Zimbabwe's Tatenda Taibu: ‘As long as I am alive, cricket is going to have a part to play in my life.’
An interview with Tatenda Taibu: A troubled, tender captain's obsession with a cricket who had further challenging year after another but he weathered many a storm. Taibu studied accounts management and art, but his first love was always cricket and such has been his odyssey even being on the run.
Tatenda Taibu’s story is not less than a superman’s fall. It’s a professional’s long quest to revive by seeing his passionate sons—Gershom Taibu and Tatenda Taibu Junior growing to at least play at some level if not the international cricket. Taibu never doubted his capabilities; with sheer determination, he hasn't given up even being in worst of the situations. Taibu always wore a smile, to focus on his game for what he is indebted. Thus with the time, his repertoire saw him becoming a ‘Keeper of Faith’ and an avatar for aspiring Zimbabwean cricketers. He’s been the keen observer, the stanch participant and practical in life.
Fondly known a ‘Tibbly’, Taibu dreamt of playing cricket for the extended period for his country, Zimbabwe. Still, it did not happen as he was deprived of representing his country at the highest level amid petty politics that not only ruined his career but eventually dashed hopes of those who adored Taibu.
Back in 2005, following an ominous warning, he was forced to open an envelope only to look at the images of the dead in Harare. And that difficult phase forced Taibu to live his life in exile firstly in Bangladesh and then in England’s Liverpool. In November, same year, Taibu has bowed out as Zimbabwe’s captain.
However, Taibu reappeared in 2007 while donning Zimbabwe colours.
Being in and out of the game, the wicketkeeper-batsman, Taibu retired in 2012 only to involve himself in church work.
As exceptional as Andy Flower, Taibu's rise was visible during his younger days when he grabbed eyeballs while representing Churchill Boys High School. In 1999-2000, he was sent to the West Indies before being groomed by his predecessor Andy.
During his heydays, overall, the second youngest skipper in Test history, had done an incredible job for the Zimbabwean team since he burst into the international scene back in 2001. But what unfolded afterwards is knock on wood.
After being at the helm of affairs for one-and-a-half-year while donning whites, reluctant-looking Taibu was handed captaincy role to lead Zimbabwe in ODIs in April 2004 when he was just 20. He has also revealed that he enjoyed vice-captain’s role instead of being a leader of the team.
From the racism to unofficial quotas, back in 2004, between March and October, the Zimbabwean cricket had witnessed fallout following an impasse amid racial divide.
Taibu who should have been a role model had to flee Zimbabwe along with his family following death threats and kidnap attempt after showing bold approach against Former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe’s enforcers.
Usually, the pocket-size dynamite Taibu uses the garden of his home Merseyside to help his children understand the nitty-gritty of cricket such has been his position for the gentleman’s game. Being close to Formby Cricket Club (FCC), Taibu has helped youngsters to improve their game by being a guide-on-the-side.
In his interview, he talks about the highs and lows, sleepless nights, the great escape and enticing moments during his career. Further, Taibu discusses his professional and personal life and what he had to go through when many thought he’s Zimbabwe’s poster boy in contemporary cricket.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview:
TIM: Describe your journey from the Churchill Boys High School to the debut in 2001 against Windies at the Bulawayo after Caribbean tour in 1999. What fascinated you about cricket since the days of yore?
Taibu: When I went to Churchill Boys High School everything was happening quite fast on the cricket field. Being a boarder was something different for me altogether where we had to stay at school. I was progressing very quickly also in cricket career by representing age-group sides apart from my studies. So, all that happened too quickly for me to realize what was going on up until when I met the Under-19 team to travel to Sri Lanka at the age of 16.
And, I, fortunately, came back with a decent number under my belt which pushed selectors to select me for the national squad for the Caribbean series. So, I went to the Caribbean shores and England as an understudy to Andy Flower and then I came back to finish my A-level exams for what I did not have time for at least two years to finish those exams. With time, I found that quite tough because I was hardly in school.
Most probably, I used to attend school twice a week. Back then, I was studying Accounts, Management of Business and Art. Anyway, I did the best that I could... Just before my exams, I was then called to rejoin the national squad for my debut against the Windies in Tests and ODIs respectively.
Everything was just happening too quickly for me to realize what was going on but when I look back it has always been a wonderful journey to cherish. And, I seem to be a person who was breaking barriers by achieving things at a rapid pace.
TIM: Talks us through your challenges before breaking into the national team?
Well, ample challenges were always there, and you know growing up in a high-density suburb and then to become a national player in what was called an elitist sport is quite sufficing. So, they were always such challenges I mean even if wasn’t for that for the case that I grow up in the high-density suburb you know I am talking about the first group of high-density suburb boys and black boys for that matter.
Look, if you’re going to do anything substantial in the world there will be enormous challenges; be it business, be it sport or be it whatever it may be because you need to something that other people can’t do for you to be recognised worldwide. So, challenges will always be there and those were there for me too. Especially, the fact I did that it during a quite young age. And, to tell you some of the challenges that they’re: I mean other kids are in school trying to land in your school and you’re also trying to practice at a level which has an international standard.
Besides, another challenge was the age that I broke into the ‘Zimbabwe’ team. The other challenge was of the fact that I didn’t have a lot of history to look towards what I mean is: I didn’t have a vast number of black players to look at who has done it—you know especially the black batsmen.
So, I got into the all-white team and I am not saying that race does matter, but we’re talking about race separate classes of people. Being from the high-density suburb which is a so-called poor class and you’re into the team of those people who mainly went to private schools to pursue their careers.
Long story short, I am ecstatic to overcome the hurdles.
TIM: How you found Zimbabwean domestic cricketing structure then and now?
Taibu: Back then the club system and structure were really very strong you could almost be ready for international cricket from club cricket because every international player played club-level cricket and they took it very seriously. And there was not much difference between club cricket and first-class and the jump wasn’t too big therefore club cricket was really strong in terms of infrastructure and other facilities.
Nowadays, in Zimbabwe, club structure is nowhere to be found, the grounds are quite poor, and the level of cricket in club-level cricket is quite poor. So there’s a big jump between the club and first-class cricket. To be honest, even the first-class cricket is not being taken seriously because a lot of national team players hardly participate in that.
The jumps from club to first-class are big and the jumps from first-class to national are bigger. So, you’re looking purely on the field that Zimbabwe cricket will struggle for the many years to come.
TIM: Your explosive autobiography – Keeper of Faith, speaks a lot about your character, but what prompted you to pen down this memoir? Describe your relationship with the Board?
Taibu: Oh! Yes, Keep of Faith touches on every detail of my life growing up. As you rightly put it that it describes my character. And what got me to write the book was that I was having a conversation with my wife and we were talking about a debut that one player had made and she eventually asked me, ‘how my debut went’. So, when I reminisced about my debut she got emotional and started crying. I straight away asked her why she was crying and obliviously I had to stop before she said, ‘how come you never told me this…’ My response was simply that ‘you know me and I like to see things positively’. She replied, “don’t you think the world is good to know in about all these hidden secrets that you’ve got. It was the strong reason that I came up with my autobiography.
TIM: What motivated you to announce retirement-aged 29 – to focus on church work in 2012? In 2016, you returned to the cricket as a player-cum-coach for the Hightown St Mary's Cricket Club in the United Kingdom (UK) before returning to the competitive cricket for Baduraliya Sports Club in 2018. It reveals it hasn’t been that easy for you to give away solely from cricket.
Taibu: The reason why I left was… I was going through some life-related questions for that I needed some answer. You know, it was a spiritual matter for me and I did. Besides, it is not entirely true that I left only to work at the church that was what the first article revealed which world was made to read. You will find in my autobiography. I wanted real-life answers.
For instance, take the example of this coronavirus pandemic that had pushed a lot of people to think about life answers you need to understand that for someone who was in the sport almost all the life but that sport is not everything because where is a sport now amid all these crises which have ravaged the world. Similarly, I was thinking more about what is life after this life that we are. So, when you start talking about life after death it becomes a spiritual matter. And, that was what I was in search for and after I found my answers I then decided to move to England.
Cricket was not in the way for me to find those answers because I’ve had found the answers. I thoroughly enjoyed playing cricket by coaching my kids and playing alongside them. Also, I wanted to play in Sri Lanka because my elder son – Tatenda Junior wanted me to see batting and equally, I was up to the task to show him that his dad can still play and I did.
I hope it isn’t, however, if this is the beginning of the end of the world, at least, I’ve seen my boys improve immensely.
You know I am a person who’s free to follow my instincts and when I do I enjoy it at the same time.
I don’t think the coming time will say that I’ve left cricket all in all because of some other work. If I am not looking at it on my basis as Tatenda but my boys have taken a liking to the spot.
Because of that, I am not going to be totally away from cricket, So, I think as long as I am alive cricket is going to have a part to play in my life.
TIM: Shed light on your association with the Zimbabwe Cricket?
Taibu: Well, I think to say, what is my relationship with my board is and if I am describing to association with my board and whatever answer I give would be a wrong answer. Because a board comprises individuals. I too knew that I am not associated with Zimbabwe Cricket but I don’t know the ones who’re there now. And from time to time, I’ve had individuals who have been part of the board that I’ve got along with and some that I’ve not got along with during my time.
Also in your book, you’ve revealed how you were exiled in Bangladesh in 2005 when the Zimbabwe Cricket Board threatened you and your family. Could you please elaborate it to us?
TIM: With the T20 World Cup around the corner whom you see as favourites and why? How you access English conditions being as a professional of the game. Recently, you were sacked after being appointed convener of selectors for Zimbabwe in 2017.
Taibu: I think if you’re talking about the final Test for a batsman, to being ever to play in seam-bowling conditions, I believe it has to be England because it tests you in every manner including on facing seam bowling apart from the bounce to an extent not obviously in the equation of South Africa or Australia but it does Test when you look at the different tour. For instance, recently Australia has been in England which further saw how Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes bowling quite quickly to trouble the batsmen.
Overall, English conditions serve as an ultimate test for batsmen facing swing bowling. Also, it is an ultimate test for wicketkeepers in such given conditions. So, for me, England becomes a place for batters to see are they’re technically correct apart from those who don gloves.
TIM: What you hold responsible for Zimbabwe’s failure for not qualifying for the World Cup in 2019?
Taibu: Yes, I think the issue of qualification has been covered well in my autobiography too. But I think it is an intervention of board members into the selection, for that, because, I am a part of the story I don’t want to come out like I am defending myself so it is better for someone to read the detailed piece in my memoir and so they could come up with their conclusion.
However, I was supposed to be the convener of selectors for those qualifiers but I did not select players. The Zimbabwe board told me ‘not to select’ and they gave the selection powers to Heath Streak. But then when I was fired, they said that I was ‘in-change of selection’ and I selected a wrong team. But how could I’ve picked a wrong team when I was not selecting.
TIM: On May 2004 at the age of 20 years and 358 days, you eclipsed the 42-year-old record of India’s Nawab of Pataudi on becoming the youngest Test captain in its history. Could you reminisce and shed light on those moments also when you served as a deputy of Heath Streak on England tour in 1999?
Taibu: Like, I said way earlier things were happening too fast for me I was deputy to Heath Streak when I was 18 – the youngest player in the side and I met the side when I was 16 and two years later I became a captain of my national team. It was all surreal for me, to be honest.
But when I joined the team as a teenager, a lot of players back then suggested to me that I should learn things very fast you’re bound to be at a driver’s seat. I guess they saw some leadership qualities in me and the respect I had from the players even when I was the inexperienced player in the side. All in all, it has often encouraged me to become tactically strong.
Honestly speaking, I enjoyed the days was I was a vice-captain rather than being a captain. It always seemed we have a purpose and we fought for each other apart from the team. We had always facilitated team bounding that I can’t explain which I never found for the rest of my career while playing for Zimbabwe.
TIM: During your career, you had witnessed topsy-turvy moments such as tendering resignation as a captain in November 2005 before flying to South Africa to represent them, but what pushed you to return to the country before serving Zimbabwe yet again in 2007.
Taibu: You know what is quite interesting: I feel like I am repeating myself over and over again. If someone will be able to just get a hold of my book for all such questions that just seem hanging you know it will be explained in a Keeper of Faith.
However, Yes, I was threatened and my wife was almost kidnapped and there was a lot that happened until I had to flee to Bangladesh before moving to England and Namibia. By going into the detail, it gives me goosebumps.
When I resigned as a captain I didn’t go to South Africa. I went to Bangladesh and then I headed to England and then I was supposed to go to South Africa but I ended up not going there because something happened again where I felt I got betrayed by the then CEO of South Africa. Well, everything was set for me to go to South Africa but I pulled out of the last minute when things fell apart. Thus, I went to Namibia.
TIM: In the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) you had represented the two-time champions - Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to play at least three matches. Talk us through that experience and describe the dressing room atmosphere when things were not looking good for the Kolkata-based franchise?
Taibu: Look, we had a very strong team and I did not think that I was going to even play one game. Well, my competition was with Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey, Brad Hodge, Ajantha Mendis, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Salman Butt, Mohammad Hafeez and those were really good cricketers and you had to get four players (foreigners) playing among a lot. So, initially, I didn’t think I will get a game but I worked hard and ended up playing three games. And it so happened that the three games that I was involved in, we, fortunately, didn’t lose any of them.
Basically, many players always think that they’re better than others and even I am to pick some teams I am going see someone better than another and it’s just human nature and it is just the way it is. You know I’ve lent to respect people’s opinion.
So, yes I had a three-year contract with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and the dressing room was amazing and Shah Rukh Khan is an incredible character. You know, obviously, he works hard by doing all those movies that he does. He himself spent a fair bit of time in the changing room but never really distracted us from doing our great job. I mean it was nice to have Shah Rukh in the change room and it was equally pleasant for me to be his son’s favourite player.
Overall, the dressing room was full of experience with all those players who were playing that time around. And the first year that I was heavily involved in when things didn’t fall in place. Yes, few issues cropped up and one had to do with Shoaib Akhtar and the coach. But apart from that, we were playing good cricket. Unfortunately, we ended up finished sixth on the points table.
In the second year, I wasn’t really involved yes I was the part of the team but I was a man travelling. So, I didn’t even go to South Africa because that’s the way it was held. In the third year, I wasn’t a part of the team because the coach has changed after the first edition and the new coach didn’t feel that I was supposed to be a part of touring team.
TIM: Notably, you got a mention in Sourav Ganguly’s book – “A Century is Not Enough” in which he stated you alongside Mohammad Hafeez, and Salman Butt ‘were not up to the mark replacements’ when Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting left for national duties. How do you see it?
TIM: Whom you see favourites for the 2020 T20 World Cup if happened any time sooner?
Taibu: I think it is too far away to predict what will happen with the World Cup as there are lots of things affecting as we speak. Right now, no one knows how the world will turn up because of this deadly virus. There are so many factors to look at and it is tricky to predict to say that who may be favourites.
Maybe, India or Australia…
TIM: Whom you want to bat for your life and who you thought was a tough bowler, to face in the international fold and who’s your all-time favourite batsman and favourite innings of your career?
Taibu: Definitely, it has to be legendary Sachin Tendulkar. He was my hero when I was growing up as a cricketer.
To be were frank, in modern-day cricket, I like Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling. No-fuss whatsoever. Spot on.
I would like to see Rahul Dravid bat for my life and toughest bowler would be Muttiah Muralitharan. There is a lot to remember but most probably, my 107 unbeaten against South Africa in Harare.
TIM: Where from you picked ‘Tibbly’?
Taibu: I got my nickname from my first Under-19 coach, Ian Butcher.
By Tahir Ibn Manzoor
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