NEWLY-APPOINTED Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo has admitted the national cricket team has slumped to its lowest ebb in the international game following recent defeats to touring associate side Afghanistan, but is confident of turning the team’s fortunes around.
Mangongo, who was last week finally elevated to the top job in local cricket, will take charge of the side during the tough home tour against South Africa and Australia which starts next week with the lone Test against the world’s number one Test cricket team, the Proteas.
He, however, takes charge of a team that has struggled for form in recent matches after ending last year on a positive note with a famous Test win over Pakistan.
The national side has endured a difficult year so far, failing to progress to the next stage of the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 competition in March at the expense of Ireland before recently losing two one-day internationals and a four-day match to Afghanistan.
In an interview with NewsDay Sport yesterday, Mangongo said recent losses to associate sides had left the national side at an all-time low, but the upcoming series provided them with an opportunity to redeem themselves.
“To be honest, it’s a massive job at hand because we are rock-bottom and the first thing is to admit it. If you get into denial and bury your head in the sand, you’re not going to move forward and that’s the first thing we have acknowledged,” Mangongo said.
“When you start losing to associate nations on a regular basis, it shows how low you have fallen and the challenge does not come any easier when you then have to play against the number one team in the world.
“We have a tough task ahead of us, but I believe that we can turn this around. I always thrive on such challenges and I want to assure the nation that we are working hard to make sure that come South Africa in a week’s time we will be able to make the journey of a thousand miles by taking the first step.
“It (the upcoming tour of South Africa and Australia) is a perfect opportunity to get out there and show the world that cricket is alive in Zimbabwe and we’ve got decent players,” he said.
Mangongo, a long-serving development coach credited with nurturing some of the nation’s finest players at Takashinga Cricket Club, also expressed his delight at being elevated from assistant coach to the substantive head coach.
The Highfield-bred coach, who had previously served as assistant to two former coaches, said his appointment was a fruition of a long-term goal he had set for himself from his humble beginnings as a development coach.
“Coaching your national team is the ultimate and it has always been my goal. I had set might sights on it over the past 10-15 years when I was coming through the coaching ranks from U-14s, U-19s, Zimbabwe A and franchise coach.
“When I was finally appointed national team coach, I felt humbled and honoured. We’ve got a very good cricketing community here in Zimbabwe in terms of the fans and various stakeholders that all love the game and it is now my and the players’ duty to ensure that we’ve a product that will make people proud,” he said.
Born in Murehwa in 1970, Mangongo was the fourth born in a family of five. However, it was after his family moved to Highfield that he first learned about the game of cricket from his elder brother Gibson.
He did his primary education at Nyandoro Primary School before moving to Glen View and later Prince Edward School after becoming the first black recipient of a Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) scholarship.
Mangongo played for Prince Edward School’s first team for three years during his high school days before graduating to play club cricket for Old Hararians briefly and later Bionics Cricket Club and Takashinga which he formed together with ZC selection convener Givemore Makoni in 1990.
He also played provincial cricket for Mashonaland B, the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union President’s XI and the Zimbabwe Under-23 side which was the first official Zimbabwe team to tour South Africa after apartheid.