When the Kohlis and the Kakas were in town

HARD to believe this, yesterday marked exactly a decade after this continent’s first football World Cup happened on our shores, just across the border in South Africa.

Enock Muchinjo

So, a sudden bout of nostalgia hit me when the host country’s national football federation asked its Twitter followers this week: “What are your best memories of 2010?”

Here in Zimbabwe, the sights and sounds of the 2010 World Cup had actually manifested right here on our doorstep, days and weeks before the greatest sporting jamboree on earth roared into life across the Limpopo River.

The reverberations of South Africa 2010 were echoing across the host’s neighbouring countries, even right through the continent for those who felt it over there as much as we did here.

It was at the beginning of a decade to be dominated by a world cricket batting phenomenon called Virat Kohli, now a global superstar who has gate-crashed the debate over the greatest batsman in the modern era of the game—a man spoken of in the same vein as no less luminaries than Sachin Tendukar and Brian Lara.
So, with the World Cup fever gripping us around that time in June 2010, the man himself was in town, in Harare and Bulawayo.

That India had sent a second-string side for the ODI tri-nations series with Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, as well as additional two Twenty20 ties with the hosts, was precisely the reason why Kohli, now an icon of the game worldwide, was on that tour here 10 years ago.

Arriving in Zimbabwe, a young Kohli did not only have just a handful of ODI caps under his belt: he was yet to be capped in Tests, and only made his international T20 debut in Harare a day before Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening World Cup goal at Soccer City against Mexico in Johannesburg sent the entire South Africa into raptures.

You could say Zimbabwe’s hearty performance in the tri-series perhaps amplified the mood here ahead of football’s World Cup, despite that the country’s national team—the Warriors—were not going to be being part of the fete.

Zimbabwe’s cricket team, a punching bag of world cricket since around 2004, was slowly beginning to find its footing again.
Twice in the ODI series, Zimbabwe defeated Kohli’s India, captained by youthful stand-in captain Suresh Raina—and come on, India is India, everybody wants to play for the national team over there—so forget that it was a so-called “makeshift” India team that was on tour that year.

And then in the two ties against Sri Lanka, Elton Chigumbura’s men lost the first one but then convincingly won the second to storm into the final, in which they were duly defeated by the Sri Lankans in the all-important match at Harare Sports Club on June 9, by nine wickets.

The Bulawayo leg of the tri-series had ended on a Tuesday, with my flight back to Harare only taking off late afternoon the following day, courtesy of an international news agency that I would also be working for at the historic football World Cup down south.

But there was just one small matter. News had filtered through on that day, that record world football champions Brazil were scheduled to land in Harare overnight for a World Cup warm-up match the following afternoon against Zimbabwe at the National Sports Stadium.

Would I be able to abandon the late afternoon flight to Harare, and somehow find a way back in time to cover Brazil’s samba style rock Zimbabwe’s capital city, itself an opportunity of a lifetime?

The World Cup was well and truly in our region, and even as we covered the cricket at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, you could sniff the big party that was about to explode just next door.

Wickets taken and runs scored by Zimbabwe were cheered by loud blowing of the vuvuzela, South African flags were waved alongside Zimbabwe’s from side to side, and the number of Bafana Bafana shirts in the stands matched that of a team known to its fans today as the Chevrons.

Everybody wanted to know: how had the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) pulled that one off, bringing the mighty Brazil to this country? On the way out of Queens, outside the VIP enclosure, press corps bumped into Peter Chingoka, the late chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), alongside his managing director Ozias Bvute, both men also speaking to us excitedly about Brazil’s famous football team playing against the Warriors in our own country.

I made it to Harare on the Wednesday around 11am, thanks to a road trip courtesy of a kindly colleague’s lift, and was able to cover the snap visit here of Brazil, with all its big stars taking to the field—Kaka, Robinho, Dani Alves, Julio Cesar.

Not that the result really mattered, or surprised anybody, Brazil strolled to an easy 3-0 win over the Warriors in Harare on June 2.
So, with that, our own World Cup had kind of kicked off in Zimbabwe!

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