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MASTER AND PUPIL: Heath Streak (left) and Gavin Ewing enjoy time away from the game.


A protégé’s tribute: ‘People were just drawn to Streaky’



GAVIN Ewing starred in just three Test and seven ODI matches for Zimbabwe, nothing compared to the majestic career and sheer numbers of his mentor Heath Streak.


But Ewing is no less qualified to tell a gripping and intimate story of the late legendary Zimbabwean cricket superstar’s way with people, and how Streak touched lives.

Despite sharing an international dressing room for a very short period in their careers, the two local heroes had lots in common growing up around Bulawayo: school, work, club and provincial teams, and all the way up to the highest level of the game.

 “From that, he became like an older brother,” Ewing, seven years Streak’s junior, told The NewsHawks this week.

“And then when my father passed away nearly 13, 14 years ago – Streaky nearly took up a role of being almost a step-dad, a father-figure for me. That will always be my memory of him, how he was always there for me. It didn’t matter what was going on, what was happening in my life. He was always there to give me advice, to keep me on the straight and narrow. That was one of his best qualities as a person. A lot of people will remember him for his ability on the cricket field, and stuff like that. But just the person he was, was what made him an incredible man.”

In typical Zimbabwean sporting culture back in the day, such top talents like Streak were already household names as schoolboys, so the earliest role models of the younger generation were not from the far-flung corners of the world.

These were guys who had in the past used the same classroom desk you now occupied, or the same hostel bed you now slept on.

“I went to Falcon (College) after Streaky had left,” Ewing explained.

“My first memory, funny enough, when I got to Falcon, was just being told about Heath Streak, what he achieved on the sporting front at Falcon. How he was the sporting icon you had to look up to, somebody you would want to be one day. The first time I met him was actually at Falcon, he had left Falcon and started to be part of the Zim (national team) set-up at that fairly young age. He had come up there to do some coaching, and just try to give back a bit. I met him, and I remember him coming to one of our net sessions. I had just made the first team in form four, which for me was a massive thing. And then him saying to me, ‘you know, you are a big boy and you are going to need to lose some weight if you are going to make it in this game, but you have potential’. It was the way he did it, he just made me believe that there is a future in me. He kind of said to me ‘I’m going to be looking out for you because I can see something in you’. That coming out of somebody you looked up to, somebody you had seen on TV, and heard so many things about at the school you were at, was just massive for me because that was also my dream, to go on and represent my country.”

Zimbabwe’s best bowler of all time succumbed to colon and liver cancer at the age of 49 last Sunday at the family farm in Inyathi near Bulawayo, his birthplace.

42-year-old Ewing went on to work as Streak’s assistant coach at Falcon College then later replaced him as the director of cricket at their old school when bigger coaching opportunities around the world started to open up for the revered former Zimbabwe captain.

Ewing, of deep Bulawayo roots but born in Harare, was throughout their working relationship left spellbound by Streak’s tremendous empathy for the plight of others.

“I know Streaky will be remembered for his cricket and sporting ability. But people must not forget Streaky the person because I know his family would 100 percent agree with me that he was an amazing husband and father,” remarked Ewing.

“He loved his family more than anything in the world. He was such a loyal friend to those people who were close to him, and he would do anything for them. He had an incredible sense of humour and always tried to see the good in things. And he had a big heart. There are a lot of things Streaky got me to do to help others. We got lots of people involved because he always loved to help people, to make things better. He just was a great guy. He will be solely missed. It’s very seldom to meet somebody with a big heart, and to want the best for everyone, and to really care for them. I think I can safely say he was loved by many, and he will be missed by even more people and may he rest in peace. I know he loved his family, he loved so many people. We will miss you, we love you, Stack! You’re a legend.”

Leadership was routinely bestowed upon Streak in all the teams he played for because he was, by nature, a leader with all-round makings that extended beyond the changing room and the cricket field. He strongly believed in developing a deeper and personal connection with his colleagues as a means of building good team chemistry.

“I even called him dad just because of how he was with me,” commented Ewing. “He was incredible with my family. You know, he looked at my boys as if they were his grand-kids. He used to joke, saying ‘how is your wife and my sons?’ You know, that’s just how it was. He had us out at the farm on numerous occasions. We would catch up often for a coffee, talk about life. I’d always go up to him for advice about any decisions I was making. When I was getting ready to retire from cricket, I chatted with Streaky, hence my connection then with his academy. When it was time to move to Falcon from the academy, Streaky was the guy I discussed with. And when it was time to leave Falcon, Streaky was also the guy I spoke to, to get his advice. Obviously there was a lot of others, but Streaky was a constant. I think he leaves a void, not just for me, but for a lot of people. Because that’s how he was, approachable and easy to talk to. He just made you feel comfortable. Wherever he was, people were just drawn to Streaky.”

From teaming up at club level in their hometown and then for the Matabeleland provincial side, Ewing finally got to line-up alongside his idol for the first time in the pinnacle format of the game 20 years ago.

“To be honest, it was one of the most amazing experiences for me,” stated Ewing.

“Because, I mean, he was actually captain of Zim at the time when I eventually made my Test debut in Sydney, in Australia, in 2003. I remember him knocking on my door because it was a last-minute decision that I was going to play. I had already gone up to my room to try get some sleep. I don’t know, I think I was actually going to get ready and party because I was going to be 12th man again and I had done drinks and was so good at doing drinks. It is what it was, and he knocked at my door and he said ‘remember that discussion that we had at Falcon all those years ago, and now is your time to shine’. And I was like ‘why, what do I have to do?’ And he said ‘you’re making your debut tomorrow against the best team in the world, Australia! And I just want you to go out there and be yourself, and enjoy’. And this was coming from somebody that I looked up to so highly and was in awe of. And now he was about to lead me into battle in Sydney and against the best team in the world at the time. It was just an amazing experience but to have played at club, then provincial, and now national team (level) with him, I mean, it’s very seldom that you can meet someone whilst still at school at end up playing with them and just feel at home with them.”

So much has and will be said about Heath Hilton Streak the cricketer, but his warmth and charismatic personality form a captivating account on its own. And, of course, not forgetting his versatile sporting talents.

“Streaky did rate his dancing skills,” chuckled Ewing.

“I can’t say though that I ever saw them first-hand, in full flow. But, you know, Streaky was pretty good at everything, to be honest. He was an amazing rugby player, he played Zim Schools rugby, did fishing for Zimbabwe, and obviously played cricket for Zim. He was a good soccer player, he played a lot of soccer at the farm with his staff. Streaky was pretty good at anything, to be honest. And he definitely was a practical joker. He loved playing on people’s superstitions in the changing room. I hated it when people would play with my cricket bat before I went into bat. For some reason, Streaky would always get hold of it and hide it somewhere to try and calm me down. It worked sometimes, and sometimes it didn’t. But I think one of the things he was really good at was mimicking how people used to bat or bowl, and doing little skits about it and that always had people in hysterics after the game. He would imitate how somebody did their bowling action, or took their stance. I remember on countless occasions he would come out to bat in the changing room with a broom stick, because he was trying to imitate me. I had a thing about sweeping the pitch before every ball, and I was very finicky like that. And he had the broom stick and was like ‘who’s this?’ He would sweep the floor for five minutes then take his guard, play a shot and then sweep again. He was just a good team man for that because he always made everything light-hearted and just made it seem so easy. Yet he was an incredible warrior on the field who fought tooth-and-nail till the end.”

His obvious talent and competitive spirit aside, Streak commanded enormous respect in his circle of cricket people – teammates, opponents, officials – due to an effortless charm that made him a firm favourite of the public.

“It’s hard to put into words the impact Streaky has left behind,” said Ewing.

“He not only left an impact because of what he did as a player, but what he did after his playing days. I mean, he was a very successful coach. His academy is a massive thing for Bulawayo and Matabeleland players because we don’t really have anything here like what Harare has. But it’s very hard to fill the void left by Streaky. His ability to speak Ndebele, Shona and English – and to communicate with all different people with such ease – was huge. That’s why people loved him because he related to everyone and he made time for everyone. So, it didn’t bother him whether you were a national player, provincial player, a school player, or a young kid learning to play the game. I remember watching him with my son when he was about three years old. Streaky was throwing balls to him, teaching him how to hold the bat, how to bowl. And then a few days later he’s taking a national team practice and then the same passion and love is there. He was just like that. So much of my coaching philosophy was from Streaky, watching him and listening to him, how he put things across. The void is huge, so hopefully one day somebody takes on the mantle. He really is a massive loss. Not just for cricket, but for Zimbabwe. He was a big name for Zimbabwe because he had that X-factor that made people love him.”

Ewing, an off-spinning all-rounder, played with some of Zimbabwe’s most recognised cricketing names in his short international career: Streak himself, Brendan Taylor, Tatenda Taibu, Andy Blignaut, Hamilton Masakadza, Ray Price, Mark Vermeulen, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya.

But it is only natural that protégé Ewing considers the great Streak as the best among his international teammates. Ewing’s admiration for Streak’s fast bowling skills is in large part due to how the ex-Zimbabwe ace was able to adapt to the demands of the game. The respect also extends to how Streak later evolved into an all-rounder of note in international cricket. 

“Streaky, I honestly think he’s up there with the world’s best,” Ewing declared.

“I’m not saying that because he’s passed away, or because he meant so much to me or to ZimCricket. But Streaky, he honestly was a phenomenal cricketer. I mean, Streaky could win the game with bat, ball and in the field. I remember standing at slip and watching him bowl and just thinking every ball could hit that outside edge and come straight to me at slip. So you were always ready for it, because you just thought every ball could get nicked off and come straight to me. And then all of a sudden he bowls off-cutters, which people seem to struggle to pick, and wrap you on the pads, or knock you over. And then, you know, he was very good at learning new things and changing up his game. He was definitely quicker than anyone thought. He could rush you, he had a good bumper, and he hit the bat hard. Batting-wise, I think his batting just continued to develop. I personally think because of his workload with the ball, he didn’t bat high as he possibly could have in the Zim side. Because he was just bowling so many overs that he was pretty shattered most of the times. But his ability with the bat, I mean, you just have to look at the stats. He definitely scored runs when we needed it, and he did some game-changing innings for Zim that did made a huge difference. In the field, I find it hard to find anyone who had an arm like Streaky. I mean, he just had one of the best throwing arms that world cricket has ever seen, without over exaggerating. I remember one run-out in Durban against South Africa, he threw this bullet from the boundary to run somebody out. And for a big guy, I mean because he was, he was a well-built guy, he moved so much quicker than you thought in areas like mid-wicket and extra-cover. He just had this ability to read what was going to happen, where the ball was going to go. Honestly he was a phenomenal cricketer. He was way better than his stats might look, compared to other all-rounders. Outstanding.”

Safe to say also way better as a human being than how his cricket career eventually ended, with an eight-year ICC ban for breaching an anti-corruption code.