Mavuta: Player with a lion heart

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FOR two men that have become some kind of persona non grata with the powers that be at Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), the Chevrons’ stunning Test win over Bangladesh this week was anyhow beyond pleasing on many fronts.
The two, to whom cricket is pretty much the only thing they have ever known since their boyhood days in the townships, find themselves the outcasts of an administration stuffed with men appallingly clueless about the finer intricacies of the game.
And while the suits will be basking in the glory of a win of which they ought to claim just a small slice of credit, people like Stephen Mangongo and Tatenda Taibu, ever the perfectionists, will not be totally satisfied.
Chuffed as Mangongo and Taibu would be, they will already be thinking about producing the next Test match-winner —like they have done with Brandon Mavuta, the 21-year-old leg-spinner whose 4-21 against Bangladesh, on debut, helped Zimbabwe record their first away Test win in 17 years. Mangongo remembers the roar of disapproval when he appointed Mavuta as Zimbabwe’s captain for the 2016 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, where the then 18-year-old leggie guided the side to three wins against Papua New Guinea, Namibia and Canada.
“There were a lot of disgruntled voices in cricket circles,” the long-serving Zimbabwean cricket coach tells IndependentSport. “But some of us have eyes. That leadership role made Brandon aware of his capabilities even more at an early age.”
Testimony to cricket being a game that’s systematically passed down from one generation to another, former Zimbabwe captain Taibu — himself a protégé of Mangongo — would give young Mavuta the next springboard to his very promising career.
In the English summer of 2017, Mavuta was part of Taibu’s Rising Stars Academy which set base in the Liverpool area, where the young cricketers received intensive coaching and mentorship in addition to playing 48 matches against local teams across all formats.
Good work speaks for itself. From among that group, another real find of Zimbabwe cricket, Blessing Muzarabani, has joined an exclusive list of cricketers from this country — men like Graeme Hick, Kevin Curran, Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Sean Ervine —to earn a Kolpak deal in England.
While Muzarabani has chosen the financial security of English county cricket for the next three years, Mavuta is only just starting to make a strong case for a Zimbabwe central contract, which should not be in the not-too-distant future if he remains on the same path.
A wrong path for Mavuta, perhaps, could stem from what Taibu describes as a “temper” in the exciting leg-spinner.
“Like all the other (Rising Stars Academy) boys, the boy has talent,” says Taibu. “But with him, the biggest weakness was temper and the management team in the UK did well to make sure that it didn’t come in the way. I hope he is still doing well in that regard.”
However, the temper detected by Taibu could well be what Mangongo sees as an “instinctive fighting spirit” in Mavuta.
“This boy has the heart of a lion,” Mangongo says. “When he captained the Under-19s in the World Cup, he was always up for it and led from the front. There is a mature head on that youngster. Without a doubt, I expected Brandon to be a star performer sooner or later. He has instinctive fighting spirit, a born fighter. What was amazing back then was his desire to win.”
Like many black cricketers in Zimbabwe, Mavuta’s story has been of sacrifice. Hailing from Kadoma, his birth place, Mavuta moved to the high-density suburb of Kuwadzana in Harare after he enrolled at Churchill Boys High for senior school.
“Brandon was always the first player at training, mind you he was coming all the way from Kuwadzana with kombis whilst the well-to-do kids would be dropped at Harare Sports Club by parents,” Mangongo says.
“Amazingly, being a Kadoma boy, he would forgo going home to see his parents during school holidays so that he could attend training. My guy, that’s commitment at that tender age. So his early success does not surprise me at all. If his contemporaries like William Mashinge, Milton Shumba, Wesley Madhevere, Rugare Magarira and Ryan Murray are properly nurtured, Zimbabwe would smash international big sides in two years. We have abundant talent, however the systems to nurture them are questionable.”
A strict disciplinarian famed for spotting and developing talent, many of Mangongo’s former pupils, Taibu himself included, will testify of the man’s take-no-prisoners approach, which he admits to be the case when he took Mavuta under his wings.
“I had tough love for Brandon when he was in the Under-19 set-up because I knew he was destined for success,” Mangongo says.
Mavuta’s success in the second innings of the first Test owes a great deal to the pressure built up by the senior bowlers, particularly the off-spinner Sikandar Raza — who laid the foundation for Mavuta and fellow debutant Wellington Masakadza to clean up the Bangladesh middle-order and tail for a rare Zimbabwe Test win.
With leg-spin being the tricky art it is, the challenges will keep coming for a rookie like Mavuta. Mangongo backs the Zimbabwe newcomer to keep improving his variation of flight, pace, direction and spin.
“I’m sure he will get better and better,” Mangongo says. “He is a ripper, a genuine turner of the ball and he has a googly,” he says.
Away from the young debutant, Mangongo also reserves special praise for the team’s mature first Test performance, a workmanlike win put in motion by man-of-the-match Sean Williams’ first innings 88.
“Winning a match in the subcontinent takes serious performance,” says Mangongo. “Even top teams like England, South Africa and others all struggle there, therefore for Zimbabwe to pull off a win inside four days is top-drawer stuff.
“Hami (captain Hamilton Masakadza) and Sean (Williams), as expected being senior players, led from the front with the bat especially in the key first innings. Normally in the second innings you get bamboozled in the subcontinent as the pitch always rapidly deteriorate into dust bowl. But credit got to be given to Brandon taking those key four wickets when it mattered most.”
The last decade has seen numerous young Zimbabwean cricketers, bowlers mostly, emerging onto the scene and then sink into oblivion just as quickly in varying turn of events.
When the Mavuta and his Rising Stars teammates arrived in the UK last year, Taibu and his management team spent several hours teaching the youngsters life skills, focusing on discipline as a base for a longer, consistent and successful career.
“Remember, that whole group was taught the same values, what they do with what they were taught is really up to them,” Taibu says. “They hold their own destiny in their own hands now. There is no doubt that there is talent in Zimbabwe, problem is that the talent is not nurtured.”
From the looks of it, it does appear like Mavuta has the right temperament to last the distance. — Own Correspondent.

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