Brighton Zhawi
The Oval

It is now six months since a new Zimbabwe cricket star shone, but he, however, did not get the applause he deserved.
Maybe we are a country used to negativity or oftentimes we simply forget to celebrate our success.
Maybe the nation didn’t quite realise what Emmanuel Bawa had accomplished.

“Emmanuel who?” I can sense many asking.
Bawa, 16, is the first black Zimbabwean U-19 player to score a World Cup hundred.
Bawa scored an unbeaten 105 in Zimbabwe’s 95-run win over Canada in the World Cup in South Africa in January.
Together with his close buddy, Gareth Chirawu, they batted to an U-19 eight-wicket record partnership (an unbeaten 130 stand) in the Canada match.
Bawa’s ton puts him in the league of Brendan Taylor (two hundreds), Mark Vermulean and Malcolm Lake as the Zimbabwean players with U-19 World Cup hundreds.
For Zimbabwe, success at the U-19 World Cup level has been far and in-between since their debut appearance in 1998.
Tatenda Taibu was player of the tournament in the 2002 edition, the same tourney that saw Waddington Mwayenga finish as joint highest wicket-taker with Australia’s Xavier Dorherty with 16 wickets.
In 1998, Mluleki Nkala was also a joint highest wicket-taker with West Indies’ Ramnaresh Sarwan (16 wickets).
To date, Zimbabwe’s best U-19 World Cup performance is finishing 6th in the 2004 edition.

That is a story for another edition, for that was star-studded stream which should be celebrated.
In The Oval this week, Brighton Zhawi chats to Bawa, who speaks on his finest performance and his surprising biggest influence in sport.

BZ: It is six months after the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa. What is your fondest memory of that tournament…pretty obvious, I guess?
EB: Definitely the hundred I scored. For me, it symbolised all the hard work that I did. Many times people work so hard and don’t have anything to show for it, so I was very privileged to perform that day.

BZ: Do you realise what that hundred means? It is historic…
EB: For me, it meant that I was able to help my team out of a tricky situation after we lost early wickets upfront.
BZ: Well, for Zimbabwe it means you are the first black U-19 player to score a World Cup hundred
EB: Thank you very much, but I don’t look too much into that; I am just always happy to contribute to the team.

BZ: Still on that inning, your eighth-wicket partnership of 130 (unbeaten) with Gareth Chirawu is an Under-19 World Cup record. What sort of discussions were you two having while batting?
EB: Gareth and I are pretty good friends. We went to the same school, so batting together was pretty easy. We were pretty calm and talked mostly about stuff unrelated to cricket. Just making small talk on things interesting in our lives at the moment. And he kept reminding me not to think about the hundred and just keep doing what was working; not to change anything.

BZ: How was the feeling? Both of you walking off unbeaten and, more importantly, having led Zim to a good score from a dire situation?
EB: We felt more confident in ourselves because we showed we could win games for the team just like the senior players. But, most importantly, we protected the pride of the nation.

BZ: After the World Cup…what sort of cricket plans did you set for your future, or at 16 you not looking into that yet?
EB: I haven’t really looked into that because like you said, I am still young, so I am open to almost everything at the moment.

BZ: Is it because you are also good at hockey and rugby?
EB: Not really, because I want to go pro with cricket (and) not any other sport, so at the moment I have been focusing on my studies.

BZ: And how challenging has been focusing on school during this difficult period caused by Covid-19?
EB: It has been very tough, if I am being honest, because we have adapted to being our own teachers; if you don’t understand something, you can’t really ask your teachers because we are not in that classroom environment, and there is no way they can focus on one learner because it is online, so yeah. Just knowing that you are doing school from home just sets your mind off and means you need to be mentally prepared to challenge yourself and put in the work or you will get no work done.

BZ: I see you getting more muscular…have you also taken this time to work on fitness?
EB: Yes, I have taken some time in this lockdown to work on one or two aspects of my fitness and now have a daily programme for my fitness.

BZ: Who is your biggest influence in sport?
EB: My biggest sporting influence is Michael Jordan. I admire his work ethic and his win mentality, and that is one thing I would like to instill in my game.

BZ: And how was it like getting to know more about him through The Last Dance documentary?
EB: I knew about Michael Jordan before the documentary, but when I watched it, I got to know him more, and then I said to myself, ‘this guy could be my inspiration’. It also showed me that there is more to these professionals that we don’t know about.

BZ: And who is your biggest inspiration in life?
EB: In life, it has to be my father. He has inspired me to work hard; to push myself and to always give glory to God.

BZ: Prosper Utseya has described you as a player with ‘great potential’. We all know Pro is one hard person to please. What does this do to your confidence?

EB: Very true, coach Pro is one person who is a very difficult to please, but for me, knowing that coach Pro thinks I have got great potential does a lot to me because I used to watch coach Pro playing when I was young, and I have looked up to him. Hearing something like that from someone you looked up to does wonders. I have still got another two years in the system – hopefully with him – so knowing that my coach believes in me motivates me to do more and just play with lots of freedom. Having a coach who believes in you just plays a big role in your game and I can safely say it played a big role at the last World Cup.

BZ: And coach Reggie (St George’s College) sees you as ‘a great leader, respectful young man, who can play any role the team needs’. How is that?
EB: The last time I captained a side was in Grade Seven (laughs), but have been brought up in a family of leaders and very respectful people, so I feel like that is where he saw it from and I believe I would put the team first over anything.

BZ: To Milton Shumba you are a player who “can change the game from a losing position to a winning position”.
“It is rare to find a 16-year-old with such confidence, and the way he strikes the ball is at another level,” says the former Under-19 great player, who played in three World Cups…He goes to say ‘Bawa is a nice guy, he likes to play Fifa and chill around with the boys’.
EB: Very true! One of the things I learnt from experience was getting to know my teammates on a deeper level than just on the cricket field. And, yeah, just chilling with the boys was one of the special moments of the tournament.

BZ: At this stage, if franchise cricket opportunities come, are you available?
For instance, there could be the National Premier League in August; if a club wants you, are you keen?
EB: Like I said at the start, I am very open to a lot of things at the moment, so if an opportunity to play franchise comes through, I will take it with both hands, so I would be very keen on playing the National League.

BZ: Lastly, many fear Zimbabwe could lose you like what has happened to other young players before. What do you say about that?
EB: It is early to say whether I will be here or not in the future, but for now, all I can say is I am open to lots of things, and going overseas, if it comes, could be an opportunity for me.