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Stuart Carlisle: A classy batsman undone by politics

Stuart Carlisle: A classy batsman undone by politics

Stuart Carlisle…Zimbabwe’s utility batsman whose career was unfortunately cut short by the repurcussions of political turmoil in Zimbabwe © Getty Images

Stuart Carlisle, born May 10, 1972, was a utility batsman in the Zimbabwean cricket team who played in a number of positions in the line-up. Unfortunately, his career never quite reached its true potential due to various reasons. Jaideep Vaidya has more.

Stuart Carlisle is yet another ‘what if’ story in the annals of cricket. Unfortunate to have played for a country that was grappling with political turmoil for the best part of his peak years, Carlisle was denied the opportunity to realise his true potential.

A classy batsman who loved going forward on his front-foot, Carlisle had the ability to delight you with the cleanness of his strokes. He loved playing in the ‘V’ and even though he did not hop onto his back-foot often, he’d do it once in a while to surprise the bowlers. Carlisle was Zimbabwe‘s utility batsman — he has played in all positions from No 1 to No 7 in the batting order. Perhaps this was one of the reasons he did not score as many runs as he should have, given the instability in his batting position. However, in the handful good knocks that he featured in, he was a pure joy.

One of Carlisle’s finest innings came in the 2001 triangular series in Australia where he almost took Zimbabwe home with a century under pressure, after the hosts had put on 303 on the board. Zimbabwe were to fall just two runs short of what would have been an incredible chase, which was majorly due to Carlisle, who scored 119 off 45 balls. Earlier in the tournament, he had pummeled Shane Warne for a couple of half-a-dozens and had invited the foul-mouthed wrath of the bowler, which was caught by the stump microphone and broadcast around the world, much to Warne’s embarrassment.

In Test matches, Carlisle’s stand-out innings was against India at the Harare Sports Club, also in 2001. Zimbabwe were set a target of 157 and didn’t have the services of Andy Flower, who was injured. Carlisle walked in at 25 for one and stayed till the end, even as wickets fell steadily around him. Eventually, Zimbabwe won by four wickets with Carlisle remaining unbeaten on 62, while no other batsman in the team passed 20.

Unfortunately for him and Zimbabwe cricket, these little gems were too rare for a batsman of his technique. A  rather ordinary tally of 2,740 runs in 111 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) at 27.67 and 1,615 runs in 37 Tests at 26.91 leaves you baffled. However, as mentioned earlier, external factors related with the country of his birth were also responsible in some ways for the average figures.

Zimbabwe’s struggles under President Robert Mugabe are well documented. As the political tumult grew in the country during the late nineties and early noughties, it also began to rub off on non-political areas like sport. In 2002, Carlisle was entrusted with the captaincy of the national team by default after Brian Murphy, Guy Whittall, Heath Streak and Alistair Campbell had all been removed from the post one after the other. As was expected, it was never going to be a cakewalk as Zimbabwe lost five out of six matches under him. Streak’s reappointment as captain following that came as a relief for Carlisle. However, the ramifications of his brief stint as captain included poor form that led him to being dropped from the squad for the 2003 World Cup at home.

Later, in 2004, Carlisle was involved in the player dispute with the Zimbabwe cricket board which followed the sacking of Streak. Like many of his colleagues, this marked the premature end of Carlisle’s international career. He briefly returned when Zimbabwe played New Zealand in August 2005, but quit later that year, saying, “I am fed up by what is happening… I’m tired of the politics. I’d rather be away from them.”

Carlisle took parting shots at the Zimbabwean cricket board, saying, “We can’t be having people who do not know which side of the bat is up at the helm of cricket.”

He also sympathised with the second-string team that was put together by the board following the fallout: “As for the players, it’s not their fault. You cannot expect them to perform when all this is happening around them. I feel sorry for the younger players, they have nothing else to do outside cricket.”

Carlisle chose to highlight the positive memories of his near decade-long career. “We definitely had some good times, as an individual and with the team. I’m proud to be the only Zimbabwean to score an ODI and Test hundred against Australia, and my three ODI hundreds have been very special.”

In 2006, when Zimbabwe’s Test status was revoked by the International Cricket Council (ICC), Carlisle put “95 per cent” of the blame on the world cricket body and said that Zimbabwe have slumped to “rock bottom”.  Speaking to the BBC, he revealed that many players, including himself, had not been paid for several months by Zimbabwe Cricket. “The majority of the players will be walking away once they are paid — they’ve just had enough,” he said. “I can’t foresee Zimbabwe regaining Test status until they pay the players and sort out the product.” Carlisle blasted the ICC for not stepping in, saying, “I think they’re just proving to the cricketing world and players’ union that they’ve got egg on their face, and they’re turning it into a circus.”

Unknown to many, Carlisle went to university and has a degree in marketing, and has become a businessman post retirement from cricket. He revealed to the Zimbabwe Open magazine that he was offered to play in Australia for six months after his retirement, but chose against it because his oldest daughter was due to begin school and “the continued travelling would be unsettling for her.”

Carlisle chose to use his marketing skills and started a business of importing food products to help the cause of his hunger-torn country. However, in 2009, when the Zimbabwean economy opened up, the business was taken over by bigger corporates.  Carlisle then decided to go into sports manufacturing. “We wanted to focus on supplying top-quality goods that would not only last longer but would offer better performance, specifically for our kids market.”

Today, Carlisle runs Absolute Sports, a golf store attached to the Royal Harare Golf Club, which hosts the Zimbabwe Open. Carlisle’s company also sponsors young Zimbabwean golfer Ryan Cairns, who finished the 2013 edition of the tournament in joint-seventh position.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )

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