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Zimbabwe players celebrate beating Namibia at the African Games.





RENOWNED Zimbabwean cricket development coach Stephen Mangongo is basking in the glory of his country’s gold medal at the African Games in Ghana, but feels the integrity of the tournament was somewhat diminished in the eyes of the world by South Africa’s decision to send a severely weakened side to Accra.


A South Africa Universities XI that represented the continent’s best cricket-playing country was overpowered in the Ghanaian capital, failing to reach the knock-out phase of the tournament, won by neighbours and fellow Test nation Zimbabwe.

The struggles of South Africa in Accra, among other factors, probably resulted in the International Cricket Council (ICC) controversially removing the T20 international status of the games from South Africa and two other major cricketing nations on the continent – Zimbabwe and Namibia.

“The rot started with South Africa, who sent a university select, thus undermining the tournament,” Mangongo told The NewsHawks last week.

“This was a wrong message to the rest of the world. If we Africans don’t respect our own tournaments, how do we then expect the ICC to take us seriously? Would India send a university team to the Asian Games? Definitely, withdraw of T20 status was very unfortunate as far as the growth of the game in Africa is concerned. In fact, it’s a slap in the face of the progress of African cricket.”

South Africa, remarked Mangongo, had expected to steamroll everybody in Accra, even with their experimental squad, but were surprised by the level of competition they saw.

“Definitely South Africa left the tournament with egg on their face,” said Mangongo.

“I believe they underestimated the game in the rest of Africa by sending that kind of team. They left with tails between their legs when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stage.”

Mangongo was at the African Games as technical advisor of a Zimbabwe team coached by former national team captain Elton Chigumbura, one of his best known protégés. The Zimbabweans took to Accra a core group of young players with experience of international cricket, as well as some of the best among the country’s crop of emerging cricketers.

The other teams fielded their strongest teams, with Kenyan veteran Collins Obuya playing in the final against Zimbabwe and creating a unique feat in the match. The 42-year-old, who dazzled with his spin bowling in Kenya’s memorable run to the 2003 World Cup semi-finals, played in the African Games final against batsman Johnathan Campbell, 21 years after having played against his father Alistair Campbell in the former Zimbabwe captain’s last international match.

Mangongo – a strong supporter of the growth of cricket in Africa – left Accra pleased with the standard of the game on the continent.

“Definitely the quality of cricket in Africa is on the ascendancy judging from the tournament’s results,” he commented.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the skills factor in the bowling departments especially. The fielding was exceptionally high. It reminded me of a decade ago when Bangladesh built a fortress in their backyard and bowled well. I saw this with Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. On those wickets, the East African nations have mastered discipline to bowl tight, wicket-to-wicket, and their spinners were on top of their game. They know areas to consistently hit those probing lengths. In fact, we got challenged properly. Nigeria have improved massively in technical sense, both bowling and batting. The East Africa bloc of Uganda at the top, then Kenya and Tanzania, are on a positive gradient. These teams have three to four players who can play very well and if you don’t raise the bar, they can take the game away from you. The weakness is that once you deal with the core players, the team’s performance also folds.”

For Mangongo, South Africa’s attitude towards the tournament doesn’t however take the gloss off Zimbabwe’s success story in Ghana.

“The win by Zimbabwe brings back excitement to stakeholders,” he said.  “The spirits are invigorated. It sends a message that we do have talent, which just needs to be harnessed by creating conducive and enabling environments for these emerging players to blossom and become global competitors. I’m glad to see massive resources being channeled into the High Performance Programme by Zimbabwe Cricket.”

It was largely a team effort in the end for the Zimbabweans, but quite a few earned special mention from Mangongo.

“Tashinga Musekiwa was phenomenal at the back end of innings with bat. Upfront Rodney Mupfudza and Johnathan Campbell displayed good techniques.  Fast bowling-wise, Trevor Gwandu, Takudzwa Chataira and Kuda Macheke bowled with pace – an area Zimbabwe needs to improve on its arsenal. The specialist twin trouble, Owen Muzondo and Wallace Mubaiwa, were outstanding. Therefore the future is bright as long we keep putting the hard yards, day in day out.”

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