Hamilton Masakadza was still a schoolboy at Churchill High School in Harare when he set the record - since beaten by Mohammad Ashraful - of being the youngest batsman ever to score a century on his Test debut, at 17 years and 254 days. This was against West Indies in 2000-01 when, batting at No. 3 instead of his normal opening position, he scored a composed 119 that was largely responsible for Zimbabwe saving the match after conceding a first-innings lead of 216. Earlier in the year he had not only become the youngest Zimbabwean ever to score a first-class century, but also the first black player to do so.
A year later, though, he put his professional cricket career on hold as he began a three-year course at the University of the Free State. Although an agreement was reached that he would still be available for Zimbabwe if required, he could not maintain his form playing against club opposition in South Africa, and the national selectors initially decided to await his return to the country. But the Rebel crisis led to his early recall in the one-dayers against England where, unsurprisingly, he struggled before registering his maiden ODI fifty in the final game. His return to the Test match team brought mixed results, but he was Zimbabwe's best batsman, technically, on their tour of South Africa, where he showed an application lacking in his team mates.
After being criticised for not being able to score quickly enough early on in his career, Masakadza's ability in one-day cricket has steadily increased and 2009 was a bumper year for him. He scored over 1000 runs in ODIs in the calendar year at an average of 43.48 and a strike rate of 88.08, including scores of 156 and 178 not out in the home series against Kenya, the first time a batsman has made 150 or more twice in the same one-day series.
Masakadza was part of Zimbabwe's XI when they played their first Test in six years, against Bangladesh in August 2011, scoring his second Test century a decade after his first. He has continued to show greater dexterity as a batsman, adding a hook and pull to a repertoire that already included muscular play off the front foot. He has also added value to Zimbabwe's set-up as a calm, amiable presence amid sometimes tempestuous times. Masakadza entered the peak of his career after turning 30, and was finally rewarded with a trip to a World Cup in 2015 - remarkably, his first.Liam Brickhill