Wunderkid Welch sets Logan Cup alight

HARARE - Sixteen-year-old Mashonaland Eagles opening batsman Nick Welch has wasted absolutely no time in piling up the runs in only his second first-class match, drawing high praise from his coach Stephen Mangongo.

The St John's College form four pupil, a member of the Zimbabwe Under-17 team, was thrown into the deep end by Mashonaland Eagles coach Mangongo, and has responded with maturity beyond his young age.

Only this week, young Nick was asked to open the bat for Eagles at Harare Sports Club in a Logan Cup game against Southern Rocks.

Welch's opening partner, Clement Rizhibowa, lasted only three balls before departing without scoring. But that did not deter the lion-hearted Welch, who fell just 17 runs short of his maiden first century at this level of the game.

The young opener was bowled by Luke Jongwe for 83 from 136 balls having starred in a 161-run second wicket partnership with seasoned campaigner Mark Vermeulen (81).

"It was amazing getting a maiden half-ton in just my fourth innings of first-class cricket. I have been working so hard and it's quite a big achievement for me and just hope to keep on getting better," Welch, who also got a half-century on his List A debut against Matabeleland Tuskers, told the Daily News yesterday.

"I'm still learning and have been working hard on my game and wasn't too nervous facing some national team bowlers against Southern Rocks. I backed myself well having put in a lot of effort at practice and hopefully things will keep getting better and soon I will be getting many hundreds."

Mangongo, not one to hesitate to give youngsters a chance to play at the highest level, said Welch “was in a class of his own”, tipping the Harare-born prodigy to grow into a great player on the international stage.

"That was not an ordinary knock coming from a player who is not ordinary either," said Mangongo.

"I got introduced to that boy when he was 12 and what struck me most was his hunger and appetite for runs. He's so mature for his age, so well-focused and so well-supported by his old man, Ashley, to an extent that he has been the best batsman in schools cricket for the past three years.

"He reminds me of the old Graeme Hick (former Zimbabwe and England batsman). The appetite for runs and batting technique just shows that there’s no comparison between him and even the current crop of national team players, considering his age. He's unfazed coming in to face a national seamer of Tinashe Panyangara's calibre. He actually looked forward to opening the bat whereas we have senior guys in the squad who bury their faces, afraid of the the responsibility to face the new ball.”

Ashley, Welch's father, played for Jameson High School’s first team as well as provincial cricket as a boy back in the days and influenced his son's love for the game.

"It all started when he was six years and I would give him throw downs four to five days a week for 10 years both in winter and summer," said Welch Snr.

"His early days as a cricketer have been very successful; he played for the Zim Under-14s when he was only 11. Zimbabwe Cricket have recognised his talent at an early age and we are very grateful about that and particularly him getting an opportunity to play first-class cricket. Nick will be a Mash Eagles player for as long as they select him to play."

But for now, school commitments might be a hindrance to his promising first-class career.

"He missed a few days of school and this year is his ‘O’ Level year and has to make the best of his studies, so it's a major challenge that we are faced with because at the end of the day he wants to be a professional cricketer."

Nick comes from a strong sporting family. Her sister, 18-year-old Samantha Welch, is a Zimbabwean swimming sensation who once cracked two Kirsty Coventry national age-group records in a space of three weeks.

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