JUNIOR cricket is the backbone of cricket development in any country. Junior cricket must not only be seen as a case of having youngsters throwing balls at each other on the nearby field, but
has to be well organised so that the products can gradually emerge as the young players move from strength to strength.
In Zimbabwe, junior cricket has traditionally been strong at the schools level where junior and high schools formerly categorised as “Group A” have got a recognised culture of cricket. Junior schools like Hartmann House, Saint John’s Preparatory and Ruzawi, among others, are renowned for nurturing some of the country’s top cricket players, largely because of the status they give to the discipline.
Players from these schools eventually proceed to high schools where cricket is also a priority. Zimbabwe Cricket has over the years had junior teams starting from the Under-11, Under-13 right up to the Under-19s. Most of these age groups comprise players still in junior schools, with the latter having players in their last year of high school.
The good thing about the whole set-up is that there has been a commendable level of consistency in Zimbabwe cricket. There is a good record of former junior players who have gone on to play for Zimbabwe at the highest level.
Names like Mluleki Nkala, Brendan Taylor, Mark Vermeulen and Tinotenda Mawoyo are traced in Zimbabwe representative cricket since the Under-14 age group. But then a close look at the players shows that most of them had a different background as they grew up in a cricket environment which started at home where their parents coached them.
However, nowadays children from previously overlooked areas are now also exposed to cricket at a younger age, which is the correct way to spread the cricket gospel. In the Harare area, places like Chitungwiza, Kuwadzana, Glen Norah and Highfield have clubs that train young players.
Churchill High School in the capital plays a major role in cricket development. Although located in Eastlea, a number of the school’s students come from the high-density areas. The dedication to cricket at Churchill helps the students to spread cricket awareness to their places of residence.
In other schools, the former Group As where cricket used to be established, it is disappointing that some of them are not catching up with the latest cricket frenzy. With cricket awareness on a high as it is now, one would expect schools like Cranborne, Mount Pleasant, Allan Wilson and Lord Malvern to be leading the surge. What is usually noticeable at these schools is that there are talented young individuals who do well in club cricket.
Thanks to the spread of the game, the selectors can now cast their nets wider for junior national teams, resulting in them being not only more competitive but more representative and so truly national.
Milton High of Bulawayo, Harare’s equivalent of Churchill, provides players from the Under-14s to the Under-19s. They have been consistent too. The latest ex-Miltonian who has gone up the ranks is Tawanda Mupariwa, who is now playing for Zimbabwe.
Schools play a crucial role in sports development, especially for a sport like cricket where the association even employs an official in charge of schools.
The task now is to revive the sport at the schools where cricket used to be played, while continuing to take the game further afield to more high density and rural schools.