AUSTRALIA: How Adelaide Strikers spinner Anesu Mushangwe used lemons to become a cricket star
Anesu Mushangwe is used to encountering obstacles.
On her way to becoming the first Zimbabwean to win the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, the bowler overcame a tough upbringing, missed her first opportunity to tour because she could not afford a passport and found herself out of contention for selection for years because of a lack of paperwork.
So, the absence of a cricket ball was never likely to stop her from blossoming.
As a 14-year-old, Mushangwe had skipped athletics lessons in the Zimbabwean town of Chitungwiza to pursue her love of the sport.
Some of her earliest casual sessions involved sitting on a veranda with a friend who could not walk, learning from scratch how to catch and throw with skill.
“He would show me what to do and how to do things,” leg-spinner Mushangwe, now 27, told Stumped on the BBC World Service.
“We were using lemons because we didn’t have balls to use.
“He’s the one who gave me the confidence to actually do it – to see myself on the other side of the world with a sport. I fell in love with cricket.”
A career in spin
Passport costs meant Mushangwe could not join Zimbabwe’s Under-19 team for matches in South Africa later that year.
It took until she was 18, she says, to “start taking cricket seriously again”, at which point she made a vital decision about her game.
“I used to be a medium pace bowler,” she explains.
“I wanted to make it into the Zimbabwe team. And I didn’t see myself making it with my pace bowling and being a batter as well.
“And then I just opted to try spin. I went the faster way, using my fingers more without using my wrist. Everything was self-taught.”
Mushangwe became an international regular as a right-hand leg-spinner and in 2019 earned a move to Australia, where talent-spotters had arranged her flights and visa.
She rose rapidly through the ranks at Adelaide’s Glenelg Cricket Club to become T20 captain.
Mushangwe has impressed for the South Australian Scorpions in the Women’s National Cricket League – but she initially felt she did not meet their standards
Club head coach Graham Sedunary is described by Mushangwe as her “Australian dad” – while a glimpse of a member of the South Australian Scorpions, the state team, fired more dreams.
“She was wearing a full Scorpions kit, pushing a bag,” recalls Mushangwe.
“And all I had was just casual sportswear. So all I wished was ‘Oh, I wish I could have that bag.’ And I wished I could wear that kit as well.
“I just wished to be part of the team.”
When she was self-critical after trialling for the Scorpions, Mushangwe went away to work on her batting and bowling.
“I didn’t do very well,” she says. “I didn’t do bad, but it wasn’t great.
“I came home and told my Aussie dad that I felt like I was a chicken in that game. He was like, ‘No, don’t tell yourself that.’
“I said, ‘Nah, I felt like I was a chicken. I wasn’t great. But I’m gonna push myself and make sure that I meet the standard and make sure I’ll fit into the team.'”
Big Bash belief and glory
Mushangwe spent almost three years exiled from international matches because of visa issues until April 2022, returning to help Zimbabwe win a tri-series against Namibia and Uganda that year as the leading wicket-taker.
As a permanent Australian resident, she was able to sign a deal with Adelaide Strikers to become the first Zimbabwean contracted in the Women’s Big Bash League.
Her debut season featured just one appearance, but Mushangwe became a mainstay during a 2023 campaign which included a masterful final over in a three-run win over Sydney Thunder to send her side top of the standings in November.
Another three-run victory followed in the final against Brisbane Heat on 2 December as the Strikers successfully defended their total of 125 in front of more than 12,000 people at the Adelaide Oval.
“I felt really calm and confident that we were going to make it,” Mushangwe said of the final, learning from team-mates who include several Australia internationals and South Africa’s Laura Wolvaardt.
“I feel like I have gained a lot being around them, and it has helped my bowling as well.
“We have defended less than that before. In the Sydney Thunder game, it was almost the same scenario.
“I had that same belief that we going to make it as well. I felt like the energy around the group would come as well, in that moment.”
Two days later the squad’s achievements were recognised by a reception hosted by South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas at the state’s Parliament House.
‘You always had to fight’
Mushangwe was left out of her national squad as a teenager because her family could not afford a Zimbabwean passport
Mushangwe took 16 wickets across the course of the 2023 Big Bash and remains in touch with officials in Zimbabwe, who played a vital role in helping her work through the administration required to play abroad.
“I don’t know where it came from,” she responds when asked about her immense drive to reach the heights of the game in spite of difficulties which would have given many cause to reconsider.
“Maybe it was because of my upbringing. That’s another story for another day.
“It was just a fighting game. You always had to fight.
“Growing up, you just had to work hard for whatever you wanted. Sometimes you wouldn’t have the support you needed.
“You had to believe in yourself, trust in yourself and just push yourself. That’s that’s how I grew up.”
Mushangwe’s family are not huge cricket fans, and she says her father knows most about the sport. She has taken coaching qualifications and laughs when she is asked about the future.
“At the moment, my cricketing career feels like it’s finally just starting,” she says.
“I’ll have to think about the other side of cricket later. But at the moment, it’s just taking it as it comes on this bigger journey.”