EVER since he made his One Day International (ODI) debut against Pakistan in 1996, former Zimbabwe cricket team seam bowler Gary Brent’s career progressed in fits and starts.Yesteryear profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
His talent was apparent although he personally did not believe he had unique cricket talent, until a time when he made the Zimbabwe Under-19 team and later the national team.
Arguably the most accurate medium pace bowler to play for Zimbabwe, a master of the in-swinger, possessing an extraordinarily deceiving slow ball in his arsenal, it’s not a surprise that he snared 75 wickets in 70 ODI appearances.
After walking out on Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) along with 14 other white players in 2004 following a dispute with the association, Brent would make a return a couple of years later to play his best cricket until he retired in 2008.
What followed was a coaching career which was relatively successful and saw him scoop several domestic titles with franchise side Mountaineers.
Standardsport caught up with the 40-year-old former cricketer, who is the co-director and coach at Howzat Cricket Academy in Harare and he shared his thoughts on the game in Zimbabwe as well as his experiences as a player.
“I truly believe that we [ZC] need a sports psychologist. A lot of people think it’s hogwash but it has been proven that sport psychologists, mental toughness and training are a massive part of sport. That’s one area we have neglected for a long time and we could improve since we have big crossroads ahead of us; because if we fail to qualify for the 2019 World Cup we are in serious trouble,” Brent said.
“We’ve never had a problem with talent; it’s what we do with the talent which is an issue. Ideally, you want the administration to work together with the players and that has never happened since I was a player.
“The players shouldn’t be looked at as the lowest form of life, they are actually the product and without them, nothing works and so we need to invest more on the product,” added Brent.
The idea of a psychologist for the Zimbabwe team has often dominated discourse, especially in light of the team’s big match temperament or lack thereof, which has seen perpetual batting collapses at crucial stages of important matches.
Brent — one of the few highly-qualified local cricket coaches — dreams of impacting Zimbabwe cricket in a positive way.
“I want to affect Zimbabwe cricket in a positive way, especially in the area of coaching education. ZC has given us the green light to host the ICC Cricket Academy, which is a massive development in the country. Early next year the first quarter will be running a few courses and that is huge. When you affect a coach, you affect a lot more people so that’s what we are starting,” he said.
He also expressed his interest in doing consultancy for the national team, helping bowlers and upcoming players like the national Under-19s and Zimbabwe A team in a bid to enhance their performance.
Brent’s playing career was full of ups and downs. the downs saw him miss the World Cup in 1999 and 2003, but later making the 2007 World Cup team at 31.
“I missed World Cup 1999 but the 2003 World Cup was the most heartbreaking because I made the initial 19-man team but was left out of the final squad. It was a bitter pill to swallow because I did well against Pakistan prior to that and it really took me a long time to get over it.
“Having left the game in 2004 I made a comeback after a couple of years and made the 2007 World Cup. It was a dream come true going to the world Cup, although I didn’t play particularly well and obviously drawing with Ireland was not a good thing,” Brent said.
As the oldest member in the team by almost a decade, Brent played his best cricket in the latter years of his career, especially with the bat.
It was in 2007 that he got his highest ODI score of 59 at home against South Africa and even had the temerity to pull Makhaya Ntini for a six during the innings.
As a young boy, Brent did not have a dream career or passion but just played cricket because he was better at it than his peers at Highlands School.
It also ran in his blood as his uncle John Brent had played cricket before him. Otherwise he could have pursued rugby, having made the Zimbabwe Under-12, playing alongside Henry Olonga — his future national cricket squad teammate.
He only began to dream of a cricket career when he made the Under-19 team and was eventually called to make his ODI debut as a 20-year-old in 1996.
“I got picked from Old Hararians to go to Pakistan for my debut in 1996. It was an amazing tour. I remember it for lots of reasons, obviously because it was my debut. I also remember playing at this place called the [Montgomery] Biscuit Factory Ground, the dorms were awful and there were thousands of mosquitoes. We couldn’t get anything we wanted to eat and looking back, it was a fantastic experience,” Brent reflected.
Following his debut, Brent was out of the team for another couple of years before coming back to earn his first Test cap in 1999.
After 70 ODIs and just four Tests he retired in 2008, aged 32.
When he went into the last part of his playing career, he already had one eye on coaching. Soon after retirement, he went to the UK and played in the Lancashire League while doing some odd coaching jobs.
His breakthrough came when he became a cricket professional at the Rugby School in Warwickshire and he acquired an England and Wales Cricket Board Level Three qualification while he was there.
When a job opening emerged at the then ZC High Performance Centre, he came back to take it and when Allan Donald left Mountaineers he took up the job.
He ended up winning a number of titles, including the Logan Cup, Pro 50 and two T20s competitions.
“It was a great time for me. Mountaineers was a brilliantly run organisation. I worked well with the CEO my uncle John Brent and it was a good thing having a cricket person there because he understood what cricketers needed.
“We had activities like presentation team-building programmes and those little things won us titles. It was sad when the CEO’s contract was not renewed because we had five and 10-year goals for the franchise. After that I didn’t think I was going to be able to work with whoever was coming.”
The need to be closer to his children also precipitated the move.
Brent’s oldest son Dean Milne (16), who is doing form 4 at Peterhouse has just made the Zimbabwe juniors team as a spinner while eight-year-old Allan is coming up the ranks at Howzat Academy. He also has an 11-year-old daughter, Kyla, who is at Chisipite.
A marketer for a local private company, Brent’s focus alongside partner Sean Bell is to turn Howzat Academy based at Heritage school in Borrowdale Brooke into an internationally-acclaimed institution.