US-based former Zimbabwe cricket team all-rounder, Gary Crocker’s Facebook bio intro reads, “Born in the City of Kings – Bulawayo, a Matabele at heart, now living in the city of Angels – Los Angeles.”
This is the same man who drove 440km through the night with wife and kid, after receiving a late call-up to the team on the eve of Zimbabwe’s historic first-ever Test match against India back in October 1992.
Unfortunately, invasions on white-owned farms at the turn of the century did not spare his family and after losing all they had, he had to leave the country and start a new life in America’s entertainment hub, Los Angeles.
But 15 years on, Crocker has not forgotten who he is and where he came from, even though he lives in the bright lights of Hollywood.
“Well, Bulawayo is the most beautiful city in the world! Not necessarily because of its building infrastructure, but because of its amazing people and because that is where I was born,” Crocker told Standardsport from Barbados, where he is currently taking part in the Golden Oldies Cricket Festival.
“I have played for Matabeleland all my life in various sports, it’s where I grew up and I am immensely proud to be a Matabele. I never ever wanted to leave there, I am Matabele. But I am just as proud to have been born and raised in that amazing country we all love,” he said.
Crocker was part of the Zimbabwe cricket team that drew with India in the country’s inaugural Test match and included veteran greats such as John Traicos, Andy Pycroft, Malcom Jarvis, and Dave Houghton, to mention but just four.
Now running a small business within the golf course industry in the US, Crocker recalled his fortuitous late inclusion into the Zimbabwe team for the first Test on the eve of the game.
He received the call so late that he had to drive through the night from Bulawayo to Harare.
“I received a call from the late Derrick Townshend , the then national selector around 8pm on the eve of the first day of the Test telling me that Ali Shah had injured himself in training and might not be able to play and that I needed to get up to Harare on an early morning flight
“I wasn’t prepared to miss this opportunity and wasn’t sure whether or not I could get in the flight so I made a decision at 11pm that night to drive up to Harare with my wife Shelley and baby, Kristen.
“We drove through the night and got into Harare at around 4am on the day of the Test match. It didn’t matter what time it was, I just wanted to play for my country,” he reminisced.
And for all his trouble, Crocker scored an unbeaten 23 in the first innings and grabbed the wicket of the visitors’ opener Woorkeri Raman before the match ended in a draw.
An inspired Crocker would also go on to grab four wickets for 26 runs on his One Day International (ODI) debut during the same series against India.
He claimed the big wickets of Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Manoj Prabhakar before scoring the Zimbabwe’s only half ton, but the match sadly ended in a 30-run defeat for the hosts.
“I am very proud to have been part of Zimbabwe’s inaugural test match. That one was special because the players and the cricket administration that was headed by Elwyn Pichanick and Dave Ellman-Brown had worked tirelessly and unselfishly to get Zimbabwe the Test status that we all believed we deserved,” he said.
Meanwhile, Crocker’s son, Sean is building his legend in the golf world, where he is doing wonders in the US collegiate golf circuit.
But how did the son of a brilliant cricketer and good baseball player end up taking the golf route.
“When I came to the US, I didn’t see the point in him playing cricket, it wasn’t going to lead him anywhere. I introduced him to baseball and American football initially, both in which he excelled but after I introduced him to golf, it was always going to be that game that he would become committed to. He is in love with the game,” the 55-year-old former cricketer said.
While it seems like a sure bet that Sean (20), will compete or even win a major championship in his career, his father refused to go ahead of himself in terms of the potential his son exudes.
“He has all the talent, commitment and the dedication to make it in this game. We will all just have to wait but I must say, it’s exciting to watch,” was all he could say.
Crocker played golf for years and represented the Rhodesian Junior golf team that toured South Africa in 1978/9. He played for the Matabeleland men’s team in national league for quite some time.
His focus now is to be a part of Sean’s golf journey.
Crocker’s cricket journey began at Baines Junior School in Bulawayo and his late dad would always take him to watch Currie Cup Cricket at Queens Sports Club.
Watching players like the late Paddy Clift, Mike Proctor (who is also currently attending the Golden Oldies Cricket Festival in Barbados), John Traicos, Howie Gardener and Robin Jackman simply inspired him.
After playing in the first few tests, Crocker drew away from cricket following some administrative changes.
“There was a quota system that was being put into place that affected the selection process. It was a little unfair but I understand how it all works. At that point I felt that the cricket administration was falling apart and that they didn’t have the game and its players at heart. I guess the results show today.
“The sad thing is that I believe we still have the talent to play at the highest of levels, but we don’t have the right people running the show anymore,” he said.
However, Crocker’s ultimate fantasy has nothing to with sport but all to do with the city of his birth – Bulawayo.
“I’d love to retire someday and be able to see the jacaranda trees blooming along Selbourne Avenue again and to smell and feel a Zimbabwe thunderstorm approaching!” he exclaimed.
“I am not sure if that will ever be so, I will be happy just to continue what I’m doing. Help my daughter who went back to live in Zimbabwe and to watch my son’s path to playing professional golf and of course, growing old with my amazing wife Shelley.”