He just beat Hamilton for the highest first-class score of the season, scoring 209 against Southern Rocks at Masvingo.
Paul was born in Sydney, Australia, but considers himself English and has ambitions to play for that country. He explains, in a largely Australian accent, that his parents were Scouse (Liverpool people) who lived in Australia for a number of years and returned to Liverpool when he was fifteen. “I played my junior cricket there from sixteen to nineteen with Lancashire, and then onwards.” By the time he was nineteen he had impressed the county club, based at Old Trafford in Manchester, so much that they offered him a contract, and so his county career began.
Starting in 2010/11, Paul took up a contract with Matabeleland Tuskers and he, along with the Essex wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Wheater, were highly praised by the coach Dave Houghton for all they gave to the team. Paul says that a friend of his, who was an agent, told him that Zimbabwean franchise teams were looking for some overseas players, and he put Paul’s name forward. “Matabeleland were looking for an opening batsman, and I met Dave in England and agreed to come.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” says Paul. “I really enjoyed my time here last year. I get on very well with Davy, and there’s a nice set of lads who looked after me really well. I was keen to come back and play a second season here.”
On the first day of the Logan Cup match between Mashonaland Eagles and Matabeleland Tuskers at Harare Sports Club this season, Paul made a fine century at the top of the Matabeleland order. He batted in his usual professional way, working the ball around the field, little spectacular or memorable about it, but very efficient and very effective. The Mashonaland Eagles bowling was seriously weakened, though, by the absence of Raymond Price, Kyle Jarvis and Elton Chigumbura on Test match duty, and the pitch gave little assistance to bowlers, so it must be said that it was one of the ‘easiest’ of his 13 first-class centuries. As Paul rightly observes, though, no century is ‘easy’.
“I just got here on Thursday, so I haven’t hit that many balls coming into this fixture,” he says. “So I haven’t trained as much as I would have liked. So I found it tough going and was a bit scratchy early on, but I managed to eke out a century. The pitch has its usual springy bounce, a bit tennis-bally at times; it hasn’t got a great deal of pace and there isn’t much seam movement or spin. It has a little bit of bounce at times.”
How does he rate the Mashonaland Eagles bowlers? “I felt that [Nathan] Waller probably bowled the most consistently. The tall lad who opens the bowling [Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa] was awkward to start with, with the new ball, but probably Waller was the most consistent through the day.”
Looking at the game in this country, Paul feels that the domestic cricket is of prime importance for building a strong national team. “This is the third year that the franchise system has been going,” he says. “So a lot of these lads haven’t played a great deal of cricket. You only learn the game through experience and exposure, so you have blokes playing who may have played a lot of one-day cricket in their time, but they haven’t played a great deal of first-class cricket. You need that first-class cricket if you are going to be successful in Test cricket.
“So I think the structure is very good; I think they need to appreciate that if they don’t have a strong domestic structure they are going to have a weak international side. It’s all good having a great international side touring around the world, but if the funds come out of the game and the domestic set-up falls away I think they will struggle.
“Strong domestic set-ups have helped sides build winning teams. The county structure has now set up a great English side; the Australian domestic competition has set up a strong Australian side, and South Africa is similar – six franchises is a strong set-up and they have built a very good Test team. I think everyone is doing their best to try and improve cricket and to put Zimbabwe back on the international stage, but it’s not going to happen overnight. You have to build, but I think it comes through structure and youth.
“It’s not the lads who are playing now, it’s the next generation that are going to put Zimbabwe on the map. The lads who are eighteen, nineteen, twenty now, in five or six years’ time, if they play four or five years of domestic cricket, should be pushing for Test honours and then obviously success on the international stage. I think getting kids involved in cricket and other sport is very beneficial, but definitely if you get them at a young age and they can play a lot of cricket and do their development, when they get to seventeen or eighteen and have played a lot of cricket and experienced a lot, and then their learning is much more developed than others.”
Paul, at the age of 29, is keen to play Test cricket for England. But he is no longer a promising youngster and the England team is so strong in all departments at present that, like many others, he may find it impossible to break into it. “Barring that, you just have to set your sights on winning trophies and being part of something. You want to look back on your career and enjoy the times when you were part of teams that won things.”