Mixed fortunes for our ‘Trio at the Top’

Sports Panorama:Enock Muchinjo

I BLEW our own trumpet a bit few months ago when I wrote an article about how a truly special sporting nation we are, as testified by the three Zimbabwe internationals plying their trade at the highest level of competition in England, in three different major disciplines.

The English Premier League is considered by many as the strongest domestic football competition in the world, and the same goes for England’s County Championship in cricket.

Rugby’s English Premiership ranks up there with the best on the planet in that sport.

So, quite justifiably, any country that provides three of its home-grown talents at the same time to these globally esteemed leagues — dream destinations for many sportsmen across the world — should never think less of itself when other nations speak proudly of their sporting heritage.

Quite a lot has changed since I penned that back-page story about Zimbabwe’s “Trio at the Top” strutting their stuff at the summit of England’s top three sporting disciplines.

It was back in November, just a few months before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, sending the whole world reeling under the testing times of an unprecedented global health threat.

The three sporting codes in question have since made a return in the UK following the coronavirus-enforced halt. What a big relief it has been.

Perhaps more so for Marvelous Nakamba. The Warriors midfielder saw his Barclays Premiership club Aston Villa survive relegation on the last day of the season, after what had been a pretty eventful season for the Birmingham club.

Mixed feelings have emerged over Nakamba’s performance in his debut Premiership season, with some reports even hinting at the 26-year-old’s early exit from Villa Park.

It is up to the powers-that-be at Aston Villa to decide, but my gut tells me that the smiley Zimbabwean grafter has done just enough to deserve another fair crack of the whip, at least for another full season.

Meanwhile, 89km away from Nakamba’s station — the distance between the city of Birmingham in the West Midlands and the county of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands — you will find another Zimbabwean ace, whose future in the UK post-2020 does not however hinge on how well he has performed.

Due to the UK’s exit from the European Union, known as Brexit, foreign cricketers — including Zimbabwean fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani — have been greatly affected by the change in eligibility rules. So it means the 23-year-old speedster from Highfield, sadly, has to leave County Championship side Northamptonshire with a year still left on his initial contract.

Muzarabani is now likely to return to Zimbabwe to revive his international career, which he had put on hold after signing for Northamptonshire towards the end of 2018.

Injuries have dealt Muzarabani a big blow during his UK top-flight stint, but after the resumption of matches on the county circuit at the beginning of this month, the gangly young Zimbabwean pace spearhead has proven how a class act he can be on his day. No doubt, Muzarabani will come back home an even better bowler after playing with and against some of the best cricketers in the world for an interrupted two-year-period, and hopefully he gets a fair deal from the Zimbabwean cricket board upon his return.

I had a chat this week with a very good friend of Caribbean origin, Barbadian-born Winston Weeks, who has been a father figure to Muzarabani in England during the young Zimbabwean’s time away from home.

“My family adores him, he’s very close to my mum,” Weeks, who played and coached in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, said to me. “Zimbabwe is going to offer him a contract, but how good it is, I don’t know, you’ll need to ask Hamilton (Masakadza, Zimbabwe’s director of cricket). But Zimbabwe needs to look after him like they did to people like Brendan Taylor and (Kyle) Jarvis.”

Taylor and Jarvis both returned to Zimbabwe after sojourns in the County Championship, reportedly on lucrative deals. We await Muzarabani’s homecoming.

It has been something of a mixed bag for the Zimbabwean trio in England’s “Big Three” sporting codes. While Marvelous Nakamba and Aston Villa were so glad to avoid the chop, another Zimbabwe star in another Premiership competition still has the unfinished business of helping his club stay up.

English Premiership Rugby cub Worcester Warriors, with Sables prop Farai Mudariki in their ranks, are precariously positioned in the bottom three with only Leicester Tigers and Sacarens below them on the log standings.

Worcester were smashed 44-15 by Gloucester when Premiership rugby action resumed last weekend, though the 25-year-old Zimbabwean, whose progress has also been halted by injury, was not even among the substitutes.

Preferred by the Warriors at tight-head ahead of Mudariki was South African Nic Schonert, who was fielded in the starting line-up alongside fellow countryman Francois Hougaard, the former Springbok scrumhalf.

So, while the cricketer Muzarabani appears on his way back home, here is hoping that the two Warriors — Nakamba and Mudariki — will feature at the top again come next season.