Solomon Mire is accustomed to playing his cricket in Hamilton. He will do so again on Sunday but instead of the town in western Victoria, to which the expat Zimbabwean returns every year for Christmas, it will be the New Zealand city of the same name where he will face revered South Africa pacemen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel after an astonishing cricketing career rise over the past three months.
Shock debut: Solomon Mire.
Seven years after Mire featured in an under-19 World Cup that also featured now-luminaries such as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson he will again vie with them at a World Cup. The difference is while that trio collectively has more than a decade’s experience in international cricket the 25-year-old was, until late last year, someone whose highest honour had been two bit-part appearances in the Big Bash League.
In less than three months the all-rounder has not only made a shock debut for Zimbabwe, a home he had not been to in four years, but impressed enough to be assured of selection when its World Cup campaign begins on Sunday.
“A year or two ago if you said I’d be playing in the World Cup I’d have said, ‘Nah, no chance’,” the clearly chuffed Mire said.
That under-19 World Cup was the trigger for the all-rounder moving to Australia. Teammate Daniel Landman had agreed to play in rural Victoria, a deal born out of a number of South African and Zimbabweans having moved to the region, many of them doctors. While Landman shelved his plans to move to Australia – he decided to study in London – he was determined not to leave his team-to-be in the lurch, so he lined up Mire.
Given the lack of cricketing opportunities in Zimbabwe after that under-19 World Cup, let alone the difficulty in finding employment, Mire decided soon after his 19th birthday to leave his family and move to the other side of the world, even though it was at a level low enough that teams were forbidden to pay players and could only loosely “look after” them in terms of accommodation and employment.
His coach at College Cricket Club in Hamilton, Hamish Bailey, quickly realised their new import was “too good for us”, albeit solely in terms of playing ability rather than the way Mire carried himself.
“I’d played first-grade district cricket in Melbourne and I knew he was a much better player than I ever was,” Bailey recalled. “He had a great technique but he also hit the ball really hard and really clean. He’s not a tall man but he was a really good bowler for us as well.”
The threat of poaching emerged after Mire was selected to represent Hamilton in a Victorian Country Week tournament. He impressed enough for top-level clubs in Melbourne being keen on securing him straight away. Mire was flattered, but not enough to break his word to play for College for the whole season. Bailey was already impressed with Mire the player, but that sold him further on Mire than man.
“He’d had a pretty good upbringing but he knew if he was going to do really well … he had to get out of Zimbabwe,” he said. “From the first time we ever met him we knew he was pretty humble, pretty shy. He was just happy to be in Australia playing cricket.”
Mire eventually moved to Melbourne to play club cricket. He was rated highly enough for Jason Gillespie, during his coaching stint in Zimbabwe before his appointment at Yorkshire, and bowling coach Heath Streak to tempt him home to press his national claims.
Unfortunately it coincided with an adductors injury that sidelined Mire for an entire season and by the time he was right to play Gillespie had moved on and the outlook in Zimbabwe was not rosy, so Mire came back to Australia.
Throughout his time in Australia Mire has benefited from generous hospitality, initially in the country and then in the city. One of his biggest supporters has been Swan Richards, the cricket devotee who has long led the Crusaders foundation to give playing opportunity to children from diverse backgrounds. Richards personally sponsored Mire, and from that became a friend, too.
“I’m thankful for a lot of people but ‘Swanny’ has played a big, big role. He’s been a mentor, he’s been an everything really. He’s someone that I rate really highly,” he said. He was particularly appreciative that Richards kept him well stocked with equipment, “because I broke a lot of bats”.
Apart from one Futures League, akin to a second XI, match for Victoria in September 2013 his biggest break came when he was, by virtue of his background, signed by Melbourne Renegades as their community rookie. While such rookies are typically not in selection contention Mire forced himself into contention by scoring a century in an intra-squad practice match in Ballarat on the eve of last summer’s Big Bash League.
While he faced only three balls across the two matches he played for the Renegades – he made one in each innings – making that century before the tournament validated the confidence he had long held in his cricketing abilities.
“I’ve always set goals, always tried to go as high as I can,” he said. “Scoring a hundred in the warm-up game in Ballarat gave me that confidence. I knew I could do it at that level. I just wanted the opportunity. I didn’t know how long it would take me but I just knew if the opportunity came there was still a bit of time for me to go higher.”
After that BBL stint Mire made a double century in Darwin’s elite winter competition, and then in the next summer was part of the Essendon team that reached the Victorian Premier Cricket final.
When Mire’s healthy form in Darwin continued in the winter the Zimbabwe officials, who started following him a lot more closely since his double-century the year before, broached the topic of whether he would countenance playing for Zimbabwe. His chance came in a limited-overs series away to Bangladesh.
Even though the conditions in Bangladesh would be totally different to what he was accustomed to in Australia the all-rounder resolved to accept the call-up.
“I felt I’d played enough club cricket … and had had [only] a taste of higher cricket with the Renegades, so I thought it was a pretty good opportunity … and it’s not a bad thing to have a choice,” he said.
While in Bangladesh he had to face spin a lot more than he was used to, on pitches a lot skiddier than he was used to, but he scored two half-centuries in that five-match series. His timing could not have been better as a month later he was in Zimbabwe’s World Cup squad on both the strength of those performances and his familiarity with Australian conditions.
When he returned for a pre-tournament camp it was his first time in Zimbabwe for four years. He used the trip to make a secret visit to his family, to who he had fibbed by telling them he wasn’t going to be returning before the World Cup.
“My family … were in utter shock and very excited for me at the same time,” he said. “[When in Zimbabwe] I received overwhelming support as well from friends and fans I’ve never met and the message has been all but similar. People are hungry for success and are hoping we manage to deliver some surprise performances.”
As well as in Zimbabwe the confirmation of Mire’s selection has been big news in Hamilton, so much so that at least one carload of his former teammates, who are still friends, have committed to driving to Canberra for his first international match in Australia, against Bangladesh on February 24.
“He’s kept in touch. He’s got good friends in Hamilton, he spends Christmas every year in Hamilton,” former coach Bailey said. “They love seeing him, all the more so for how far he has gone but keeps coming back.”
That type of devotion from Mire’s friends, and his love of life in Melbourne, is a reason why his recent elevation to international cricket has not changed his view that Australia is now his home.
“It’s been a tough ride and there’s been a lot of people who have supported me along the way who’ve become like my adopted family,” he said.
One clear sign of how “Australian” Mire has become relates to the pronunciation of his surname. Having been told by his father it should be said as “mih-ray”, he learnt that nearly everyone he met here assumed it was pronounced the same as the Myer department store.
He is laid back enough that now when he introduces himself he just goes by the Australian way, because “it’s just easier”. If that he is the biggest price he has to pay to stay in Australia long-term he is eager to pay it.