Going to the UK for club cricket has never been popular as it has been for the past few seasons amongst Zimbabwean cricketers.
Several players have their own means of acquiring club deals but for many it’s through agents.
There is a popular agent amongst Zimbabwe players. His name is Rob Humphries of World Sports Xchange.
His popularity is so big that some thought he is Zimbabwean-born, but Rob, as they call him in local cricket circles, is an Australian based in the UK who speaks to Brighton Zhawi in this edition In The Oval.
Humphries rates Zimbabwe players highly and believe Zimbabwe cricket can flourish “with right structures in place”.
BZ: Chatting to you I feel like I am talking to a “friend’ not an agent. That’s the impression I got from your Zimbabwean clients. How is that?
RH: I always try to start a conversation with people for the first time with the mind set that I’ve known them for years, I think it helps to build rapport when your start out thinking someone is your friend in the first instance.
BZ: Would you remember your first Zimbabwean client?
RH: Vusi Sibanda and Stu Matsikenyeri were the first guys I spoke to years ago, I’m pretty sure it was Vusi, in terms of the first one to say try and find me a deal.
BZ: To date, how many from this side have you worked with?
RH: I’d struggle to give an accurate number but would have to be between 40 and 50 over the last 17 years. And all of them, whether they have been successful or not, have been lovely guys to deal with and the feedback from clubs has been excellent, apart from one-two.
BZ: From your experience, would say Zimbabweans have their own brand of cricket? If yes, what sort of cricket identifies Zimbabwe players?
RH: I think Zimbabwean cricketers have always had a tag of “effort cricketers”. Whilst there are clearly some highly rated guys in the national set-up, there isn’t much between a lot of the rest. I think that doesn’t always come down to skill but heart. Everyone loves a trier.
I think Zimbabwe Cricket has always had the ability to punch above their weight but off-field issues have always restricted their ability to flourish regularly at international level. I’ve always in some way wanted to be involved in Zimbabwe Cricket because I know how good they could be with the right structures in place.
BZ: So many people wonder what sort of cricket do overseas professional play when they come to the UK. Village cricket, semi- … what really happens there, I have heard many asking?
RH: It’s mostly village cricket but played at a pretty good standard. We try not to put first-class players in lower leagues for two reasons.
One, we want their cricket to improve and two, don’t want the more recreational sides being on the end of a flogging.
Generally, although village sides are village sides geographically, they often play in the top leagues as people travel to play a higher standard. Swardeston, the strongest club in England, is a village of maybe 800-1 000 people.
BZ: As World Sports Xchange … do you rope in any player or you have your standards. Who can be your client, does age matter as well?
RH: I’d love to be able to say we can take everyone on. That doesn’t mean everyone gets a deal and many miss out but generally we try and help as many as we can. I like facilitating opportunities for others and we never take someone on we don’t think is worthy of getting a deal, even if it’s a small deal. We just want to create opportunity and we have great relationships with our clubs here which helps when making recommendations. Usually we stick to First class regulars purely because they meet the strict visa criteria.
BZ: Sadly, the world is fighting the coronavirus which has affected basically all sectors. How has it affected your trade? Has there been communication between you, clubs and the players during this challenging period?
RH: Been awful financially for us, no travel to the UK and no competitive cricket has meant next to no income but a lot of our clubs have kindly supported us for the deals we’d done, which has been amazing.
Yeah, we’ve tried to keep in touch with as many as possible but I’m the kind of person that likes to keep contact meaningful so we update when we have news worth sharing but we check in with guys as and when we can or they reach out for a chat. We have a lot of just general conversation with our guys from all over the world that aren’t about cricket so we’re all checking in on each other which is one of the nicer aspects of humanity.
BZ: Have you visited Zimbabwe?
RH: No I haven’t. I have five kids. Holidays are very expensive. I will get there one day, I want to get down there and I’m sure I will get to visit the beautiful country soon enough.
BZ: I hear you from Australia … did you play any cricket, still play?
RH: I still play, 35 now and feeling like I’m 45 but I still love turning out on the weekends. It probably prevents me getting around and seeing more guys but I’m a cricket tragic and I rarely miss a game in the summer. I came over to the UK as a 19-year-old and wanted to try and make a go of things there. I was never good enough as a player but my love for the game has never faded.
BZ: I am going to say out a few names of some of your clients here in Zimbabwe and please may share your favourite story about them … then I will also share what they said about you. How is that?
RH: That’s fine.
BZ: Regis Chakabva.
RH: What a great guy. Just watching him keep in a game against Club Cricket Conference last year, he flew through the air and that smile. The smile that could stop a war I reckon.
BZ: Here is what he said about you: Rob is just such a nice human being. I’ve known him for almost a decade now and we’ve grown to be friends. Conversations have gone past the cricket field to family and everything. He’s a very trustworthy guy and can’t say that for a lot of people I’ve met over time. He’s honest, open, and works hard for his clients. We’ve spent some time together when I’ve been to the UK and he’s a gentleman. The clubs I’ve played for in both Australia and England had nothing but praise for how professional he is when he dealt with them to connect us and that’s a testament to his work and all the guys I’ve met in the UK who he got clubs for had nothing but good to say about him and that’s not an understatement.
BZ: Another one Kudzi Maunze.
RH: Kudzai, was one of the real surprise packets of 2019. He’d come over in 2018 to a club I knew and although I didn’t do the deal, I helped the club and Kudzai with the visa process. He came to me after the end of the season and we plotted for 2019 to see if he could lift his numbers from the previous season. His performance for Hadleigh was incredible, a real effort cricketer that plays to his strengths and just fits into a club seamlessly. They couldn’t ask him back quick enough and I’m sure he’ll be back at Hadleigh in 2021. He is a good communicator and when I need him to do something paperwork or visa wise, he just gets on with it.
I hope to see him again next year as the club are fairly local to me. He did some great schools coaching as well and was very well-liked.
BZ: Here is what Maunze said: Rob, man, he is a friend not an agent.
He is a brother, he cares about his clients. It doesn’t surprise me he is popular amongst Zimbabwe players. I am really grateful to have met him.
BZ: Timycen Maruma.
RH: Timycen has always been one of the best performed players from Zimbabwe over the years. He’s always flown under the radar a bit as a genuine all-rounder, but it was great to see him back in the national mix over the last couple of seasons for tours. He’s got some personal challenges that he can hopefully come through and I look forward to working with him again. He’s just another cricketer starved of opportunity that could be a regular in the national side.
BZ: Last, but not least … Tary Musakanda.
RH: Tary. What a talent. Yet another genuinely lovely guy. Did so well here in 2019 and was doing well in Australia before he let himself down off the field but knowing his support network including myself, he has the inner strength to grow from that setback and come back even better on and off the field. I’d love to see him facing the new rock against Australia blazing Starc and co around.
BZ: Tary said you are an honest friendly person.
RH: What about Timy?
BZ: Timy said you not selfish, you have more clients because you “listen” and “care” for them.
RH: Nice. Good guy, tough time for him earlier this year.
BZ: Will we see a system where there can be inter-club deals. Partnerships between Zimbabwe and UK clubs … perhaps in the future?
RH: Perhaps. I know the Rising Stars tried a similar kind of thing and those relationships can be great but only up to a point depending on what a club needs each year. I’m happy to keep being the facilitator.
BZ: And many athletes would be wondering if World Sports Xchange is for cricket only. May you clarify on that?
RH: Not at all, we’re accredited in rugby and football as well as chasing a few golfers. We’ve not pursued the other sports actively at the moment but it’s certainly a growth area we will target.