MUFAKOSE, Mpopoma, Dangamvura. These are, of course, names of well-known townships in three major cities of Zimbabwe.And from these modest environments, where life can be unforgiving, hail three cricket players who made their debut for Zimbabwe in the first Test match against Sri Lanka last month.
Two of them — opening batsman Kevin Kasuza and pace bowler Victor Nyauchi—would show bags of promise throughout to underline one of the biggest takeaways from a contest in which Zimbabwe really ought to have emerged with a series-equaling win if weather did not have a vital part to play.
Pity, Ainsley Ndlovu had a very tough debut, but the gifted 24-year-old leg-spinner from Bulawayo will have another chance in a packed year for Zimbabwean cricket to repay the selectors’ faith.
But, for starters, you might be wondering why I opened this piece the way I did. Let me explain the relevance.Cricket in Zimbabwe has been in a great deal of turmoil in the past two or so decades. The boom of the late 1990s to early 2000s represented some kind of revolution in the game in Zimbabwe. Young black boys in the high-density areas of cities across the country swapped soccer balls for makeshift bats and cricket balls.
Their new heroes were Andy Flower, Henry Olonga, Heath Streak, Tatenda Taibu and the likes.As Zimbabwean cricket looked set for massive growth, the well-documented struggle for control of the game reared its ugly head, and the game degenerated into chaos.
Talented players, many of them from the townships, left the game in droves.And then last year, after a sustained period of internal strife, a fresh power struggle seemed to sound the death knell for cricket in Zimbabwe after world governing body ICC suspended the country on charges of political interference in the affairs of the sport.
Amidst the gloom, Zimbabwe’s ban — later lifted after conditions of readmission were met — evoked deep-seated emotions among the cricket-loving public of the country, in my view, proof that people still cared for the wellbeing of the game.
While people had fought, quite bitterly so, for the fierce adversaries to be persuaded into some kind of concession in order to fend off the ban was a heartening display of refreshing maturity — realisation that the game ultimately is bigger than all of us or our individual differences.
More importantly, that a permanent ICC ban was rightly viewed by all as too ghastly to contemplate, and that warring parties saw to it that it would not come to that, was further proof the kind of collective spirit that that tells us that cricket is here to stay as part of Zimbabwe’s national identity in spite of all that has happened.
Moving forward, cricket in Zimbabwe now needs new heroes to breathe new life into it, and get all communities rallying behind the sport again.
Starting off from humble beginnings of the townships, coming into Test cricket and making instant impression, as we witnessed last month, represents that renewed hope.