WHEN he stepped into the big shoes of Heath Streak as Zimbabwe’s Test captain at a tender age of 21 — a world record — Tatenda Taibu was not bowled over by the milestone appo
Taibu has always been different. He is not just like any young man growing up and trying to find his footing in the adult world. Having been called up to the national team aged only 16, and marrying long-time sweetheart Loveness Gezi at 22, the little man is not one to shirk from matters beyond his age and size.
“Firstly, I think I was the right man for the job after Streakey, and given the situation that was in existence (the strike by 15 white players),” Taibu said.
But Taibu’s big step was not without a price. The wicketkeeper and batsman saw his personal form going down. When he took over the captaincy, Taibu’s batting average was 30,00, but went down to 25,00 over a space of two series.
“As a team, it’s tough to play good cricket when you have kids straight out of school in the national team,” said Taibu.
“My cricket started going down. But I don’t think it was the pressure of captaincy. It was just my mind thinking negatively. I had few chats with our coach Phil Simmons and then I started thinking along the right line. The talk with Phil made me realise that I did not only have to be the captain, but also the batsman, fielder and wicketkeeper — in fact, the player the team can depend on,” he said.
Before landing the captaincy, Taibu was vice-captain to Streak. He was one of the youngest players in the team at the time.
“You don’t do much as vice-captain. Streak did everything. I think he was a great captain and still remains a fantastic player. He is not the type of guy who just sits around when things are bad. He will try and change things,” Taibu said.
Taibu does not mince his words when tackling the subject of the young players who made up his team in the midst of the standoff between Zimbabwe Cricket and the dissenting players.
“Some players don’t seem to learn. That transition from domestic cricket to international cricket has been difficult. Some players still want to be told what to do all the time and have someone think for them. There is talent around, but the way we have progressed has not been pleasing. Look, these youngsters will go a long way in cricket if they concentrate on their careers,” Taibu said.
The return of the former rebel players?
“Obviously it helps to have experience on the field. When things are bad you need guys who can deal with the situation,” he said.
One of the best attributes about Taibu is his self-criticism. He does not feel there has been a best moment for the team during his reign so far.
“Every captain aspires to bring the team to their best. I have not been able to do that; therefore I would not say there have really been any best moments. On a personal note, getting my maiden Test century in the Bangladesh second Test was something very special, but, disappointingly, we drew the match and lost the series.”
So realistic is he about himself that Taibu believes he has to be earning his captaincy all the time and someone could take over if he can no longer inspire the team. One cannot help but sympathise with the pressure the Highfield-born and bred player puts on himself.
“I really have to work hard personally and with the team. We need to raise the spirit in the team especially with the ICC Cricket World Cup on in 2007. The World Cup is always a big stage and if we don’t do something leading to the tournament, the bigger picture will be nothing. It’s important that we move from stage to stage starting now so that we can hope to do well there,” Taibu said.
“Things have to be done professionally and I think everyone is trying to do that. Our supporters are special and it hurts me when things don’t always go well and we lose. If we are professional, things will fall into shape and no one will waste each other’s time,” Taibu said.
Turning to his marriage, Taibu spoke with the self-assurance of a married man.
“When I was young I always wanted to settle down as soon as I finished school. But things were different then,” said Taibu.
A lot of cricketers avoid commitments and marriage due to the long time they will be away from home on cricket tours. Taibu gave it consideration before making the decision to tie the knot.
“She (his wife) said she has done alright in the past, and we had been going out for four years before we married. Also when you go on tours, fiancés and wives are allowed to come at some stage,” said Taibu.
“But marrying was something that has always been important to me. I can pretty well say I was a family man already, having been together with Loveness for four years, and never cheated on her. She is very important to me. When I get angry or low, she is the one who tries to help me lean on God and kneel down and pray.”