Kenyanstar's Emisiko Andwati found time to have an interview with former Kenyan Criket national team player Michael Abwamba. Mike as many are fond of calling him had a very promising career that came to an abrupt end after playing for the Obuya Cricket Academy, Swamibapa, Kenya Kongonis, the U19 and senior Kenya national teams. In the interview, Mike explains how it happened that he left playing at such an early age and how he ended up as a coach at Jaffery Academy in Arusha, Tanzania.
K.S: Few years ago you appeared in our publication as an assistant to your brother Nick Abwamba who was running Huruma Focus Cricket Academy. You were also sighted as a rising star in the Kenyan cricket scene. What happened, you stopped playing?
Abwamba: At that time I had passion for the game and with the passion I had sacrificed a lot. I had hoped to play for the national team, with the national team there are a lot of challenges. Payments was a major issue. Getting spotted took a long time. Being a left-arm bowler, I had an advantage. Also having played for the U19, improved my probability to play for the senior team. I toured Uganda with the national team. In life though, one has to always have alternatives to some issues. I had to switch from playing once I got a job and my parents advised me to choose it over playing cricket.
K.S: What was your experience playing through the age grade teams and finally for the national team?
Abwamba: The transition was fast. After playing for the U19, I was called up to the senior team and it was such a new experience. Playing against teams like Pakistan which I had only seen on TV before made me feel like an underdog to some extent especially due to my young age. Being the tiniest player in our team did not make matters better either. Representing Kenya at that early age was a great experience. It was an experience which made me stronger and built my confidence.
K.S: At what age did you join the senior national team?
Abwamba: I joined the senior team at 18 years.
K.S: When is the last time you represented Kenya?
Abwamba: The last time I played for Kenya was in 2015 at the Nairobi Gymkhana. It was an ODI match against Pakistan.
K.S: Is your most memorable match?
Abwamba: This is interesting because many people remember me for this match. Actually they are two (laughs), I have both a good one and a bad one . The first one I played against the famous Chris Gayle (from West Indies) while I was 16 years. This was during the Zuku Cricket Wars tournament. I had an opportunity to bowl to him. He only managed 13 runs in my over. I think I did well against him. The second match was against Pakistan. It was an U19 test match. It was the last over and everyone including the captain was afraid to bowl. They were afraid because in the last over everyone always wants a hit and this was Pakistan. I took the challenge and got hit 28 runs in one over. I will live to remember.
K.S: It seems you were really enjoying your time in the cricket, what made you stop playing?
Abwamba: I had sacrificed a lot for the love of the game including a lot of my time while I was still in school. This even made my mother to get very concerned. I always wanted to play cricket professionally and play for the national team. Unfortunately there were too many discouraging voices especially from those who have been in the national team. After doing my research on their claims, I found out that there was a lot of truth. Cricket players are not treated well especially when it comes to payments. I also experienced this problem personally. This got me to a point where I had to ask myself why I wanted to play cricket. It is at this point that I chose to change my goal. Before this my main goal was to play cricket and earn a living from it but now I had realized that it wasn't going possible. I had to find a new way to do things. I started a course as a swimming instructor and even before I was done I got a job. I had to make a decision, so I chose the job over the game.
K.S: So, does it mean that you stopped playing not because of what you had been told by other people but because of your own experiences?
Abwamba: Yes. I chose to stop playing mainly because of what I personally experienced. I would not like to mention names but some of the coaches never made it easy for me. Corruption and discrimination was too rife in cricket. During the 2016 U19 World cup Qualifiers played in February 2015 in Tanzania there were only two Africans our national team. It was so heartbreaking for a majority of talented native Kenyans to face blatant discrimination during selection. Asians and whites always had an unfair advantage over us in cricket. Others would just show up pay some cash and find their way into the team talent not with standing while we were left out. It was not good at our young age to face such. That killed us.
PHOTO: Michael Abwamba poses for a photo with young participants at the Tanzania Summer Cricket Camp
K.S: Talking of a young age, you are now a coach. This is not a case that we are used to, traditionally we see people grow through the ranks gain experience and then later in an advanced age they take up coaching as a career after quitting competitive play. How did you become a coach at such an early age?
Abwamba: This begun while I was in high school. I had already shown talent in a number of sports disciplines. I was was in the athletics, swimming, football and cricket teams. I was actually all over. One weekend happened, I was required to participate in three different crucial games in different disciplines. I was required to represent our school (Jamhuri H. School) in the 100 meters race during the nationals athletics competition, I was needed in a semi-finals match of a cricket game, my class wanted me to play in an inter class football match. It was at this point that our sports teacher sat me down and told me to try consider taking my talents in sports seriously after school. I had been a prefect in school from form one and in form four I was made the Sports Minister. I was in charge of all the sports disciplines in the school. From this point, in as much as I had a passion for cricket and wanted to play it professionally, I had always thought of studying something to do with sports as a second plan. After completing my high school studies, my sports teacher took me through the courses available which were in line with my talents and academic scores. I had tried my best to balance my performance in the field with class work and I can't regret the scores that I managed. I scored a good final grade. I chose sports science as my ideal fallback plan. After getting a job as a swimming coach, I registered for a Sports Science course. So you can see that even after leaving Kenya and moving to a foreign country (Tanzania) I can't really say that I left cricket for money, you can see that whatever I am doing here is still something I have a passion for. I am a sports teacher at Jaffery Academy (Arusha), I teach all the sports available in the school. I no longer just focus on cricket, I teach swimming, rounders, football, athletics etc. I can't say that while at it I am not encountering challenges but stuff has been turning out good. I am looking forward to further my studies in this area. I am finalizing on the current course and I have already established links to have me learn further in Australia.
K.S: You are still very young. At this age, with the experience that you have, how can you compare yourself to the old experienced coaches in how you conduct your job?
Abwamba: True, I am still very young and even my students do find it a bit weird that I am a coach at this age. Many of them have encouraged me to go back to play active cricket. I have a lot of respect for the elder coaches who are experienced but I do believe that I have an edge over them. Whenever I want my students to do something, I have the energy to show them exactly how I want it done. If I want them to do a particular stroke in a certain manner, I will dive into the pool and show them how. If I need them to bowl, I can show them how to do it. I can dribble in the pitch and score. When I am in the pitch with the kids, I don't just stand at the touch line to give instructions. I take part in whatever they are doing and they like it that way.
K.S: How can you compare the sports scene in Tanzania to what we have in Kenya?
Abwamba: There is a big difference between the sports scene in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya there are many sports events and activities for many disciplines. That is is not the case here. Very few sports activities happen here and are for the few popular disciplines. Mostly football and swimming. The sports environment here is not as competitive as in Kenya. Cricket for example is played here majorly as a leisure activity.
K.S: My final question Mike. How do your future plans look like?
Abwamba: I have a lot of plans for the future. Arusha is still a very green place with a lot of opportunities. I never saw myself coming to Arusha. At first I was scared, my mum had allowed me to come to a foreign country at a young age. As a Christian though, I believe that God does not make mistakes. I have plans to open up my own cricket academy here. I also have a lot of interest in entertainment events, I have been doing a lot in this area too. I love stuff to do with the entertainment industry. Somehow I am a jack of all trades.