‘He led from the front’ – the Eddo Brandes story (Part 2)

Eddo image pt2

This is the second part of Mind the Windows’ chat with Eddo Brandes. Read part one here.

Today, it reads like a who’s who of Zimbabwean greats: Zimbabwe’s skippers at the 1987, ‘92, ‘96 and ‘99 World Cups all appear, the illustrious Grant Flower made his presence felt with a first-innings 82, and the previously mentioned Brandes, Arnott, Jarvis and Pycroft all donned the whites.

For Brandes personally, Zimbabwe’s entrance into Test cricket ended up being a disappointment – he broke down with injury after just two overs. It was a fair prophesy of the rest of Brandes’ Test career too – he played just ten Tests between his debut in 1992, and final match in late 1999.

The team played 39 games over this time; so their premier pace bowler (at least until the advent of Streak) played barely a quarter of the time. Those occasions when he did play came in spurts – six Tests across 1992 and ‘93, a three Test burst in 1996, and a finale in 1999.

“It is one of my regrets, that I wasn’t able to devote more time to cricket – what if, what type of a player could I have been? That was frustrating. In that period, I developed a terrible Achilles tendon injury, and we tried cortisones, everything.

“We were playing pretty well as a unit, but we were way behind in the after-game rehabilitation, prevention – we were far behind on that. So then the decision was made that Test cricket would’ve been too taxing, so I was playing more one-dayers to give my Achilles tendon time to recover. Went through that, and then it just started to heal on its own – and then I started playing a bit more, and hence why I played a Test towards the end, and a couple of Tests just prior to that. That was a bit frustrating, from my point of view. I would’ve loved to have just played more.”

The reference to injury prevention is an interesting one – fitness was the basis of much of the side’s success, and Traicos recalls “long hours” of team practice, and “intensive training sessions” with South African rugby player Ian Robertson. Both Traicos and Houghton pay testament to developing a strong, fit fielding unit.

The issue was definitely in injury management: Simon Insley, who is currently physiotherapist for the Auckland Aces side, says that “All facets of post-match care have improved, ranging from ice baths, ice machines, foam rollers, improved diet, hydration, and sleep habits that all improve recovery from trainings and matches.”

Of the cortisone injections for the Achilles injury, Insley calls it “poor medical management,” as modern research dictates that it will only have negative effects.

“In the early 90’s there was a sport culture of them injecting anything and everything to get players to play. So nowadays, you have a greater availability of monitoring and scanning equipment to diagnose injuries early and not let them get to that stage!”

Perhaps it was not only Zimbabwe where Brandes would’ve had issues, however, as Insley mentions that even New Zealand Cricket only made physiotherapists compulsory for domestic sides in the late 1990s: “In modern cricket, you have a medical professional with the team at all training sessions, they monitor each player daily with questionnaires on how they feel/sleep/soreness to try pick up on injuries at an early stage and also try and avoid players getting to the stage of injuries.”

Injuries plagued Brandes throughout his career, and fitness was the element of his game most commented on, usually with a bit of a biting edge – “I did resent that, because people were looking at it purely from a cricket point of view.”

“People forget that cricket wasn’t paying my bills. So it was all very well for people to say ‘oh you’re unfit, and not putting enough towards the game,’ well it wasn’t paying my bills, so what do I do? At that stage, my talent was just up there enough to keep me in the side, but I was under-performing personally – and that was frustrating for me. But as a package and as a whole, I had my business which was paying my bills, and I was playing international cricket to the best of my limited time that I had.

“Don’t forget I’d approached the union wanting to be a better player by becoming a professional, and that was the choice I had to make – it was unfortunate, my days were 12-hour days, and the cricketers were probably only having four or five hour days! So yes, there would’ve been a bit of resentment – I’m sure you can understand why there was a bit of resentment. It was just a lack of understanding which I was resenting, and people were frustrated and saying ‘ah geez, I wish he could just perform a bit better’ because there was so much more to offer and give – and that’s the same thing as was frustrating for me. What type of player could I have been, if all things had been equal?”

It shouldn’t be seen solely through this light, however – as Dave Houghton says of Brandes’ fitness issues:

“I think Eddo himself would probably say that he never stayed fit enough. I mean, he had a big frame, and it was quite hard to consistently get that big frame working every single day to produce the goods. But on his day he was as good a quick bowler, or medium-quick bowler, as there was anywhere around that could bowl bouncy out-swingers. He was effective.”

It also has to be remembered that Brandes bore the brunt of being the sole strike bowler post-Rawson and pre-Streak – it meant he was frequently over-bowled, and plenty rested on his shoulders. Sadly, the fitness perception meant Brandes often faced an arguably unfair burden of proof over his readiness: he missed out on a series against Sri Lanka early in the 1994-95 season, and as such appeared unlikely to tour Australia later in the summer.

He was relegated to a Zimbabwe board side that took on Griqualand West, playing at Kimberley, and was told to prove his fitness. He played his hand beautifully, hitting 10 sixes and 15 fours in a knock of 165 not-out, and followed it with a seven-wicket haul, with another two poles in the second innings.

“That was a bit frustrating, because the board said to me ‘you need to go and prove yourself, prove to us that you’re fit’ and all that. In that game, I got a hundred – but I was really upset, because I was that close to walking away with a hundred and ten-wickets in a match, and it would’ve been my first and only time. It’s an achievement that’s not done that often. I came back from that weekend extremely satisfied that I’d said to the board ‘well, you know I can play’.”

“I bowled my guts out on that last afternoon to try and get that last wicket,” Brandes remembers, “but it just didn’t happen.”

But it got him onto the tour to Australia, and although he suffered another injury down under, he’d well and truly put his case forward – it meant there was no way he was missing out on the 1996 World Cup, even though he only played two games at the tournament. The side themselves had a poor World Cup too, failing to win a match against anyone other than Kenya.

“From my personal point of view, I strained a knee ligament second game in, and again it just wouldn’t heal. It was the main tendon in the back of your knee. So that was the reason for not playing, and then as a unit, we had quite a few changes through our cricket ranks. A lot of our younger players were coming through, and that team in 1996 was very close to the same team that went to the ‘99 World Cup.”

It just took those extra few years for the squad to gel, and the results started to build up over the next while. As Brandes says, the evidence of improvement was evident throughout the three years between 1996 and ‘99.

“We were a young side there, but we were starting to play some good cricket – during that period between the 1996 and ‘99 World Cups, we beat India in a Test series, beat Pakistan in a Test series, and went to the ‘99 World Cup and had a really good tournament there.”

That building started virtually immediately after that World Cup, with England’s tour in 1996-97. There was a remarkable victory by the Mashonaland First Class team, winning outright against the tourists, and the two-Test series was a ground-out nil-all draw.

In the ODIs, England faltered – Zimbabwe not only won the series, but whitewashed the Poms three-zip. Dave Houghton recalls that on his good days, Brandes would “win the game single-handedly” – and that’s certainly what occurred in the third ODI.

It was possibly the best series for the Brandes-Streak partnership too – across the three matches, Brandes took seven wickets at 11, while Streak took six wickets at 20.

“Eddo was probably the only consistent bowling partner I ever had playing for Zimbabwe,” Streak says. “Our success together was enjoyable.”

On this day, that success was huge: Streak picked up both Ronnie Irani and Craig White for ducks, while Brandes snared himself 5-28. That included a hattrick, with Nick Knight (strangled down leg), John Crawley (trapped dead in front) and Nasser Hussain (caught behind, pushing at one) the men to go. Very rarely is a hattrick made up of three batsmen of that quality, and his other two wickets – Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton – were, if anything, even better.

The ball to Atherton in particular was a snorter, rising off a length and just moving away enough to take an outside edge.

“This is when we started – because we were being exposed, and we were on the international circuit, we were playing more and more cricket – so our performances, individually and as a team, were slowly creeping up. Not becoming out-and-out superb, but more consistent, day-in, day-out. When you’re having more consistent performances, every now and then it’s going to turn your way.

“Through that whole period, we would play well for nine-tenths of the sessions, and then one tenth of a session we’d succumb but succumb badly. That just got better and better, and didn’t happen just because we’d trained for two months before it, that was five years of work coming to the start of a really good era – which was the fruits of what had started in 1992.”

But this was, sadly, more or less the beginning of the end for Brandes’ career: just as the Zimbabwe team was rising to new heights, he was starting to fade from the scene. Injuries, age, work and family all took their toll. He took another five-for against India later in that season, but it was probably his last great moment on the international stage.

Regardless, 1996-97 was an outstanding high-water mark for a cricketer who had contributed plenty to his nation, becoming a valuable quick bowler despite having so little coaching or development available as he came through the ranks.

Brandes recalls school as the spark for his love of sport – not just of cricket, but of the plethora of other codes he was involved in too. Tennis, athletics, cricket, swimming and diving in the summer; rugby, football and hockey in the winter – as well as squash, and “I always loved horses at that age, so I played a little bit of polo and went to gymkhanas”.

“I got picked in the Rhodesian Under-12s side, and I suppose that’s what set me on my path with cricket.”

He came through plenty of age-group sides, playing for the national Primary Schools XI, the Under-15s, and the Zimbabwe High Schools side too. It came down to a natural aptitude for sport.

“I think I was always lucky at that age, I was Victor ludorum of athletics, I captained the soccer side, I was in the swimming team – I suppose I had quite a bit of hand-eye coordination, and with cricket, because there was a bit of success initially, I just played it and kept performing and got picked again in Under-15s, and from then was focused a lot on cricket. But still played the other sports at high school.”

Although there wasn’t any great coaching structure in place at the time, there were still influences around for a youngster like Brandes:

“We didn’t have a coaching system out-and-out, but some of the national players used to come into the schools and do some coaching. Brian Davison was captain of Rhodesia in those days, and he was a hero of mine – you always look up to your idols, and he was mine, and not only that but came to our school and coached. He was the coach for our area.”

Davison recalls today that, “There was a whole lot of young people within the country who had amazing ability for the number of people we had. A bit like New Zealand and rugby. There was just this huge group of wonderful kids, who were able to play all these games with so few people, and that inspired you, to think that these young kids coming through were that good and that dedicated.”

Brandes went to university, studying agriculture, but in 1985 was selected “out of the blue” for half of the tour to England, after another player ended up out with injury.

“It was the middle of the year, so rugby season, and I got a call: ‘would you be available to go over to England for three weeks and join the Zimbabwe cricket side?’

“I said ‘yeah, of course I would’ and that began the journey.”

It was a journey that carried him to four World Cups, through ten Tests, and 96 international wickets. It ended up with him being described as a “role model” and someone “we looked up to and respected” by Heath Streak; Dave Houghton calls him a “great keen guy, and a lovely bloke to have around”; John Traicos considers him “a natural sportsman and when fit a real athlete”.

At one point, he was almost appointed national captain – in the end, Alistair Campbell was voted in, but Traicos believes “that Eddo, as a strong and determined character, would have made a very good international captain as he led from the front both on and off the field”.

“Alistair and myself, we were nominated to be captain of the side. Due to my history of not being able to play all the games, they went with Alistair, which was fine – that is another thing, that I suppose deep down might upset me because of some of the decisions I had to make in ‘93, when I didn’t become a professional cricketer. I probably could’ve been quite close to being captain of the side for a while. That decision might’ve been different, I would’ve been early 30s at that time, Alistair would’ve been about 24. I had experience on my side, but he was the next player that was available and had played a bit of cricket, so that was a bit upsetting or frustrating or whatever.”

Brandes’ career wound down after Campbell became captain, and he only played sporadically before the 1999 World Cup – after which, he played just one ODI and one Test.

“Just prior to the ‘99 World Cup, I started playing pretty consistently, and I think it was a self-realisation that time was running out, that I was coming to the end of my career. After the World Cup, there was a little bit of a perception and a frustration from the board that I was still an amateur cricketer playing in a professional field, having to meet my own expenses. I suppose they, on their side, were deciding enough’s enough, and on my side I was just trying to get the most out of my last couple of moments in the game.”

When Zimbabwe played Bangladesh in Test cricket for the first time, in 2001, Brandes had hoped for another shot at the five-day game. But it wasn’t to be.

“It was very frustrating, because I didn’t get picked for the Bangladesh series. I confronted the selectors on that, and put together all the different stats, with regards to runs per wicket, run rates, wickets per game, whatever it was – I had about eight or nine difference scenarios of how to work out who were the better bowlers, I was top in every single one except one, and I was second in that. But I didn’t get picked, and that to me was frustrating because we were playing against Bangladesh, and it was the first time I would’ve played a Test against our equal opposition, if you get what I mean. I was looking forward to competing on a level playing field and seeing how I went, but I didn’t get picked.”

After a while, with coaching becoming more and more the focus of Brandes’ involvement in the game, he pulled the pin.

“[Eventually] I said alright, enough’s enough’s enough. We were also under a little bit of a pressure then for black cricketers to come through, and the feeling was always that it was easier to bring a bowler in rather than a batter. So at that stage I felt that I was the player that was sacrificed for that at times.”

But while his personal career was winding down, the team was on a high – with the 1999 World Cup seeing Zimbabwe make it to the Super Six stage, missing out on a semi-final berth on run-rate alone. Brandes calls that one the “best team” Zimbabwe sent to a World Cup; while 1987 was the “strongest team” – i.e., 1987 had the best individual players, but the 1999 side had so much more development, exposure and time to mature, that it was the best unit Zimbabwe presented to the world.

“Making the Super Six in that World Cup, the enormity of that as players – that was huge, because of the work we’d done. Not just in the six weeks or six months before that, but for six years. We were one win away from making the semi-finals, which we just couldn’t get. […] And then if everything goes right on that day, you’re in the final of the World Cup. That’s how close we were as a team, that’s how close we were to getting into a World Cup final. When you look at it like that, there’s not many people in the world that can sit there and have a discussion like we’re having and say ‘geez, that was close’.”

It’s those team moments that are “most definitely” the fondest from Brandes’ career. Although he remembers the individual successes, it’s the great team moments – such as Dave Houghton’s 142 against New Zealand in 1987, or Zimbabwe’s first Test (where Brandes bowled two overs), or making the Super Six in 1999 (Brandes missed out on the crucial game against South Africa) – that Brandes has put top in previous interviews.

“You go through so much together as a unit, that you have to enjoy – obviously, you always enjoy your own success – but you have to enjoy other’s success with you, because you’re in it together. One of my best batting performances, I forget who we played, but I remember I batted the last session to bat out a draw – I must’ve got about 12 runs in the session, but we’d lost about five wickets the session before and we didn’t lose a wicket that last session. To me that was a challenge, and we got through without losing the game and got a draw – but no one will ever, ever remember that. But it was massive, because it was against the way that I played, and everyone thought that we wouldn’t last the session.

“Then we had a Test series in Pakistan, where there was the same situation like that, and we almost held out. Heath Streak and I, we batted a long time in the last session and that was a terrible wicket. We just fell short. I was thinking of that previous time thinking I can do this, we can do this, and succumbed just before the end. Those are the things that are incredible. The stand-out things that people see, someone gets a hundred or a hattrick, everyone gets involved in the excitement and euphoria, everyone gets it. But the other situations [are just as important].”

Brandes can walk away from his career in the knowledge that he, and his side, achieved a hell of a lot. So when one says ‘what if?’ it’s not a matter of Brandes having failed to achieved with what he did do, but how much he could’ve added to it.

“You know, you put him in an environment like the world it is now: the access to professional cricket and getting paid a lot of money in Twenty20 competitions around the world, Eddo could have been anything. He could’ve devoted his whole time to keeping himself physically fit and being able to produce the goods. He never really scored the amount of runs that his batting talent showed. He was a good batsman coming through school and age-groups, and a big striker of a cricket ball, and he should’ve scored more – but he probably just didn’t bat enough. Those sort of things would take care of themselves now, in a more professional environment. He could’ve been anything.”

That comes from Dave Houghton – not just one of Zimbabwe’s finest ever cricketers, but a man Brandes describes as “the best reader of a game” that he played under. And it does seem as though his batting is the area where Brandes could’ve improved the most: Traicos refers to him being able to “destroy bowling with fine straight hitting”.

“I’m sure if I had gone professional I would’ve become an out-and-out all-rounder. I massively underachieved batting.”

One thing that was apparent with Brandes’ days in the Zimbabwe team is that he came along during the side’s golden years. Before Test status, the team languished with little opportunity – not long after his career ended, cricket in Zimbabwe went the wrong way, and now they struggle to put a team on the park. The infighting and smell of corruption has overwhelmed anything that could be achieved on-field.

But they weren’t a great team: Dave Houghton compares his time with Zimbabwe to his current role with Middlesex.

“I find it, now, quite difficult when I’m with a really good side in Middlesex, that they’ve never really learned how to scrap with what they have. They’re a good side and when they play good cricket, they’re unbeatable. When they play badly they get beaten, and they don’t really know how to scrap, something that lesser sides like us learn quite quickly.”

The lack of top-class quicks was one of the side’s big issues, but as Houghton says, “you had to find ways to play.”

He says he based much of his time as captain on following the lead of the New Zealand side of dibbly-dobbly medium pacers, backed up with great fielding: “We were never as good at it as New Zealand were, but we tried our best to be that. You know, you can only play the cards you’re dealt, and it’s trying to play them as well as you possibly can.”

Brandes takes a similar point of view.

“Fast bowling is very hard work, and everyone can be a medium-pacer. Quicks just don’t come about off the mill, and we had so few cricketers playing, out of 20 or 30 players to have lots of quicks was impossible. So that was probably one of our weaknesses, in a sense. Having said that, our medium-pacers were very good medium-pacers. We all worked hard, and we all swung the ball.”

When Brandes left Zimbabwe, in 2003, they still only had Heath Streak as a quick bowler, especially once Henry Olonga stood his protest alongside Andy Flower at that year’s World Cup. But for Brandes, his mind was away from cricket: despite saying in 2001 that the economic crisis in Zimbabwe was something people just had to bear, he packed his bags and headed for Australia two years later.

“At that stage, in 2001, it was the start of the economic land reform programme. And in our view at that time, it was something that wouldn’t last long, because naturally it just wasn’t feasible. It wasn’t a real thing that was happening. Prior to that, Zimbabwe became a very unified country in the sense that all the racial barriers had broken down, there was no racial tension. Black people were doing well in life, business, white people were doing well in life and business, Zimbabwe was thriving. Everyone was happy and it was really going well in the late ‘90s.”

Brandes believed that the “hiccup” would pass, and that it would get back to normal. Unfortunately, it headed in the other direction.

“It just carried on, and got worse and worse and worse. Security broke down, the medical facilities broke down, schooling started to deteriorate. And those were all things that were becoming more and more important to me – I had a young family. At the time, the security really became a problem for me. I was very unsure with the security situation in the sense that we were perpetually worried. We just decided no, we’d take ourselves out of that environment – we didn’t know how long for it would be. At that time we thought it’d maybe just be a couple of years and then, I don’t know, just wherever it took you.”

Having coached in Zimbabwe, including at the Academy, he did the same in Australia: “once a cricketer, always a cricketer.”

“When I retired, ultimately I wanted to get to coach the national side, because I still wanted to be involved in Test cricket. So the pathway from there was to get involved with the Academy and go that way. Unfortunately, that was at the same time we decided to leave, and then when I got to Australia, the post on the Sunshine Coast was available – I applied purely to get to know people quicker. Straight away you had common ground through cricket, and we could just become part of the community a lot quicker. I did that for six years, and had some very good success which was very rewarding.”

Even aside from coaching, Brandes has had some interesting experiences since retirement. Although he no longer remembers, he was subjected on live radio in 2003 to a rather strange line of questioning. The following was published by Brian Viner in The Guardian:

Chiles: “And, er, how did Zimbabwe cricket fans take to you, as, er, as… as… a black man playing in the team?”

Brandes (bewildered): “Er, sorry, as a black man?”

Chiles (realising to his horror that Brandes is not, nor has ever been, a black man): “Well, no, sorry, no, how did you… were… given, given the erm, g…. g… given the… sorry… the atmosphere at the time in Zimbabwe, what was, what was the racial mix of the team?”

I asked Brian Viner if he remembers that interview – especially given Brandes fails to recall it: “yes, all true! Adrian [Chiles, the interviewer] will confirm it too!”

Now firmly settled in Australia, Brandes looks back with pride on what he achieved in a national shirt. The last word on his career rests with his account of the three-way balance he managed over his life – between family, business and sport:

“Most people have a family life and a business life, most sportsmen have a family life and a professional sports life. I had quite a unique position – I had a family, a business and a professional sports life. […] Sitting here now, I’d say I’m very satisfied that I was exposed to all that. Could I have done better? Yeah, you can always do better. At all three – I could’ve been a better parent, husband, better in business, better in cricket. […]

“I was very lucky to be able to play international sport, and run a business and have a family. I had a taste of all three facets.”

 


 

Acknowledgements: the author’s thanks go not only to Eddo Brandes, but to Bill Andersson, Brian Davison, George Ferris, Dave Houghton, Simon Insley, Heath Streak, John Traicos and Brian Viner who all helped to do Eddo’s cricketing story justice.

2 thoughts on “‘He led from the front’ – the Eddo Brandes story (Part 2)

  1. I am the former club cricketer & later on a captain of RCG in that erra…I really remember all that time & matches between Pakistan & Zimbabwe…also remember the Great Andy & Grant flower..heath streak…guy whittle…Rennie. …Brian…Houghton. ..then latter Paul & Brian strang…It’s my dream to meet at least one of that Zimbabwe player…also not to forget Johnson…..

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