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Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Remarkable Resurrection of the Wild and Eccentric Mark Vermeulen



Scene 1: Playing as a batsman in a calm friendly cricket match at his distinguished school in Harare, Zimbabwe, this young prodigy named Mark Andrew Vermeulen failed to control anger when given out leg before wicket by the umpire. He retorted by pulling the stumps out of the ground and by going into the dressing room and locking himself up in there. He then went on to become the captain of the Zimbabwe Under-19 team.

Scene 2, Mid-2003, England: After a disastrous day at the office while playing for his country Zimbabwe against England in a test match, where he had got out for a duck in both innings on the same day, Vermeulen had altercations with the team management and refused to travel with the rest of the team back to the team hotel. Earlier in the series, he had refused to field a ball in the outfield at Hove, citing the weather to be too cold for him to stretch himself. He had actually scored a hundred there a day ago (as can be seen in the picture below)!Team management had enough of his antics and had sent him home in the middle of the test series, only for him to rejoin weeks later as part of the ODI squad.

The two descriptions above might lead you to think that Vermeulen was a spoilt brat who failed to make it big at top level cricket due to attitude problems. But wait, this was just the beginning. What followed was to a large extent simply unbelievable, and extremely unfortunate. And he still managed to emerge out of the mess he had created for himself!

In 2004, while playing club cricket in the Central Lancashire League at UK, his recent failures with the bat had already got to him. While bowling his part time medium pacers later on, he was spraying the ball all around the pitch, for which one of the onlookers asked him to remove his sunglasses while bowling to get better control. That was enough to ignite Vermeulen's anger, as he ran to that section of the crowd, screaming and shouting abuses, and trying to throw at them, whatever he could get hold of. The video below shows the gory details of those ill-fated moments.


For this incident, he was handed a 10 year ban from playing any sort of cricket in the UK, which was subsiquently reduced to 3 years.

As trouble brewed in Zimbabwean Cricket, Vermeulen's troubles too were getting multiplied. During a net session of World Cup 2003, he had been struck on the forehead by an accidental beamer by teammate Travis Friend.



Towards the end of 2004, he recieved another deadly blow to the same area, this time while playing an ODI match against India in Australia. The bowler in question was a young Irfan Pathan.



By the time Vermeulen could recover from this, Zimbabwean Cricket was in tatters, with rebel walkouts and test status suspensions, and he found it difficult to make his way back into the side. Distraught, frustrated and feeleing rejected, on the night of 31st October, 2006, he sensationally set the Zimbabwean national cricket academy on fire. Just hours before, he had tried and failed to bring down the ZCU office boardrooms.



As his former teammates watched the ruins in horror, all the circumstantial evidences were pointing fingers at Vermeulen. Things had become far too serious to consider him just a spoilt brat.

Staring down at a possible 25 years of imprisonment with hard labour for arson, Vermeulen pleaded guilty in the court case in front of the magistrate of Harare.




What came out during the trial was nothing less than startling. The two blows Mark had recieved on his forehead in 2003 and 2004, the latter requiring metal plates to be inserted permanently in his fractured skull, had resulted in a condition medically known as "partial complex epilepsy". This explained the erratic conduct of Vermeulen post injuries. Taking into consideration the fact that he needed immediate medical attention, Vermeulen was released from the case.

Vermeulen, as a man who breathes cricket, then requested the Zimbabwe Cricket authorities to give him a chance to help rebuild the academy he burnt down. He pleaded them to get him into the fold again, saying that cricket was the only thing he knew, and that is the only way he could earn and repay for the rebuilding of the academy. Else, he would remain unemployed in an increasingly strife-torn Zimbabwe.

Given a chance to mend himself, Vermeulen showed that he had not lost any of his class, by piling up huge scores one after another in the 2008-09 first class season in Zimbabwe, and staked claim for a national team call up. One of the most unlikely comebacks of sport history was complete when Vermeulen scored a magnificent 92 for Zimbabwe in the first ODI, representing Zimbabwe against Bangladesh on 9th august, 2009. It remains to be seen if Vermeulen can carry on with this form, fitness and temper to make a better "mark" in Zimbabwean cricket.