IF you ask for an opinion of Walter Chawaguta, the new Zimbabwe cricket coach, the answers differs from “raw, keen player, little-known, hard-working, devout Christian, clean-cut, unassuming.”
The only consistent answer is when he describes his determination growing up in the dusty neighbour hood of Glen Norah, rising to become the first black Zimbabwean to coach the national cricket side.
Walter Rodney Chawaguta was born in Alberton, South Africa on October 23, 1972, to a Zimbabwean father and South African mother. The family moved to Zimbabwe when he was 10 years old.
He grew up in Glen Norah, attending Chitsere Primary School in Mbare, where he was first introduced to cricket through a development programme for township schools. He proceeded to Glen Norah High 2 School, where he progressed quickly enough to be offered a cricket scholarship at Prince Edward School.
While at PE he was a dedicated player in the formative years of Takashinga Cricket Club. He is one of the clubâ€™s founder members. Like many young black cricketers on the club scene, his ambition was to gain selection for his province, and then, at least, the Zimbabwe Board XI or the A side. A middle-order batsman who could bowl a bit, he only got to play a single match for Mashonaland at the time. He reached his total of six first-class matches by playing for Centrals in the Logan Cup last year. But he was past his peak as a player.
“It was different because I just never got the chance in my earlier playing days,” he says.
“If you got one opportunity and fail youâ€™d never get looked at again. Itâ€™s easier for guys now because if you are good you get people fighting for you. It wasnâ€™t like that when we played. Iâ€™m not pointing fingers at anyone, but thatâ€™s just the way it was.”
While stating that competition was tough, Chawaz â€“â€“ as he is known to friends â€“â€“ still believe, he was talented enough to have a longer first-class career span.
“I thought I was up there,” he says. “Given the opportunities that guys are getting now, I think I was good enough then. But I am a firm believer in destiny. Maybe God wanted me to be where I am now.”
That destiny was coaching: “I decided early on to go into coaching. I felt there was a gap in coaching on the developmental side of the game. That gap needed to be filled.
“I was also motivated by my own experience. When I was an upcoming player, there was no one other than the development coaches to push me. I felt there was a big void. People like myself, Steve (Mangongo; Board XI coach) and Bruce (Makovah; former selectors chairman) saw the potential in a lot of kids and felt the need to help them get into the system.
“I didnâ€™t foresee myself ending where I am now. I also went into coaching to further my playing side. After coaching I would make time to work on my own game. I still felt I had a chance to get noticed by selectors, which obviously wasnâ€™t to be.”
Chawagutaâ€™s coaching career started at school level, coaching at Chipembere Primary in Highfield and Churchill High, and then at club level at Takashinga and in Midlands and Matabeleland. He then assisted Dave Houghton and Eddo Brandes at the CFX Academy. His first major role was as Zimbabwe Under 19s coach, taking the side to two junior World Cups in 2004 and 2006.
He was later appointed Zimbabwe A coach, then served as an assistant coach under three national coaches, Phil Simmons, Kevin Curran and his predecessor Robin Brown. He names Simmons, the former West Indies all-rounder, as the major influence on his development.
“I was very privileged to work with different coaches because all coaches are different,” he says. “I was able to see how players react to different coaching philosophies. I was in a position to see what brought results and what didnâ€™t. Iâ€™ve used that to come up with my own coaching philosophy and style.”
A holder of a Zimbabwean Level 2 certificate, he is currently working on his International Level 3 in Australia. This, he says, makes him a safe choice for national team coach.
“Since last year everything I did I was preparing myself for it. Iâ€™m not saying I planned it, but every coachâ€™s dream is to coach the national side. I prepared myself mentally and technically. I came close to having the job once but someone else was preferred. So it has not been out of my sight.”
The task at hand is not an easy one, and Chawaguta is under no illusion.
“I realise whatâ€™s at stake. Itâ€™s a serious responsibility. We need not just to maintain standards, but to up them. I have to do better than my predecessors. I have been assured of support from the administration. As of the players, I have coached most of the guys at different levels before so Iâ€™ve got no problem with the element of respect.”
Chawaguta feels much of his success hinges on Zimbabwe keeping the current squad intact.
“The investment which has been put on the players cannot be quantified, so we canâ€™t afford to lose any more players. I want to have players who play for the team and for each other; players who demand the highest standards of themselves. What that translates into is a team which is not happy to win one match in a series, but the series itself.”
He also sees a mutual players-coach relationship as the keystone to success.
“For a player to see the need for change, you have to develop a relationship where you can make suggestions for change without facing resistance. You need to get the players to see things the way you do.”
A low-profile personality, during tours when the team is allowed to go out on free days, he prefers to stay in his room, reading or watching TV. A far-cry from the workaholic he is at the training ground.
“I am a firm believer in hard-work. I believe if you spend time in training, quality training, things become easier in a match situation and you are able to handle the pressure situations easier.”
Having also worked as the team analyst, Chawaguta has experienced the benefits of video analysis in developing players. Being the boss now, he says he will bring it into greater use.
“There is going to be increased use of video analysis to develop key areas and flaws,” he says. “I often tell the bowlers that if you donâ€™t have a consistent action you will not become a consistent performer, and to the batters that if you donâ€™t have a consistent technique you will not be a consistent performer. If a side like Australia has three video analysts it goes to show how important it is. It helps to identify weaknesses and strengths in the opposition. Ours will be more internalised; controlling our own technique and action.”
On the thorny issue his Takashinga background. It is feared his appointment will effectively complete the “Takashingalisation” of the national team, fears he dismissed with enthusiasm.
By Enock Muchinjo