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Kevin Curran: One of Zimbabwe’s finest all-rounders who carved a niche for himself in county cricket

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Kevin Curran © Getty Images

Kevin Curran, born on September 7, 1959, was one of Zimbabwe’s premier all-rounders. He played only 11 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) before plying his trade in the English county circuit where he carved a niche for himself with consistent performances. After retiring from the game, Curran coached Namibia and Zimbabwe. In 2012, at 53, he died after collapsing while jogging. Sarang Bhalerao tells you more about blond haired Curran.

When you hear the name Kevin Curran you know him as a Zimbabwean coach, you know him as an overseas professional who served Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire and you know him for his pivotal role in trouncing the proverbial ‘Goliath’ on June 9, 1983.

Sport becomes an interesting spectacle when Goliath is trounced. The Zimbabwean folklore has reserved a special chapter for their sensational, yet unexpected, win over Australia in the first game of the 1983 Prudential World Cup in Nottingham. A certain Duncan Fletcher was the chief architect of the win — scoring 69 and taking four wickets. But the supporting act was equally important and Curran played that role to perfection.

At 94 for five, Zimbabwe were in serious danger of finishing at a below par total. But Fletcher-Curran stand of 70 gave Zimbabwean innings an air of respectability. Curran’s 46-ball 27 was a vital innings that helped Zimbabwe stabilise the innings. Zimbabwe set Australia 240 runs to win.

In reply, Australia finished on 226 for seven. Curran picked up the vital wicket of Allan Border which triggered panic as Australia still needed 72 runs. The win is one of the most cherished moments in the annals of Zimbabwe cricket history.

His best bowling analysis of three for 65 came in the losing cause against India at Tunbridge Wells. Opening the bowling, Curran got Kris Srikkanth and Sandeep Patil out cheaply. But little did Zimbabwe realise the Haryana Hurricane’s power-hitting was to hurt them. Curran suffered at the hands of Kapil Dev who went on to score 175 not out.

Chasing a challenging 267 to win, Zimbabwean run-chase was powered by Curran who scored 73. The game was not in the India’s grasp until Curran got out — the ninth wicket to fall. This was the best batting performance by Curran in his 11 match One-Day International (ODI) career. Talking of Curran his former Zimbabwean captain Fletcher said in Wisden Obituary: “Kevin always genuinely believed that any difficult situation was a challenge to be overcome.”

It was very difficult to keep Curran out of action. He was always in the game either with the ball, bat and his fielding was a big positive.

In the next World Cup in 1987, Curran’s performances were disappointing. He failed to make a substantial difference in the final analysis of the games and hardly had any impact. The end of the World Cup also marked his end of his international career. In the 11 ODI games, he scored 287 runs at an average of 26.09 and picked up nine wickets at 44.22 runs per wicket.

Curran embarked upon a memorable county journey in the English county cricket where he became one of the most efficient overseas performers. He had an Irish passport as his paternal grandfather shifted to the then Rhodesia in 1902.

Curran represented Gloucestershire since 1985 and was one of the key members of the side. In his debut season he picked up 52 wickets and helped his county jump to the third position from the last place. His partners-in-crime for the county were David Lawrence and Courtney Walsh. Wisden termed this attack as “the most formidable the county had ever developed.”

At times Curran got a bit fired up but all in the heat of the moment. There was no malice. There were theatrics which is a trait not uncommon in fast bowlers. He was a vital cog in Gloucestershire’s scheme-of-things. But at the end of 1990, the club didn’t renew his contract. According to the senior coach Eddie Barlow, Curran’s departure was “in best interest of the club.”

Curran’s contribution for Gloucestershire was outstanding. He went past the 1,000 run-mark on four successive occasions. In 1988 he picked up 65 wickets and in his final tryst with the club he got 60 scalps.
After the stint with Gloucestershire, Curran signed for Northamptonshire. He was immediately welcomed by their captain and English international Allan Lamb. Curran would constantly ask Lamb to give him a bowl or ask for the No 3 slot. His proactiveness impressed Lamb who said and was quoted by Wisden Obituary: “He always felt he was better than anybody else, and I liked that.”

In 1992, Zimbabwe got the Test status and Curran had an option of representing his country but he chose not to go for that option and instead waited for the 10-year qualification to be an English citizen. He served his county and not the country.

In 1993, Curran picked up 67 wickets at an average of almost 19. In 1997 he was made the captain of the team but the team failed to click under him. He also represented Boland (1988) and Natal (1993 to 1997). In 1999, he retired from the game. His First-Class record was impressive: 15,470 runs In 324 games at an average of about 37, including 25 tons. He picked up 605 scalps at 27-runs per wicket.

Life after retirement

Curran was still associated with the game albeit as a coach. He took the coaching reigns of Namibia after being an assistant coach of Zimbabwean team since 1999. In 2004 he coached the CFX Zimbabwe academy side in Harare.

A lot of senior cricketers left the country during Robert Mugabe’s regime. As a result, Curran was coaching a bunch of young tyros.

He took charge of the national team replacing Phil Simmons in 2005. The players were disappointed with the sacking of Simmons by the Zimbabwe cricket board. When Curran came in, he was allegedly too close to the board. Several players were angry because of his interference when it came to persuading players to sign the controversial contracts that had some clauses which were unacceptable to the players.

“The feeling among the players is that he will use them to keep his position. They don’t feel he has the same approach to them as Simmons did. Kevin sees the players as a product while Phil used to see them as individuals,” said an unknown source to ESPNCricinfo.

The rift between players and Zimbabwe Cricket officials widened. Ahead of the ODI series against Kenya the players were vociferous about their discontent with the board officials.

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Curran said the rift was because of his disciplinarian approach. “Where that comes across is that I have strong work ethics, and there are players who did not like that,” he said. “The likes of Duncan Fletcher are like that. We have to do it the way the best cricket nations in the world do it. If any of the players do not want to put up with these ethics, there is no place for them in Zimbabwe cricket.”

In 2006, Simmons said that some of the Zimbabwe players were unhappy under Curran’s regime. To this Curran countered saying that it was a case of “sour grapes.”

“Whilst I will reserve my right to follow the legal route on the actionable statements, I will not enter a public slanging match with Simmons. It is regrettable that he has decided to go public with what he was allegedly told. I would respectfully suggest that if he intends to pursue his case with his former employer he should do so without involving me,” said Curran to ESPNCricinfo.

In 2006 Zimbabwe lost their Test status courtesy of disappointing performances. In December 2006, a home series loss to Bangladesh infuriated the officials.

Zimbabwe were knocked out of the first round of the 2007 World Cup and under Curran they had lost 30 of the 40 ODIs played. After the exit from the competition, Curran proposed the plan to introduce specialist coaches as most of the other sides did. The nation’s confidence on the cricket team was at a nadir and so coach Curran was sacked. Zimbabwe lost 3-0 to South Africa at home.

On August 27, Robin Brown replaced Curran as the new Zimbabwe coach.

In 2011, Curran was appointed as the selector of the Zimbabwe national team. Curran was by that time coaching Mashonaland Eagles and was playing an active role in running the Interfin Cricket Academy in Harare.

In 2012, Curran died early morning in Mutare while jogging. “We are still in shock, Kevin was the epitome of health and we have yet to make sense of this tragic loss,” Zimbabwe Cricket’s managing director Wilfred Mukondiwa said in a press conference.

“KC had put his heart and soul into developing our franchise and had great plans for our high performance gym and other facilities… his passing will leave a huge void at Mash Eagles and I feel that I have not only lost a key business ally but a friend as well.”

Curran’s teammate Andy Traicos was shocked to learn about the former’s death. He was quoted saying by ESPNCricinfo: “The most shocking thing is, he (Curran) was incredibly fit. He was a fitness fanatic, he used to be in the gym everyday… He and Malcolm Jarvis ran a gymnasium in Harare and Kevin was there every day, did everything from weights to aerobics. And he ran a lot. He was very, very competitive and played rugby, tennis and golf. He was a naturally talented guy.”

Waller talked to ESPNCricinfo about Curran’s competitive spirit. He said, “He had played in a regular 4-ball (golf) at Rusape Country Club, the area where he and folks once farmed. Him and his mate could never win this one particular hole versus the two elderly gents. It was a straight par 4, but over a slight rise with the green out of sight. The two old blokes hit it straight over the rise and the ball always rolled down the hill on the hard fairways close to the green. The day before one encounter he got some of the labourers from the farm, dug a bunker in front of the green without permission from the green-keeper or anyone. The two old folks were horrified to see their balls in the bunkers after their normal straight drives. Kev and his mate won the hole for the first time.”

Zimbabwe sports minister David Coltart said: “I fondly remember the chats we had recently about the future of cricket in Zimbabwe. He had such a passion for the game and Zimbabwe. He stuck to our beloved nation through its worst years and was committed to doing what he could to restore pride to Zimbabwe cricket. He will be sorely missed.”

Former England skipper Michael Vaughan wrote: “Thoughts are with his close family. A wonderful cricketer who would have flourished in the modern era of T20.”

Curran may well have excelled in the shortest format of the game. He never played the longer version of the game for his side. He also got out pretty early in the innings called “life”. Zimbabwe cricket dearly misses Curran even today.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)

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