SOMETHING eye-popping catches my attention like a magnet on a recent visit to Mutare. Young boys between the ages of 10 and 15 are seriously hooked on a game at a football pitch. The pitch loo
ks overused and weary, while the whole facility relates a tale of years of abuse by the locals.
The young boys are however not deterred by the insolvent infrastructure and shanty houses surrounding them.
One flips a near-perfect leg-break delivery to the anticipative batsman, while the rest, seven of them or so, watch eagerly, hands wide open, ready to produce a fabulous catch.
Seeing boys playing cricket with tennis balls and old home-fashioned bats on makeshift pitches is no longer an uncommon sight on the streets of high-density suburbs, especially in Harare. But this is Mutare, and Sakubva in particular. One has to comprehend the history of Sakubva to appreciate how the gospel of cricket has spread in Zimbabwe.
Mutare is a city synonymous with soccer. Some of the country’s best players trace their roots to the eastern border city. No other pastime used to claim recognition beyond the enclaves of the low-density suburbs.
The impoverished township of Sakubva knows no other passion than soccer. Sports Oval, the football ground on the western edges of the township, is a place breathing with football history. Some of the country’s best-known footballers, from the past and present, honed their skills here before setting off for the more suitable Sakubva Stadium and later for Harare or Bulawayo.
Sports Oval used to be a well-maintained ground, covered with green lawns and a security fence. Fans paid their way to watch lower division matches pitting some of Manicaland’s top football sides.
Now all that is left of the ground is a grubby middle pitch and tall grass on the outfield. That is not the only thing that has changed about Sports Oval. The other thing that has changed is the sight of boys engaged in some peculiar game, as the gaze of passing-by adults clearly suggests.
Cricket in Mutare is a story of development work that targets previously marginalised schools in the high-density areas.
One person who can claim credit for cricket awareness among youngsters in Mutare is development coach Edward Matsikenyeri, elder brother of national team player Stuart.Matsikenyeri conducts coaching sessions at several primary schools in the city, and follows up with the final nurturing at Mutare Boys High School, one of only two schools in the whole province where cricket is established.
Fourteen-year-old Kevin Mazvirizwi had his first encounter with the senior Matsikenyeri while still in Grade Six at Rushingo Primary School in Sakubva. He immediately fell in love with the game and by the time he proceeded to Mutare Boys High, he was already a player of note.
Although still a Form Two pupil, Kevin has made it into the school’s first team. He says his ambition is to play for the national team one day and follow in the footsteps of the late Trevor Madondo, the only black player from Manicaland so far to play for Zimbabwe.
Other schools in and around Sakubva where Matsikenyeri coaches include Murahwa Primary in Chikanga, as well as Dangare, Zamba and Sakubva primary schools in Sakubva.The cricket language is also spreading to secondary schools like Elise Gledhill in Sakubva, and the Saint Dominic’s close to the city centre.
The problem in Mutare at the moment is that there are very few clubs in the city, and none at all in the high-density areas. While a town like Chitungwiza boasts a competent club in Uprising, cricket in Mutare has not gone further than the school level. The only notable club in Mutare is national league side Mutare Sports Club, traditionally a preserve for suburban players.
There is great need to expand the game further and form clubs in residential areas, not just in Mutare but in high-density areas elsewhere in Zimbabwe.If clubs are non-existent, the likes of Kevin and others will find it difficult to pursue cricket upon leaving school, unless of course they relocate to other places like Harare. Otherwise they might give up the sport altogether.
Naturally, the exodus of players derails efforts of decentralising cricket. The future of cricket in this country lies in spreading the game across the length and breadth of the country, thus taking the game to the people.
The solution for now is to increase the number of coaches outside Harare and Bulawayo and encourage the formation of clubs.