TEARS trickled down his cheeks as an ambulance rushed him to a hospital in Dubai. Half an hour earlier he had been hit by a cricket ball on the forehead as he attempted to stop a rising straight drive off his own bowling, in a World T20 warm up match against Sharjah FC last month.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
In November 2014, Australian batsman Phillip Hughes died after being hit by a ball and the thought of that incident must have been terrifying for young Luke Jongwe.
The young Zimbabwean all-rounder was primed to lead the bowling attack at the global T20 cricket competition in India and hoisting the country’s flag was exactly what his childhood dreams were.
Agonisingly for the rising cricketer, the incident occurred barely a week before the World T20 championships began, and so he cried some more.
Surely, his contribution to Zimbabwe’s cause in India was all but over and there were also fears that his cricket career could have reached a dead end.
“I cried on my way to the hospital because I was afraid this could be the end of my cricket career. And also because I really wanted to be part of the team and help my country qualify for the Super 10 stage. It was something that had kept me motivated ever since I bounced back into the national team last year,” Jongwe reflected on the career-threatening head injury.
Recounting the incident, the right arm medium fast bowler and right-handed batsman said: “Funny enough, the previous over I had taken a wicket and was full of confidence. I bowled a good length and all I remember is the ball coming off the bat and straight at me. I think I was late to block the ball and it hit me and went for one bounce four as I clutched my head and fell to the ground.
“To my relief, the X-ray showed that I was okay, save for a small dot on the MR scan which they assumed was a blood clot. I spent two days in hospital and the neurosurgeon advised that I take a four-week break which meant I had to come home despite the fact that I felt okay and that I could play,” he said.
Sadly for Zimbabwe, the number of injuries rose to three, with Greame Cremer and Neville Madziva accompaning Jongwe home.
The good news is Jongwe was cleared to come back into the game last week and is already working hard to get to his best again.
Born on February 1995 in Harare, Jongwe has already been capped 22 times in One Day Internationals (ODIs) as well as eight times in T20s, boasting of 25 and seven victims in the respective versions of the game.
Having made a name in junior teams more as a batsman than a bowler, the starlet is yet to come to the party with the bat in national colours.
His story sounds like a page ripped from a fairy-tale volume. First of all, a stranger discovered him as he was playing street cricket in the dusty streets of Glen View in Harare, then his parents emphatically opposed the idea of their son playing cricket instead of concentrating on school work.
But such was the young man’s belief in his own ability that he wrote on his bedroom wall at 16 that he would play for the national team before he was 20 and the dream came to fruition.
Reginald Mutare, a cricket coach who discovered the talent in Jongwe some 11 years ago, shared the young man’s story with this publication.
“The first time I saw him, I was home and he was playing street cricket with other boys in the street where I lived. Immediately something about him told me this boy was immensely talented and I told him of the potential I saw in him to go places with the sport,” Mutare said.
“He may not have understood what I said but I made sure he started coming for practice and also, he began playing at tournaments. At first he would come for practice barefooted and still get pad up, get into the net and hit the ball clean. Before long he was picked to captain the Mashonaland Under-11 team for the Makro inter-provincial cricket week that was to be played at Prince Edward.
“I remember his parents, who did not want him to play cricket, refusing to sign the indemnity forms and I had to sneak him to the tournament the whole week. After that event, everybody was talking about Jongwe,” the St Georges College cricket coach said with near-excitement.
According to Mutare, his parents only changed their minds after Jongwe was selected to travel to Namibia with the Zimbabwe Under-14 team.
Jongwe’s version of the story tallies with that of his coach.
“Coach Regy saw me playing street cricket and he asked me to come to practice. That time I was learning at Glenview 1 Primary School and he was coaching at Budiriro 2 so I would attend his sessions. The headmaster at my school was not happy when he heard about it and he eventually invited coach Regy to come at Glenview 1,” Jongwe said.
Jongwe still vividly remembers the 150 runs he scored on the last day of the Makro Week where he was eventually awarded a scholarship to go to Prince Edward — an offer his parents declined.
While cricket became the centre of his life as a young lad, big things began to unlock for him when he went for secondary school at Churchill High School. First, he made the Zimbabwe Under-14 team to tour Namibia in 2009 and at 16, he made the 2012 Zimbabwe Under-19 World Cup team hosted by Australia. This was the time he wrote on his bedroom wall that he was going to play for the national team before he turned 20.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy when I posted on Facebook that I was going to play for the national team at 19. I even wrote it on the wall in my bedroom in Glenview where I used to stay with my parents. I was more of a believer; I felt things would happen for me and even my coach used to tell me that I had no idea how talented I was and it encouraged me,” the Matabeleland Tuskers player said.
After a highly-disappointing Australia expedition, Jongwe would return to the Under-19 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2014 — the one he refers to as his best.
“It was the best because I was in the form of my life. I remember we beat Australia in the warm up match, beat Canada and lost to West Indies. My favourite memory is the game against South Africa where I scored a half century and hit Kakgiso Rabada for four sixes, although he finally got me out and we lost the match,” said Jongwe
He continued, “After that I said to myself, if I can do this at this stage, then I can also do it with the big guys at the international stage and before long I was called into the national team. It was the best feeling ever to think that what I have always worked for I was now living it and I thank God for that.”
And his personal coach Mutare, more than anybody is a proud man for discovering such a gem.
“I feel good and blessed that I can produce good players for my country and for the world and I’m very proud of him. He has always been a man of faith and when he was 16 going to the Under-19 World Cup, he promised me a jersey. He also said ‘don’t worry coach, I am going to play for Zimbabwe and there will be a lot of jerseys’ and here he is now,” the 31-year-old coach said.
Jongwe made his ODI debut on August 17 2014 against South Africa in Bulawayo after former coach Stephen Mangongo gave him a chance in a three-match series.
He was then overlooked for a while before making a comeback when Zimbabwe toured Pakistan last year, but he was the non-travelling reserve. He joined the team for consecutive home series against India, New Zealand and Pakistan.
By the time Ireland and Afghanistan visited in October, he had already asserted himself as the next big bowler in Zimbabwe cricket.
In January this year he recorded his best ODI bowling figures when he took five wickets for just six runs against Afghanistan in Dubai as the team prepared for the World T20, which he would then miss through injury.
“I am over the World T20 disappointment now. Some people actually said I have bad luck but when I was playing, I never heard the same people saying I have good luck so I just understood everything happens for a reason.
“All I want to do now is to be an important player for Zimbabwe in all three formats of the game. With Makhaya Ntini now the bowling coach, you can expect to see a much quicker Jongwe with the ball because he has been talking a lot about my potential to bowl really quick.
“You can look forward to watching me play in the Indian Premier League and going around the world to play cricket. I want to be the number one all-rounder in the world. I want to be the best and I will be the best,” the 21-year-old all-rounder said.
Jongwe said former Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura has always been his role model.
“Elton is my role model ever since I was a kid. He gave me a bat when I was much younger and for me, he is one of the best all-rounders ever produced in Zimbabwe,” said Jongwe.
The second born in a family of two behind elder sister Gaudencia, Jongwe paid tribute to his parents, especially his mom — whom he says makes him feel like a champion even when the chips are down.
He also made special mention of the man who discovered him, Mutare as well as former Zimbabwe Under-19 coach Walter Chawaguta and his girlfriend Fadzai Chimbera.