“Oi Mennell,” said a deep, confident voice. I turned, and standing near the unassuming Mutare Sports Club bar was the short, rotund, smiling figure of an old schoolboy acquaintance, Tino Mawoyo.
“Long time man, good to see you,” he said affably as handshakes and backslapping ensued. Little was I, or anyone else for that matter, to know that six months after our chance meeting the profile of this same Tino Mawoyo would be raised considerably because of a near 11-hour stint at the crease for Zimbabwe in their Test match against Pakistan at Bulawayo.
In fact, when we met in Mutare, just donning white flannels for his country was something of a dream for him, let alone having two Test caps to his name with a high score of 163 not out and an – albeit unlikely to be sustainable – average of 84.33.
Just as Zimbabwe Cricket had made a big push to return to Test cricket in some style following five years in obscurity, Mawoyo had been trying hard to make his mark in the country’s new, and improved, first-class domestic structure. His natural style of play is one that lends itself well to the longest format of the game and, as we chatted, he did concede that earning Test recognition was a looming opportunity. He said he felt he needed to act upon that chance.
“I have been putting a lot of time into my aerobic training recently having let things slide with my weight and fitness a while back,” Mawoyo told me. “It’s been really tough and sometimes I wonder if all this hard work will ever reach fruition and be worth it.
“I have also become disenchanted at times with the way things are run in our cricket. Yes, it all looks rosy from the outside with the recently-franchised provincial teams attracting big names, but the reality is there is no money.
“I am still owed cash from last year. As for bonuses, well you can forget about them. Hit a century, take a five-for, it doesn’t matter in terms of getting any monetary reward.”
Mawoyo stared out across his home ground of the Manicaland Mountaineers Cricket Club (MMCC). “I am considering putting some feelers out in the English county circuit. Not that I really want to move from here,” he said, gesturing to the playing fields on which I too had once enjoyed endless hours of cricket and other sports.
Not only did the Mutare Sports Club stir emotions in me, however, but it was clear from our reminiscences of a shared past that Mawoyo’s own affiliations to the region remained strong. Breaking those attachments would be difficult for him.
“I guess what I would really like is another chance to play for the national side,” added Mawoyo. “I messed up my chance five years ago in the two ODIs I played for Zim against Bangladesh and I have never been given another chance since. I have been named in the provisional 20-man squad for the World Cup, but only 15 players can go so we will just have to wait and see.”
His opportunity seemed to have duly arrived six weeks later, Sean Ervine pulling out of the World Cup. But then came a cruel twist of fate, when an abdominal tear suffered during training wrecked Mawoyo’s World Cup ambitions even before the tournament had begun.
Happily, though, Mawoyo’s international career has now been resurrected, at last, and in glorious fashion. That innings against Pakistan ensured there would be no embarrassment for Zimbabwe against much stronger opposition following their magnificent victory on Test comeback against Bangladesh – a match in which my old friend Tino also made a decent contribution.
“Water the pitch, and then roll it,” Mawoyo suddenly barked at the diminutive and shabbily-attired Mutare Sports Club groundsman standing idly nearby. “And then do it again and again, we need to get this pitch in good shape.” The groundsman slunk off, to do Mawoyo’s bidding under the searing African sun.