Oftentimes I take a break on the one-on-ones and today is one such day that I take you to my net diaries.
I am cricket lover, that my bubbly girlfriend knows her competition aren’t other women, but this addictive game called cricket.
I still believe I am good enough to add to my 17 List A matches and the 30 wickets of course.
Today I have an emotional “net diary” story. It’s inspirational too.
It’s the Mitchell Johnson chapter of my life as a netbowler. I don’t even know how to start. Maybe let me begin from the farewell.
Johnson and I posed for a picture then he gave me my first new pair of bowling boots, the green Oasics version of 2014.
They are still usable but I rather leave them in that state, they are a precious memento.
The great left armer left me with pleasant memories on top of an Aussie ODIs cap, which he wrote “all the best in your career, Brighton”.
I took the cap to my former sports editor, Makomborero Mutimukulu, as a “thank you for allowing me to realise a dream”, for he allowed me to combine cricket reporting and bowling to the Aussies on their 2014 tour of Zimbabwe.
I guess this gets me into my net diary story. But before writing more, let me add that I got my first professional cricket wicket wearing the “magical Oasics” from Mitch.
Tino Mawoyo, a solid opener for Zimbabwe, was my first victim. Yes, the great Tino Mawoyo was bowled by Brighton Zhawi.
To add an icing to the cake, I have the video of my first wicket.
Back to Johnson. He is such an influence in my life, that one of my Rainbow Cricket Club mates Munya Magada gave me the nickname, Jonono, which you will find on my cricinfo (oh cricinfo, oh dear, another fulfilled dream, read next diary for more).
So my admiration for the legend was there for all to see, my imitation of his hoping-like run-up and the slinging at delivery. I visualized it a lot. Australia and South Africa touring Zimbabwe in 2014 – that was huge.
I was in my first year as a net-bowler and to be rubbing shoulders with your favourite this early was surreal. Enter the Aussies.
I missed their first session due to other commitments but I had to seek clearance to attend the next and all of Michael Clarke and his team’s sessions.
I arrived early for their next session, early enough to see their culture of starting the day with a joke, a feature they did under Darren Lehman. I saw them warming up, stretching, smiling, laughing under the African sun.
Done with their warm-up, some players brisked to the nets, greeting everyone and some bizarrely calling us “sirs”. Steven Smith, Brad Haddin calling us sirs.
Phil Hughes (may his soul rest in peace) was by far the nicest of them all so was Nathan Lyon.
Just like I mentioned in my previous net diary on Dale Steyn, it is amazing how some of these fast bowlers appear vicious, cold, dangerous on the field yet they are the softest blokes you could ever meet.
So in that big frame lay a friendly Johnson who extended his hand to greet me, “Hey I am Mitch.” Shyly I replied, “I am Brighton”.
Here were two left armers and one right armer (net bowler now model Lovemore Zambezi) sharing a net. To be honest I cannot remember who we were bowling to, I was so overwhelmed to notice. Instead of focusing on my bowling I was contemplating my pick-up line.
But Johnson, being the nice guy, said “well bowled” after I beat Aaron Finch’s outside edge with an intended in-swinger that held its line and went on with angle at my good enough pace.
“So when you bowl a good ball, always try to remember the feeling, what did I do right, that can help you with rhythm and consistency,” Johnson continued.
“Thanks mate,” I replied.
The conversations continued.
“I am more concerned about my front arm, the bowling arm shouldn’t be a worry, when practicing I make sure my front arm is engaged,” said the legend.
When done with our spell, Johnson and I stood a few metres behind the next bowlers’ run-ups and Mitch was kind enough to bring two energy drinks, one for his “brother”.
At 22 that time, this was an opportunity I never thought would come in my life, but such is the beauty of sport as it connects people.
And now it was my turn to impress Johnson. I knew he was a fitness lover, his frame told the whole story.
So I started asking questions on bowling fitness. Johnson told me I needed to work on my legs, core and shoulders as this will help in gaining pace. Still on the fitness topic, I stunned him.
“You know what, they describe you as one of the mentally tough members at the Mill,” I said. The way he looked at me!
“Oh man you serious.”
“For real, they were quite impressed with your work ethic, focus and resilience.”
The Mill Gym is a facility run by ex-soldiers in Western Australia which accepts only 100 members at a particular period. You apply for membership stating why you should be accepted. Once accepted and they feel you aren’t working hard enough they will kindly ask you to leave.
The Mill is one of the places or things that made Johnson “The Destroyer” he became in the 2013/14 Ashes and beyond.
Before this, well, his stories are well documented.
With this conversation I felt a connection with Johnson that I got comfortable to ask which football team he supports as I was wearing my yellow Arsenal away jersey of that season.
“I am not much into soccer, my wife sometimes follows,” he said with a chuckle.
We discussed a number of issues and ended our first meeting taking some photos. What a day!
I smiled all the way home. “This is what dreams feel like.”
On the field of action the series was enthralling. Prosper Utseya took a hat-trick against South Africa in a match Zimbabwe had the Proteas reeling. Sadly for Zimbabwe, they failed to chase a modest total in the region of 220 if not 230s.
When the Aussies played South Africa, Johnson was on fire … his bowled dismissals of David Miller and Morne Morkel. Outstanding.
Against Zimbabwe he used his bouncer to full effect and displayed his batting ability with that memorable drive where he hit Tinashe Panyangara for a straight six onto the commentators’ box.
The room’s front glass was shattered and Pommie Mbangwa and his co-commentator had glass particles all over.
Johnson was then rested for the Zimbabwe dead rubber on August 31, 2014. I remember the day so well because it was the first time I was at a cricket match with my mother. I probably felt it was going to be a Super Sunday.
Super it was because for the first time I saw Harare Sports Club full to capacity. Zimbabwe stunned the Johnson-less Aussies.
Prosper Utseya who was at the peak of his career before his ban for bowling using an illegal action, did the coup de grace with a huge six off Mitchel Starc to seal victory for Zimbabwe.
My next meeting with Johnson was warmer than the first one, we were sort of two buddies then. So he greeted me like one of his old mates.
We posed for more pictures and like Dale Steyn, he entertained questions from net-bowlers who had realised Johnson, like Hughes, Lyon, Haddin, Ben Cutting and Kane Richardson, was one of the friendliest guys amongst the Aussies.
Johnson enjoyed the chat and after practice he engaged us again that he was almost left behind by the team bus, much to the irritation, if not exasperation, of the team’s security officer.
On that day Johnson and I had walked together to their changing room and when we got to the Press Box I pointed at the shattered window from his six.
“Oh that, it was in my zone hey. If it was back home, I would have had one of my brothers fix this, that’s his job,” he joked.
On bidding farewell, Mitch promised me notes on ways I could improve my bowling, little did he know I was already obsessed with sit-ups from the moment he mentioned the core as part of areas to work on.
“Make sure you see me on the last day buddy,” he said.
South Africa got the better of the Aussies in the Tri-series final courtesy of the superb batting of Faf Du Plesis and Steyn’s performance as well.
So the mood in the Aussie camp was a bit low, but upon seeing me Mitch lit up. “Hey buddy, I got this for you,” he said handing me an Aussie longs and a cap.
“Sorry couldn’t get you more, Wayne Parnell wanted my signed jersey and we donated some stuff to the embassy.
But this is not all, what shoe size are you.”
Here are boots for you mate”.
“Oh wow, hey. I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”
All this was happening in the Aussie changing room filled with some Aussie players interacting with their South African counterparts and Zimbabwe was represented by us, the net-bowlers.
It is amazing how visiting teams appreciate this service that oftentimes they invite net-bowlers into their changing rooms when the series ends.
The Johnson impact was profound that my attitude towards fitness improved and in 2015, on Wednesday November 4, I made my List A debut against Rhinos at Kwekwe Sports Club.
My best buddie, Kudzai Maunze, always reminds me.
“Zhawi your first over was a maiden bro, I remember fielding at point praying for you, you were bowling to Bothie (Chapungu), one of the most destructive batsmen in Zimbabwe.”
I bowled that maiden wearing my Johnson boots and also wore them when I got my first wicket in the next match against Mountaineers at Old Hararians Sports Club.
Sometime after my meeting with Johnson I tweeted a picture with the great fast bowler. He liked it and I still talk about it today.