T20 World Cup 2022 – Brad Evans

There was a bit of a stir when Zimbabwe finally unveiled their men’s T20 World Cup kit just days before their first game of the tournament against Ireland on Monday. The purple had been replaced with a fiery yellow, with an image of the bird symbolizing an independent Zimbabwe. This bird isn’t a phoenix, but in that orange against the clear yellow, it looks almost on fire, ready to rise from the ashes.

Which might be appropriate. Because just four months ago, it looked like Zimbabwe wouldn’t have to design a World Cup kit at all. They had just played the T20I series at home against Namibia and Afghanistan and both lost. And in World Cup qualifying, a single defeat could have ruined their chances. Their chances of reaching the tournament were questionable. But they made it.

No player’s fortune encapsulates what Zimbabwe cricket has been through during this period – both rock bottom and rebirth – quite like Brad Evans’. Evans, the 25-year-old fast bowler, made his debut against Namibia in May. Given that Zimbabwe would have lost the final two games of this series, it might have felt more like a victimization ceremony than an initiation.

“As a Zimbabwean team, we’re almost starting from scratch,” he tells ESPNcricinfo. “When I came on, we were losing to Namibia in a five-game T20 series. This is the low point.”

He doesn’t want to talk much about his time under ex-coach Lalchand Rajput, pointing out that he wasn’t there long enough to form a differentiated opinion. But when he speaks of Dave Houghton’s arrival, he straightens in his chair. The eyes sparkle; the contrast he draws does not need to be put into words.

“Forget the cricket. The dressing room between the two shows I played is such a different place. It’s cheerful, the boys are joking. It’s just a happier place,” Evans said. “The only thing Dave came in and did is say, ‘Guys, I don’t care if you guys come out, but I want you guys to play your shots. I’ll be like, “Oh my god, what do you think the coach is going to say to him?”

“But Dave will actually just ask him about his thought process and say, ‘Maybe next time try it; but I like the way you hit today. He doesn’t pound guys for doing anything wrong because at the end of the day we are all human.

“If 11 guys are aggressive, there’s a good chance that two or three of them will bail on any given day,” he says. “And on the day that five or six guys leave in one day, we’re going to beat everyone in the world”

Comparisons to Bazball are easy to draw, although in an interview with ESPNcricinfo Houghton declined to elaborate, saying Brendon McCullum is “a little bit bigger player doing it with a little bit bigger team”.

Evans was part of three of those four campaigns, winning five wickets in an ODI against India and beating Mitchell Starc’s winning runs in Townsville. “I was pretty disappointed though because we needed one to win and I hit the ball and it went for four. “Nobody will even know that I covered Mitchell Starc for four.”

Such excitability would have been unthinkable in May. The confidence — even swagger — that purple speck has bred flows through everything Evans says about his fledgling international career. While Houghton, given his decades of experience, was content to play it down gently, Evans’ youthful exuberance allows him to play up Zimbabwe’s World Cup chances.

“If 11 guys are aggressive, there’s a good chance that two or three of them will bail on any given day,” he says. “And on the day that five or six guys leave in one day, we’re going to beat everyone in the world.”

This statement is followed by a pause, but Evans ends it with a double. “Frankly, we are not untalented cricketers. Anyone can play a cover drive or a sweep shot. Anyone can roll an away swinger. Anyone can spin the ball. The day five or six people fire in a day, there’s no one we can lose to,” he stresses. “We can help big teams. We’re just trying to get going. That’s how we want to play and hopefully the guys will pull together. That’s what we’re looking for.”

His words struggle to keep up with his emotions, and it almost feels like he’s having an impromptu team chat. It’s suddenly clear just how much buy-in Houghton was able to pull off in such a short amount of time.

“The way Dave structures his workouts is revealing,” says Evans. “The other day we hit together. They had six overs as a twosome to bat and try to score as many runs as possible. It was quite intense because we have a squad of 15 guys who are all trying to put their hands up and get into the starting XI at the World Cup. Getting out had no consequences. Normally a coach would say, right, let’s do this drill and when you come out, it’s minus five runs or something.

“The West Indies are beatable, but at the same time they can beat anyone else in the world. If they have a day off, they will be hard to beat. But at the same time they can have a bad day and they can be poor and we can have a good day and beat them.”

Brad Evans

“With the idea that if I fold it’s just a point ball, there’s so much freedom to play your shots. And you should have seen the quality of cricket shown in this little center wicket practice. It was ridiculous. “

Zimbabwe’s lack of fast bowling resources is well documented, as is the tendency for exciting prospects that produce them to end up in other, more affluent parts of the world. Evans looked like he was on a similar path when he left St John’s College, Harare – a prestigious institution that has produced several world-class athletes – a year before graduation and accepted an athletic scholarship to Cardiff University. He had a future in county cricket in mind and eventually a British passport.

“I was really good at school,” he says. “I played in the Sussex second team. But when I left school it was no longer allowed because I had a different visa. So I actually had to stop playing cricket in the second team.”

He faced a frustrating wait for a passport that could last several years. “I was just looking at my life and I thought by the time I left college I’d be 23. And in that time I wouldn’t have been able to play much cricket. I felt like my cricket was on the decline. So about halfway through my studies I decided to return to Zimbabwe and continue my career here.”

Evans possesses the confidence and confidence that elite sport seems to demand as a prerequisite, but tempers it with disarming self-mockery. He says almost soberly that “at 18 he had a vision to play for Zimbabwe” and was convinced he was good enough. He talks about becoming a batting all-rounder by the end of his career, “someone like Ben Stokes.” But immediately afterwards he insists he doesn’t compare himself to Stokes and a few minutes later even laughs at the idea that he was always destined to be a fast bowler for Zimbabwe.

“The fast bowling happened because I started slipping down the batting order,” he says, laughing. “Growing up I was an opening hitter and a pretty good one. There came a point where I had a growth spurt and then I just thought, why not bowl?

“I remember in my first three years of fast bowling there was a game where I threw 60 extras. I couldn’t control the ball. And the opponent did about 140, and 60 of those were my extras. But I could roll fast. By the time I was 14, I broke two people’s arms by bowling bouncers. So I could bowl fast, but I just couldn’t control it.”

All this despite never really having received much professional fast bowling coaching. “Gary Brent [former Zimbabwe fast bowler] tried to get me to bowl a little more up front and I think I took a little right before I pulled my ankle a year and a half ago,” he says. “But other than that, I’ve always been a Free Spirit and just went out and played my cricket like I play my cricket.”

It’s an attitude that fits well with Houghton’s philosophy. He had said he would not consider his side qualified for the World Cup until they reached the Super 12 stage of the tournament and he seems to have drilled that message well into his players. Evans accepts the opening game against Ireland is a must and believes even the West Indies could be beaten.

“The West Indies are beatable, but at the same time they can beat anyone else in the world. If they have a day off, they will be hard to beat. But at the same time they can have a bad day and they can be poor and we can have a good day and beat them,” he says. “We’re not going there to come back before the main World Cup starts.”

If Zimbabwe manage to scale those lofty heights in Hobart next week, it won’t just be the dashing yellow jersey that will turn heads. And this time everyone will notice when Evans covers Starc for four.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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