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Prosper Utseya: Zimbabwe’s parsimonious off-spinner

Prosper Utseya © Getty Images
Prosper Utseya © Getty Images

Zimbabwe’s Prosper Utseya with his prosaic skills is known for bowling tidy spells in the shorter formats of the game. Bharath Ramaraj looks at the career of the Zimbabwean cricketer who also went onto captain the setup to a famous win over the great Australian side in ICC World T20 2007.

During the middle of 2004, Zimbabwe cricket hit rock-bottom when 15 players withdrew from playing for the country due to political interference, selection issues and corruption. It resulted in a slew of greenhorns being thrust into playing at the international level. One of them was the promising 19-year old off-spinner, Prosper Utseya.

If we go down the memory lane in Utseya’s career by 2004, he had just started playing First-Class cricket for Mashonaland A and representing his country still seemed a bit of distant dream. But due to the uncertain cloud hovering over the future of Zimbabwean cricket, he was suddenly playing the seasoned campaigners, Sri Lanka in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests.

On one hand, he must have felt like flying on the wings of a childhood dream, but the harsh reality was that a bunch of inexperienced players were up against a formidable opponent. It didn’t surprise anyone that Sri Lanka thumped Zimbabwe both in ODIs and Tests.  Utseya, and others who played in that series must have been disheartened and heartbroken to virtually lose every game by a thumping margin.

Utseya, though, soon made a name for himself with his parsimonious spells. In the ICC Champions Trophy played in 2004 in England, Utseya bowled a fine spell of 10 overs for 35 runs against the home team. Even then, it was in a crystal clear manner evident that he didn’t get much purchase on the ball, but had exemplary control over his bowling.

Prosper Utseya can control the flow of runs with some accurate bowling © Getty Images
Prosper Utseya can control the flow of runs with some accurate bowling © Getty Images

In 2005, when Zimbabwe toured South Africa to play against the home team on rampage, everyone expected them to be smashed to smithereens. In the first ODI played at Wanderers, Johannesburg, on expected lines, South Africa mercilessly thrashed their opponents. However, Utseya was one of the few bright spots to emerge for Zimbabwe from that game. His spell of three for 40 at Johannesburg won him fulsome praise and appreciation.

By 2006, at the age of just 20, he was made the captain of a very young Zimbabwean side. He took over from the unheralded left-handed opening batsman, Terry Duffin. Actually, in the ICC 2007 World Cup, Utseya led the setup though; they weren’t able to pen their mark in the tournament. Even in the game against Ireland, they made a mess of chasing a modest total and could only tie the game.

However, in the ICC World T20 2007 held in the Rainbow Nation, Utseya’s band of boys shocked the entire world by defeating Australia in a humdinger. Utseya, and the tireless workhorse, Gary Brent, choked Australian batsmen and restricted them to a modest total and then chased it down in the last over of the game.

Since that glorious triumph that would be reverberated for years to come, Utseya has relinquished from his role of captaining the side. Yet, he continues to be a vital cog of the setup in the shorter formats of the game. In particular, in T20Is, he has a fine record. Anyone who maintains an economy rate below seven in T20Is is generally considered a player of fine pedigree. Even in the ongoing ICC World T20 2014, it was Utseya’s untiring spell of four overs for 18 runs against United Arab Emirates (UAE) that helped them to script a fine win.

It has to be said that his prosaic skills haven’t helped him to take too many wickets in ODIs, but even in that format, he maintains a fine economy rate of 4.34. Utseya is also a handy batsman lower down the order. He has a fifty against his name in ODIs and has compiled a century as well in First-Class cricket.

Here is a cricketer who came through the usual route of playing for Chipembere Primary School and due to his diligence and undying love for the game went onto become a fine servant of Zimbabwean cricket. In short, one has to commend the Harare born cricketer for wading through the narrow trench of hurdles to climb up the ladder and play for his country during difficult times.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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