Although Hamilton Masakadza has become a well-known figure in international cricket over the last ten years, his younger brother (by three years), Shingi, is on the verge of making a name for himself too on the big stage.
Shingi is developing into a genuine all-rounder, a bowler of considerable pace who can bat, and his form this season seems to show that he is getting better all the time.
Shingi’s path to international cricket has been very different from that of his brother. His first real contact with the game was at Mbizi Primary School, following in the footsteps of Hamilton, at the age of about eight. Stephen Mangongo was his first coach, as has been the case with numerous other first-class players in this country. Unfortunately, when Hamilton’s year left for high school, interest in the game within the school faded, and Shingi rather lost interest at the age of about ten. This prevented him from gaining a cricket scholarship to Churchill School, as Hamilton had done, and instead he progressed to Kutama High School.
There was no cricket at Kutama, but Shingi says that he and some other pupils helped to start the game there and became part of the Zimbabwe Cricket development programme, which helped to establish a cricket structure for them at Kutama. This was when he was about sixteen, and he played in a few matches for the school. He did well enough to play for Midlands Under-19s in his final year there, and the following year for Mashonaland Under-19s – although he had now left school, he was still eligible. In those days he was a top-order batsman who bowled occasional leg-spin.
After this, though, Shingi again left cricket and went to play professional soccer. He played a year for Dynamos, and then for Chitungwiza, now known as Eagles. Then he heard again from his old coach, Stephen Mangongo. “He’s the one who called me back,” says Shingi, “and he said, ‘Listen, I still feel you’ve got talent and I’m sure you would be better off playing cricket.’ That’s when I started bowling seam, because I was bowling medium, and he just came to me and said, ‘Perhaps if you just ran in a bit more and hit the deck harder, I’m sure you could be successful.’ And there you are!”
With Stephen’s guidance, Shingi was soon playing for Takashinga Sports Club and Zimbabwe B, going straight into the squad, and then Stephen called on him to join the Manicaland team. “Before I know it I was playing first-class matches here in Mutare.” Shingi also pays tribute to the other coaches at Masvingo, Givemore Makoni, Elvis Sembezeya, Emmanuel Dube and Shepherd Makunura, who all helped to guide him towards his present and future success. “What has also helped me has been that I’m brother to Hamilton and he’s been there for me in terms of talking to me about the game. So I learnt about the game at a high level a bit quicker, because I had someone to guide me through all that.”
Shingi feels his main strength as a bowler is his pace, although he will need more than this to make a real impact at the highest level. “Now I’ve started to do quite a bit with the ball. I can now swing it both ways, which is something I worked on during this pre-season. I move it off the pitch as well, but predominantly away-swing.” He considers himself more of a swing bowler, but he can also use the seam.
Shingi’s performances in international cricket have been very mixed, but he has had some fine moments as well as setbacks. What does he consider the best performance of his career to date? “It will definitely come down to my [ODI] debut against West Indies, when I was given the ball to defend 15 runs in the last over. The first two balls didn’t go too well because I got hit for six and four. But then I came back well to grab the win. Then Nikita Miller took one and went off strike, and then I bowled Dwayne Smith. When it was left to four runs from three balls I took Sulieman Benn out, and the next ball I bowled a good yorker, straight in the blockhole, and they only ran one. We ended up winning by two runs. That was very memorable.”
One of the greatest factors in favour of selecting Shingi for any team is that a tight situation so often brings the best out of him. Only a month after this, early in 2010, Mountaineers were playing Mid-West Rhinos in the final of the 50-over competition, and the team had collapsed to 66 for seven, chasing a target of only 145. Enter Shingi to join Prosper Utseya. While the older player kept his end up, Shingi played himself in sensibly and then began to attack. He finished with 41 not out as Mountaineers romped home without losing a further wicket.
Later in the same year he almost won another game for Zimbabwe out of nowhere. Zimbabwe, chasing Ireland’s total of 244, were 164 for nine. Shingi and Iain Nicolson put on 60 together for the last wicket before Iain was out, leaving Shingi unbeaten on 45.He also has a first-class century to his credit, 100 not out exactly, made against Southern Rocks at Mutare in 2009/10. Two matches earlier he recorded his best first-class bowling performance of six for 54 against Mid-West Rhinos.
Last season was rather a lean one for Shingi. He was a member of the national squad, which meant he was not often available to play in the domestic teams, but neither was he a regular in the national side, which meant he suffered from a shortage of match practice. He was thrilled to be selected for the World Cup, but he had some chastening experiences there, lacking the raw pace or accuracy needed to trouble the world’s greatest batsmen. He feels this experience, harsh though it was at times, was a turning point for him. “It’s every cricket player’s dream, to represent your country at the World Cup, against all the other big guns, so it’s a great feeling. You can only get better through experience.”
“But it’s all coming back now,” he says of the current season, which he has started in prime form. “It’s probably more to due with experience. I’ve played for a while now and I’ve learnt quite a few things in the game. I’ve started to incorporate those things in my game and it’s all working out, so you could probably say I’m a better bowler now than I was before, in terms of maturity and skill.”
Shingi was not chosen to play against Bangladesh or Pakistan, but if his present run of form continues, he is likely to be called up again soon. The irony is that, although he has improved his game, other young pacemen like Brian Vitori, Kyle Jarvis and Keegan Meth have shot through and earned the eye of the selectors, while there are others waiting in the wings. In Shingi’s favour is his batting skill and his proven ability to rise to the occasion in a crisis. In a tight finish there are few better players than Shingi to see his side home. He is a man for the occasion, and there will almost certainly be many of this to come in his future.