Is it Manatsa's turn to shine?

HARARE - Following off-spinner John Nyumbu’s outstanding debut against the world’s best Test side, Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo has dropped his biggest hint that he’s also ready to cap one of the country’s most exciting fast bowling prospects – Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa, soon.

Standing 6ft tall and blessed with impressive agility for a man of his size, 24-year-old Manatsa captivated with his raw pace and steep bounce for Northerns (now Mashonaland Eagles) in 2009, but it was not until the 2012-13 season when he formed a formidable partnership with ex-Zimbabwe pace spearhead and personal training partner Kyle Jarvis for Mashonaland Eagles that he started to catch the eye.

Manatsa’s performance that season had the franchise’s late coach Kevin Curran – who enticed him into sticking with cricket instead of taking up an athletics scholarship in the United States – into declaring the right-arm bowler ready for international cricket “in the next year.”

Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt had just captivated worldwide audiences at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the youngster from Harare was confident he could hone his skills in America and possibly compete with the Bolts and Blakes one day.

“I discovered him at St George’s College, I think back then he had an athletics scholarship to go to the US,” Curran told the Daily News in January 2012, 10 months before he collapsed and died while jogging in Mutare.

“I said he has a lot of potential in cricket. He’s very quick, very tall. He’s a good athlete. I said he should pursue cricket. I will go as far as saying he will make the Zimbabwe team in the next year.

“He’s got the pace, he’s got bounce. We are just working on a few technical things. But there is no way he can’t play for Zimbabwe. He got nine wickets in his first franchise game against Rhinos, getting out good players like (Gary) Ballance. He’s done a good job. He’s future is bright. He’s got good attitude, good work ethics. He’s willing to work. I’ve seen him come in leaps and bounce. I see him opening the bowling for Zimbabwe shortly.”

But Manatsa suffered a major career setback after picking up a stress fracture and was side-lined for most of last season.

Fully recovered and with a string of impressive performances under his belt now at first-class level, Manatsa is now fighting for his place in the ODI team and is part of a 26-man training squad picked by the Zimbabwe selectors ahead of the tours by South Africa and Australia.

Mangongo, who has also coached him at franchise level, also had nothing but praise for the Harare-born speedster.

“Well, Tatenda is one of the most exiting prospects in Zimbabwe cricket. He is gifted,” Mangongo told the Daily News yesterday.

“He is a natural athlete. He is 6ft something, ideal for a fast bowler. He has been a natural athlete since high school, he played first team rugby, he was a sprinter and a 400m hurdler. We are trying to combine his natural athleticism and his cricket skills. He is one of the boys who have the right attitude. When you have skills like that it’s only a matter of time before you get recognised.”

Mangongo, appointed Zimbabwe’s head coach before the series, also insisted new players will be given a fair crack of the whip under his regime.

“Well, this is a new dispensation,” he said. “We are looking at each and every player and his performance. Look at John Nyumbu (who picked give wickets on Test debut). We felt it was the right time to give him the opportunity. Selectors often get criticised when they make the wrong decisions. When they make the right call people say nothing. I think we must give kudos to selectors for picking him and give him the nod at this level, against quality opposition. We had guys like (the capped leg-spinner) Natsai (M’Shangwe) waiting in the wings, but the selectors had the guts to throw in a raw guy. John has been consistent over the years and last season was the leading wicket taker in domestic cricket. As such he deserves the opportunity.

“I have lived up to my word. My first chat with the media was that I would look to expose more people. That’s why we picked a squad of 26 people.”

Mangongo disclosed that the decision to pick an expanded squad was a direct reaction to Zimbabwe’s poor showing against associate side Afghanistan. The touring Asian minnows managed to draw a four-match ODI series 2-2 before also holding a Zimbabwe ‘A’ side to a one all draw in a four-day match series.  

‘We were at our lowest ebb, losing to Afghanistan was the last kicks of a dying horse,” said Mangongo. “We had to look far and wide. We are still looking for guys who can impress. We will look at a particular skill and particular role a player can bring to the team.”

Manatsa was not picked for the ODI series against South Africa, but is still in the running for a place in the tri-nation series involving Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia.

The ODI series against South Africa will be played at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, with the opener coming up on Sunday.

The two neighbours will then be joined by former 50-over world champions Australia for the tri-series beginning at the end of the month.

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