A DEVELOPMENT tour to Zimbabwe by a Uganda Under-17 cricket team back in 1993 created a special bond that, nearly three decades later, has given birth to an idea its founders believe to be the turning point for a continent that has largely remained alien to cricket.
The young Ugandans had arrived with an eagerness to learn, to soak up all the knowledge they could in two weeks, and the willingness to teach was reciprocal on the part of the people at the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU).
None, perhaps, availed his selfless service to the East African tourists more than Stephen Mangongo, then a 23-year-old ex-player from Harare’s Glen Norah township, now working within the ZCU set-up as a grassroots coach.
Zimbabwe had been granted Test status just a year earlier, but with prospects of ever playing international cricket for his country slowly fading, Mangongo turned to coaching at a young age.
Lending a helping hand was something that had been inculcated into Mangongo earlier in his life when in 1989 he became the first black recipient of a ZCU scholarship, being enrolled at Harare’s famed Prince Edward Boys School, which for over a century has played a crucial role in producing many world-class sports stars for Zimbabwe and other countries.
So, when Uganda’s young team was placed under his wing 27 years ago, Mangongo saw an opportunity to help others, while at the same time putting his developing coaching skills to test.
“(The late) Mike Whiley, who was the ZCU’s schools administrator, delegated me to look after the Ugandans,” Mangongo told The NewsHawks this week. “Facilities at Harare Sports Club’s ‘B’ section, which is now home to rugby, were not always properly maintained. Realising that the Ugandan youths needed a good pitch to train on, I l took it upon myself to negotiate with Sunrise Sports Club in Belvedere to use their pitch. I noticed genuine enthusiasm within the Ugandan team that instead of just being a facilitator, I started coaching them during my free time.”
What was initially supposed to be a training camp ended up with some of the young Ugandans playing competitive club cricket in Zimbabwe at a decent level over the two weeks they were in the country.
“I had just formed Old Winstonians (present-day Takashinga Cricket Club), and as part of giving quality training to the Ugandan youth team, I drafted some of them into my Winstonians club for matches and tougher exposure. I remember Michael (Ndiko), who is now part of the Ugandan senior team coaching staff. He was a good off-spinner then. There was also (Frank) Nsubuga, a very talented top-order batsman and Jeremy (Kibukamusoke), a tall seamer with a graceful bowling action. It was on that tour that I became good friends with Justine (Ligyalingi), who was that touring Uganda Under-17 side’s team manager. Just because of his passion for cricket, Justine is now the ICC’s development officer for Africa.
“Our friendship then has grown from strength to strength.”
Ligyalingi landed the ICC post two years ago. The Ugandan works with the world cricket governing body’s development manager for Africa, renowned sports administrator Patricia Kambarami, sister of the late Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) boss Peter Chingoka.
The respect between Ligyalingi and Mangongo, built over 27 years, has been big a motivational factor for an exciting new project – the Africa Cricket Academy – to be based in Ugandan capital Kampala.
Founding chairman Mangongo this week returned home from Uganda where finer details, paving way for the launch in the new few months, were discussed between all the partners and the East African country’s national cricket association.
“The brains behind the vision of this high-performance centre are credible people in the cricket world,” explained Mangongo. “Therefore, it was not difficult to convince the corporate world to come in as partners for this game-changing project. ICC’s goal is to see cricket spread globally and certainly this project is a vehicle for cricket growth in Uganda and East Africa.”
Although Uganda is the principal focus, other countries in the East African region and elsewhere across the continent stand to benefit by having young and gifted players enrolled in the ground-breaking academy.
“The choice of Uganda as the HPC for the Africa Cricket Academy is two-fold,” says Mangongo.
“Firstly, the latent massive cricketing potential within the Ugandan youths just deserves to be tapped. Uganda is a minefield ready to be tapped for the greater good of promoting African elite cricket. Since their youth side’s visit here many years ago, I have keenly followed Ugandan cricket at Africa Cup tournaments and age-groups. The second reason why ACA chose Uganda is its locality with accessibility to other East African nations like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. ACA will identify East African talent and bring it to Uganda in order to upskill the cricket talent in the whole region.”
There has rather been a gradual rise in cricket participation in the East African region, but for Mangongo—and many other enthusiasts of the game worldwide—Uganda is one of the most important centrepieces for genuine cricket growth across the globe.
“Ugandans have the West Indian traits,” reckons Mangongo. “They bat aggressively, and most importantly, they are terrific gun fielders. Because of their flat pitches, they tend to produce natural spinners.”
This is high praise from a man who is credited with producing such internationally acclaimed cricketers like Tatenda Taibu — the world’s first black Test cricket captain outside of the West Indies — amongst a host of Zimbabwe international players.
And Mangongo sees much more in Ugandan cricket in the not too distant future.
“In five years’ time, Uganda will have ODI (One-Day International) status,” declares the 50-year-old former Zimbabwe national team coach. “I have been to Uganda and I have seen the abundant talent. It’s a case of drilling the boys 24-7 and create the training culture with specific monitored programmes, and then the sky is the limit.”
The Africa Cricket Academy is the brainchild of a cross-section of stakeholders who bring in a mix of versatile skills to the project, on and off the field.
Accompanying Mangongo to Uganda this week was 42-year-old Amos Maungwa, a former diminutive fast bowler for Old Hararians and Takashinga, and personal favourite of yours truly throughout the mid-90s to the mid-2000s.
Hailing from Chitungwiza, Maungwa was known as a hard-worker and good student of the game. In the mid-‘90s, he worked as a schools coach for the Mashonaland Cricket Association, under the legendary development stalwart Bill Flower, father of Zimbabwe greats Andy and Grant.
Quite short for a fast bowler, Maungwa somehow had the ability to generate good pace and bounce on most wickets across Zimbabwe during his first-class cricket career in the country. Maungwa, never capped by Zimbabwe at international level, works with Durban Cricket Academy in South Africa as a director of youth development.
With the Africa Cricket Academy, the Gutu-born ex-paceman will be a board member and fast-bowling coaching specialist.
Mangongo has full knowledge of what the likes of Maungwa bring to a project of this magnitude.
“Amos’s strength was his energy,” remarks Mangongo. “He could bowl 10 overs on the trot without fatigue. Amos was underrated maybe simply because people’s perception was that a fast bowler had to be tall and physically imposing. Therefore, he was overlooked, but at club and provincial level he caused mayhem, taking wickets regularly. We know exactly what he brings to the table at the ACA.”
Martin Ondeko, the youthful CEO of the Uganda Cricket Association, hails the expertise brought by these different professionals.
“With their vast experience in world cricket, they bring with them abundance of knowledge to share,” says Ondeko. “They also come with all the contacts for strategic partnerships.”