New Zealand in 1987 was a very sad day. It was my first international. I bowled seven overs for 24 runs, a pretty good performance, looking back. And then I got run out without facing a ball and pulled a quad muscle. I hadn't warmed up properly. Iain Butchart and Dave Houghton had had a big partnership before I went in, so I was just sitting around watching. And we fell just short of an upset, which was really sad.

I played against Viv Richards in the Lancashire League. It was his debut. He flew in by helicopter and I had him plumb lbw first ball. An ordinary crowd was about 200 people; that day there were about 3000 at the ground and all you could hear was, "We've come to see him bat, not you bowl." He was given not out. Later that year, at the World Cup, I saw him in the hotel and he admitted he was out.

I didn't do my batting justice. When we first started playing Test cricket, with John Hampshire as coach, at nets the batters did the batting and the bowlers did the bowling. To go and bat after a session, when you were really tired, was a massive task.

The two batters I found very difficult to bowl to were Mark Waugh and Alec Stewart. Stewart used to drive and pull the ball really well, so your length was always under pressure, and Mark Waugh would hit you through covers for four, then next ball, hit the exact same delivery through midwicket for four. That was a challenge.

In hindsight, I think we got Test status too late. One of our better sides was around 1988, with Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran in the bowling line-up. If we'd got Test status then, the team that came in 1992 would have been that much better prepared.

In the early days, we played not to lose. We played very defensive cricket. Unattractive cricket. But it was necessary while we learned how to play Test cricket.

"The last few years of my career were frustrating. I was the last amateur. I had my business. Cricket didn't pay my bills. All I got was a match fee. There was no salary"

It took two generations for the effects of independence to be watered down. By 1996 it was a really harmonious country, compared to 1980. But then came the next wave, the forced votes, and Zimbabwe became quite unsafe and aggressive and intimidating. That's why we immigrated [to Australia]. I started to feel insecure in Zimbabwe. I had three young kids. Schooling was a concern for me, because of the brain drain with the teachers. Medical supplies in the hospitals became a problem. Those are the things in society that should be taken for granted. And security was a concern. The volatility. You just didn't know what was going to happen.

Graeme Hick was obviously a massive wicket for me because we were best mates at school.

We approached the inaugural Test match as just another game of cricket. Obviously we were excited, but we didn't know the enormity of it. My main memory is that I sprained my ankle really badly. The wicket was cracked up, and my stud got stuck. Dickie Bird said it was the worst noise he'd ever heard on a cricket field.

My first cricketing mentor was Brian Davison, who used to come and coach in schools. He was a strong, powerful guy. He had a real presence about him.

We were so shallow in our cricket knowledge in Zimbabwe: the press, the public, the awareness of the game overseas. So even going to play for Haslingden in the Lancashire League was a huge learning curve, and I got so much out of it. The pressure's on you to perform, so you learn how to calculate risks and look after yourself.

The idea of becoming a pro went through my mind, but my parents had just moved back to South Africa and I liked the security of farming better than moving from contract to contract. There were only three or four players who were paid to coach, and they did all the coaching in Zim.

You had ten overs to bowl every game, and you used to just set out to do a good job. That day [against England in the 1992 World Cup] was no different. I happened to get four wickets, but the main thing was Zimbabwe winning. Looking back now, there were some really good players I got out - [Graham] Gooch, [Allan] Lamb, Robin Smith, Graeme Hick - and that was my day. But it didn't always work out like that. You were just trying to do a good job.

Brandes (left)* and his team-mates celebrate a clean-sweep over England

Brandes (left)* and his team-mates celebrate a clean-sweep over England © Getty Images

I was at university doing agricultural management and got picked out of the blue to go on a tour. I never finished the degree. In 1985 we went to England for experience. In 1986 we went back for the ICC World Cup Qualifiers. In 1987 we went over to India for the World Cup. I was going to go back to uni some time after that, but never did. Cricket got in the way.

It was a massive regret to miss the first Test victory, against Pakistan in Harare, but I had an Achilles injury and just couldn't get it repaired. This is where we were way behind other teams. It got so bad that I used to limp until ten o'clock in the morning after I got out of bed. I had a cortisone injection, which didn't work. It was very, very frustrating.

We only came away with one win from that 1992 World Cup, but things could have been very different for us. We got 312 against Sri Lanka, which was a huge score then, but they knocked them off. We played New Zealand in Napier and they were keen to get the points for a home semi-final. They put so much pressure on the umpires that we ended up playing a 20-over game. We were sliding all over the place. It was ridiculous. Then we played India in another shortened game - 32 overs, I think - and were 100-odd for 1 chasing 204, needing around six an over, when the rain came down and the tournament rules said we needed to be on about 150-odd. Ridiculous.

After retirement, I wanted to stay involved in cricket. Ideally I'd have liked to have got involved with the Test side. But the dramas were starting to happen in the country. We hardly played any games. We basically just practised all year.

"Our culture in Zimbabwe was to be a real club member, to help the youngsters and whatnot, to socialise together. So when I went to England [to play club cricket], I saw that as a big part of what I did"

I went to Australia on a business visa, so I had to look for a business. I bought a photo shop about an hour away from home. Then, three months after I arrived, the coaching job with Sunshine Coast came up, and I applied for that, mainly as a quick way to meet people. I ended up doing that for six years. We won it in my third or fourth year, the only team from Sunshine Coast to win a Brisbane competition in any sport. So I was quite proud of that.

I held the national javelin record for a short while after school.

[The World Cup in] 1987 was just wow! This is what big-time cricket's all about. It was in India, which was enormous in itself. Every single day was a unique experience.

There were quite a few of us that batted a bit, bowled a bit. After the 1985 tour, I identified the opening bowling position as something to target, where we had the least amount of people. So I concentrated on that and tried to build myself into an opening bowler.

I made my first-class debut against Minor Counties at Cleethorpes.

We had more confidence when we played England, because we'd beaten them a couple of times. Maybe they were wary of us. You only realise these things later on. Maybe if we'd been playing more international cricket, we'd have picked up on that sooner.

A lot of cricketers fought in the guerrilla war, because when you left school you had to do two years' national service. Compulsory. The year I was going to go to the army was when we had independence. Ceasefire.

My mother was South African and my father was from Germany. We moved to Rhodesia from South Africa in 1964, when I was one year old. There were lots of adverts with opportunities for farmers. They were looking to branch out.

The last few years of my career were frustrating. I was the last amateur. I had my business. I was struggling to get to practice after they moved it to ten in the morning rather than four in the afternoon. Cricket didn't pay my bills. All I got was a match fee. There was no salary. You had to be careful.

Brandes celebrates his hat-trick wicket - Nasser Hussain - in Harare, 1997

Brandes celebrates his hat-trick wicket - Nasser Hussain - in Harare, 1997 © Getty Images

You do have your favourite teams, and I suppose England became a favourite. But beating them didn't mean any more than beating anyone else.

I can remember having a net practice with Davey Houghton in Harare. He was batting, I was bowling. We used to practise with really old balls, because getting cricket gear was a problem. He said to me, "What are you doing? Because the ball's not swinging out, it's swinging in." John Traicos was trying to get me to change my action. I can remember changing grips and release to try and stop it happening. Only later did we realise that it was reverse swing.

I miss the African wildlife. The Australian wildlife is a bit boring, for want of a better word. The smaller it is over here, the more dangerous it is. They've some nasty little critters here.

It was quite a unique situation in that I was able to run my own business and get to play international sport. Lots of people do either/or. But there's only 24 hours in a day and something does have to suffer. So when I look back, I don't think I did anything to my utmost best ability, because of circumstances. I do have a big "what if?" and that's a little bit frustrating, particularly as you get a bit older and you read some nice things that people say in their books - people like Wasim Akram. You just wonder if you could have done it in an environment like they do today, what could have been. Deep down I'm content rather than very happy.

The night before the Test against England at Bulawayo, we were finishing off practice and I said to Andy Flower: just give us a hundred catches. I used to do some at 20 metres, some at 30 metres, up till 80 metres out. I was taking the last one when I stood back and stepped on a picket fence and sprained my ankle. So I missed that game - that famous game.

We were an immensely proud team. As a nation, we'd been through so much: the guerrilla war; sanctions, when the rest of the world ostracised us. We always had to make a plan together and get through, so we obviously took that onto our sports fields.

"Mark Waugh would hit you through covers for four, then next ball hit the exact same delivery through midwicket for four"

I didn't have anything in place in Australia. It was just a case of start again and away you go. But Ian Healy was very good to me when we first arrived. It's one of those things: you play sport and you make friends. He had a holiday cottage that he let us stay in.

I like to feel liked and accepted, to make friends. It's very important to me. Our culture in Zimbabwe was to be a real club member, to help the youngsters and whatnot, to socialise together. So when I went to England [to play club cricket], I saw that as a big part of what I did.

Toward the end of my career, it used to interest me why some days you had more rhythm than others, from a physiological or mental point of view. You'd look back at what you ate, how much liquid you'd drunk, whether you slept well. I don't know if I ever had a theory, but I definitely became more and more aware of it.

It used to annoy me when part-timers were brought on.

Along the way I've been able to achieve a couple of landmarks that not many people have: four World Cups, a hat-trick in an ODI. I missed out on a hundred and ten wickets in the same match, which was a little bit sad because that's pretty rare.

02:13:46 GMT, May 2, 2017: The caption for the second picture wrongly identified Brandes as being at right. He is first from left

Scott Oliver tweets @reverse_sweeper