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Mark Dekker
  • Full Name: Mark Hamilton Dekker
  • Born: 5 December 1969, at Gatooma (now Kadoma)
  • Major teams: Zimbabwe (since 1993/94), Matabeleland (since 1993/94). Present club team: Old Miltonians (Bulawayo)
  • Known as: Mark Dekker
  • Batting Style: Left Hand Bat
  • Bowling Style: Slow Left Arm or Left Arm Medium Pace
  • Occupation: Farmer
  • Test Debut: First Test v Pakistan, at Karachi, 1993/94
  • ODI Debut: 31 October 1992, v New Zealand, at Bulawayo Athletic Club

Biography (January 1997)

By John Ward

Mark Dekker may have had a largely disappointing international career to date, but it has brought him three unique records. Firstly, he is the only batsman ever to have carried his bat through a complete innings in Test cricket and yet not finish with the highest individual score in that innings. Secondly, he was the first Zimbabwean ever to carry his bat through an innings, a feat in which he has since been followed by Grant Flower. Thirdly, he was the first batsman to score fifties in both of his first two one-day internationals.

Mark is not aware of his ancestral origins, as evidenced in the unusual spelling of his surname, but it could well be Dutch or Scandinavian. His family have lived in South Africa for generations, coming up to this country before Mark was born. His parents later moved to Bulawayo, and Mark attended Kumalo Primary School, where he actually played little cricket; he did not take the game seriously until he reached high school. This was not what might have been expected, as his father had been a good cricketer, representing Midlands Schools, although he had not played since leaving school.

Then he made quick progress, playing for the A teams all the way through CBC (Christian Brothers College). His first representative appearances were for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, for whom he played as a batsman and wicketkeeper. From Form 4 onwards he was in the CBC first team, and in 1986 and 1987 represented Zimbabwe Schools. His father now took a hand, taking him to the school nets and giving him extra practice there.

Mark's final year at school was especially successful, the highlight being an innings of 160 against Milton. He was now starting to bowl regularly, slow left-arm spinners, although he has sometimes since turned his arm over at medium-pace. He was selected for the tour to Australia, where he scored about 150 in one match, several fifties, and returned an analysis of five for 40 in another match.

After leaving school, in 1988 and 1989, Mark went over to England to play for Crompton in the Central Lancashire League. This was organised by New Zealander Bob Blair, then coaching in Bulawayo, but there was a mix-up at the club; he found they were not ready for him and he had to start off in the second time, which he did not find particularly challenging. His season ended early, as he broke a leg in an accident and was unable to play for several months. When he returned for a second year, he played in the first team, which he found much more difficult. The pitches were often damp, the standard of play was high, and he was reasonably satisfied with a batting average of about 25.

In 1990 he was playing for Old Miltonians and Matabeleland in its pre-first-class days, and attracting the attention of the national selectors. He played for Young Zimbabwe against Pakistan B in a match subsequently declared first-class, and in similar matches against other touring teams. He scored 67 for Zimbabwe Country Districts against Durham but otherwise had little success. He was scoring plenty of runs in domestic cricket, but was a surprised inclusion in the Zimbabwe team to play the first one-day international against New Zealand in 1992/93.

Since his later years at high school, Mark has usually opened the innings, although his success there at international level has been limited. He batted at number four in this one-day match, going in at 29 for two, which soon became 34 for three, chasing a total of 244, and with the Flower brothers and Dave Houghton all out. With some help from the middle order, none of whom passed 25, Mark led a superb fightback. He scored 79 off 118 balls before being eighth out at 198, trying to push the scoring rate along as the required rate increased. Zimbabwe lost by 22 runs, but Mark's superb innings had enabled them to lose with honour. In the second match at Harare, Mark batted fourth again; this time all the top four scored fifties, with Mark's off 60 balls being second only to Houghton's off 41 for speed.

After such notable achievements, Mark was a natural selection for the tour to India, where he did little, and the following season for the Hero Cup in India and the tour of Pakistan. He owed his Test place in Pakistan, though, to the unavailability of Kevin Arnott, who had batted well for Zimbabwe in the country's first four Tests. It was a baptism of fire, against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in their own back yard, and he failed in his first Test. However, his performances in the Second Test, at Rawalpindi, should have put paid for ever to suggestions that Mark Dekker is not good enough for Test cricket. Despite his one-day performances, he went into this tour with just nine runs from three first-class innings behind him!

The match was played on a green, bouncy pitch, just the sort the Pakistani bowlers would have ordered -- and perhaps they had. Mark actually says he found it easier batting here, though, than on a slower pitch, as many deliveries came through at chest height and could be left alone. This also suited his predominantly back-foot technique. Wasim he found particularly awkward, but the superb form of Alistair Campbell, with whom he shared two fine partnerships, took a lot of the early pressure off him. He found the atmosphere on the field good, although Campbell was on the receiving end of a few words at times. He got a lot of his runs over the slips, to the frustration of the Pakistanis, and square of the wicket, especially tucks off his legs.

In the second innings, his partnership with Campbell took Zimbabwe to within sight of victory, but when the latter was out the wheels came off. The middle order collapsed, and Mark was left with the tail to try to take his team through to victory. When David Brain came in, he tried to shield his partners, but the Pakistanis manipulated the field placings to keep him away from the strike. They set the field back for the first three balls of an over, then brought it in, forcing him to run off the third if he was to face the following over. He held his end up well, but Pakistan winkled out the tail, leaving Mark unbeaten at the end and with two remarkable records to his credit.

Since then, Mark's career has been patchy, as his form has varied and his confidence at times has slumped. He has not so far reached fifty again in Test or one-day cricket. His reluctance to play off the front foot has left him vulnerable at times, especially against the moving ball. His situation as an amateur cricketer has proved a handicap as well: he works for his father on the family's vegetable and ostrich farm out in Esigodeni, and it is often very difficult for him to find the time for cricket and get sufficient practice. He has in fact not played any club cricket so far this season due to work commitments and tours. Unsurprisingly, it is difficult for him to find consistent form in this situation, and as he has struggled at Test level his confidence has taken a knock. He did not reach a first-class century until the Zimbabwe A tour of South Africa in 1995/96, when he scored 162 not out against Transvaal, his highest score in any class of cricket, when he carried his bat for the second time.

Mark still awaits a secure Test place, but the selectors have not lost faith in him. He may well get better results were he to bat down the order, as he did in his first two one-day internationals, but the vacancy at the moment is for an opening partnmer to Grant Flower. Mark found John Hampshire's advice particularly helpful during his period as national coach, and has also benefited much from the help of Dave Houghton and Andy Flower. One cannot but hope that such a pleasant and unassuming man may once again find the form and confidence that was his in Rawalpindi and find consistent success in international cricket. Since the Zimbabwe Cricket Union has had enough faith in him to keep selecting him, they might find everybody benefits if they go one step further and offer him a professional contract.

Andy Flower says, "He has struggled recently, I'm afraid, and that's why I don't think he'll be playing in the series against England. He has struggled to get on to the front foot, as is necessary at times as an opening batsman when the ball is swinging. He's going to have to fight hard to get back into the side."


Date-stamped : 09 Oct1998 - 02:46