‘I knew I wasn’t going to play for Zim again under Streak and Taibu’
IT was October 2016, and in less than a month’s time, it looked like the moment had finally arrived for Taurai Muzarabani to make his long-awaited Test debut, at the ripe age of 29.
In his combined 17 limited-overs caps for Zimbabwe, the right-arm pace bowler had not bowled worse than anybody in a seam attack that did not have particularly outstanding bowlers.
But discount that white-ball performance in the red colours of Zimbabwe. Muzarabani’s domestic first-class record, which dated back to his teenage years, had yielded 167 wickets from 70 matches, worth a chance like everyone else at that time.
In all his eight ODIs and nine T20Is for Zimbabwe – between July 2015 and June 2016 – Muzarabani played under the tutelage of head coach Dav Whatmore and bowling coach Makhaya Ntini, both admirers of the rangy paceman from Harare’s Highfield suburb.
Australian Whatmore was fired mid-2016 following a string of poor results, briefly replaced by Proteas legend Ntini, who in the interim guided Zimbabwe in a white-ball series at home immediately after the Aussie’s sacking.
And then in a major revamp of structures – from coaching, captaincy to selection – former captain Heath Streak was appointed Zimbabwe’s head coach in October 2016, weeks before Sri Lanka’s tour for two end-of-year Tests in Harare.
Another ex-national skipper, Tatenda Taibu, was made chief selector, with spin bowler Graeme Cremer taking over as captain across all formats.
His place in the side cemented under the previous coaching regime, and having the admiration of no less a bowling icon than Ntini on his side, Muzarabani visualised himself in the revered whites of Test cricket for the first time in his career.
“When Heath Streak came in, Sri Lanka was supposed to tour Zimbabwe for Test matches,” Muzarabani, who has retired from all forms of cricket at the age of 35, tells The NewsHawks this week.
“We went to Borrowdale Racecourse for a day out with the team. They announced the final 15 [man squad], and I was in. But Streak and Taibu removed my name the next day at training. When I asked what was happening, no one gave me a solid response. Afghanistan then came beginning of 2017 for a white-ball tour, and I was also initially in the squad. But same issue happened, just a different date. So I knew I wasn’t going to play for Zimbabwe again under Streak and Taibu.”
Yes indeed, Muzarabani never got to play during the time of the two former Zimbabwe captains’ reign, and even much as he tried to force his way into the side beyond the duo’s sacking in 2018, those eight ODIs and nine T20s would remain the only appearances he made for the Chevrons.
He retires without ever having played Test cricket.
“I believe I should have played more matches for Zimbabwe because I had the tools of a fast bowler,” says Muzarabani.
“It was proven when I played, but we kept on chopping and changing coaches. Every coach likes to hunt with his own dogs.”
Given his background – growing up and playing alongside a number of contemporaries who burst onto the international scene much earlier than him – Muzarabani can be considered to a rather late bloomer.
He was already 27 when he made his international debut in 2015 after a long wait, at a time his age mates from the High-Glen area and Churchill School supply chain were already household names in Zimbabwean cricket.
Muzarabani reckons he got a raw deal on that front, that he should not have been left on the sidelines when his colleagues where piling on the caps.
“I felt I was let down a bit by the system on many occasions,” says Muzarabani. “I was with the Zimbabwe ‘A’ side for so many years, touring different countries, and performing well. But my chance wasn’t coming, and I was getting old. Many people think that my peak was between 2015 and 2017, but it was in fact between 2008 and 2011. That time I should have been given a chance. So the system killed me in so many ways.”
Muzarabani dismisses the notion that he could have fallen behind the bowling pecking order after the Whatmore era when a new crop of better-equipped seamers emerged.
“I don’t feel like I had any competitor,” comments Muzarabani. “I had my own style of bowling. That is why I made my debut in T20s before other formats. I had an impact in a short space of time, I deserved more games in international cricket. My economy rate was under five in ODIs and not as bad in T20s. But I was locked outside.”
He reckons that had former South Africa fast bowler Ntini stayed longer as Zimbabwe’s bowling coach, things would probably have been different for him.
“Makhaya always had my back,” Muzarabani says. “Because he knew the kind of player I was. But he got done by the system.”
The desire to play for Zimbabwe always came at great personal sacrifice during the time of Muzarabani, who was injury-prone in his shortened international career.
“Sometimes you force yourself to play with an injury, you pay your own doctor, but you remain silent about it because you do not want to upset some powerful people in the system,” he says.
Uncle of Zimbabwe pace spearhead Blessing Muzarabani, the former Takashinga striker bowler announced his retirement from all forms of the game following a stint with Ferntree Gully Footballers Cricket Club, who feature in the premier league of the Melbourne area in Australia.
“My club career was good,” he says. “I played in various countries: Scotland, Ireland, England, and others. I feel I was treated better in foreign lands than by my own people back home in Zimbabwe. Australia has been very good to me, very good. I received three awards last season. This season I was injured, so I didn’t play many games, and that contributed to my retirement.”
So, what next after cricket, for the jolly good fellow commonly known as Zhyk back home in Zimbabwe?
“Making millions of money, like [legendary Malian multi-billionaire] Mansa Musa,” laughs Muzarabani. “I was always a businessperson during my playing days. Something huge is coming up, watch this space!”
We will definitely be watching, Zhyk.