For nearly 12 years, from 1993 to 2005, the brightest era in Zimbabwean cricket, it was a familiar sight. A stockily-built youngster with blond hair cropped to the stubbles rummaging to the crease with his oak-like legs, and hurling the ball from his teak-like shoulders – the index finger of the non-bowling arm pointing skywards as if in premonition that the umpire is about to give the batsman out. It was difficult to miss Heath Streak. Just as it was dangerous to take the eye off his deliveries, which in his prime both swung and sped and tormented the best.
For much of his career, he was not only the lone-wolf of Zimbabwe’s fast bowling unit, but also their pillar, the captain, the talisman. And at times, the best hitter.
If the IPL existed during his playing days, his signature would have been hotly sought. No bowler from his country has grabbed at least half of his Test wicket haul – 216 at an average of 28.14; his ODI collection too would take some catching up to – 237 at 29.81.
Their most successful Test skipper (with four wins including a memorable one against India, in which he was the man of the match) and second-most successful captain of Zimbabwe in ODIs, Streak was a powerful hitter of the cricket ball, which he often performed with a straight bat (1990 Test runs and 2934 ODI runs).
But just when he was assembling a competent team, Zimbabwe slipped into political chaos under former Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. Anarchy in the cricket board was inevitable too. The selection policy, allegedly, became inconsistent and discriminatory; several prominent white players such as Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin left the country before the crisis became full-blown. The Flower brothers too slunk to the background.
Streak fell out of love with the game: “I was fed up with telling quality players they didn’t deserve to be in the team when we all knew that was false. I demanded action from the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU). ” he had told The Guardian in 2004.
Two days later, he was fired as captain and then sacked from the team entirely.
According to ICC’s statement, Heath Streak disclosed inside information in relation to matches in the 2018 tri-series involving Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the IPL 2018, and the APL 2018.
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) April 14, 2021
He was integrated into the side a year later, in 2005, but the stint was short, as he was overlooked after the series against India. Thus, at the age of 31, at a time when he was upgrading into a fine all-rounder, he played his last game for his country – A Test against India in Harare, where yet again he shouldered the burden of his country’s bowling, nabbing six wickets for 73 runs in the first innings.
He relished bowling against India—30 wickets in nine Tests at a shade under 30. After a county stint with Warwickshire, which he eventually captained, and dalliance with the Indian Cricket League, he reclined to his 8,000 acre farm (which remained after the Mugabe government seized a chunk of his land) near Bulawayo called The Robins Farms. A world unto itself, with leopards, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, sables, horses, monkeys, jackals and numerous species of birds sharing greens with him. A world far from cricket.
Yet, the sport remained close to his heart – unlike how his old friends, like Goodwin taking a real estate job in Perth, or Henry Olonga, the firebrand seamer, who embraced music and settled down in Adelaide.
“There are ups and downs, and it’s been tough sometimes but that’s what life is all about. We keep trying to do better. My dream is to build a cricket academy here for people who can’t afford it. There are many places that cricket hasn’t yet touched,” he had told this newspaper during a visit to his farm in 2013.
He has yet to launch an academy back home, but he soon fetched coaching assignments, with Zimbabwe in several instalments as well as Bangladesh and a plethora of T20 leagues across the world, including a tenure with Kolkata Knight Riders. Occasionally, he had found himself in trouble too. Soon after Zimbabwe lost the World Cup qualifiers in 2018, several players alleged he was racist. “I find this preposterous and laughable,” he had then reacted.
But largely, like most his countrymen, he had steered clear of controversies, until the most recent episode.