Ex-gardener now grows cricket saplings

DURBAN - Amos Maungwa knows all about determination. He has gone from growing up below the breadline in Zimbabwe to playing first-class cricket, from working as a gardener in South Africa to coaching cricket at one of Durban’s top schools – and running a thriving cricket academy of his own.

I visit him on a Sunday morning at Durban High School (DHS), where a coaching session is in progress at his academy.

On a small field, a dozen boys – some as young as six – are playing a practice match under the watchful eye of one of his coaches. They are clad in snazzy blue and gold uniforms, and are fully kitted in helmets, pads and the cricketing works.

It’s a far cry from Maungwa’s own cricketing beginnings that started on the streets back home.

Born in rural Masvingo in 1978, Maungwa grew up in a rough economic climate. “Those were very low times … We could not afford three meals a day,” he recalls. But, determined to become the cricketer he wanted to be, he spent hours practising on the streets, sometimes bowling 10 overs at a time at the side of the road.

As a teenager who – unlike some of his friends – was not fortunate enough to secure a scholarship to a cricketing school, Maungwa opted for club cricket and played for the distinguished Old Hararians Sports Club.

There, he was guided by old hands like Dave Houghton, a former Zimbabwean captain, and Trevor Penny, who once worked as a fielding coach for India and Sri Lanka. “These are two of the guys I really learned a lot from,” he says.

At 16 he joined a township club and began coaching other youngsters while progressing as a cricketer – playing first-class cricket for Mashonaland and featuring in games for the Zimbabwe A side.

But coaching was always something close to Maungwa’s heart and he spent a few years coaching at a high school, where his charges included future Zimbabwean cricketers Hamilton Masakadza, Regis Chakabva and Elton Chigumbura.

In 2004 Maungwa was part of a squad selected to play a Test series against Australia. As fate would have it, the series was cancelled. In the years that followed, cricket administration in the country was marred by political interference, which led to the cancellation of several players’ contracts, including that of Maungwa.

Disillusioned, he made his way to South Africa in 2006 and began working as a gardener for a white family in Durban. “A friend said: ‘I know nothing about cricket, but I can talk to the boss and he can give you somewhere to stay and you can help out,’” he recalls.

“I knew nobody here. I worked in the garden, I got three meals a day, I got bread and R50 a day and it was enough. When I had left Zimbabwe things were terrible: I had a sponsored car, a salary – all that was taken away from me. So cricket was the last thing on my mind here.”

But that changed one day, when he was watching a televised rugby game with his employer. Maungwa relates the story with a smile: “I pointed out two guys who were playing and told him that, when I was a boarder master at Churchill school [in Harare], those two were there too.

“He was shocked; he was thinking: ‘What is my garden boy talking about?’ I had to explain I was coaching cricket there. He asked me whether I knew how to play cricket. I replied: ‘Yeah, I even played first class.’ He asked: ‘So what are you doing here?’ I responded: ‘What am I supposed to do?’”

His employer took him to the Kwazulu-Natal Cricket Union, where he managed to secure a part-time umpiring stint.

For Maungwa it was another opportunity to coach: “Some of the guys would talk to me as if I didn’t know anything about cricket but they soon realised who I was, and I would help them with their bowling and batting technique. I did my fair share of coaching while umpiring and some of the players would ask me to point out what they were doing wrong.”

In 2007 Maungwa began coaching “the teams nobody wanted to coach” at DHS, and juggled that with umpiring and his job as a gardener as well as another night job, making medals for sports events.

Before long, his dedication was recognised by the principal of DHS, who offered him a full-time job – driving a bus and coaching cricket – as well as a room at the school’s boarding facility.

But these days there are no bus-driving duties. The 36-year-old coaches one of the better sides at the school, and privately runs the Durban Cricket Academy, for which he has single-handedly come up with a logo and website, teaching himself graphic design during his free time.

Maungwa also identifies young cricketing talent in Zimbabwe and secures bursaries for them at some of Durban’s top cricketing schools, while helping them to hone their cricketing skills at his academy.

He stresses that it is the “average kid” he’s most passionate about: “I believe it’s possible to work with kids and make them successful players. I didn’t have natural talent as a kid – I was the average guy, but I managed to become a coach.”

On his Facebook page, he writes: “I think we judge talent wrong … by people’s ability to strike a cricket ball … that’s the only thing we see as talent … things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament, these are also talent.” - MG

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