The life and times of Trevor Madondo

Trevor Madondo achieved a certain immortality in Zimbabwean cricketing lore precisely for the way in which he confronted cricket’s history as an instrument of empire.

A portrait of Trevor Madondo, Zimbabwean Cricket player

Trevor Madondo. Image credit Richard Harrison.

In a sense I am the fiction I choose to be. At the same time, I am the ghoul or the harmless young man others take me for. I am what the rock dropping on my head makes me. I am my lungs breathing. My memory remembering. My desires reaching. My audience responding with an impatient sneer. I am all those things. Are they illusions? I do not know. And I think that is the point.

– Dambudzo Marechera, The House of Hunger

Zimbabwe was once famous for its schools. There’s a particularly prestigious boarding school in Esigodini, 55 kilometers southeast of Bulawayo near the old Bushtick Mine, called Falcon College. It was founded in 1954, and finds its motto in the work of the Roman poet Virgil: Sic itur ad astra, meaning literally “thus one goes to the stars”, and more generally “such is the way to immortality.”

In 1990, a student named Trevor Madondo arrived at Falcon College. During his time there he was to grow an unparalleled reputation as the next big thing in Zimbabwean cricket. In a strange way, Trevor’s short life, and his lasting impact, have come to embody the school’s maxim.

Or perhaps it’s not that strange at all. There’s an old game called sortes vergilianae. The gist is that it’s a sort of bibliomancy, or divination, by way of Virgil’s poems. Open any page of the Aeneid at random, pick a passage, and you’ll learn your fate. This was the method by which, legend has it, Hadrian’s ascent to the Roman emperorship was foretold, while King Charles 1 is said to have happened upon a passage that predicted his own execution by beheading. In the works of Dante, Virgil is the author’s guide to the underworld. In the medieval period, Virgil was thought of as a pagan prophet who had foretold the birth of Christ.

Needless to say, this arcane pastime has long fallen out of popularity. But Virgil still pops up in odd places. There is, for instance, a line from the Aeneid at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York. And, of course, at Falcon College in Esigodini. But there is a bittersweet irony in these words as they relate to Trevor.

Bittersweet because he died before leaving much more than hints of what he may have been capable of achieving at the sport’s highest level. Ironic because the Aeneid was, to many, a celebration of imperial dominance and indigenous subjugation, while Trevor achieved a certain immortality in Zimbabwean cricketing lore precisely for the way in which he confronted cricket’s history as an instrument of empire.


Trevor is born in Mount Darwin, a small town 160 kilometers northeast of Harare, on November 22, 1976. It’s an area of both agricultural and mining interests not far from the border with Mozambique. Harare is still called Salisbury, and Mount Darwin is one of the epicenters of the battle for Zimbabwe’s liberation, being smack-bang in the middle of the northeastern operational area known as “Hurricane.” There is a major military base in the town, and it is here that the Rhodesians first implement “Protected Villages” and the “Fire Force” counter-insurgency strategy.

The war has been ongoing for over a decade and is deep into its second phase when Trevor comes into the world at the beginning of the rainy season. The doomed Geneva Conference (mediated by the British and involving both the Rhodesians and Black nationalists) is ongoing, compulsory military service has just been extended to 18 months, and none other than Henry Kissinger, his hour come round at last, slouches forth to involve himself in Rhodesia’s affairs. Kissinger attempts to engineer a post-Rhodesian government sympathetic to US interests but despite (or perhaps because of) his machinations the war only intensifies.

This is the fractious and uncertain milieu of Trevor’s birth. Holding their infant child, his parents can surely not imagine the career their son will choose, nor the mark it will leave on his country. In those circumstances, he had as much chance to walk on the moon as he had to represent, in cricket, that quintessentially English game, a nation that did not yet exist, but in the hearts and minds of revolutionaries.

Image credit Richard Harrison.

First years in the world. From crying toddler to smiling child. Born a Rhodesian, now a Zimbabwean. A younger brother, Tafadzwa, is born in a newly independent Zimbabwe in February 1981. Trevor is six years old when the family leaves Mount Darwin the following year. They move around the country for a while, following his father’s work as an Agritex Officer. Zimbabwe’s renowned agricultural extension service is probably the best in Africa at the time, with skilled extension workers and agronomists such as Madondo Sr. working throughout the countryside, offering expert training and advice.

When the growing Madondo family do eventually settle down again, it is in Mutare, a city nestled in a nook within the undulating mountains of the Eastern Highlands. Yet Trevor remains unsettled, even at this young age. He is sent to boarding school at Lilfordia, 20 kilometers west of Harare. It is here that he finds the sport that will change his life.

Lilfordia is a beautiful farm school with an odd history. Agnes and Atherton Lilford open the school in 1909 as a way of easing their financial troubles. Leaving those early money worries well behind, their son Douglas “Boss” Lilford goes on to become something of a financial tycoon, with mining, farming, and industrial concerns. He plays a key role in the formation of the Rhodesian Front in the 1960s, helping to mastermind the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Rhodesia’s first attempt at thwarting majority rule, in 1965.

“Boss” Lilford is murdered in what appears to be a robbery at his Doornfontein farm in 1985, at around the same time Trevor is first enrolled at Lilfordia. (Ian Smith calls Lilford “my closest and greatest friend” upon hearing of his death). One can only speculate as to what Lilford made of the increasingly progressive and multi-racial character of the school, but as Lilfordia’s own online history notes: “With the coming of Independence the pendulum swung spectacularly.”

The school is by this stage run by Iain and Letitia Campbell, Iain being particularly keen on cricket in addition to his duties as headmaster. Indeed, the Campbell family are something akin to royalty in Zimbabwean cricketing circles, with Iain’s son Alistair going on to captain the country in the late 1990s, and Lilfordia’s alumni includes several national cricketers. Iain takes one look at the young Trevor Madondo and knows a cricketer when he sees one.

“Trevor grew up under the guidance of one of the most brilliant cricketing brains in this country,” explains veteran Zimbabwean journalist Enock Muchinjo. “One of the most humble, but knowledgeable, cricket minds. Iain was mesmerized by Trevor. He took him under his wing.”

Iain Campbell passes away in 2008, shortly before Lilfordia’s centenary, but his son Alistair is still involved in the running of the school, and in cricket in Zimbabwe. “I remember him well,” Alistair says of Trevor. “My first memories of him are of my old man saying ‘you’ve just gotta look at this guy, we’ve got this guy who’s really good, come and have a look at him bat’.”

“He really did have something special. And not only in cricket, just sports in general. Anything he turned his hand to, whether it be cricket, athletics, rugby, hockey. At junior school he was an absolute standout. A prodigy. You’d say this guy is destined for greater glory.”

The glories are not long in coming. Trevor is inducted into the school’s cricket set-up when he is in Grade 3 and by the time he is in Grade 5 he is already playing in the school’s first team with children a year or two older than him. He opens the bowling and bats at No. 4— the prime batting slot in any team. In Grade 6 he is selected for the Partridges, the national primary schools cricket team, and in 1989 he is part of the Mashonaland Country Districts primary schools select team that tours England. In Grade 7 he averages an incredible 84.00 with the bat, scoring five centuries including 108 against Rydings School. A destiny in cricket seems already to be calling him, and his parents’ choice of high school is tailormade to fulfill it: Falcon College has produced two national Test captains, and numerous Test cricketers. Word soon begins to spread of his talent, and by the time Trevor gets to Falcon College in 1990, though he is over-age and distinctly under-sized, his star is well on the rise.

It is not uncommon, in the 1980s and 1990s, to find foreign teachers in Zimbabwean schools. Indeed, there is something of an influx of young teaching professionals into the country at this time, partly as a result of the government’s commitment to expanding access to education across the country. Zimbabwe’s education system is much lauded, and many Zimbabweans still boast of the country’s extraordinarily high literacy rates—though such a brag is at best only a half truth these days. Many of the expat teachers will flee Zimbabwe’s economic and sociopolitical woes in the 2000s, but a handful stick around, and one such example is Richard Harrison. He arrives at Falcon College fresh from Durham University in September 1986, thinking he is coming for a couple of years, and never leaves. And from that day to this, he’s coached cricket at Falcon too.

“I can remember the very first practice session Trevor came to,” he says. “I’d heard all about this hot-shot cricketer who was going to join and transform my team. And then this tiny little fellow appeared on the field the first day. I thought: really? But as it turned out, he did know exactly what to do.”

It is not only at Falcon College that Trevor’s cricketing prowess begins to precede him. Word is also spreading in his hometown of Mutare. Baynham Goredema is a Mutare-born graphic designer, creative, and social commentator. He is also a keen follower of Zimbabwean cricket, and was a handy player in his youth. “When I was in Grade 6 I was chosen amongst players from our school to play in the Casuals Cricket Festival held every year at Mutare Sports Club where boys from around the country were selected and placed into four different teams,” Goredema explains.

“Before the cricket started, there was already a buzz around the ground, whispers of ‘Trevor Madondo is here.’ So I wanted to see this guy. I eventually saw him when he went out to bat. They would call out the incoming batsmen on the PA. He definitely was special as he was hitting all the bowlers around the park. And he had a captive audience. It seemed all the older guys knew who he was. That day when he was walking around you could see that he commanded a lot of respect. He seemed like a quiet person.”

Trevor breathes rarified air into the small Mutare sporting scene as a young, black batsman. This is the fourth-largest city in Zimbabwe, with a population of around 150,000 in the 1990s. The sporting community is small but passionate, and cricket is at this time run largely by whites.

“Word just spread around the city that there was this prodigious talent who was going to be the greatest ever to come from Zimbabwe,” says Muchinjo, who is also from Mutare. “He’d come back on school holidays and play for the local club, Mutare Sports Club. Some of my earliest memories are of going to watch Trevor bat. I’d walk from our family home, a distance of about five or six kilometers, just to see him practice with the seniors. Quite a few of the senior players in the white community also really took to him. Every time he came back home during the holidays, they would immediately, even when he was as young as 15 or 16, draft him into the first team.

“What was also amazing was the foresightedness of people like Mark Burmester, who was the captain of Mutare Sports Club. He took Trevor through the paces, guided him. I think he saw that for cricket in Zimbabwe to have a future, it needed to grow. It needed to change. And people like Trevor represented that future.”

Cricket is an aesthetic game, and one obsessed with numbers and technique. Other games have rules. Cricket has laws. It is recognized that there is a certain “correct” way to play, yet no two cricketers are exactly alike. Each plays the game in their own way. As a teenager, this is Trevor’s way: to see the technical nuances others can’t. To play the shots others won’t. To take on the biggest and baddest among the opposition. It’s a style that leads to moments of brilliance and frustration in equal measure.

Amid formative years and teenage frivolity, Trevor starts to find his way. He makes friends. Brighton Watambwa, who had also been at Lilfordia and will also play Test cricket for Zimbabwe, is one. Qhubekani ‘Q’ Nkala is another. “Trevor was one of the most talented cricketers I met and played with,” says Nkala. “If we were playing a team and everyone was scared of a fast bowler, Trevor would be like: ‘no, that’s the one I want.’ And he’d try and hook him. Or pull him. Because he was that confident. And, technically, I don’t know any schoolboy who was his equal.”

Trevor and Qhubekani on the field, on some hazy afternoon in the long ago. An opposition batsman bullying their team. Trevor with his arm around Q’s shoulder, a word in his ear: “He would look at a batsman and say Q we can work this guy out like this,” Nkala says. “Drop your mid on. Look at how this guy holds his bat. How he stands. This guy is bottom-handed, so put someone at midwicket, toss it up outside off stump, he’s going to try drag it across. That’s how we get him. He had such a wealth of knowledge about the game at such a young age.”

He is a natural. Cricket comes easily. Too easily? He begins to display some of that impatience particular to those endowed with exceptional talent. A sort of boredom at being that much better than everyone else. His coach is frustrated by Trevor finding ways to get himself out even if the bowlers can’t. He wants more runs from the young batsman. He knows he’s good enough.

Yet he is not arrogant, and he doesn’t like arrogance in others. “If there was someone walking around all cock-a-hoop and big boots, Trevor would be like, ‘ja today I’m going to take this guy to the cleaners and put him in his place on the field’,” says Nkala. “On the cricket field, he’d naturally come into his own, simply because he was so good. But he didn’t talk it up. It was in the way he played his cricket.”

But now also a stubborn streak, a strong will, begins to show itself. Trevor does not fit neatly into the strict hierarchies of a traditional boarding school. He talks back. He goes his own way.

“The coach would be like, ‘you know Trev, as an opening batsman you can’t try and hit the opening bowler back over his head’,” says Nkala. “But Trev would want to do that. Because, I think, he was confident in his own ability, and he never liked to be dominated on the cricket field. He did have quite a strong, stubborn streak. It’s a thread that you’d pick up if you were close to him.”

Harrison, his coach, goes further: “He irritated me, and I suspect that I irritated him, and Trevor was never one to hide his views if he didn’t particularly like someone.” But they will work it out in the end. In 1992 Trevor is selected for the Fawns—the national Under-15 age-group team—that tours Namibia. Though their relationship is still prickly, Harrison helps him to organize everything he needs for the trip. “After that I seem to have finally convinced him of something. We didn’t look back. He was a schoolboy who became a friend.”

Image credit Richard Harrison.

It is 1995. Trevor is 18, has grown several feet, and added kilograms of muscle. He is still at school when, in April of that year, he is picked to play for Matabeleland, a senior provincial team, against a touring Glamorgan county side—his First Class debut. Molded into a wicketkeeper via Harrison’s attentions, he marches out in floppy hat and flannels to bat at no. 9 in Matabeleland’s innings, and promptly cracks 48 against a team that includes two bowlers to have played Test cricket for England. He adds 36 more in the second innings, along with three catches in the match, and Matabeleland win by 159 runs.

The following year he enrolls at Rhodes University in South Africa to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree, entering straight into the university’s 1st XI. He plays regularly for the Zimbabwe Board XI in the UCBSA Bowl, a competition administered by South Africa’s national cricket board, scoring 86 against Transvaal B, 77 against a visiting Durham University side, and generally earning himself a reputation as a confident player of fast bowling.

But another sort of reputation also starts to build. One night he falls drunkenly from the third floor of his halls of residence, saved from serious injury only by luck. He lands in a bush that breaks his fall. After less than two years, he drops out of university and returns home to Zimbabwe to concentrate on his cricket.

He’s still scoring runs, but now it is his after-hours behavior, rather than his batting skills, that people are talking about. The occasion of his 21st birthday falls the day before a Zimbabwe Board XI game against Northern Transvaal.

“We went out and hit it really, really hard the night before that game,” admits Darlington Matambanadzo, Trevor’s friend and club team-mate at Universals CC. “I think we got back into the hotel at around five in the morning. And then transport comes to pick him up at about six-thirty. And then the whole time he’s like, man, if we have to bat first, I’m in so much shit.”

Moments later, the Board XI captain wins the toss and—of course—decides to bat. Far from being incapacitated, Trevor takes on the opposition fast bowlers and races to 98 not out, scoring almost half of the entire team’s total as wickets tumble at the other end and the Board XI is skittled for just over 200.

“Honestly, if they had bowled straight and full at him, they would have knocked him over,” says Matambanadzo. “But they were bowling in the channel outside off, and that gave him half an hour to shake off the cobwebs. And that was a top class attack. They had Chris van Noordwyk, who was quick. Another guy called Rudi Bryson, who was quick. And then there was Andre van Troost, who played for the Netherlands. And during the Dutch off-season he’d play a lot of provincial cricket in South Africa. So they had three really good quick bowlers.

You hear the word ‘talent’ thrown around so much when you play any kind of sport, but that was the first time in my life that I really understood what talent is. Because there was no way in hell that he should have made those runs. And it’s great that he made those runs, but at the same time … you know, people don’t remember that kind of thing. They remember the other times when you don’t make a score and you’d been out all night. And once you get a reputation like that, it can actually end up stalling your career. He didn’t know how to manage it. There was a level at which he was responsible for those outcomes. And everybody drank. We were young. Earning a bit of money playing cricket. I don’t want to make it sound like Trevor used to drink alone. Because he didn’t. I was there. A lot of people were there. But he just couldn’t manage those perceptions correctly.”

Matambanadzo believes—as does Campbell, as does Muchinjo, Nkala, Burmester and anyone else you might speak to—that a lot of his troubles could have been avoided if there was a support structure around Trevor. If he had a mentor. But there are all sorts of factors working against him. Zimbabwean cricket is still in the first throes of professionalism, and such structures simply do not yet exist. Campbell also speaks about the lack of openness around personal mental health struggles among Zimbabwean athletes at the time.

“We just didn’t have that in our day. It was ‘suck it up and get on with it.’ If you had a problem, and you delved into the bottle to deal with the problem, it was considered normal. It was just one of those things. Everyone’s got their own crosses to bear. Their own issues. And you don’t really want to get involved in other people’s issues. And then that person doesn’t really have anyone to turn to. It became a very dark space for some guys.”

Trevor also isn’t one to go and ask for help. Campbell does once try to talk to him about the need to focus, the need to slow down off the field. But he doesn’t press the issue. “Having known his family for so long, that is something I regret,” he says. “Maybe I should have stepped up a bit more. Someone should have stepped up.”

A mentorship vacuum is something that many of that first generation of black Zimbabwean cricketers struggle with. The first black cricketer to be picked for Zimbabwe is Henry Olonga, in 1996. Players like Henry, and Trevor, are very much pioneers in a sport that is changing rapidly.

“A lot of the black kids had to figure it out for themselves, so they made mistakes that they didn’t have to,” says Matambanadzo. “I did it as well. We were immature. Trevor was immature. A lot of it I place at his own feet. He made a lot of mistakes. It was just dumb, young stuff. But if you have people you can trust who can tell you this is dumb, young stuff and you shouldn’t be doing this as regularly as you’re doing it, that might have made a difference.”

Despite the off-field distractions, Trevor’s batting performances are impossible to ignore and soon there is talk of a national call-up. One day, a few months before his debut for the national team, Trevor bumps into an old friend in downtown Harare. It is Qhubekani Nkala. The two have not seen each other since high school. But what should have been a happy reunion is now a sad memory for Nkala.

“I’ll tell you the saddest story for me,” he says. “It was probably about two or three months before he made his debut. I was walking downtown, and I see this black guy, slightly above average height, but muscled, hey. Muscled. And I’m like ‘wow, look at that guy. He’s got muscles,’ And this guy was carrying a bottle wrapped in brown paper. Not exactly the best way of concealing alcohol, right. Anyway, I walk past and then turn around and I’m like, ‘Trevor, that’s you?’

“I’m not sure why he started having these problems. But I did speak to him, and the honest truth, I think, is that at the time, for a young black aspiring player, it was tough. It was hard to break in and be part of the inner circle. And I think Trevor just felt that pressure, and I think he never pulled himself towards himself, and probably didn’t have an appropriate role model. It was about three months after I met him that day in town, he debuted in a Test match against Pakistan.”

On the eve of his national debut, Trevor sits down with Zimbabwe’s coach, Dave Houghton. The coach is not convinced that Trevor is ready for the highest level. His reputation as a batsman who thrives under the challenge of facing down quick bowlers has brought him this far, but Pakistan’s bowling attack is unlike anything he’s experienced before. “These guys know you’re on debut,” Houghton says to Trevor, “so whoever is bowling when you go in is going to try and knock your head off first to see if you’ve got any courage. Then when he sees that he’s going to try and break your toes.”

Pakistan is a mercurial team, and one that has always been known for its fearsome fast bowlers. They have in their XI Waqar Younis, perhaps the world’s best exponent of a toe-crushing, reverse-swinging bowling delivery called a yorker, and Shoaib Akhtar, almost certainly the fastest bowler to have ever played the game, clocking truly terrifying speeds in excess of 100mph.

Trevor receives his Test cap in a small ceremony on the edge of the field just before play starts on a late summer’s day in March 1998. The venue is Queens Sports Club in central Bulawayo, a majestic tree-lined throwback of a cricket ground. Trevor walks out to bat with the match in the balance: Zimbabwe five down with just 123 on the board. His heart thumps in his chest. His parents are watching. His high school coach Richard Harrison is watching. Having ducked and weaved past the inevitable bouncers, he is off the mark with a crunchy checked drive for three. He is hit on the toe by a Waqar yorker, but follows that up by punching a full toss straight back past the bowler to the sightscreen. Then he unfurls a fierce pull to smash offspinner Saqlain Mushtaq to the midwicket boundary, before bad light stops play.

“I take my hat off to him, because he batted about 45 minutes,” says Houghton. “He came into the changing room and I went in to try and talk to him, but he couldn’t speak. He chain-smoked about 10 cigarettes, one after the other, before he could get his words out.”

Trevor plays in the next game, in Harare, but he is run out without facing a ball in the first innings, and then grits his way through half an hour of obdurate batting before nicking off in the second. It will be two years before he can once again force his way into the Test side, this time in New Zealand.

The next two years of Trevor’s fledgling international career are marked by ups and downs, even as seismic changes are rippling across the country around him: political opposition springs out of the trade unions and civil society to challenge Zanu-PF’s hegemony, the dollar crashes, unemployment rises, and there are strikes and student protests that are met with blunt force. It is, generally, a time of heightened intensity in all areas of Zimbabwean life.

In 1999, Trevor is part of the first intake at the brand new Zimbabwean cricket academy, an institution aimed at making professionals out of the country’s best young cricketing talent. In April of that year, he is in the 30-man provisional squad for the World Cup in England, but doesn’t make the cut for the final 15 because Zimbabwe’s batting order is stacked with established players such as the Flower brothers, Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin. It doesn’t help that his spell at the academy has been accompanied by rumors of a wild lifestyle.

Opportunities at the highest level are decided by a selection panel, usually comprising the coach, a convener (who has the final say), and a revolving door of administrators and ex-players who scout for talent and then meet to pick the national squad. Surviving the whims of the selectors can be a bruising experience for any young cricketer, and as an unestablished player Trevor is often in and out of the national side.

After missing out on a World Cup spot, he is omitted from a Zimbabwe ‘A’ tour for “disciplinary reasons.” In October he plays against the visiting Australian team, top scoring in one game, but Zimbabwe lose every match of the series. Trevor keeps his place for Zimbabwe’s next assignment, a home series against Sri Lanka in December, but midway through the tour he arrives half an hour late for a training session.

His punishment is to be removed from the national squad for the remaining three games. This draws accusations of racism. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union, who are the administrators of the game in the country under longtime chairman Peter Chingoka, appoints two judges to investigate the matter: Justice Roger Korsah, originally from Ghana, and Justice Ahmed M. Ebrahim. Both have sturdy reputations, and Ebrahim is a keen follower of cricket. They decide that while the severity of Trevor’s punishment was not warranted, “on the evidence heard it is not possible to conclude with conviction that Trevor Madondo was treated as he was because of his race.”

Yet their statement does not end there, and they advise that “in the multiracial and multicultural diverse society that we live in, there is need for sensitivity in one’s approach when dealing with issues which cross the cultural or racial divide.” They suggest that Trevor did not benefit from an “even-handed approach” from some of those who dealt with him.

Remaining on the fringes of the national team, Trevor picks up an injury and is not included in the touring party for a trip to South Africa in the new year. He also misses out on selection for tours of the Caribbean and England in early 2000. “Disciplinary reasons,” say the selectors.

Everywhere, tensions are rising. In July 2000 the Zimbabwean government formally announces the commencement of a fast track land resettlement program, a radical recalculation of property rights aimed at restoring to local landowners what was taken from them by colonialism. There is chaos in the countryside. Virtually all of the white players in the Zimbabwean cricket set-up are in some way connected to the farming community, and white farmers are losing their land.

The Zimbabwean cricket team—without Trevor—are on tour in England at the time. When they return, Tatenda Taibu notes in his autobiography, “I could tell things had changed. There seemed to be more tension in the air than before [and] the changing rooms weren’t like they had been before. People seemed to be on edge, and there were a few racial fights that broke out in the changing rooms, which I had never previously seen.”

There seems a growing divide between black and white cricketers in Zimbabwe. Neither side trusts the other. Both sides foster negative perceptions. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union conducts a player survey about racism in cricket: as Olonga notes in his own autobiography, 80% of the white respondents believe it’s not an issue, 80% of the black respondents believe that it is. Aside from a few individuals, Trevor seems to stop trusting many of his white team-mates. One day, he tells Matambanadzo: “These people are out to get me.”

Trevor speaks his mind and doesn’t care who hears. He channels more of himself into his cricket. He meets a nice girl. She has pretty eyes, and dreadlocks. He stops getting into quite so much trouble. He trains harder. He claws his way back into the national squad for a three-month tour to Sharjah, India, Australia, and New Zealand toward the end of 2000 and into the new year. In India, he is included in the playing XI for the 4th and 5th One-Day Internationals, and sets about making up for lost time. He opens the batting with Alistair Campbell, contributing 32 to an opening stand of 60 in the 4th match, and then launching into India’s pace attack in the next game with a blistering 71 that gives Zimbabwe a fighting chance of chasing a total of over 300.

In New Zealand, he slots back into Zimbabwe’s middle order for the Boxing Day Test. The game is played on a featherbed wicket, making it very difficult for either side to take control. The match grinds through four days, with rain and bad light washing out almost a full day’s play. The night before the fifth and final day, there’s a team meeting. The talk is of the possibility of contriving a result through a strategic declaration: the Zimbabweans will prematurely close their batting innings in the hope that New Zealand’s batsmen will either be taken by surprise and offer a chance to Zimbabwe’s bowlers, or may then declare their own innings early as well to try to tempt Zimbabwe with a total to chase before time runs out. The decision about when exactly to declare their innings closed will rest with Zimbabwe’s captain, Heath Streak. But New Zealand are in a very strong position, well ahead, and the tactic is at best a sort of ‘Hail Mary’ with a slim chance of success.

Trevor is batting the next day and eases his score past 50 with an innings of poise and control. He seems set to score a Test century: a milestone that is the pinnacle of achievement for a batsman. He is on 74 not out, within sight of three figures, when Streak declares the innings closed, holding to the plan from the team meeting the night before. The opportunity for a Test hundred has just slipped from Trevor’s grasp. His would have been the very first by a black Zimbabwean. Olonga, who is in the playing XI and watching from the team balcony, writes that Trevor is “gutted” by the decision. “Many cricket lovers back home could not understand why the innings was declared with Madondo so close to such an historic landmark. It may be that it was lost on some of the players in the squad, but not on the black players. We saw that it was an opportunity lost and we were surprised that it seemed we were the only ones thinking that way.”

There are differing opinions about this declaration. “It’s a very touchy subject,” says Muchinjo. “I would have personally wanted to see Trevor go and score a hundred too, but I think in the wisdom of the captain, of the decision makers, they thought it was for the best of the team, of the group. Rather than any particular individual.”

It is true that many a batsman has had his captain declare on him when he’s in sight of a hundred. A tension between individual and team is something that is intrinsic to cricket. But in this context, in this time and place in Zimbabwean history, it is inevitable that such a decision would create friction and be seen as a slight on the aspirations of a young black cricketer.

This will be the last time Trevor takes the field in a Test match.

Image credit Richard Harrison.

Back in Zimbabwe, Trevor is untethered once more. In March 2001, with summer and the domestic season drawing to a close, he plays a handful of games for Mashonaland and the Zimbabwe Board XI without much success. His on-off relationship with the girl with pretty eyes and dreadlocks is now off. Old habits resurface. Olonga remembers Trevor turning up noticeably drunk to a team meeting. He is not considered for selection for Zimbabwe’s next Test series against Bangladesh in April. He tears out of town and heads for Victoria Falls, far away from everything.

After a few weeks in the bush he comes back to Harare and, after a typically wild night out, crashes his car. It’s not a serious accident, but he is clearly shaken. His friends notice that Trevor is being troubled by waves of cloudiness and confusion. Whatever concussion he has from the accident is minor and the confusion will clear up soon, the doctors say. It doesn’t.

One Saturday morning, about two weeks later, he misses what had become, over the years, a traditional brunch at the Matambanadzo home. Darlington and his twin brother Everton drive over to the bachelor pad he is renting to collect him, thinking he must have overslept.

He’s inside. They knock, but no-one answers. They call, and no-one comes. Eventually the brothers force the lock on the door to get inside. Trevor won’t wake up. Everton takes him to Parirenyatwa Hospital. Darlington calls the Madondo family in Mutare. The following week, on June 11, 2001, a cold mid-winter’s day, Trevor dies in hospital of cerebral malaria, undiagnosed until it was too late. He must surely have caught it while in the Zambezi Valley, and it may well be that his symptoms were mistaken for a concussion from the crash.

Trevor is buried at Yeovil cemetery in Mutare. At his funeral Mark Burmester, who had welcomed Trevor into the Mutare Sports Club cricket team a decade earlier, speaks on behalf of the cricket community. “This was a very hard thing to do,” he remembers. “He had such a strong beginning to life and then only dreams and what could have been.”

The casket is open. There lies Trevor. He has his Test kit on. His Zimbabwe cap. A familiar half-smile on his face.

“I still remember, even today, seeing his face there,” says Campbell. “Seeing him in that Test cap. It was surreal. I remember hugging his dad. There were no real words. It was a hell of a thing. And yes, Zimbabwean cricket lost someone who could have been great. But a father and mother, a family, lost their son. That’s the biggest thing. Life is precious.”

The gravity of the situation is lost on one of the attendees. At one point during the funeral, one of the white players turns to Olonga and says “well it’s not as if anybody is going to miss him because nobody liked him.” Olonga, the genial, temperate fast bowler, is shocked almost to the point of violence. “It was almost as if this white player was glad that Trevor was dead,” he writes in his autobiography.

India’s cricket team is touring Zimbabwe at the time. Before the start of play at the next match at Harare Sports Club a couple of days later, the teams line up to observe a minute’s silence. Heads down, no sound but the wind, the creak and slap of flags at half mast, the hum of the city beyond the cricket ground. Zimbabwe play in black armbands against a team of bona fide cricket legends—Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly—and they pull off a remarkable four-wicket victory. “This is for Trevor,” says captain Streak.

Trevor Madondo is just 24 when he dies. He has only played 16 games for Zimbabwe, in an international career that is cut short after two eventful years.

He is Zimbabwe’s first black Test batsman. His footsteps are the first. His innings the first. His failures the first. He never seems to settle into a particular position or role. Whatever labels are applied to him never quite fit. He is a free spirit, or a rebel, depending on who you speak to. He has only just begun to find out for himself who he really is.

And so it is that there is not one story of the life of Trevor Madondo, but several—and many of them contradictory. Rumor and memory become entwined and inseparable in time. Trevor cannot be precisely situated in the framework of all these stories. He is both elevated, and ultimately let down, by a system he is never fully accepted by. He also plays a leading role in his own downfall. And yet more, always more: he sets out to rewrite history and craft new limits for what an African cricketer is allowed to be. His life does not end with a full stop, but a question mark.

“Trevor was like a realization that anybody can play in any role in cricket,” says Muchinjo. “He opened up minds. Not particularly about batting, but also about other areas which were not common with black cricketers. If somebody can bat so well, as a black player, then why can’t we have black players who bowl spin, or even allrounders? Why not have a black captain? People started to realize that anybody can do anything on a cricket field.”

A little over a month after Trevor dies, a 17-year-old named Hamilton Masakadza is picked to debut for Zimbabwe against the visiting West Indies team. In the second innings of the second Test, Masakadza becomes the first black Zimbabwean to score a Test hundred, and the youngest ever debutant centurion in Test cricket’s 186-year history. There is another teenager in Zimbabwe’s line-up that day: Tatenda Taibu. Masakadza’s classmate at high school, and now his team-mate in the national side, Taibu will also go on to play his part in some historic turning points in Zimbabwe’s cricketing history, becoming the country’s first black national captain, and the youngest Test captain in the game’s history. They grow up with friends who play alongside them for Zimbabwe: Stuart Matsikenyeri, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura. Where Trevor walked alone, now many walk together.

Today, the Madondo family is hoping to start a foundation in Trevor’s name to support young cricketers in Zimbabwe. Trevor’s legacy remains entwined within a country that faces an uncertain future. And we are left asking: who was Trevor Madondo? We might ask, rather, who he would have become.

Further Reading