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‘A fighter, great teammate and a true ambassador’

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TWO ex-teammates of departing Zimbabwe cricket team kingpin Brendan Taylor (pictured) have added plaudits for one of the country’s most recognised sportsmen of the modern era, joining a list of prominent figures in world cricket in paying tribute to the retired star.

ENOCK MUCHINJO

The 35-year-old talismanic batsman announced his exit from international cricket for a second time in his career following the conclusion of Zimbabwe’s recent white-ball contest with Ireland on a current Europe that ends in Scotland.

Few players have been on the same cricket field with wicketkeeper-batsman Taylor longer than former Zimbabwe captain Tatenda Taibu, who for 15 years held the world record of Test cricket’s youngest skipper until Afghanistan spin ace Rashid Khan broke it in 2019.

Three years Taylor’s senior, Taibu played schoolboy cricket against his fellow gloves-man slightly over two decades ago. Taibu – already a household name whilst at the government school Churchill – and Taylor, an exciting prodigy at the privately-run St John’s College, cultivated the kind of competitive streaks those days later to become a feature of their game as professional cricketers.

“The competition between the strongest cricketing schools across the nation was great,” Bangladesh-based Taibu tells The NewsHawks this week. “Churchill, Prince Edward, St John’s, St George’s, Peterhouse, Falcon, Lomagundi: these were all very good sides in the country.”

Taylor and Taibu became teammates for the first time 19 years ago at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, where Zimbabwe produced their best performance in the history of the tournament.

An all-round Taibu was voted that Youth World Cup’s player-of-the-tournament after leading by example, as one of the best young cricket sides ever assembled by Zimbabwe went all the way to clinch the Plate section of the tournament.

Taylor, one of the youngest players in the Zimbabwe side, starred in the final against Nepal with a magnificent century, just two days before his 19th birthday.

It has been nearly 20 years now, and Taibu, the winning skipper, will be forgiven for not remembering much of that fine innings by one of his youngest players.  Taibu, however, does have vivid memories of Taylor in international cricket when their generation of young Zimbabwe cricketers reunited in the senior side a few years down the line.

“BT gave his best fight all the time,” says Taibu, now a wicketkeeping coach at Bangladesh’s national sports academy. “His talent was out there for everyone to see.

He was known for playing a lot with a straight bat. He was a bit slow on scoring but loved batting and did not like giving his wicket away.”

In his last period of international cricket after briefly quitting the Zimbabwe team at the height of a bitter conflict with the board, Taibu returned around 2011 to play under the new captaincy of Taylor when the country resumed its Test cricket commitments.

It was a markedly better Taylor that Taibu saw upon his return, during an encouraging phase of revival under the capable Englishman Alan Butcher, then Zimbabwe’s head coach.

As much as Butcher was key to that brief purple patch, Taibu credits batting coach and former Zimbabwe international Grant Flower for Taylor’s transformation into a more multi-dimensional batsman and genuine match-winner.

“In his (Taylor) early years, he depended on his talent and didn’t work as hard on other aspects of the game,” remarks Taibu.

“But when he got together with Grant, when Grant was Zimbabwe’s batting coach, that’s when the spark really caught the fires. There are two top levels of players I played with who I knew were proper fighters. He was definitely one of those few in the Zim team.”

Former Zimbabwe medium-pace bowler Gary Brent, who in the last spell of his international career until 2008 teamed up with a much younger Taylor, concurs with Taibu over the impact of Flower.  “100 percent correct,” Brent tells this publication.

“He (Taylor) was already playing at a much higher level than most of his teammates. But after Grant came, he turned his game around and he became a world-class player. His work ethic improved vastly.”

Taylor, who retired 62 runs short of becoming the third Zimbabwean to notch up 10 000-plus runs in international cricket after greats Andy and Grant Flower, spent three seasons in the English county championship with Nottinghamshire between 2015 and 2017, a move that Brent credits as another turning point of the right-hander’s career.

“He has always been talented. But I think the stint in England was very good for him,” Brent says.

“He got to know how it is like being a professional. Well, he had always been, but that stint really made him a much, much better player.”

A model professional in training and on the field, as well as an assuring figure in the dressing room, Taylor became a firm favourite of many within the game in Zimbabwe due to his equally genial personality when pressures of the game are not weighing down heavily.

“I mean, during the game it was all business, he was very intense,” comments Brent. “Away from the game, he knew how to switch off and create the balance, a great teammate. A lot of guys will miss him.” Brent, who runs an academy in Harare, has deeper relations with Taylor through family connections.

“For me personally, he is close to my eldest son, Dean, he has been a huge role model and fantastic friend to him. As for me, I just loved being around him. We shared a few beers and had good fun together.” It is difficult to replace a player of Taylor’s calibre, for any team, let alone a side already lacking depth like Zimbabwe.

“Unfortunately, it will take a few years unless someone like Wessly (Madhevere) takes up the mettle and responsibility. It’s going to take time until we find somebody like that,” Brent says.

“He was a clever cricketer, he had a good cricketing brain, and I loved picking his brain. I was the coach of (Zimbabwean first-class team) Rangers recently and he was a mentor to the squad members. It was amazing how much he gave back. He was a true ambassador to the game.”

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