Taibu, Wise Man Of Zim Cricket

Taibu has seen more things in his career than most players experience in a lifetime and he is still only 27.

The wicketkeeper will bid farewell to his second Cricket World Cup on Sunday when Zimbabwe make their final Group A appearance against fellow Africans Kenya in Kolkata.

By Taibu’s standards, this has been a doddle. True, they have only won one of their matches so far, a 175-run win over Canada, and taken some hefty beatings from New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka.

But there have been no black-arm protests about their president’s regime or other politically-based bust-ups which have been the hallmark of Zimbabwean cricket over the decade in which Taibu has made his career.

“I just look at it as a family,” Taibu said in a rare moment of downtime in Kandy as he contemplated the Zimbabwean set-up.

“If you look at any family there are always ups and downs. I have seen all of them in Zimbabwe cricket and the fact that I’m still here, I can help in all situations.”

To say Taibu was pitched in at the deep end as an international cricketer after making his debut at 18 is an understatement.

In 2003, he was wicketkeeper in the team of Andy Flower who was about to make one of the most famous protests in sport — never mind cricket — when he and fast bowler Henry Olonga donned black armbands to complain about premier Robert Mugabe’s regime at the World Cup.

Taibu, then a relative newcomer in the team, knew nothing about it. Something was up, he realised, but he had no idea what his captain had, almost literally, up his sleeve.

“Before the black armband incident, Andy and Henry said that a lot of things were going to happen in the next two days,” he recalled.

“They wouldn’t explain them to me because they wanted me to carry on playing the game, enjoying my cricket and keep improving like I was doing.

“Andy said ‘if I tell you, that might take focus away from your game and I don’t want to do that’. I never really knew what was going to happen.”

Flower and Olonga swiftly retired from the team and Heath Streak took over as skipper.

Then in 2004, Streak complained that the colour-bias which ruled that the team had a quota of black players was wrong and prevented Zimbabwe being competitive. He too made a quick exit.

Taibu, a man who far more senior team mates had been in the habit of consulting on the field since he was in his teens, made a natural choice to take over as the youngest captain ever for Zimbabwe, aged 21.

A year later, tired with controversies over the racial make-up of the team, he quit international cricket and in 2006 Zimbabwe voluntarily withdrew from the test scene.

He played in England for a celebrity club team, flirted with qualifying for South Africa and made several appearances for Namibia, a fast-developing cricket country.

His exile meant he missed the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean but by August that year he returned to the Zimbabwean ranks.

His experiences have shaped very well defined views on how sport and politics should — or should not — mix but he has few illusions.

“I try to separate politics from the game and always try to focus on playing cricket to the best of my ability,” Taibu said.

“I also don’t believe as much as people say that politics is divided from sport. I think somehow they will link and come across each other.

“So as much as we try to separate them, I think sooner or later we will realise that they can never be separated.”

He does, however, find one positive from all the sporting and political conflicts which have dogged a career which is very far from over with a test return finally on the horizon for Zimbabwe.

“When one door closes, another door opens. Now the team is young and hunt for the ball. And they’re great fielders.”