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Zimbabwe Former Cricket Captain Tatenda Taibu Sets up Cricket Academy in England

Former captain and now chief selector, Tatenda Taibu plans to bring young Zimbabwe cricketers to England for a fresh perspective
 

Tatenda Taibu (right) hands a Test cap to fast bowler Carl Mumba in Harare © AFP

Tatenda Taibu has a lot on his plate – but then he seems to like it that way. Captain of his country at 20, Taibu retired before he was 30, and after several years away from the game, is now throwing himself wholeheartedly into a new career as an administrator. Placed in charge of selection by Zimbabwe Cricket last year, Taibu is also responsible for player development – roles that he carries out while being based in the UK, where he is setting up an academy to help bring through Zimbabwe’s next generation.

In between times, he is in discussions to coach cricket at a school in Crosby, the town near Liverpool he now calls home, and preparing to keep his eye in for a second season with local club Hightown St Mary’s. Not to mention raising a young family and learning to understand the Scouse accent. Wicketkeepers are said to be at their best when they are not being noticed but Taibu seems intent on inverting that dictum.

“If it was easy, then everyone would do it,” he says of the challenges he faces, six months after returning to the Zimbabwe set-up. Taibu was appointed convener of selectors because he was identified as someone the players could trust, and he has a strong relationship with the coach, Heath Streak, who was his captain on Test debut more than 14 years ago; but, beyond fixtures with Sri Lanka and West Indies in November, they have spent as much time trying to sort out Zimbabwe’s sparse playing schedule as picking squads.

There is also the issue of ZC’s finances, perennially a problem, and one that is currently serving to undermine the domestic schedule, amid postponements and player strikes. This is not officially part of Taibu’s brief, though one senses he would willingly get involved, and he is optimistic that the situation is improving.

“We can’t run away from the fact there has been issues with money, but I feel that if we manage to sort out the structures, we wouldn’t be having half the problems that we’re having,” he says. “That’s part of the reason the chairman put me forward. But it takes a bit of time, because if I start to mention certain things that should be done, a few of the administrators will feel that I am overriding them or making them look incompetent – which is not my motive.

“My objective is to make sure that Zimbabwe cricket resurrects. I want to make sure I don’t have that problem, because once you sense someone having a negative feeling towards you, you are not going to go another step with that person. So I am taking it slowly, making sure everyone is on the same page, and we can move together. I think we’ve made progress, I think the players are starting to see the direction we are taking, some of the administrators, too.”

“England has structures that are second to none where cricket is concerned, so we could use those structures and get some ideas that we could use back home. The more players who play here, the better it will be for Zimbabwe”

Distance perhaps helps give Taibu greater perspective on the problems cricket faces in his home country. He has lived in England since unexpectedly retiring in 2012 to do “the Lord’s work” and he hopes that bringing over some of Zimbabwe’s young players to experience playing – and living – in a different environment will help their development in more than just a cricketing sense.

Taibu’s academy, which will be run in partnership with Liverpool-based Flash Sports, is envisaged as hosting 14-15 players aged between 18 and 22 during the English summer, and finding them places with clubs in the north-west, in addition to them playing together. The project is being funded by Zimbabwe Cricket – and Taibu admits that a budget has not yet been agreed – but it is anticipated that clubs taking on a player will contribute a fee towards flights, accommodation and living expenses. Stuart Matsikenyeri, another former team-mate of Taibu’s, will assist with coaching.

“When I started to work with Zimbabwe Cricket, I saw that just doing up the structures was not enough,” Taibu says. “Being convener of selectors, I get to see that we don’t really have a big player base, so I was thinking of ways we could improve on that. Not only that, but a bit about my character is to try and help out someone else.

“When I hear about sports people, after finishing their careers, some don’t really have anything to do and end up not having anything to show for it. So I thought if I could have an academy over here and attach players to clubs and still have them as a team, to play against county 2nd XI sides, good premier league sides, academy sides and use the time in between practice to educate them about other projects – being able to look after money, life values. More than just making them better cricketers, it is to make them better human beings.

“So that is what brought me to this project. England has structures that are second to none where cricket is concerned, so we could use those structures and get some ideas that we could use back home. The more players who play here, the better it will be for Zimbabwe.”

In keeping with Taibu’s more holistic approach, the results would benefit Zimbabwean cricket in the long term. “The players who have been playing in the national team, we sort of know what they can bring. With the new ones, it’s really teaching them all the things so that when they make that jump into the national team, it is just about learning the different conditions, pitches. Technique and work ethic and what’s required of a sportsperson, they would [learn] all that in the academy.”

Taibu with his Hightown St Mary’s team-mates © Hightown St Mary’s

He also suggests that taking young talent away from the frustrations and distractions of cricket in Zimbabwe would mean that “when they come back they will have more strength”. Having spent much of his nine-year international career battling a dysfunctional system, his words carry the weight of personal experience.

“That’s part of the reason I am doing the academy over here,” he says. “You know, if you take a seed and plant it into the ground, it takes good soil to bring that plant out. Atmosphere is very important when bringing something up. So with all these young players, if I keep them in the atmosphere that’s there in Zimbabwe – part of the problem Zimbabwe cricket has is also because of the way the country is. We can’t hide from that.

“So taking the players away from that atmosphere, I’m sure they’ll be able to grasp more, and get more from the set-up here. Then when they go back, they’re re-energised and it’s not only one player or two players, but it’s a group that has the same mind. I once heard a friend of mine say, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ A group like that, carrying the same voice and going in the same direction, I’m sure it will do way better for Zimbabwe cricket than just one or two.”

While planning for the future, Taibu has delved into his past to write an autobiography – the book is finished and he is seeking a publisher. His record as the youngest man to captain a Test nation will always mark him out as a cricketer of note, while a reputation for honesty and integrity ultimately led to him being brought back into the fold as a selector: “Apparently my name kept popping up when the players were asked who they would prefer.”

Now his task is to “polish up” the relationship between the board and the players, which has suffered in the past over a lack of trust and feelings of racial bias. Some of those issues still exist, Taibu concedes, and will doubtless be tested by events on the field, with Zimbabwe facing a real struggle to qualify for the 2019 World Cup and having not won a Test for more than three years. But Taibu’s presence alongside Streak provides Zimbabwe two strong pillars on which to try and build a better future.

“I will definitely be busy because I am the only selector, but I have good relations with Heath Streak and Douglas Hondo, the A-side coach. I played with both of them, so they understand me, I understand them. It makes my life easier, because I can almost read Heath Streak’s mind, I can almost read Douglas Hondo’s mind, and vice versa.”

Amid so many projects and plans, there is one obvious question: can Taibu see himself returning to Zimbabwe permanently?

“Many people have asked me that, have asked me to come back right away,” he says. “I’m a person who depends a lot on prayer, so it’s something I put before my family and pray about. I never like to make any rash decision. I like to make sure I move when it is the right time to move. As the hunter would put it, ‘I look at it ten times and I move it once’.” Wherever he goes, Taibu looks like being busy for a while yet.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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  • Zimbabwean child

    Good on you young man. You got a plan there. Hope it pans out well. Good luck

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