IN Mutare, where Tino Mawoyo comes from, his larger-than-life status is unmistakable.
By Enock Muchinjo
People speak of him with a sense of ownership, revealing deep admiration and pride in one of the city’s best-loved sons.
They know him well and share in his achievements — the joy and anguish, the ups and downs. This bond has existed despite a very frustrating cricket career hampered by injury, limited playing opportunities and something of a reputation for off-the-field distraction.
The covenant has a long history.
It is from this small place, as a fresh-faced schoolboy, that Mawoyo first came to the national consciousness as a leader of very exciting prospect and charisma.
He took on the world, a confident and sprightly teenager with no trace of small-town mentality, and won some big battles.
Under Mawoyo’s captaincy, Zimbabwe reached the quarter-finals of the 2004 Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh—the country’s best record at the tournament.
Beating a Tim Paine-captained Australia, in a match best remembered for paceman Tinashe Panyangara’s magnificent six-wicket haul, was the highlight of the tournament for Zimbabwe.
To cap a memorable tournament, Mawoyo’s team also defeated New Zealand and just narrowly lost to a star-studded England team captained by Samit Patel and featuring other future English senior team stars like Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Liam Plunkett, Tim Bresnan and Luke Wright.
Quite an introduction to the world for a young fella from a place that until he emerged had produced just one black national cricketer for Zimbabwe.
At Hillcrest College, Mutare’s iconic private school, Mawoyo was a schoolyard hero, everything anybody desired.
He captained the college’s first cricket teams at both the preparatory and high school, earning his first Zimbabwe colours at Under-13 Patridge level.
His all-round sporting prowess is a source of fascinating tales for those with Hillcrest blood, past and present.
He was flyhalf for the rugby first team, athletics captain as well as a free-scoring centre-forward and captain of the football team.
Mawoyo’s versatility and talents are perhaps best described by Hillcrest’s long-serving sports director Chris Mhike (cousin of the lawyer of the same name).
“Tino would have been anything he wanted really,” remarked Mhike a few years ago.
“He was a bustling striker, the Cristiano Ronaldo type, and scored a lot of goals for the football team. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had played for the Warriors. Or even the Sables. But I guess cricket came naturally to him, having played it from a very young age.”
Mawoyo’s parents were by all accounts not wealthy. But they were dignified and diligent civil servants of repute who desired the fine things in life, and worked very hard for them—laying a solid foundation for their three sons. Now both retired, their father was a college lecturer and mother a nurse. The parents’ God-fearing nature reflects in their oldest son, Anesu Mawoyo, a gospel musician and worship pastor of the Celebration Church.
Chishamiso, the second born, was the more sporty of young Tino’s two older brothers. So the youngster grew up throwing countless balls at him in the family’s back garden, thus his initial role as a cricketer was as a bowler.
Hillcrest, with its rich sporting heritage, would shape Mawoyo as a cricketer and batsman of unquestionable talent and ability. Mawoyo has always been aware of the privileges that his family and cricket have given him in his life and he has never taken that for granted. He is first to accept how fortunate he was, how the quiet suburban upbringing of Fern Valley made the road much easier for him, compared to the several boys from the townships of Sakubva, Dangamvura and Chikanga.
It is this realisation that has given birth to the Tino Mawoyo Junior Development Festival, set to be staged for the first time on September 7, 8 and 9 at Mutare Sports Club.
“I realised how privileged I was,” says Mawoyo.
“I’ve seen kids in the high-density areas who are more talented than I was. A lot of who I am today is because of the sacrifices my parents made.
“I was very lucky. I went to Hillcrest and played against the best young cricketers drawn from the country’s top private schools. I was coached by Bill Flower, the father of Andy and Grant Flower. To be coached by someone that had produced a world’s number one batsman (Andy Flower) was priceless. Those kids in Sakubva and Dangamvura don’t get such an opportunity.
“Such initiatives as this festival open up people’s eyes. The talent is unbelievable. I’ve seen it. It’s just a matter of exposure and supporting the kids with the right structures.”
Mawoyo knows talent when he sees it.
He is a fine example of a Zimbabwean cricketer that has come through all stages of the system: from the age of six, right up to Test cricket.
He made his first-class debut for Manicaland as a form four pupil, sharing a changing room with players at the end of their career, like Mark Burmester, and national team players like Guy Whittall. With players like the brothers Leon and Andre Soma, Richard Sims, Justin Lewis, Alec Taylor, and the great Andy Flower joining a few seasons later, Manicaland had its best crop in years.
But not all these players had roots in the province, a situation that would worsen some years later under Mawoyo’s captaincy.
“It came to my attention after we won a competition in 2014 that I was leading a team from Manicaland that comprised of personnel that was not home-grown,” says Mawoyo.
“My wish is to be able to walk onto a field leading a Manicaland team wholly made up of players born and bred in Manicaland.
I may not be able to do so in my time as a player but I have no doubt in my mind that the results of this festival will surely pave way for this to be the case in years to come. If I can one day watch a Manicaland team in this mould, I know I would have played my part in giving back to this beautiful game.”
Grooming a cricketer is no mean task, and Mawoyo knows it.
But he has been thrust into leadership since an early age. His Under-19 team of 2004 has produced four Zimbabwe captains in Prosper Utseya, Elton Chigumbura, Brendan Taylor and Graeme Cremer.
From an early age, Mawoyo learnt to make big decisions when his cricket career started shaping up. At the end of 2000 he was offered a cricket scholarship by St John’s College in Harare. He declined it, concerned it would deprive Hillcrest of its undisputed sporting hero.
“I was comfortable where I was, I just felt I was important to the team as the captain,” he says. “I felt it wasn’t right for me to go there because in my age-group , they (St John’s) had many talented players anyway like Brendan Taylor, a guy called Garth Ziegler (now a professional rugby player), and may others. I felt it was selfish to go to a school where they had very good cricket talent everywhere, leaving Hillcrest with nothing.”
Mawoyo is now considered a Test specialist in Zimbabwe’s side since the country’s return to the longer-version format in 2011—an opener of audacious stroke-play and sound technique.
He scored his maiden Test century that year, a glorious undefeated innings of 163 in a losing cause to Pakistan in Bulawayo.
In so doing, he became only the third Zimbabwean after Mark Burmester and Grant Flower to carry his bat throughout a Test innings.
“Playing in my debut Test against Bangladesh a few months earlier, Kepler Wessels, who was doing commentary, came up to me and said ‘you are looking solid down there, if you continue like this, you’ll get a big score soon’. That big score would come in only my second Test,” says Mawoyo.
“It was an overwhelming feeling. I was sitting in my bed that night and saying ‘wow, did I just do that!’ To do that against Saeed Ajmal, the best spinner in the world, and batting for 10 hours and 45 minutes, was a great feeling. Joining Mark Burmester and Grant Flower on that record was also very pleasing.”
Mawoyo owes a lot of his success at that time to the work of Grant Flower, who had returned home to take the post of Zimbabwe’s batting coach.
Having been selected into Zimbabwe’s 2011 World Cup squad, Mawoyo would miss the tournament after being sent back home with an injury picked during a pre-competition training camp in Dubai.
“He (Flower) told me to go back home and work hard,” Mawoyo says.
“He said, ‘I know you are disappointed to miss the World Cup, but go and put in the hours. We’ve Test cricket coming in five months. We are looking at you to open. He told me I’d the skill and technique for Test cricket. The team came back from the World Cup and Grant did a lot of great work with me.”
The label of Test specialist has stuck with Mawoyo ever since, much to his surprise.
“To be honest, it was frustrating and disappointing,” he says.
“I say so because five months before the comeback Test against Bangladesh I’d been selected to go to the 50-over World Cup and suddenly I’m being labelled a Test specialist.
“I suppose that came from a series against New Zealand A that I scored a lot of runs. Australia A also came and I had decent scores.
“It comes from that. But the opportunity to represent your country doesn’t come every day. If they feel I must represent the country in the longer-version, I’ll relish the opportunity.”
But more frustrating for Mawoyo as a longer-version specialist is that he spends more time these days away from the playing field because he is injury prone, and Zimbabwe’s Test commitments are sporadic.
He did not play in Zimbabwe’s most recent Test match, where the African side came on the brink of a famous win in Sri Lanka. But he sees himself as still having a role in the side.
“If I manage to stay fit, yes,” he says. “I’m a batsman. I don’t have to run around the field like the bowlers. I’ll probably push four to five years. We are probably going to get a few more Tests now with the entry of Afghanistan and Ireland. It’s not easy to play one or two (Test) games a year, not play for another 18 months and come back to play at that level. It’s good to get some consistency.
“After playing against us, Sri Lanka went for seven days before they started playing India. Next time we play Test will be in October against West Indies, who will be coming from a tour in England. Consistency is important.”
Meanwhile, when not in the middle, as is often the case these days, Mawoyo has carved out a niche in commentary, which he has earmarked as his fulltime occupation when his playing days are finally over.
“Obviously I don’t play ODIs and T20 so I do commentary for these formats in Zimbabwe,” he says.
“I’ve done away tours as well. I’ve done the Pakistan-versus-Australia series for Kwese TV from the studios in South Africa.
“While I played club cricket in Hampshire last year I did radio commentary for BBC Solent in the County Championship. I realised how it’s a lot tougher because the listener isn’t watching and you have to describe a whole lot of what’s going on. It was a very interesting stint I had with them.
“I do have other options. I love and understand cricket. I am a qualified umpire. I have a level two coaching qualification with Cricket Australia. Obviously, yes, my biggest passion is commentary and I’d like to spread my wings there.”
But for now, Mawoyo’s focus is churning out future talent for Zimbabwe, and charity begins at home.
“My tagline is ‘unearth future gems’. The gems are there. What you first get is the rough stone. The kids are the rough stones. We then go through the process of producing a polished produced that will represent Zimbabwe.
“The awareness of cricket in Mutare is massive. Kids are playing the game with bats they made themselves, and tennis balls.
They need our support. The biggest challenge is equipment: getting the kids kitted for the tournament, never mind the rest of the term.”
Mawoyo’s comfortable family upbringing sent him on his way up.
But these days, the under-privileged of Mutare can also achieve their dream, like Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano.
The two pace bowlers, who hail from Dangamvura, are current members of the Zimbabwe team. And they are helping their home-town colleague in his project.
“Kids like to see people they know and relate to,” says Mawoyo. “These two will be managers for some of the teams in the tournament. They are role models.”
Mawoyo is also passionate about empowering the girl child. One of his partners, a local non-governmental organisation called POVO AFRIKA trust — which is into sustainability, arts and culture—has a special programme in this regard.
“We are going to run a social media campaign and do a small documentary with the young ladies, capturing the aspirations of the girls,” said POVO’s creative director Bayham Goredema.
Zimbabwe women’s cricket captain Chipo Mugeri, another thoroughbred Mutarean and wife of Zimbabwe men’s bowler, will also take the girls through their paces at the festival.
Mawoyo’s tremendous ability to connect with people has seen several partners and sponsors coming on board, including the Sports Leaders Institute of Zimbabwe (SCLIZ).
He has designed the event to be inclusive. Jeremiah Matibiri, a Zimbabwe International Panel Umpire, will conduct an introduction to umpiring course for coaches, managers, teachers, students and lecturers in and around the city.
Among the accolades at the festival will be the Keegan Taylor Memorial Award to be given to the best disciplined team of the festival.
Keegan Taylor, another local hero in Mutare and childhood friend of Mawoyo, died in tragic circumstances in 2013, aged 29.
He was a talented cricketer who however didn’t pursue the game as career, his highest achievement in the sport being a handful of first-class games for Manicaland.
“Keegan was a very good friend of mine, we went to school together, he captained me at Hillcrest and Manicaland Schools,” says Mawoyo.
“He took every opportunity to support me in my career, whether playing for Manicaland at Mutare Sports Club, or Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club. I felt the best I could do was to recognise a very close friend who supported me throughout my career.”