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Hamilton Masakadza to retire after T20I tri-series in Bangladesh

Hamilton Masakadza plays off his front foot AFP

Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza has announced his decision to retire from international cricket after the upcoming T20I tri-series in Bangladesh.

"After a great deal of consideration, I have decided to announce my retirement from all formats of international cricket at the end of the upcoming triangular series in Bangladesh," Masakadza said at a press conference at Harare Sports Club on Tuesday. "It has been an enormous privilege to have played for and captained my country, and this is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make."

Masakadza, 36, had been Zimbabwe's captain across formats since taking over from Graeme Cremer in the fallout of Zimbabwe's failed World Cup qualifying campaign last year - his second stint in charge, having also lead the country in 2016. The ICC's suspension of Zimbabwe in July meant that his future as well as that of other cricketers in the country became much more uncertain, and Masakadza said that without the lure of a potential place at the T20 World Cup next year to look forward to, he felt the time was right to end his international career.

He becomes the second Zimbabwe player - after Solomon Mire - to announce his retirement after the ICC suspension.

"I was looking forward to the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier in Dubai next month, but with Zimbabwe barred from the event, I feel the time is right to shift the focus to the next generation," Masakadza explained. "There is some fantastic talent coming through, and with Zimbabwe's focus now on the 2023 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, I believe now is the time for the younger players to rise to the challenge of taking us to the global showpiece.

"I was sort of feeling it was coming towards the end of my career. The one thing that was keeping me going was trying to play one more World Cup for the country, in T20, but now that we're not involved with that, I just thought I might as well call time now. Make way for the next guy coming through. I'd be standing in the way of someone else if I stayed on."

Masakadza's decision brings to an end one of the most storied careers in Zimbabwean cricket. In February 2000 he was the first black Zimbabwean player to score a first-class hundred, doing so while aged just 16. He made his Test debut in 2001 against West Indies and became the youngest player to score a Test hundred on debut, a record that has since been broken by Bangladesh's Mohammad Ashraful. In all, he played 38 Tests and scored 2223 runs at 30.04.

A veteran of 209 ODIs - only the Flower brothers Andy and Grant and Elton Chigumbura have played more for Zimbabwe - Masakadza scored 5658 runs at 27.73. His best came during the five-match ODI series against Kenya in 2009 when he scored 467 runs, including two scores over 150, a record at that time for the most runs in a bilateral series.

He has so far appeared in 62 T20Is, tallying 1529 runs at 25.48 with a strike rate of 115.92. His best in the format, an unbeaten 93, came against Bangladesh in 2016. While it was in the Test arena that he initially made his greatest strides, Masakadza developed into one of Zimbabwe's most devastating batsmen in the shorter formats and in 2009 entered the top five of the T20I batting rankings, the highest ever by a Zimbabwean in the format.

"Throughout my international career, it has always been about giving everything to the team, playing with dignity, and upholding the spirit of the game," he said. "It has not been an easy road. I failed it at times, but I've never stopped trying. That's what makes it sad for me to leave. But I can do so with pride, and a big smile on my face, knowing I have given everything to the game, and my nation."

Masakadza thanked Zimbabwe Cricket, his coaches and the support staff that helped to prolong his career from his teens into his mid-30s. He mentioned Andy Flower, with whom he played at Takashinga cricket club, as a past mentor and paid tribute to his wife Vimbai as "a remarkable pillar of strength".

"But most of all, I have to thank the teams I played with," he said. "I know what I'm going to miss the most is being part of a change room. The joy of bonding together and striving to achieve a goal is what made cricket special for me. I learnt a lot from my team-mates, and I leave the game with wonderful memories, and strong friendships.

"Finally I would like to thank the Zimbabwe cricket fans. The game is lucky to have you, and I've been lucky to play before you. To represent Zimbabwe and thus to represent you has been a privilege, and one which I will always cherish."

Masakadza will continue to play domestic cricket for at least one more season. "It was very big for me, when I started playing, playing with guys like Andy and Grant Flower, guys who had played such a long time at this level. I learned a lot from them. It would only be fair to give another youngster the same opportunity to learn a bit from me, and feed off me as well."

"As a bit of advice to the next guy [to captain Zimbabwe], the biggest thing is to put the work in and get the boys working together as a unit, pulling together in one direction. Once you do that, with the amount of talent we have in Zimbabwe, we're really hard to stop."