Botswana is not the first country that comes to mind when you think of cricket. Yet, surrounded by South Africa to its South, Zimbabwe to the East and Namibia to the West, cricket is around the country and it is growing.
In this exclusive interview, Sarah Fatima catches up with Botswanian youngster and international cricketer, Tshepo Phaswana, to learn about the culture of cricket in his country and his hopes and aspirations for the future of cricket in Bostwana.
Sarah Fatima: Tell us your story. How did you get involved with cricket?
Tshepo Phaswana: I got involved with cricket when I was in primary school in a city called Francistown. I think I was about 8 years old and I started playing Mini Cricket with a Slazenger ball and I fell in love with the sport.
There were four teams in the Under-9s, namely team A, Team B, Team C and Team D, the latter being the weakest team. I started off in Team C and I challenged myself to make it to Team A before the end of the year and sure enough after playing many games and practicing hard, I got my well-deserved spot in the U9 Team A.
I was a well-rounded athlete through to high school. My favourite sport at the time was soccer. It made sense because it was loved everywhere. I also used to swim and run for my school
While playing football, I was a goalkeeper, a very good one, and I watched the big boys playing cricket and I immediately fell in love with the game.
I saw them catching the ball and running after it and I thought to myself ‘well I want to do this, catching looks easy’ and the rest is history. A couple of years later I got my first call up to represent the Botswana Under 13s.
Who are some of your cricket role models, and why?
My first role model would be my current coach and former Kenyan bowler, Joseph Angara. He has played at the highest level and played with the best such as [Sachin] Tendulkar and [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni. He knows the sport well, and he has improved my game tremendously. However, he is a big role model because of what he does off the field. He helps people when they are in need and gives back to the community even when he’s on holiday.
I am a left-handed batsman and it would be criminal if I didn’t have a left-handed batsman as a role model. Quinton de Kock is one of my role models and favorite batsmen. His style of play never changes, whether he’s playing Tests, ODIs or T20s, he scores quickly and almost at a run a ball, I try to make my game similar to his, in the sense that I also want to score at a run a ball or more.
What are your goals regarding your cricketing career? To what extent have you achieved them?
You don’t even have to ask me to play, just tell me when and where, because the more cricket I play, the better I become
What is the local reception in Botswana about the sport? Where do you personally wish to see cricket go in your country?
Cricket is still growing in my country and not many people know about it or watch it. Normally they just associate it with test match which takes a long while or softball, which is popular in the country. But it is slowly growing. I think after the qualifiers that we hosted in 2018, a lot more people learned about the game.
Personally, I wish we had more support from the locals and with the league games would have more spectators because we are decent and our rankings are better than some more popular sports in the country.
How supportive are the authorities in Botswana with respect to encouraging cricket in the region?
The relevant authorities are supportive and they allow cricket to be played in primary schools and junior secondary schools and for competitions to be held as well, which is good for finding raw talent.
What keeps you motivated to play the sport considering how there are currently not many opportunities/sponsors available for your career in Botswana?
My passion and love for the game grow with each day, and that’s what drives me to continue playing. Sometimes it’s even just automatic. You don’t even have to ask me to play, just tell me when and where, because the more cricket I play, the better I become. There are not many sponsors, but we have to do our best with every small opportunity that comes our way.
As a cricketer, which kind of cricket is most attractive to watch, and to play?
Test match cricket is my favourite to watch. That’s where the actual battle between batters and bowlers is. That’s where patience is tested. I love the thinking and mentality that goes into a test match. It is a mental battlefield and is amazing to watch.
I love playing ODI cricket because I have enough time to set myself and once I am set, the runs flow. As a bowler, it also gives me time to set a batsman up.
You made your first Twenty20 International debut for Botswana against Namibia. What was that like?
My goals are to represent and help my country play at the highest level of cricket one day and I feel if we keep working hard and putting in the hours we will achieve this goal.
Any advice for young children interested in the game?
I’d like to say to the youngsters out there to never give up on a dream they have to take every opportunity they get, not just in cricket, but all around. Do what you love with a passion otherwise don’t do it at all.