At 23, he was thrown into cricket’s deep end, when he was handed the national team captaincy. He could have sunk, but Karabo Motlhanka managed to swim, and is now a bold, confident leader, who mirrors the present and future of Botswana cricket, which is in the middle of a critical transformation, writes MQONDISI DUBE
Botswana cricket recently came of age, when the senior men’s team stunned favourites, Namibia to win the T20 Africa C qualifiers.
If it were business as usual, Namibia, who have had the better of Botswana in the last eight years, would have wrapped a routine victory.
Botswana and Namibia had dominated the World T20 qualifying tournament, against lightweights, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and debutants, St Helena.
The two were unbeaten going into the last day of action, with a potentially explosive decider.
The match lived up to its billing and kept a buzzing crowd on its feet. Namibia won the toss and decided to bat first in overcast conditions.
The Namibians struggled and could only manage 116, as Botswana bowlers maintained a tight line and hardly gave away runs.
Botswana responded superbly in their run chase, and although there were nervy moments, the home side was across the line safely, sparking wild celebrations.
Twenty-six year-old Karabo Motlhanka was voted player of the tournament, after leading his charges to a memorable victory.
Motlhanka is one of emerging indigenous locals who have taken interest in a game largely seen as too complicated or technical to master.
Expatriates have helped develop the game, and the blending in of young Batswana, is paying rich dividends. Motlhanka reveals he coincidentally fell in love with the sport when his father requested him to check the scores during the 1999 Cricket World Cup in England.
“The interest started when I was seven years old. My dad asked me to check the scores on television and that interested me. I then joined some of my schoolmates in Baobab and started playing the game,” explains the Gaborone born.
He says he used to play softball and football, but felt that cricket would offer him a quicker route to representing his country.
In 2007, at the age of 15, he represented Botswana at a four nations tournament, where he made his debut.He was selected after the national team conveners went around schools, scouting for talent, and his teacher at Legae Academy, put his name forward. He was a specialist batsman and wicket keeper, the two positions he still maintain in the national team to date.Motlhanka progressed to the Under-19 side, when he was still 15, and although he did not see much of the action, he was satisfied with the trajectory, his cricket career was taking. “We played in South Africa and I played one game. Coach, Solly Chottia took me under his wing. He has been a big influence in my career.”
The Kanye lad moved to the senior team, but was a bit frustrated that he did not get much game time, and some of his peers he had left in the Under-19 side, overtook him and featured prominently.
In came Arjun Menon as national team in 2011, and immediately installed Motlhanka in the national side, and gave him a lot of batting minutes. “He threw me into the deep end. Initially, I had doubts but myself belief carried me through,” says the confident Motlhanka.
His first chance came during a warm-up game against an Under-23 Sri Lanka side in the Far East as they prepared for the ICC Division 6 qualifiers. Motlhanka earned his official international debut in 2011 against Norway in Gaborone, when the country hosted the ICC Division 7 qualifiers.
“My first match was not a good one, I was nervous and I didn’t play the subsequent
In 2013, at the young age of 21, he was made vice captain to Karabo Modise, an accomplished batsman who has since quit the game.
Motlhanka says his transition was helped by a number of players who were already in the national team like Modise, Mosa Gaolekwe and Denzel Tarish. He explains that as a young group, they formed a clique and were known as Rebels as they were opposed to the way some issues were handled.
Motlhanka was catapulted to the highest position when he was named captain after Modise left in 2015. He was only 23, when a huge responsibility was placed on his shoulders.
“I was nervous. I wanted to focus on my playing. The news came after I had a brilliant tournament in South Africa where I scored 89 off 80 balls against Ghana to lead the team to the Division 6 qualifiers in England,” he says. Motlhanka reveals Modise persuaded him to take up the post.
He says his selection had nothing to do with the race card, as he felt he was a deserving candidate.
Motlhanka is seeing a lot of progress and transformation in cricket, with more locals gaining interest. However, he believes that more should be done to attract spectators to cricket matches, which will, in turn, lead to a spike in interest, and eventually, more indigenous Batswana, getting involved in the game.
“There is progress, the demography is changing, the age is changing, and the squad is getting younger.”
The Botswana Cricket Association (BCA) has rolled out a grassroots development programme, targeting government schools in a bid to spread the game countrywide.
Motlhanka says interest in the game is evident as there are a number of locals in the national team, while the women’s side, which he coaches, is made up of “100%” locals.
“I feel there are still other ways we can attract people to cricket. For instance, recently we were playing an important tournament, we could have bussed school children to watch the games,” he says.
The left handed, top order batsman, has had a stint with English county side, Holmewood Cricket Club for six months last year. He says his stay in England started slowly as he tried to acclimatise and was home sick. However, after two months, his game started to pick-up, and he is still eager for another spell abroad if an opportunity arises.
Outside cricket, Motlhanka, who has a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Botswana, is a keen businessman. He says at the moment he is content with his chosen career path in cricket, which should sway more young Batswana to take up the sport.
His concern is that cricket is not treated like other codes, with football immediately coming to mind.
“We recently won two huge regional tournaments and we would love to get the same compliment as other codes.”He dedicates his man-of-the-tournament award, which he earned during the ICC Africa C qualifiers, to his parents for allowing him to pursue sport, when most would have scoffed at the idea. Motlhanka also mentions his coach, Joseph Angara for motivating him. He will captain a select, which was chosen after the recent tournament in Gaborone, and they will face other regions from the continent.
Name: Karabo Motlhanka
Home village: Kanye
Hobbies: Watching football
Favourite dish: Samp and seswaa
Favourite cricketers: Wassim Tajbhay, AB Devilliers, Virat Kohli