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I don’t do drugs – Matambanadzo; Ex-prodigy opens up about life, Zim cricket

Darlington Matambanadzo, still in his Southern Rocks shirt after a Logan Cup game in Masvingo

05/12/2015 00:00:00
by Enock Muchinjo
I blame the bottle ... Darlington Matambanadzo

A LITTLE over two decades ago, Darlington Matambanadzo was being spoken of as a future all-rounder in Zimbabwe’s Test cricket team.

Back then, few would have imagined him now, aged 39, to be reduced to denying taking cheap drugs following publication of an article which he now claims has cost him a young relationship with a British woman he was dating.

“My brother’s son sent me the link after the story was published, he said ‘uncle, how can you say such stuff to a reporter?’. I told him it had not been interviewed, the reporter was introduced to me by a friend of mine. Yes, I spoke to him, but I never admitted to taking drugs. Yes, I like to have fun and I drink a lot, but I’ve never taken drugs in my entire life,” explains Matambanadzo.

“It cost me my relationship. She’s from England. We met at Alliance Francais here in Harare and we both fell for each other. That article was the final straw. The first was some few weeks ago. She lives in Tanzania, so she invited me there.

“I bought my bus ticket and I was actually on my way to Roadport to board the bus when some guys I was trying to facilitate a deal for called me and said they wanted me to be with them for the next two days.

“So I said to myself I can’t walk out on money. I told her what had happened and promised to fly to Tanzania if the deal came through. She wasn’t happy. But 10 days after we’d made up, this article came out.

“It was a blow. I actually sent her the link because I didn’t want her to see it first from other sources. I tried to explain to her that I’m not into that kind of stuff, but she did not believe it.”

These days, Matambanadzo’s daily hangout is National Arts Gallery on Julius Nyerere Way, where he idles away time in the midst of high unemployment in the country.

Comfortable childhood

Darlington Matambanadzo, standing extreme left, in his Grade 2 class picture at
Sharon School in 1983. Twin brother Everton is standing sixth from right.



Matambanadzo certainly had the talent to be a genuine all-rounder at international level, and it helped that he had been introduced to cricket at a very young age, thanks to a pleasant and comfortable suburban childhood.

In the same bracket of young black players of that generation to have received rudimentary training afforded by such privileged family backgrounds were his twin brother Everton Matambanadzo – whose short-lived international career for Zimbabwe lasted just three Tests and nine ODIs between 1996 and 1998 – then such players as Henry Olonga, Brighton Watambwa, Trevor Madondo, Mluleki Nkala and Bernard Pswarayi.

Growing up, Darlington was always seen as the “older twin”, the one people looked up to. From the very beginning he seemed destined to be a leader.

At Eaglesvale High School in Harare, Matambanadzo immersed himself into the life of the school – being appointed the school’s first black headboy in 1993 – in addition to being flyhalf for the first XV rugby team and a member of the culture club.

As a young adult, Darlington’s natural charm and personality made him special both on and off the field of play, and for a university drop-out, he was still intelligent enough, open-minded and had little difficulty in quietly articulating his convictions.

Incredibly, Matambanadzo has become a pale shadow of the promising young cricketer he was in his prime.

Quite clearly, however, the easy natural manner that endeared him to all is still unmistakable to this day; the reason why he is not shy, in a period of great difficulty in his life, to be seen among the low end of society seemingly wandering aimlessly around the congested streets of central Harare – worlds apart from the quiet suburban environment he was raised.

Blaming the bottle

Darlington with former teammate and current national team selector David
Mutendera (holding Darlington's sone Bruno and a friend from the US in 2005


He admits his own part for the turn his life has taken, and is quick to lay blame on the bottle.

“Everton was a lot more ambitious than I was. That’s why he played for Zimbabwe. He understood the things of this world better than I do,” he says.

The twins are related to broadcaster Tich Mataz (real name Tichafa Matambanadzo), and they are also cousins of Ozias Bvute, the former Zimbabwe Cricket managing director.

Darlington credits his brother for introducing Bvute to the game.

“At that time, in the 90s cricket was opening up to integration, and young black players like me were being asked to introduce good black people who could fit into the system in management roles.

“I preferred our other cousin, Tendai Matambanadzo, who was a banker. But Everton and Ozias were very close. I have my issues. Ozias doesn’t drink. He’s contemptuous towards people who drink. We had no common ground. Ozias is different, say, from a guy like (Tatenda) Taibu. Taibu also doesn’t drink, but Taibu and me could sit for hours and talk cricket.”

Matambanadzo is however quick to shrug off the tag of being a better cricketer than his brother, a label bestowed on him by those who were part of the twins’ cricket upbringing.

“Oh, no, no no,” he retorts. “Everton? No. You know what he was … Everton was quick; not far from Henry Olonga. Henry was quick. Everton, on his day, he might have bowled quicker than Henry.

“At my best I was a little … I might have bowled quicker than Gary Brent or Mpumelelo Mbangwa. That kind of pace. Henry and Everton ndovanga vane vhiri (were the genuine quick bowlers).

“I cannot put myself in the category of Olonga, Matambanadzo, Blignaut, Friend or Watambwa. Ndanga ndisingakwani (I didn’t fit in).”

Blignaut praise

Darlington coaching cricket at international school in Blantyre, Malawi, in 2007


Matambanadzo’s own reference of Andy Blignaut excites him. He singles out the former Test bowler as the best Zimbabwean cricketer he played with, and then Craig Wishart as only next to Dave Houghton in terms of batting talents, even putting him ahead of the great Andy Flower.

“To me Blignaut was the real talent,” he says.

“We played together from school. In terms of ability and sheer talent, Blignaut is number one. Chamu (Chibhabha) is to me number two, and Hamilton (Masakadza) number three.

“Hamilton … he’s a good cricketer. Unfortunately, he never became the player we thought he would become. I think he is trying to do too many things now. He plays too many shots. It’s like he’s learning cricket again. He’s not like the 17-year-old schoolboy who scored a century on his Test debut.

“Chamu … He can bowl real quick, and he can hold a bat. He’s the closest we have to Jacques Kallis. Oh yes, he’s a very capable all-rounder. Believe me. People don’t listen to me because ndiri chidhakwa (I’m a drunk). Yes, I like to have a good time because I think my life’s gonna be short. But that’s my perspective.”

And Wishart? Close to Houghton and better than Flower?

“Yes, to me he was the heir apparent to Dave Houghton,” declares Matambanadzo.

“You could ball short to Wishie, outside off stump, full, good length…doesn’t matter, you’d disappear. When Wishie was on top of his game there was nothing you could do.”

Following his brother’s premature retirement from international cricket in 1999, Darlington was unable to keep the family legacy going.

Having showed bags of promise in his short international career, Everton quit cricket and migrated to the United States, where he has lived since.

“Internally he managed alcohol better,” says Darlington of his twin. “But he had a really nasty injury. He was taking a catch and he crushed into an advertising board and his shoulder popped out.

“After that he lost his pace. He said ‘I can’t be Gary Brent’. He just stopped playing cricket and walked away.”

Good education

As kids, the brothers were sent to Sharon School, a Jewish primary school in Harare. Cricket wasn’t a big sporting code at the school, but the wealthy Zimbabwean Jewish community made sure pupils received a good all-rounded education.

“It wasn’t a serious cricketing school, but (current Zimbabwe Under-16 coach) Ian Tinker was our coach. We used to play third sides of schools like Lilfordia. We never played your Digglefords, your Ruzawis and your Hartmann Houses. We played the likes of Selbourne Routledge and Blackstone. But people started taking us a bit more seriously when we beat a Lilfordia team which had Donald Campbell, Alistair’s brother,” he says.

“I remember we needed one run to win with one wicket in hand. Donald was keeping wicket. Our number 11 batsman Rob Appel takes a swing, misses it and goes for four byes.

“So yah, junior school was fun. I was happy as a kid. Money wasn’t a problem at home. We lived in Canaan, Highfield, when we were little kids. But we soon moved to Avondale in 1979.

“So with that background, going to a school like Sharon wasn’t an amazing thing. It’s funny … I’m still in contact with more friends from Sharon than friends from Eaglesvale.

“At Sharon we focused on the New Testament; religious stuff. The school motto was ‘let there be light’. I remember one song which taught us about the Jewish perspective of God. It basically went like ‘who knows one’, meaning God who rules over Heaven and earth.

“I can’t speak Hebrew anymore, but in essence, we had Hebrew class every day. We learnt about God from the Jewish perspective. In Jewish there is no Heaven or hell…just a place of joy.”

Though good sportsmen, good grades were non-negotiable in the family, and the boys were no slouch at school either. Later on, Darlington would enroll for an economics degree at the University of Zimbabwe, which he never completed.

“What happened was me, Everton and our young brother Prince grew up playing sports in the garden at home. But for me to play sport I needed to get good grades. My dad was that guy. If you got good grades you were left alone to go and explore. It was strict in one sense.”

Black revolution

Interest in cricket grew in senior school at Eaglesvale, where Matambanadzo credits junior coach Lawrence Scott for his early development.

“He told me, ‘I don’t care how you bat or bowl’. His coaching philosophy was very simple. Just bowl as quick as you can and play straight. Hit the ball hard. If you go out cutting, make sure you cut hard,” he says.

Matambanadzo’s club and first-class career coincided with an upsurge in mass black cricket participation in the country, and Bionics, the pioneering black club known as Takashinga today, was at the fore of some sort of revolution.

Some of the players at Bionics included former Zimbabwe coaches Stephen Mangongo and Walter Chawaguta, and Matambanadzo remembers highly-charged contests between them and the established white clubs.

“When I played for Old Hararians, Everton and myself were the only two black guys. In whatever team we played for it was just us. Trevor (Madondo) would be the one black kid in the teams he played for. Whenever we played Bionics there wasn’t a shortage of incidents,” he recalls.

“I thought that was weird. Nganga ndisingazvinzwisise (I didn’t understand that). I was closer to a white boy to a sense. Handina kukura ne boys (I didn’t grow up with black kids).

“In cricket there is a level of aggression that is acceptable. I was raised up to be aggressive, but not too vocal. In a lot of senses vanhu we Bionics vainzi vanotaurisa (the Bionics people were said to be a problem).

“But what they were doing was taking on the status quo. I was a black man within the status quo. It was a very difficult position in my whole life.”

Matambanadzo made his first-class debut for Mashonaland in 1993-94 as a schoolboy, and while he never went on to play international cricket as a lot of people had predicted, he has long resigned himself to his fate without a hint of anger or self-pity.

“My first first-class wicket was Mark Dekker. He was caught by Bernard Pswarayi at midwicket. I don’t know if I had the talent. But I was told that I had the talent,” he says.

Lack of mentorship

“Playing for Zimbabwe would have been nice. But I didn’t do enough when I played first-class cricket to show that I would survive in that environment. I couldn’t sleep before a game. I ended up drinking and got a reputation of being a drunk. In a sense I probably was.

“I won’t say it was the alcohol which was my downfall. I think alcohol was a symptom. I didn’t have mentorship to deal with demands of international cricket. What happened is people saw the alcohol and said ibenzi (he’s a fool).

“There were a lot of us who had alcohol problems. We didn’t have people to say ‘it’s okay if you have an alcohol problem…just do this and that and you will be okay.’ In life there are a lot of might-have-beens. If I knew, I would have scored more runs, took more wickets. I regret in a sense. But that’s it, I made choices.”

A few years back Matambanadzo got a job with ZC in the cricket operations department, and he has also tried a hand at television commentary during international matches.

His present job despair doesn’t make him lose hope. He is firm in his belief that there is a better life hereafter, and is in the process of setting up a “trade and finance” business project.

“What I cannot do is something illegal,” he says. “Here in town, this is where I try to make money. If I get $10 I get by. I once read a story about King David who used to have nothing to eat.

“I used to work for ZC, but that wasn’t me. One day I just said I can’t do this and I left. I didn’t come back to work the next day. I Ieft my jacket there, I think it’s still somewhere at ZC.

“I’ve never worked for money in my life. No one at ZC knows what I eat right now.  A thousand dollars or two is not money where I come from. I’ve coached really beautiful children for free. I slept and ate in a beautiful house as a kid. I’ve got a level of making money that’s gonna shock people.”

Matambanadzo has two kids with his ex-German partner who left him few years back and moved back home to Europe. They stayed together for three years in Malawi where she was a drama teacher at an international school, and he coached sport.

“I met this woman in Victoria Falls, she was really cool. I can’t say we dated,” Matambanadzo says.

“We knew each other for six weeks. She became my girlfriend. We went to Germany, then lived in Botswana and Malawi, came back home to live in Zim, then went to Barcelona.

“She’s now in Germany, looking after our children. My kids mean the world to me. But I don’t think they will play cricket like their dad.”

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