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Taylor comes of age

Darlington Majonga

MASHRAFE Mortaza tried to cock up like a bull about to attack a matador, but he could hardly betray the nerves that had been frayed by a single, six,

nothing, wide, four and a run-out off the last over of the game.

One ball to go, Zimbabwe had to go for a six to get the five runs needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Brendan Taylor wiped his brow. Mashrafe did likewise.

The crowd, the players, the officials et al were now on their feet, adrenalin pumping high, as Mortaza took off . . .

Another full toss, bang, straight into the stratosphere over midwicket and Zimbabwe had done it!

“Oh that one, it was fantastic. Maybe I was lucky to hit him for six,” Taylor recalled this week.

“Mashrafe was clearly the one under pressure after what we had done to him, and all I needed was confidence.”

Curiously, since that sensational victory on August 2 2006, it had to take the world slightly over a year to notice Taylor.

Written off before the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 tournament started in South Africa, Australia and England were the last opponents Zimbabwe would have wished for.

But Zimbabwe were determined to cut off their also-rans tag.

And the man who tailored their fairytale feat was Taylor as he anchored Zimbabwe to a shock five-wicket victory against Australia with an unbeaten 60 that sprung him into world headlines.

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting immediately demanded that his team play like Taylor.

“Coming from the best player in the world, it’s a massive compliment you can receive. We all want to play like the Australians, but when you get Ponting talking of you highly it’s something special,” Taylor told IndependentSport this week.

“The only other teams we have beaten are the likes of Bangladesh, so there’s no doubt beating Australia will remain the highlight of my career for some time to come. It does boost my confidence and inspire me to work harder.”

At 21 years, Taylor has quickly come of age since he made his ODI and Test debut at 18 when almost all experienced players had turned their backs against Zimbabwe.

Taylor believes the victory against Australia was what the youthful Zimbabwe team needed to build a winning culture.

“I feel there’s a lot of us who have started to prove ourselves. We all knew we had the ability, but it’s been a matter of time. We’ve been around as a unit for some time and results should start coming now,” he said.

“And if we could beat Australia, there’s no reason we can’t beat anyone else. The victory was a big stepping stone.”

Taylor believes the confidence he exudes when he is at the crease could have everything to do with the way he was nurtured.

At Lilfordia Primary School, he was fortunate to pass through the hands of Ian Campbell, father to former Zimbabwe skipper Alistair.

At home, Taylor says his father was just as influential though he never played cricket.

“I can say I was fortunate to go to Lilfordia where my career was moulded. My father didn’t play cricket but he has helped me mentally,” Taylor said.

Taylor made his breakthrough with Zimbabwe before he was ripe enough when experienced players turned their back on the national team after an off-field row with the game’s administrators.

“It was a shame it ended like that (with senior players leaving). But at the same time I got an opportunity to play for my country, which I have always wanted to. I’m happy I got the chance and it’s now up to me to prove myself,” Taylor said.

Since making his ODI and Test debut in 2004 against Sri Lanka, Taylor admits it hasn’t been easy for him to prove what he is capable of.

“My worst moment so far remains my Test debut against Sri Lanka in Bulawayo,” Taylor recalled.

In that match on May 6 2004, with Zimbabwe fielding mostly greenhorns who were yet to cut their teeth in first-class cricket, Taylor was caught and bowled by Farveez Maharoof on 19, before he was clean-bowled by Chaminda Vaas on four in the second innings.

Taylor has played nine more Tests since that series until Zimbabwe opted out of the longer version in January 2006, but his 422 total runs show he is yet to prove his mettle.

Even in the one-dayers, Taylor has often been dogged by poor form that at one time he only kept his place in the team because he was the best wicketkeeper available.

Taylor has played 66 ODIs, scoring 1 706 runs at an average of 28,43.

Former Zimbabwe coach Kevin Curran tried to move him down the batting order and it seemed not to work to an extent that there were fears Taylor could quit Zimbabwe after he skipped the Logan Cup and went to Europe in July.

“Everyone goes through a bad patch, but you’ve got to be strong. You have to keep working hard,” Taylor said. “At 21 years, there’s no thinking of quitting, even when things are not going well for me.”

Taylor says all the trying times have made him stronger. He says he has worked hard on his footwork and shot selection and has learnt to build an innings.

“My foot movement has gotten better because of practice. The thing is you never stop learning. I’ve also worked on building an innings and I can safely say I know myself better now because of what I have gone through,” he said.

Taylor has since given back the gloves to Tatenda Taibu, who returned to the national fold in July after a two-year absence. But he still loves the job.

“I enjoy keeping wicket because it keeps you involved. But at the moment I’m happy as well just batting since Taibu returned,” Taylor said.

“I had the gloves during the Twenty20 in South Africa as we needed Taibu in the field because he’s good and athletic and you can’t afford to let off easy chances in that form of cricket.

“But right now I’ll have to concentrate on my batting but should I get the chance to keep wicket I’ll be happy to do both.”

With the gloves gone for now, Taylor however hopes he will stay as an opening batsman for Zimbabwe.

“I’ve always wanted to open and I’m happy to stay there. Of course I’ve been moved down at times and I believe the coaches would have their reasons,” he said.

Taylor however said he did not feel like he was guaranteed a place in the team despite his performances.

“I never feel like I’m in a comfort zone. There are a couple of guys in the A side knocking on the door and I just have to keep on working harder because everyone wants to play Test cricket,” Taylor said.

And does he think Zimbabwe will ever play test cricket again?

“I think we can play Test cricket by May next year. But it’s important to keep playing four-day games so that we have as much exposure as possible to the longer version of the game,” Taylor said.

Like most Zimbabwean players, Taylor says he’s trying to mould his career by emulating legendary cricketer Andy Flower’s work ethic and determination.

“Every Zimbabwean has their own heroes. But if we talk about Andy, the way he did his things, trained hard and played has influenced a lot of us. He helped most of us and we respect and all want to be like him,” Taylor said.

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