SERENELY located on the outskirts of Mabelreign and bordered by a beautiful forest, Ellis Robins Boys High School is not exactly a quiet place once you get inside.
A number of prominent figures in the fields of art and sport were groomed here. Local recording musicians Pastor G, Dino Mudondo and Sulumani Chimbetu have passed through the Ellis Robins gates.
Sportsmen that have come out of Ellis Robins or “Fush” as it is popularly known â€” are hardly spoken of â€” but there are a number of names that beg for recognition. Former rugby stars, Bedford Chimbima, the ex-Zimbabwe fullback, and Ezra “Ziggy” Zigarwe, started off at “Fush” before being awarded rugby scholarships by Prince Edward School.
In more recent times this writerâ€™s former classmate, Tinashe Patsanza, became Zimbabweâ€™s senior table tennis champion in 1997. Again, PE, with its lure of better exposure, advanced training facilities, wrested the “boy wonder” from our midst.
1998 school leaver Chris Hoffman was Zimbabwe cycling captain before migrating to Italy prior to settling in the US where he is now a graphic artist.
Two other former classmates, all-rounder John Marira and Shepherd Zvazanewako, simultaneously defied their “small school” background to win Zimbabwe senior rugby caps in 2002.
Marira, who became somewhat of a folk hero in Manicaland after being snatched by Mutare Boys High and excelling at rugby, cricket, soccer and athletics, and the now UK-based Zvazanewako, were brought in as substitutes for their maiden Sables tests in an Africa Cup match in Madagascar five years ago.
Very few former Ellis Robins cricket players have, however, played at competitive levels later in their lives. A few of the “fine” cricketers who were tipped to make it only ended up in the second-string sides on the club scene.
But one man is almost certain to end the bridesmaid record. His name is Prosper Tsvanhu.
The Zimbabwe A pace bowler recently returned home from a six-week stint at the Centre of Excellence in Queensland, Australia, together with other promising Zimbabwean players and coaches.
With him were fellow players Tendai Chisoro, Regis Chakabva and Friday Kasteni, and coaches Walter Chawaguta and Shepherd Makunura.
But did Tsvanhuâ€™s schooling background ever discourage him from pursuing his career?
“That was a bit of a deterrent,” he says. “Itâ€™s always the case when you attended a school thatâ€™s generally regarded as not good enough. I faced a lot of challenges. I never played any representative cricket at age-group level. But I took it in my stride and accepted it as challenge that one day people would notice.”
His first love being rugby (he played for the Zimbabwe Under 21s in 2002), the main sport at Marondera High, he got hooked-up to cricket by chance as a form two pupil, watching the tour by Sri Lanka on television in 1999.
He took the game more seriously when he transferred to Ellis Robins in Harare before joining the Millennium club.
“At Ellis Robins the cricket was pretty much the same as at Marondera; lots of talent but no facilities and coaches to improve standards. In Upper Six I was made captain. I was basically the captain and the coach because I also had to coach the guys,” he reflects.
Tsvanhu became a first-class player last year when he was chosen to play for the Northerns in the Logan Cup.
“I didnâ€™t take as many wickets as I would have wanted. But it was just good to rub shoulders with guys I used to watch on television.”
His first match for Zimbabwe A was in the South African Airways B Challenge competition in the 2007-08 season.
“I took two wickets on my debut”, he recalls excitedly. “For me it was a learning curve adapting from local cricket to that level and bowling to foreign batsmen. Theyâ€™ve got a different style. Then also playing at international grounds like Queens and Harare Sports Club and the ones in SA was special. The conditions are different. It was like venturing into new territory.”
Then came Australia, the Harare-born cricketerâ€™s first overseas trip. It was an experience which he says opened a new chapter in his career.
“As the best cricket-playing nation in the world, it obviously means that there is something good about the Australian system. And to be part of that system was awesome.
“The people there are workaholic”, he says. “They wake up everyday thinking about how to better their lives, how to better their cricket.”
“In terms of objectives set, and looking at it afterwards, I think I achieved my objectives. I feel I am closer to playing for Zimbabwe given what I learnt in Australia. Iâ€™m physically and mentally stronger. I worked on my bowling technique with Troy Cooley (Australia bowling coach), who is regarded as the best in the business.”
He adds: “I think he prepared me for international cricket. But I understand the magnitude of work needed to compete with the guys that are there. I also understand that itâ€™s a process and Iâ€™m currently working on that process. For now I just want to do well in all the games Iâ€™m going to play henceforth.”
Of ample height, Tsvanhu is what a schoolboy would imagine a 22-year-old pace bowler to look like. Not the quickest, he relies on intelligent bowling. His plus point is the ability to swing the ball sharply away from the batsmen.
“Iâ€™m also trying to use the in-swinger and get more control over it,” he says. “I think my strength is that I am able to work out the batsman and bowling to his weakness.”
In 2002 as a Harare Sports Club rugby second-team player, Tsvanhu played in a Zimbabwe Under-21 test against Namibia at fly-half.
It was fitting that the man who motivated him to take up cricket more seriously should be Cyprian Mandenge, his Harare Sports Club and Zimbabwe Under-21 coach. Tsvanhu professes an undying love for rugby.
“I still watch it every other weekend. I miss rugby. Itâ€™s a team game. You really get to be with your teammates. When I finally decided to take up cricket full-time a lot of people thought I was making a mistake. They reckoned I was talented enough to play rugby professionally. To me it was a question of choice.”
And if he thought that was a difficult choice, putting on hold his Computer Science degree programme at the University of Zimbabwe to concentrate on his cricket proved an even tougher decision.
“Coming from a typical African family where education is a priority, the decision didnâ€™t go down well with my family for obvious reasons,” he says.
“But after seeing how well I am doing, they became supportive.”
By Enock Muchinjo