Athuman Kakonzi (L) bowls against Italy in the 2008 ICC World Cricket League Division Four third-place playoff at the Dar es Salaam University ground. Italy beat Tanzania by 70 runs. FILE PHOTO
THE national cricket team leaves for the United Kingdom on Thursday for a two-week training ahead of the World Cricket League Division Four to be held in Bologna, Italy, from August 14-21.
The league, which also involves Cayman Islands, USA, Nepal and hosts Italy, is one of the qualifiers for the 2013 Cricket World Cup.
The team will, however, miss the services of Athuman Kakonzi, who recently returned to Dar es Salaam after undergoing a hernia operation in England where he is playing professional cricket.
Nicknamed 'Babu', Kakonzi is among four Tanzanian professional cricketers who are plying their trade in England. The others are Hamis Abdallah, Abhik Patwa and Khalil Rehemtullah
Kakonzi and Abdallah recently signed a five-month contract with Watford Cricket Club in the First Division League called Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League, one of highly competitive tournaments in England.
Patwa has a one-year contract with Countesthope Cricket Club – a First Division team in Leicester City -- while fast bowler Rehemtullah has a five-month deal with Abbots Langley Cricket Club, also of Leicester City.
Tanzania start their campaign in Bologna with a match against Argentina on August 14 and local cricket authorities have already expressed concern over Kakonzi's absence.
“Kakonzi's absence has dealt the team a heavy blow,” says Tanzania Cricket Association (TCA) Chief Executive Officer Zully Rehemtullah.
“We really face a big test to replace him. He is such an important player for the team. His commitment and ability on the ground will greatly be missed.”
Kakonzi was born in Dar es Salaam on December 16, 1988. He is the second born to a family of four children of Kassim Kakonzi and Salma Joseph.
He studied at Lions Primary School at Magomeni before joining Makongo Secondary School. But he failed to go beyond Form Two as he decided to drop out of school to concentrate on playing cricket.
“I love cricket so much that I decided to drop out of school to concentrate on my favourite sport,” he says.
His sibling Abuu also plays cricket and was a regular participant in several mini-cricket competitions involving Dar es Salaam primary schools while studying at Mchangani Primary School at Mwananyamala.
Kakonzi started playing cricket under coach Onesmo Kagimbo while in primary school in 1999 and nurtured a desire to turn into a successful player since then.
In 2002 he and fellow youngsters from Dar es Salaam-based primary schools gathered for training at Muhimbili Cricket Academy on regular basis.
Veteran cricket coach Zully Rehemtullah integrated Kakonzi into the TCA junior development programme which seeks to turn around the country's fortune in the sport and propel it to success.
Kakonzi's efforts eventually helped him win a place in the senior national team alongside several other talented local players groomed by TCA to represent the country in various international tournaments.
A stint with Academy Boys at the top level of the sport in the country moulded him into a gifted left arm leg break spinner and a top order batsman.
Kakonzi has represented the country in Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 cricket tournaments in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa before being promoted to the senior team.
His skills came to the fore at the ICC World Cricket League Africa Division Two held in Dar es Salaam in 2006. The tournament involved senior national teams from Botswana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Zambia and hosts Tanzania.
Kakonzi was named Man of the Series for his impressive all-round performance during the five-day tournament which Tanzania won and was subsequently promoted to Africa Division One.
“He deserves the Man of the Series award as he has scored 179 runs and taken 13 wickets,” said Africa Cricket Association (ACA) tournament director Tom Tikolo from Kenya.
Kakonzi was also named Man of the Match twice. He hit an unbeaten century to guide Tanzania to a six-wicket win over Mozambique in the home team's opening match.
He was again in top form when Tanzania faced Botswana in the deciding match. He grabbed five wickets for the loss of 28 runs in 9.4 overs, enabling the hosts to win by eight wickets.
ICC development director for Africa Hoosain Ayob described Kakonzi as a cricketer with a promising future.
“He's very talented and is likely to excel on the international stage if he maintain his form,” he said.
Kakonzi went on don Tanzania's jersey at the 2007 ICC World Cricket League Division Three played in Darwin, Australia, where ten teams battled for promotion to the 2008 Global Division Two. Unfortunately, Tanzania finished sixth and was relegated to Division Four.
Other teams which took part in the tournament were champions Uganda, Argentina, Papua New Guinea, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Italy and Fiji.
In 2008, Kakonzi was also in the team that took part in the ICC World Cricket League Division Four in Dar es Salaam. The event was part of the ICC World Cricket League and qualifying for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
The tournament involved Fiji, Hong Kong, Italy, Afghanistan, Jersey and hosts Tanzania. It was won by Afghanistan while Tanzania finished fourth.
As predicted by Ayob, Kakonzi and two other local players – Hamis Abdallah and Khalil Rehemtullah – finally secured an opportunity to play professional cricket in England at the end of 2008.
The trio' chance was a result of their impressive performance when the senior national team toured England for a series of international friendly matches in August 2008 to prepare for World League Division Four held from October 4-11 in Dar es Salaam.
They signed contracts to play for Watford Town, Watford Town II and Rickmansworth respectively and featured in the Saracens Hertfordshire League.
The league comprises 14 divisions with each of the division having 20 teams. The top four teams in each division win promotion to a higher division while the bottom four are relegated to a lower division.
The top four teams in Division One of the Saracens Hertfordshire League qualify for Division Two East and later fight for a place in Division One of the Serious Cricket Home Counties Premier League, which is a step away from county cricket.
Success in Division One of the Serious Cricket Home Counties Premier League assures teams of a stint in county cricket which is the highest level of domestic cricket in England and Wales featuring top professionals.
"The level of competition in matches is really high. Players cover every blade of grass in search of victory and one needs to work extremely hard to maintain his position in the first choice squad," says Kakonzi.
"We do encounter lots of challenges from a host of gifted batsmen and bowlers who never hesitate to exploit opponents' weaknesses, and the challenges have been a useful learning curve to us," he adds.
He points out that life as professional cricket players in England has been quite enjoyable as he and fellow players Abdallah, Patwa and Rhemtullah are treated really well by their hosts.
"Our hosts treat us very well. We are always free to visit different places and have fun whenever we are not playing matches -- the hosts have generally made us feel at home," he says.
Kakonzi thanks his parents, coach Rehemtullah and Taher Kitisa for their inspiration and support.