One such name is George Tandi.
That urge of sympathy towards Tandi is largely due to his wistful label as “the guy who should have become the first black player to turn out for the Zimbabwe national cricket team”.
What makes it even harder to take, with hindsight, is that when Zimbabwe won Test status in 1992, Tandi was in the provisional squad for the inaugural Tests against India.
Strongly built and aggressive, Tandi emerged onto the local schoolboy scene in 1989 like an express train out of a tunnel. He was quick, really quick.
Batsmen from the other leading schools were all too aware of the threat he possessed.
“Is Tandi playing?”
This became a ready question by terrified batsmen whenever a match against Prince Edward was on the cards, quite an incredible recognition for a chap born in Rusape and who spent his early childhood there, only coming to Harare to complete basic education at Shiriyedenga Primary School in Glen Norah.
For years, the now 34-year-old Tandi felt sorry for himself before realising that —- long after his playing days were behind him — he could still be a hero.
As a development coach, he could identify and nurture young, underprivileged but talented players who would be far more fortunate than him.
Last Saturday Tandi came up to me at Harare Sports Club during the last day of the Logan Cup final between Mashonaland Eagles and Midwest Rhinos.
He was clearly excited about something.
“You must congratulate me, mate,” he said. “I’ve just produced a national team player!”
Tandi was referring to Mutare-born 19-year-old fast bowler Tendai Chatara, who has been selected to play for Zimbabwe in a four-day warm-up match in the West Indies in preparation for the upcoming ICC World Twenty20.
The gangly Chatara opened the bowling for Zimbabwe at the ICC Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand in January, becoming the first bona fide Mutarean to represent the country at that level since former Under 19 captain Tino Mawoyo. Chatara’s emergence comes at a time Zimbabwe is searching for genuinely quick bowlers who can become a menace to the opposition in different conditions.
“He generates good pace,” Tandi praised Chatara. “He gets extra bounce. He’s got ability to control his pace. He’s got the right attitude. He wants to be the best, he works hard, he is humble and down-to-earth. He listens to his coaches.”
Tandi discovered Chatara, then a Grade Five pupil at Dangamvura Primary School, during a development programme targeting high-density suburbs in the city.
“I saw this young boy and I thought he was well-built for a fast bowler,” he said. “I saw something special about him.”
Chatara made his first age-group team for Manicaland Under 17s in 2007, the same year he started playing league cricket for Mutare Sports Club.
Then came the New Zealand tour with the Zim Under 19s after which selectors announced him as an extra player for the Caribbean tour, but only to gain experience in the less-pressure environment of a warm-up.
“I think he is following the same route as Tatenda Taibu, who was first picked for warm-up matches then ultimately the national team. It’s normal for Zimbabwe cricket to do that. Hopefully when he makes the national side he will be able to transform potential into results,” Tandi said.
In the same way, selectors will be wary about fast-tracking the teenager into international cricket. But what is his mentor’s take on that?
“From the current crop, he ranks among the best, but I don’t know if his body is ready,” Tandi commented.
“We’ve seen guys like Sachin Tendulkar playing (international cricket) at 16 and Hamilton Masakadza at 17. He’s (Chatara) 19. I don’t see why he can’t make it now. I hope the demands of international cricket won’t be too much for him physically and mentally.”
Turning to his own playing career, Tandi was quick to confess that he partly plotted his own downfall.
“When I was growing up, a lot of people had earmarked me to become the first black guy to represent Zim,” he said.
“But there are things which prevented that from happening. One was discipline. Secondly, the system was not right. It was very difficult for a black boy to break through. I made mistakes, but I still feel certain things should have been done in a better way.
“If things had been equal, if I had been well-groomed, if I had had good management, if I had listened to my parents and my coaches, I probably would have done it before Henry (Olonga, Zimbabwe’s first black international). It was to do with the system and my own attitude. I remember sometime back (Zimbabwe Cricket chairman) Peter Chingoka saying I should have played for Zimbabwe in 1993.”
But if Tandi was a victim of a system, it was one which had put him well on course in his formative years. When he won a scholarship to attend Prince Edward in 1989, he became the first high-density boy to play age-group cricket for Zimbabwe.
He played for Zimbabwe Under 19s for three years, touring England, Australia and South Africa in the 1992-03 season. He teamed up with such players as Heath Streak, Craig Wishart and Gavin Rennie — who all went on to play for Zimbabwe.
From PE, he played club cricket for Universals and Old Hararians, blossoming into an accurate and hardworking right-arm seam bowler who could generate good pace off the wicket. He was picked to represent his home province of Manicaland, but only in the “B” Section of the Logan Cup.
After spending years in the background coaching in Mutare, he was recently snapped by Mashonaland Eagles as an academy coach. Chatara will be Tandi’s first product to come to the fore.
“What gives me solace is that he (Chatara) will able to do what I didn’t do,” he said.
“What gives me solace is teaching young guys to learn from my mistakes. I’m contributing to somebody. I hope he won’t just go and play, but be one of the best in Zim and the world. I hope that he will inspire other boys in Dangamvura, Sakubva and other high-densities across the country. With the system we have now, the sky is the limit. The world cannot ignore you.”