MOST Zimbabwean cricket lovers were surprised when pace bowler Blessing Mahwire decided to quit the sport in 2011.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Still only 29 years of age then, many felt the outspoken former quick bowler and a handy lower-order batsman still had a lot to offer to the game which has recently been on a steady decline despite some promising performances on the field.
Recounting the circumstances that surrounded his early retirement, Mahwire, now 31 years of age and a student coach at the University of Western Cape (UWC) says it was the most difficult decision he made in his life.
“It wasn’t easy because as a cricketer, you mature round about that time. I decided to look for other options so everyday I felt pain that I was letting my country and my mates back home down. I wish one day to represent Zimbabwe for the last time before officially retiring from the game, but we will have to see,” he said.
Mahwire claims current Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) chairman Peter Chingoka and his former managing director Ozias Bvute were responsible for the abrupt end of his international career because of his association with their rival former selection convener Maqsood Ebrahim.
“Bvute and Chingoka didn’t want me to play international games because I played for Universals where Maqsood Ebrahim was the chairman. Bvute even told me at Harare Country Club that if my name would appear on the team list, they would send it back to the selectors to have me removed.
“So, for a while, I had been considering to leave, I just didn’t have a plan B. Eventually, when I left I was bitter for a long time. I used to follow international games, but would not follow the squabbles happening at ZC,” says Mahwire.
It’s easy to understand Mahwire’s frustrations as he could still have been an integral part of the national cricket team setup.
At 31 years, this is the age when most international cricketers are at the peak of their careers and one doesn’t have to look no further than the spell-binding displays by the Australian duo of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris during the recently concluded Ashes series.
The pair, who are aged 32 and 34 respectively, were impressive finishing the five-match Test series with a combined haul of 59 wickets. Mahwire could have been doing the same for Zimbabwe right now. However, like what has become the norm for Zimbabwe cricketers, Mahwire has long been forgotten in local cricket circles, just like Mpumelelo Mbangwa and Tatenda Taibu.
Mahwire decided to call it quits after losing patience with local cricket authorities over payment issues.
“Prior to the 2011/2012 domestic season, the situation at my house was bad even though it was the first time we had been given season-long contracts.
“I had played a good number of games so the match fees were supposed to carry me through to the next season, but they never came. I decided that enough was enough and I needed to do something different as my life was going one step forward and three back,” Mahwire said in an interview with NewsDay Sport this week.
“I remember back in the days, ZC used to pay us all our match fees on time. We got cars and fuel, but suddenly all that had vanished so I had to look for alternatives so that I could look after my family,” he says.
After calling time on his international cricket career, Mahwire briefly played club cricket for Durbanville Cricket Club in South Africa before earning a scholarship at the UWC.
“I’m studying BCom in Accounting at the University of the Western Cape under a scholarship programme called Sports Skills for Life Skills which is headed by a great man called Nickolas Kock and going into my final year now. I am actually a fulltime student at UWC and Nick, understanding that I am a family man, offered me a part-time coaching job,” he said.
Three years after Mahwire’s departure from local cricket, Zimbabwean cricket continues to lose cricketers to early retirement as the local game’s financial crisis continues to take a toll on the players.
Players such as Kyle Jarvis, Charles Coventry, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Greg Lamb, Craig Ervine and Graeme Cremer have either been forced out of the game altogether or have taken their talents elsewhere due to poor remuneration and working conditions.
Mahwire said Zimbabwe had the potential to compete against the best cricketing nations, but was failing to achieve this because of poor administration.
“I believe we have the talent to make cricket big again in Zimbabwe, but we just need to sort out the quagmire that’s going on at administration level. I believe most of these players have the country at heart, but you have to eat, feed your family and live a decent life.
“At the end of the day, athletes, scholars, entertainers, name it, they need to get paid. If one is not getting paid, they look for something that will generate income hence they leave the game at an early age.”
Mahwire, who was very vocal against the Chingoka-led board during his playing days as the chairman of the now defunct Zimbabwe Professional Cricketers’ Association, congratulated current national team players for forming a union to represent their interests.
He, however, had a word of advice to the players who make up the body.
“I want to congratulate the guys for forming a union that represents their interests. Players need to have a representative body, but I believe the spokesman does not have to be a player.
“ZC will single out that player out just like they did to me and they will take him down. If it’s a group of players they have to back each other unlike what the players did back then. They stabbed me in the back and I suffered alone.”
Mahwire said he had plans to one day return to Zimbabwe and contribute to the development of the game after completing his studies.
“I hope to return to Zimbabwe one day and contribute with both my cricket experiences and also intellectually. Once I graduate, I want to set up a scholarship foundation for young aspiring cricketers to study straight from school and not find themselves in a situation I was — to study late,” he said.
Widely regarded as the first national player to come from Masvingo, the Bikita-born Mahwire played 10 Test matches and 23 One Day Internationals.
He made his international debut against Pakistan in Harare in November 2002, but initially struggled to make an impact.
However, a year later, he was recalled for the 2003-04 tour of Australia and made the second Test at Sydney where he impressed with his whole-hearted attitude and stayed in the side for the home West Indies series in November 2003.
With assistance from late national team coach Kevin Curran, he remodeled his action, becoming more side-on, and returned to the side against India and New Zealand in 2005, impressing with both bat and ball.