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Heath Streak's chest
The great Zimbabwean bird has now passed on.
Heath Streak bowled with a front on chest. That often meant you could see the great Zimbabwean bird facing you as he bowled. There was a lot of the eagle to see because not only was he bowling front on, but he was a broad guy. Streak looked like a farmer or rugby player who accidentally picked up cricket. A solid athletic man who tried incredibly hard.
You saw the effort in each ball. Heath Streak was not content with being talented, he was willing himself to be better. If Zimbabwe had a need, he would try and fill it.
Heath Streak didn’t just bowl with his chest facing you, he bowled with his entire chest.
New Test teams don’t usually start with fast bowlers of top quality. Or at least if they do have someone with pace, they’re not a fully formed bowler.
Pakistan had Fazal Mahmood and West Indies had Learie Constantine. But those are exceptions. India had Mohammad Nissar but he didn’t last. Afghanistan had three quicks but through injury, inconsistency or age they were not a threat in Tests.
Zimbabwe had Heath Streak from day one in Tests. He was more a Clydesdale than a racing horse. Muscular and dependable, he would average 28 in his career. However, that is only slightly more than Stuart Broad. That is not a slight on Broad, who took three times the wickets. I show you that so you know how good Streak was. But the English bowler had Jimmy Anderson at the other end, plus heaps of capable bowlers as well.
Streak has 216 wickets in tests, no one else from Zimbabwe has 100. It isn’t even close, he is pretty much his team’s only Test bowler in history. He bowled on his own, with very little support and still took heaps of wickets at a way above average rate. A lot of made of Andy Flower’s runs in a poor team, but batting is more of a solitary act.
While bowling you need pressure from the other end. If Streak was bowling to a fresh batter, chances are he brought him there. Streak had some talented friends, but they rarely stuck around, so when he retired he had taken more than a fifth of Zimbabwean wickets. That he did that at a good average is obscene.
One of the most remarkable moments in Streak's career came in 1993 during Zimbabwe's tour of Pakistan. In the second Test of the series, he took eight wickets for 112 runs across the entire match. Zimbabwean cricket had barely begun, and here they were in Pakistan almost stealing the Test on the back of a seamer.
But it wasn’t just Pakistan, he averaged under 35 against everyone except South Africa and Australia, the two best teams of his era. And often it wasn’t his bowling that let him down, but it’s hard to beat batting lineups like those with one bowler.
On top of that, he was effective everywhere in the world. Zimbabwe conditions are not made for quicks, they’re almost like a combination of West Indies spin wickets and Pakistan flatbeds. So he had to learn to how breakthrough on those pitches, and that helped him around the world.
He was a good dead pitch bowler, essentially just willing himself. The older the pitch got the more he was in the game. This was a problem against the better teams and his team didn’t force the best teams to bat twice enough.
He was better at home, but that record completely holds up on the road. Especially again we think this was a new team, and they didn’t win much.
In his 65 Tests, he only won eight of them. They were a scrappy team who fought and could draw. But they didn’t have the bowlers to win many matches outside of him.
The difference between him and anyone else is crazy, Even one bowler on his level and things could have been way different. But he was quite clearly a man apart in his time, and really all time for Zimbabwe.
Streak’s record in draws and losses is about the same. That is a really good sign. You expect a player to have a better record when their team wins, but his numbers in victories are incredible.
But most of what he did with the ball was early in his career. After starting as a teenager for Zimbabwe, his bowling sadly declined really early on. By the end of his career, he was basically a below average bowler. A similar thing happened in ODIs as well, though not as drastic. The sad thing is the decline happened when he was only 26.
Streak would find other ways to contribute as his bowling slipped.
Despite playing less than a third of his matches as captain, he scored more than half his runs in that position. He just willed runs at a level that he never had before.
And it happened in both formats. He just went from a handy tail guy to one of his side’s most reliable batters. We do see this in all-rounders. Especially ones who maybe aren’t bowling as well any more. More so when they become captains - Dan Vettori and Imran Khan come to mind.
You can see that at a similar time, his bowling gets worse and his batting gets better. His two averages essentially start growing around that 26-year-old mark of his. Sadly he was never really a great all-rounder in Tests at the same time. There was a period he was an above average bowler, and a period when he was an above average batter. Just the two players never met.
Of course, his captaincy was affected by the 2003 black armbands protest by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga. He also resigned as leader and also went on strike another time. Yet even through all that, he would one day return as coach.
The end of his coaching career came when he was caught giving information to bookies and was suspended by the ICC under fixing rules. That was already sad for the many people who saw him play. Despite knowing that Zimbabwean players can get caught up in this, he looked like an invincible player who did everything he could to win.
But it got worse a few days ago as his health obviously deteriorated in that period as well. The man who willed himself to 50 with the bat because Zimbabwe needed it, sadly couldn’t make it there in terms of years.
Along with Andy Flower, he was the face of Zimbabwean cricket not only at the start but also their greatest period. He rode it out at the end when their team had fallen apart. Flower because of his 50 batting average and English coaching success is now more famous. But back then, Flower was nice to watch but hardly an excitement machine. And batters have helmets on, they grit and grind, deflect and dab.
That team’s public face - their cricket version of the great Zimbabwe bird - was Heath Streak steaming in. Whatever they needed, he found a way, bat ball, captaincy, he would do it all. It looked like cricket took a toll on him because he tried so damn hard for every ball.
But when Heath Streak flew, so did Zimbabwe.