Taylor: Return of Messiah

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 14: Brendan Taylor of Zimbabwe celebrates after scoring a century during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between India and Zimbabwe at Eden Park on March 14, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

I CAME across the above headline from a Zimbabwean cricket supporters internet forum and unashamedly stole it.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

Well, sort of.

An excited fan on the forum last week posted an article from a British publication announcing Brendan Taylor’s eagerly-awaited return to Zimbabwe.

Accompanying the post was the caption: “The Messiah Returns.”

This is indeed what Taylor means to the cricket fans of this country and those three words pretty much summed up the full measure of his worth: a hero and a returning saviour. Never had a Zimbabwe batsman of the post-Test cricket era so single-handedly carried the team on his shoulders since the days of the great Dave Houghton and Andy Flower.

A firm favourite among a cross section of cricket fans here, Taylor — before his shock international retirement to sign for County side Nottinghamshire in 2015 — had emerged to become a truly modern-day Zimbabwean sporting hero, a recognised and revered figure.

After Tatenda Taibu charmed the nation some few years back, Taylor had become the country’s next best-loved cricket captain, poster-boy of the team, and he responded to that adoration with quiet dignity, humility and sense of responsibility to his beloved country. A man who wears his heart on the sleeve, Taylor’s thoughts and best wishes were always with his countrymen back home during his international hiatus, especially a Zimbabwe team deprived of its natural leader and kingpin.

That great affinity and bond was never more evident than early this year when the Zimbabwe team came under severe social media attack from the country’s former internationals in the wake of the humiliating ODI home series defeat to Afghanistan.

It was all too easy for Taylor to join the bandwagon of armchair critics and fuel the scorn. After all he was the best qualified to do so, with records paling into insignificance those of any of the ex-players bombarding the team with criticism.

But instead, Taylor was firm in defence of his old colleagues: so unmovable even in the face of insults from the maverick Mark Vermeulen, who took to personal attack, calling Taylor a “little f***” among other unprintable slurs, and even going to the extent of, as you’d expect of Vermeulen in such situations when debates get too scholarly for his grasp, threaten violence.

But Taylor is not one to shy away from confrontation himself. He boldly stood up to Vermeulen, hitting back by asking how a crazed arsonist like him was not doing time behind bars for setting fire on two cricket facilities and leaving one of them in ruins.

Such is Taylor, a fiercely loyal man, loyal to people with whom he has shared trials and tribulations and fought on the same side. Take for instance in 2011 when the controversial and out-of-form Bangladesh batsman, Tamim Iqbal, at the height of frustration during a difficult tour here, labelled Zimbabwean bowlers Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis “overrated” and “average.”
Riled by the unwarranted attack on two members of his troops, Taylor told Tamim to zip up and concentrate on trying to work out how best he could put runs on the board for his team. What should we expect from Taylor in his international comeback?
My answer is an ever better Brendan Taylor.

As a cricketer, Taylor is always learning, and what he brings from his Notts stint can only be many valuable lessons of cricket.

I recall an interview we did in 2004 when Zimbabwe was preparing to host Bangladesh. A 19-year-old rising prodigy back then, he had arrived back home for that series, mid-season, from playing club cricket in the UK for Lancashire side Sefton Park.

He was Sefton Park’s highest run-scorer at that time and he told me how much he had learnt there — adjusting his footwork, playing on swinging wickets and judging the flight of the ball.

And boy, did not we see Taylor blossom into something very special in the years to come?

Pity, Zimbabwe’s Test interruption between 2004 and 2011 meant we have seen less of our star player in the five-day format than we should have. But his tally of 1 493 Test runs in 23 outings is pretty decent returns for a player who has had to do it without much top-quality support around him.

Not, of course, forgetting his fabulous ODI record, amongst them the two back-to-back centuries (including at the World Cup), and surpassing Alistair Campbell’s record of seven one-day hundreds by one.
There’s a lot more of this left in BT if you ask me.

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