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‘It was a quiet way of saying goodbye and thank you’

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BRENDAN Taylor did not want a long build-up to his retirement, fearing it could disrupt the team, so he thought the best way to bow out unnoticed was by a sudden announcement, just 24 hours before his swansong match. 

ENOCK MUCHINJO

A month after dropping the bombshell, Taylor sounds perfectly at peace with his decision – and in his first interview after quitting international cricket for good – he insists he has no plans to change his mind despite clamours from a legion of his fans who felt Zimbabwe’s undisputed star of the past decade still had at least two to three years left in him.

Taylor announced his retirement from cricket towards the end of Zimbabwe’s recent limited-overs tour of Ireland, at the age of 35, a stage many players in the world today would be looking to maximise in the twilight of their careers.

Speculation over Taylor’s next move heightened following the Zimbabwe batting kingpin’s exit, with some talk linking him to a return to the United Kingdom, where he spent time playing for English county side Nottinghamshire during his first international cricket hiatus between 2015 and 2017.

But in an exclusive interview with The NewsHawks this week, the former national team captain revealed he had permanently settled back home in Zimbabwe to venture into business. Although he “already misses” the game, Taylor is not turning back again. 

“Certainly not a chance of reversing my decision (to retire from cricket), I mean, I’ve retired twice, I don’t think it would be a good look coming back and retiring for the third time,” Taylor said.

“I’m not looking at getting back into cricket straight away. I want to make myself available to Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) if they need me for certain areas. I will always prioritise giving back to Zimbabwe cricket, it has given so much to me (but) right now I’m going to focus on my family and my family business with my father and my younger brother. I’m currently based in Harare, spending more time with my children, I’ve missed so much time with them growing up. So it’s definitely a year or two out of cricket until I get my feet off the ground with the family business. But I will always be here. I’ve made that known to ZC that if they need me, I’m certainly willing to come back. I’m already starting to miss it, but I will be here, and I’m certainly going to try and play a role in making a difference to Zimbabwe cricket.”

Once upon a time, Zimbabwe’s team was a dangerous underdog in world cricket, posing a real threat to the best international sides in the game on quite a regular basis. The fall of the team over the past 17 years has resulted in declined action against top-class opposition, and Taylor admitted that not taking on the best in the world more often probably affected his motivation and fast-tracked his retirement.

“You know, I would like to believe I could have played for another year or two, but this is a decision I took very seriously,” Taylor said. 

“My body – 17 years, 18 years in the game as a professional player – it’s a long time. And if probably we had some big tours lined up: Australia, India, I probably would have hung on for those. But yeah, future involvement will be there with Zimbabwe cricket. I will be around for that, but I will not be making a (playing) comeback for sure.”

In walking away, Taylor – the highest-paid player in the side at a contract of around US$20 000 a month – dismissed any notion of bad blood between him and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), the national governing body of the sport in the country.

“You know, it has just been a long time in the game, time away from the family, nothing to do with ZC,” Taylor commented. “ZC has tried to accommodate me in every way. So I’m thankful for that. It’s just personal reasons. I feel that Zimbabwe cricket is in a good space in terms of some young players coming through, so I was comfortable in my decision.”

Retiring was a foregone conclusion well before the Ireland tour, and the sudden announcement at the end of the trip – which made up part of the 2023 World Cup qualification process – was a conscious decision by Taylor.

“My intention wasn’t to upset ZC in anyway, what I wanted to do was to focus on potentially winning the series against Ireland (the series was drawn 1-1 after the other game was a no-result) and not overshadowing our focus with my retirement,” Taylor said.

“Nothing to do with financial gain or anything like that, I didn’t even sit down with ZC and try and discuss another contract. It had nothing to do with that.

It was a decision I had taken for 12 months, and I had taken it seriously and thought about it at great lengths.

So I just wanted to fly under the radar and share that moment with my teammates, family, friends and fans across the world.

So that was a quiet way of saying goodbye and thank you.”

Taylor retired just 62 runs short of 10 000 runs in international cricket. Had he achieved that feat, he would have become the third Zimbabwean batsman to do so, only after the world-famous brothers Andy and Grant Flower.

But there are no regrets for the Harare-born elegant right-hander, no intention at all to want to pick up bat again and correct things.

“I’m not disappointed at all to fall short of that 10 000-run mark,” said Taylor. “I could have stayed for another year and certainly surpassed that. But I felt the time was there, that I had done enough for Zimbabwe cricket. Yeah, sure, I probably could have played on for a little bit. But, you know, when you start considering retirement, then maybe it is time to retire. So records and stuff aren’t that important. It’s just how much you can give back, how much younger players can feed off you, how you’ve contributed to Zimbabwe cricket. That’s the way I look at it. Records are there, but they are not everything. Yeah, I could have played for longer, but I felt that was the right time.”

Even though, Taylor’s 9 938 runs across all formats of the game make him the third-highest run-scorer for Zimbabwe behind the Flowers, an accomplishment that places him among the greats of the game in his homeland.

Yet it has not quite sunk in yet for Taylor, so much that he believes it is not possible to compare him with some of these yesteryear greats.

“It’s hugely humbling to be put in that category, I certainly don’t see myself like that,” Taylor responded. 

“But if the public speak that way, in their small way and even in their capacity, I’m very grateful and humbled by that. Cricket is all about how long you can stay in the game, how long you can be consistent. I’ve tried to do that the best way possible. But that’s not for me to decide, it’s for people to decide that.  Those are players that I will always look up to and always hold above me in terms of what they have done for Zimbabwe cricket. But I’m grateful to be even considered in that category.”

Wicketkeeper-batsman Taylor, who played international cricket for the first time at the age of 18 – went on to amass 34 Tests, 205 ODIs and 45 T20Is for Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2021 – posting enviable personal records that he could have easily been bettered if his international career had not been interrupted, and had he played for a side with enough depth to enable its best players execute collective teamwork. 

But Taylor is not one to dwell too much on what could have been. In-between the defeats, a lot them extremely forgettable, there have been moments to savour. 

“My best memories with Zimbabwe cricket would be, one, making my debut, two, representing my country and captaining my country,” Taylor said. 

“Then, you know, Test cricket wins against Bangladesh, Pakistan, those stand out most. A series win against Bangladesh, beating New Zealand in a tight contest in Bulawayo (by one wicket with one ball remaining in an ODI in October 2011), I mean, there are many. There are more downs than ups, but those memories will outweigh the bad times and that’s what you play for. So, also, getting back-to-back hundreds in Test cricket twice, back-to-back hundreds in one-day international twice, those are the times I remember. A Test win against Pakistan (in September 2013 in Harare), getting 40 runs (Taylor scored 51) batting for three to four hours with the tail-end and winning a Test match by 24 runs, so that partnership was actually the most crucial of my career, just to get 60 to 80 runs with the tail. So it might not be one of the prettiest innings, but it was one of the most important because it contributed towards a win.”

Taylor captained Zimbabwe on the country’s return to Test cricket in 2011, the team’s first time in whites since 2005, and the talismanic batter led the side to a victorious 130-run comeback win over Bangladesh in Harare.

Zimbabwe, after a lengthy rough period in the team’s history, had hit some kind of purple patch around that time.

At the 2015 World Cup in Australasia, Taylor’s 433 runs were the highest by a Zimbabwean in a single edition, exceeding greats like Dave Houghton and Andy Flower. A large chunk of Taylor’s transformation into a world-class player, back then, took place when Englishman Alan Butcher was Zimbabwe’s head coach.

But there was the batting coach Grant Flower, the former Zimbabwe star, who Taylor credits for his revolution.

“Certainly, I considered myself to have a bit of talent in the beginning and relied on that for too long until I met Grant Flower and I realised what a work ethic should look like, and I bought into it and that’s what really changed my game,” Taylor said.

“I wish I had that from the start, my numbers would be totally different. I would be a far better player. When you are 18, you’re coming into the side, you don’t realise what true professionalism is, you take certain things for granted. I got a bit of a wake-up call later on in my career. I knew what I had to do, but I always thought that just doing enough is fine. If I had put those eyes in, for the first seven years of my career, then things would have been totally different. That’s the only regret I have. But again, thanks to Grant Flower, who came in and changed the whole mindset.”

Following his 2015 World Cup heroics, Taylor was then part of a team that failed to qualify for the next edition, following a fateful defeat to minnows United Arab Emirates in a must-win match of a qualification competition hosted by Zimbabwe. It was the first time that Zimbabwe had not played in the 50-over World Cup since 1983. For Taylor, that episode remains one of the lowest moments of his career. 

“The 2018 qualifiers are still a bitter pill to swallow, I’ve struggled to let go of that,” said Taylor. “We started the competition so well. But when we had our most important game, we had our poorest game of the campaign. We had two bites of the cherry against the West Indies, which we played nicely, but unfortunately, we just lost towards the end. And then the UAE, that was a tough one to swallow. We had put in a lot of work and the team was in a good space – performance from (Sikandar) Raza, (Graeme) Cremer, myself, that really glued the side together. So yeah, it’s something I struggle to forget about, being part of that 2019 World Cup would have been a special one. But it was not to be.”

As an outsider now, Taylor offered his blunt view on Zimbabwe’s Indian head coach, Lalchand Rajput, who he feels has outlived his usefulness. But against popular opinion, the ex-Zimbabwe talisman had a seal of approval for Rajput’s lieutenants, batting coach Stuart Matsikenyeri and bowling coach Douglas Hondo. 

“My wish will be for Zimbabwe cricket to keep growing,” Taylor said.

“I certainly like us to qualify for the next World Cup. There are still some senior guys there in Craig (Ervine), Sean (Williams) and Raza. But then again what’s equally important, or more important, will be the younger guys in Wessly (Madhevere), Milton (Shumba), Blessing (Muzarabani) has been fantastic and there is Tarisai (Musakanda). These are the guys that can make a huge difference as long as, I believe, Stuey Matsikenyeri and Dougie Hondo are there, they understand these young guys and they have the work ethic to push the team forward. I don’t know what’s happening with the head coach but, you know, I think a change is needed to freshen things up a little bit. Qualifying for the World Cup would be a priority and I know that the players are desperately keen to get that.”

A natural leader and good friend of teammates from different backgrounds, Taylor has paid tribute to some of his best colleagues over the past 17 years of his international career. 

“My best teammates over the years have been Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, I mean, they’ve been close mates of mine off-field, I’ve had great fun with them overseas and on tours,” Taylor said.

“There are some great blokes in that side, Craig Ervine has always been a loyal friend. Sikandar Raza too. Tatenda Taibu, I’ve been close with him for a number of years, just from day one. Vusi Sibanda is another one that comes to mind, Stuey Matsikenyeri, these are all good guys I’ve had good fun with. But yeah, the players that can take the team forward would be Craig Ervine, he is pivotal. Then there is Raza and there is Sean who is experienced. And again, the younger players, I believe they are hugely talented and they work extremely hard to improve their game. As long as they are playing cricket and continuously playing at a highest level, and getting tours, you’ll see the growth. I have all the faith in that. So I look forward to watch the team grow. I’m thankful to have been part of the set-up, and I will be watching with a keen eye. I hope I can be able to contribute again in some small way. I’ve had a lot of fun with Zimbabwe cricket, and I will be around for a while, and I will be hands-on if they need me.”

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