Being in Harare for the Australian Test Cricket Tour Zimbabwe 1999 has been a touring highlight, as Australia has not played Test Cricket there since. Being part of such a unique tour meant the memorabilia collected has a lot greater personal value.
Celebrating the end of the tour after the 3 ODI’s, players gifted me shirts, gloves, hats, and training kit, and retreated to the Keg & Maiden pub, within the Harare Sports Club. It’s (was) the best public bar in world cricket; the players’ dressing rooms tacked onto the end of the building whilst those at ‘The Keg’ could with their feet on boundary.
Players from both teams, the media, and the public, rocked on straight after play to celebrate the tour until late in the night. Believing the sack of Australian cricket memorabilia I’d been given would be safer behind the bar than on the floor of a packed pub, I asked the barkeep to look after it.
At 3am it was time to go, when Richard asked, "Can I have a shirt for looking after your bag?" as he handed me back the seemingly much-lighter bag.
"You've probably helped yourself already!" How uncanny was I
Having collected my senses the next day, realising several shirts were missing, imagine my surprise when walking into The Keg And Maiden to report the theft, to be greeted by a girl dressed as Damien Fleming.
Discussing the theft with the pub manager, I happened to meet Mike Leach from Adelaide who had happened to have had ALL his belongings flogged from the pub storeroom two weeks before. Mike had arrived with the Police to take matters further.
Jackie told us that she got Flem's shirt off Richard, the same fellow that was looking after Mike’s gear, so seemed logical that he should be questioned however he was not at the pub when Mike and the Police arrived. All we were given was Richard’s phone number.
In Harare, if you have a phone number you can walk into ZIM Telecom and they'll give you that person's name and address. After filling the six pages of Police Report with the same information (carbon paper more expensive than writing paper) Mike and I paid a visit to Telecom to get Richard's address, and then went to the Harare Vice Squad, asking them to raid Richard’s House.
"You want to go on a raid?" was the astonished response to our demands. "Tomorrow, we're busy."
"Mate you're sitting at an empty desk. You can't be that snowed under in Harare. Let's Go!"
Looking over his shoulder, I saw him write in the diary, 'Night shift, please raid the following house and arrest Richard'. It was beautiful. Only in Africa could you book a raid, and have it treated as if you've booked a taxi.
At 11:50pm a 4 x4, with four huge guys inside, rolled up to the gates of the hostel to take us on our midnight tour of the high-density housing estates of outer Harare. I wouldn't wish to go at midday so imagine my fear leaving the comfort of a 12-bed dorm, with the sun a long way off!
It took thirty minutes to get to a lightless street and a house hidden behind a steel gate, and high brick wall covered in razor wire while two dogs made disturbing noises from the inside. I doubted the Vice Squad’s ‘fear factor’ after they quietly tapped on the gate and when the occupants came to open up, turned to Mike and I and said "You go!"
They were the police and they sent Mike and I in to search the house while they kept an eye on the truck. This wasn't what I had in mind. I wanted the shirts back but this was ridiculous. There we were rummaging through drawers, cupboards, and piles of washing as Richard's parents, his dad holding a gun, looked on in disbelief at two whiteboys fondling their Y fronts.
Without success, they gave us a new address and phone number for Richard. We thanked his mum and dad for their time, wished them goodnight and spent the next hour looking for 98th Street. Budget cuts are one thing but heading into the back-blocks of Harare with an address and no map is as bad as going on a police raid and doing it yourself.
Eventually locating Richard's house (behind a steel gate and brick wall covered in razor wire, barking dogs etc...), as the Police continually banged on the gate, we stood in the night chill for 15 minutes thinking he wasn't home when one member of the Vice quietly commented, "He was home when we called him."
"You called him? For what?" I retorted.
"To ask if he'd be home."
What is the point of going on a raid after calling the suspect to see if he'd be home! Mike and I were just about to commit our own violation, when incredibly Richard showed his face. Without too much surprise, we were again invited to go first. At least this time it was not so unsuspecting, Richard knew we were coming so I half expected the kettle to be on!
After being 'tipped off', it was no surprise the shirts I were looking for weren’t there. Someone else's were though. Richard had a mountain of Australian cricket kit on his floor, all of which he said were given by the team.
He even went so far to say Steve Waugh invited him to his hotel room to give him stuff! Steve wouldn’t invite me to his hotel room to gift me a shirt, let alone a barkeep from the Keg and Maiden. I could easily have said they were all mine, but none of the playing shirts I had been given were there. How Richard got them didn’t matter, I just wanted the shirts I’d been given.
Richard was quick to deny any knowledge of any other shirt, including Flem’s, or anything of Mike’s, and even helped us search his room.
"Thanks Richard. Are you always this helpful when the police come knocking on your door at 2am?" He soundly smiled!
Pissed off, we told him he was wanted at Harare Police Central in connection with Mike's case and we subsequently made the 'citizen's arrest'. We wanted to handcuff him to the back of the truck alas he was sat in the back with his hands free and a weapon protruding from under his Australian cricket jumper. Talk about rubbing it in. It had been a long night for boys of the Vice Squad who slept all the way back to Harare, leaving Mike and I to interrogate Richard.
We were soon back Police Central with an alleged criminal offering to make us tea. Yes, Richard put the kettle on. He had obviously been here before! The officer on duty was quite pleased to see us, as if he wasn’t expecting to. After a cup of tea, he showed the three of us how to load the six-shooter that lay on the desk next to the diary that had no more chores scheduled for the night, and they drove us home.
It was all a little too disappointing. The night held the promise of adventure, torture, gunslinging, murder, and photos but developed into little more than an exercise in insomnia, tea making, and gun loading. I didn't get my shirts back and Mike no closer to leaving the country (still no passport), but we did learn that a bar in Zimbabwe is no place to leave a bag for safekeeping.