Herbert Chikomba first made the headlines in Zimbabwe cricket last October, when he was plucked almost out of the under-19 team, with no First-class experience, to play in the practice match at Triangle among a host of international players, as preparation for the tour to Bangladesh.
He had just previously attended a spin bowling camp run by Stephen Mangongo, and was so impressive that Mangongo, anticipating the host of left-arm spinners awaiting his team in Bangladesh, invited him to play. He continued to impress, taking three wickets in each innings.
Since then, Chikomba has not played as much cricket as his talents deserve, mainly because Mountaineers, his franchise, have an embarrassment of spin bowlers.
Natsai M’shangwe is a permanent fixture in the team, and Chikomba has to compete with Tapiwa Mufudza, a fine off-spinner, for the one other place normally available for a specialist spinner. When he took four wickets for 48 runs at Kwekwe Sports Club on Thursday, reining back the MidWest Rhinos innings which had passed 200 runs with only three wickets down, he was playing only his third Logan Cup match.
Chikomba was born in Chitungwiza and first learned his cricket at Manyame Primary School. He boarded briefly at Mutare Boys High School, which began his link with Mountaineers, and then at Prince Edward School in Harare, where – in the Lower Sixth form – he earned a cricket scholarship.
Chikomba plays club cricket for Uprising, which he currently captains. He has played age-group cricket from under-14 level and for the Zimbabwe team at the International Cricket Council Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the United Arab Emirates last year.
On his return from this tournament, he attached himself at first to Mashonaland Eagles, but being given no opportunities there, “since my heart was in Mutare I decided to go back to Mutare and play for Mountaineers instead . . . I have to make my name with Mountaineers and earn a place in the team, so every chance I get I take that as my last.
“My debut match was in Bulawayo against Tuskers. I was bowling to the senior guys, Sean Williams and Keith Dabengwa. It was a good experience. I really loved the challenge.”
Chikomba sees himself as a bowler who can adjust to different conditions as needed. “If the pitch is turning, I make sure I put a lot into the ball so that it turns, but if it’s not turning I make sure I vary my pace and act like I’m the batsman, trying to think what he’s thinking, and keep above his game. Some games I’m an attacking spinner and sometimes I’m supposed to go at two runs an over.”
In the current match against MidWest Rhinos at Kwekwe Sports Club, Chikomba says, “First up the ball wasn’t turning, so I just decided to bowl wicket to wicket, with long on and long off back, so that if they’re playing straight it’s a good shot and if they miss I’m going for the wickets. I vary my pace so they won’t get used to one pace.
“It’s been a while since I bowled in a match, so I was nervous a bit, but after a few overs I got my rhythm and I got confident enough to take my first wicket, and I just kept on bowling.”
His favourite wicket of the day? “I think Vusi Sibanda’s wicket. He just went down the pitch and I adjusted my length a bit. It was a poor shot decision and he just got himself out. It didn’t turn but I just adjusted my length so he couldn’t reach the ball.”
Despite taking Sibanda’s wicket, Chikomba says he is the batsman who played him best during the day: “I think Vusi batted really well, like how he built his innings, how he got in and how he took all the singles and made the fielders run around. When he got in, he started dominating.”
Chikomba says, “Mostly I need to keep on being consistent and bowl many balls in the right area, and being patient as well, since I look forward to playing more four-day cricket and Test cricket.”
His future in cricket? “I see myself breaking through. Whenever I get a chance I’m going to try and break through. I’ll be ready to take that chance.”
At the age of 19, Chikomba already shows a good cricket brain and attitude, and it will be a surprise if he does not enjoy a long and successful career.