CODIE Marillier’s face lights up at the sight of a fellow cricketer he aspires to form many great partnerships with in future.
“Look! There’s Leon over there, in the orange shirt!” exclaims 13-year-old Codie, hysterically drawing the attention of his mum and little brother.
The gifted Ruzawi Junior School pupil is travelling to Dubai in December for a prestigious junior cricket tournament, and he has told his parents he wants to go with Leon Nyore, an age-mate he first met during a local competition and liked how he played the game.
But there is one problem: young Leon, who comes from Chitungwiza, cannot afford the airfares and other financial requirements each player needs to go to Dubai.
Codie is fortunate in that his costs are all covered by his family. His dad is Doug Marillier, the former Zimbabwe batsman best remembered in the cricketing world for his role in popularising the “scoop” stroke, known to many as the “Marillier shot”.
The youngster is going to Dubai as part of thriving Harare-based Howzat Cricket Academy, run by his dad’s former international teammate Gary Brent alongside Zimbabwe’s national team fitness trainer Sean Bell.
Touched by his fellow cricketer’s plight and motivated by his own burning desire to help, Codie launched a fund-raising mission to buy Leon’s ticket, and he has succeeded.
So Leon Nyore, a brilliant young talent from St Aidens Primary School in Chitungwiza, will also be boarding the plane to Dubai to rub shoulders with other whizkids from the ICC, Sharjah, G-Force and Gecko academies (UK-based Gecko is run by ex-Zimbabwe all-rounder Ryan Higgins).
Young Marillier and Nyore’s cricket bond is a beautiful little story of innocence, of kindness and of the future.
It puts to shame the agents of division amongst us, the adults.
It is a unique tale, a beacon of hope for co-existence in a game slowly recovering from the effects of a bitter racial dispute of the past. It is fitting, and somewhat ironic, that in this story is the son of Doug Marillier, one of the 15 ill-fated white “rebel” players at the centre of the 2004 race storm.
Once torn apart by racism and deep mistrust, Zimbabwean cricket is going back to its greatest source of strength, diversity and oneness.
More importantly, it is starting at a stage the gospel of equality first sinks in, with the young generation.
Children do not act alone though. They are guided by grown-ups in pursuit of their sporting dreams. And there are a lot of very good folks out there instilling the right substance in our nation’s next generation of sporting ambassadors.
These are the unsung heroes of Zimbabwean sports. One of them, very much at the heart of this particular story, is Cromen Zinyama.
Twenty-nine-year-old Zinyama comes from Chitungwiza, and such young people as him give the town a very good name.
Zinyama is co-founder and director of Chitungwiza-based Ramah Sports Academy, which looks after Leon Nyore.
He is also heavily involved in the running of Royal Cricket Club, parent club of the academy and one of Chitungwiza’s two major cricket teams.
Royal were relegated from Harare’s Vigne Cup first league last season, but are currently runaway second league log leaders and favourites to be promoted back to the top-flight next season ahead of such clubs as Alexandra Sports Club, Glenshire and Rainbow.
Churchill-schooled Zinyama still opens the bowling for Royal — an attacking pace bowler who is at his most effective in the death overs.
But he has now leaned more towards the administration, marketing and training side of things — scoring some success in very trying conditions.
A fortnight ago Zinyama was tournament director for an Under-13 Mock World Cup, supported by, among others, title sponsors PureGold.
A distinctive feature of the 10-over tournament at Alex Sports Club was that the six participating teams adopted the names of six Test nations — Zimbabwe, Australia, England, India, Pakistan and South Africa.
They even played the national anthems before games, the young lads lining up there in front of the PA system, taking it in.
“The whole idea is to inspire the kids to become future international players,” said Zinyama.
“We want the kids to get a feel of the pride one gets when the national anthem is being played, the adrenalin of international sports. We asked the kids to pick their favourite players. If it’s Joe Root, then you play for England. If it’s Steve Smith, then you play for Australia — and in their national colours.”
Diversity, development and dreams are three “Ds” at the bottom of Zinyama’s heart and they were all captured at the Mock World Cup. “We have kids from such places as Domboshava, we have kids from the low-density suburbs, bridging the gap between the elite and the disadvantaged. We have mixed up the teams, different races in one team. We are dealing with the whole child development concept.”
Hosts Zimbabwe were crowned champions, beating in the final an England team spearheaded by Nyore. The Marilliers were there to support him, and he finished as the tournament’s best batsman with 89 runs.
It is heartening to see how corporates, both big and small, continue to partner such initiatives.
The ever-increasing number of black parents and indigenous-owned companies coming through to support is also very pleasing.
Unfortunately, not everyone is on the same wavelength.
Royal Cricket Club and Ramah Sports Academy are currently without a home after being ejected from a Chitungwiza school whose facilities they used.
Believe it or not, the new headmaster, unhappy with how the cricketers’ towering boundaries were leaving dents on school property, proceeded to dig out the wicket.
“We are nomads now,” said Zinyama. “After digging the centre, he now wants to dig the nets. So we are now approaching every office, knocking on every door and asking for whatever we can.”
Also, Zinyama and Royal club president Sylvester Mutusva have approached Chitungwiza town authorities, requesting for allocation of land to build a world-class centre of excellence that attract some of the world’s best players to their hometown.
Another concern is coaching. Just two Zimbabwe Cricket-contracted coaches serve the entire town of Chitungwiza, some 50 odd schools. But with Zinyama’s network of connections, he is doing his bit.
Since 2012, he has run successful junior tournaments and sent players on attachment overseas.
Tatenda Munaku, one of Royal’s upcoming players, has recently returned home from a stint in India.
Presently, two overseas professionals from India — Pravin Prajapati and Digvijay Singh — are spending a season in Zimbabwe playing for Royal.
Zinyama himself will spend two weeks at the Perth Cricket Academy in Australia in January as a player and coaching trainee.
He has been asked to also nominate a player aged between 19 and 22, to be picked across the Vigne Cup competitions.
All these opportunities excite Zinyama, but perhaps none more so than the prospects of watching, one fine day, Marillier and Leon Nyore crack the winning runs for Zimbabwe in a Test or World Cup match.