'I'm not afraid, I love challenges'

HARARE - Despite the turbulent weather that continues to brew and threaten the upcoming tour by Bangladesh, there is one man who will be relishing the opportunity of putting his skills to the test at the very highest level of international cricket.

Long-time franchise as well as assistant national team coach Steven Mangongo is on the verge of making history of his own when he becomes the first black Zimbabwean to coach the team in a Test series against Bangladesh which gets underway on April 17.

Mangongo will be in charge of the team as interim coach for the entire series which includes two Test matches, three ODIs, as well as two Twenty20 internationals before newly appointed coach Andrew Waller takes over as full time coach.

Born on February 17, 1970, Mangongo grew up in a sport loving house hold. He is unable to hide the smile in his voice as he recollects his first introduction to cricket, the game he has come to love so much.

“I was in grade five at Nyandoro Primary School in Highfield. A gentleman from the West Indies by the name of Bill Borne was in the country doing some development work with Zimbabwe Cricket Union, and had been assigned to Highfield High School, where my brother was doing his secondary schooling.

“One day, my brother came home from school carrying a long stick!

“I asked my brother if this long stick was going to be used for fire wood." Mangongo says, chuckling to himself at the memory.

His brother then informed him about the game, and gave him a brief explanation as to how the game was played.

Instead of satisfying Mangongo's curiosity, the strange looking object simply intensified his curiosity, so much so that he accompanied his older brother to Highfield High School the following day to find out more about this strange sounding game.

And it went without saying that by the time Mangongo started his schooling at Highfield High, the then 12-year-old boy was hooked and wanted to learn more.

Mangongo pays tribute to some of the older boys he played with at school.

Players such as Farai Nungirai, Ethan Dube and Bruce Makova were just a few players who played alongside Mangongo at school and club level.

"Farai was someone who really inspired me when I started taking my cricket seriously at school,” he says.

Mangongo was also the first black student to be given a scholarship by Zimbabwe Cricket Union and attended Prince Edward High School where he pursued his love of the game.

Once again, Mangongo is quick to pay tribute to those who helped him on the cricket pitch, as well as in the classroom.

"I was fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of Mr Clive Barnes who really helped me and made me believe in myself,” he says.

Mangongo vividly recalls when Barnes invited him to attend some of the coaching courses that were being held at PE for the teachers when he was in Form Six.

That is when the young Steve got his first basic coaching certificate.

Mangongo's aptitude, knowledge and quick grasp of the game impressed Zimbabwe Cricket Union so much so, that despite his tender age he was given the assignment of coaching Mbizi Primary School in Highfield.

“It was when I started coaching the youngsters the basics of cricket that I realised how much I love coaching, and that I would do anything to enhance and improve my coaching skills," Mangongo recalls.

Throughout his years as franchise coach, Mangongo has earned himself the reputation of being a coach who wears his heart on his sleeve.

With mood swings not to dissimilar to the unpredictable weather in Cape Town, where in one day, you can experience all four seasons.

Mangongo is not ashamed to admit his volatile emotions.

"I have absolutely no regrets and will have no regrets.“I am very emotional, and I am proud of that,” he says.

"There are reasons for getting emotional, if things are not going according to the game plan, I will call a spade a spade, and I don't regret that.

"That is who I am, and that is who I will always be! It has given me results, and that is who I am.”

Mangongo is very aware of the challenges that lie ahead of him.

One would have been very understanding if Mangongo had said that he was nervous about the challenges that awaited him.

But, in true and typically positive Steven Mongongo stile, he simply smiles at the mountainous challenge that awaits him, saying: "I have never been a nervous guy, when it comes to doing my work, I love it! I believe in my ability, and I will go out there and back myself.”

Despite his confidence, Mangongo is very aware that no team should be taken lightly, and is determined to be ruthless, while at the same time treating Bangladesh with the respect they have earned after their impressive tour of Sri Lanka.

Mangongo is a naturally positive individual and would like to portray that in the way Zimbabwe play their cricket.

"Obviously occupation of the crease is very important, but, we also have to ensure that we keep the scoreboard ticking over,” he says.

“I also want players to understand their role in the team. Those who were picked to run in and bowl quickly, must do exactly that, while those who were picked to do a holding job should stick to doing a holding job.”

Mangongo feels that the biggest area of concern on the recently concluded tour of the West Indies was the very ordinary display by Zimbabwe’s batsmen.

"Our batters were at sixes and sevens in the West Indies, but, I am looking forward to turning the batting around which was deplorable," he says.

Mangongo says that working with Andrew Waller will be "something to look forward to”.

"We have worked together in the past with the A team, we both share the same wants, in the sense that we want to bring the very best out of our players.

"We both believe in hard work, and, I look forward to working alongside Bundu."

After returning from the disappointing tour of the West Indies, Mangongo's was determined to see changes.

These changes have already started taking effect with some of the upcoming youngsters and older players such as Elton Chigumbura, Charles Coventry and seamer Edward Rainsford being added to the training squad, as well as younger players such as Kevin Kasuza and Brian Chari being included as well.

Mangongo's positive, no nonsense, straight talking approach to the game and life in general may just be the breath of fresh air the team needs, but, sadly, even his positive approach may not be able to deal with the looming thunder clouds that are threatening to burst, and dampen what promises to be an intriguing series, after a four day boycott by a number of players due to a contract dispute with Zimbabwe Cricket. - Dean du Plessis

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