It turned political — Taibu

HARARE - Our cricket correspondent Dean du Plessis caught up with new Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) convener of selectors Tatenda Taibu to discuss about his return to the game after a four-year hiatus. Below are excerpts of the interview.   

Q: It can’t be a complete interview with Tatenda Taibu without winding back the hands of time. You made your international debut in 2001 when Andy Flower was injured. It was no surprise when you were made vice-captain a few years later but things started to unravel and you were thrust into the role as captain. Were you given a choice?

A: I got a call from...(Ozias) Bvute and he said “I don’t know if you have heard but there has been a player exodus so you were vice-captain, Heath Streak was part of it and I would like to congratulate you as our new captain.

I knew that there were issues but I wasn’t going into the board meetings then. A vice-captain was supposed to go into those meetings but I had asked Streak to be excused.

I was very young and I was still trying to perfect my game. I didn’t want leadership to stand in my way. If I had points that I wanted looked at, I would pass them to Streak.

I knew there were issues but Streak was trying to protect me because of the conversations that we had. When all this was happening, Streak did not give me a bit of light.

In trying to protect me, I guess he over did it. Then 48 before (the strike), Streak approached me and said they cannot pull this through without me or else it would be termed racial.

I told him it was only 48 hours before and I had not much time to think about it. Everything was just happening too quickly. I was just 20-years-old just before my 21st birthday.

It was just too hard to digest for me to join in. That’s what happened.

Q: Early on you alluded to that you have no fear. What was it like trying to marshal a young and inexperienced side against  full-strength Sri Lankan and Australian teams in your first assignment?

A: Things were happening too fast for me to follow any line of feelings. It was just game after game and meeting after meeting; things which I had never experienced before. From this meeting I had to go to this meeting. I had to have input on selection, I had to meet with the match umpires, from there I had to practice with the team and then my individual practice which I used to do loads and loads.

I had to go for dinner with each player to get to know them. Before that I didn’t know a lot of them.

There were things happening too fast and it was also getting serious with Loveness (his wife).

I had also just bought my first house. It was just lots of things happening and I also had to do media interviews. It was just too fast for a 20-year-old to really think what was going on.

Yes on the playing field, I would get in every game before the 10th over batting at number four and if I didn’t score we would be smashed and if I score we would lose.

I had the sense I was really carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders. I would ask myself “What would I need to do now?” Then I said “Build a net at my house and buy a bowling machine”.

That was what was happening. A lot of people would always ask me “How does it feel to be the youngest captain of a Test-playing nation?”

It is only now that I get to understand that it was quite something but while it was happening I was too entangled in thinking we need to do this, this player needs to improve in that area.

I remember I was man-of-the match in the first ODI against Sri Lanka and ended up getting Man-of-the-Series. I never recognised all this but it is only now when I look back and ask myself “How did that happen?”

Q: Everyone talks of how Graeme Smith took over the Proteas captaincy at only 22 and how he did well but they forget he was surrounded by a core group of senior players. Do you think it would have helped you to have experienced players to whisper in your ear as captain?

A: There are two names that I would have loved to be close by; Guy Whittall and obviously Andy Flower. When I first joined the national team, my English was not that very good.

I was a very timid and shy character. I couldn’t speak in front of people. There were times when the players were made to speak in order to get used to talking in front of crowds and Andy used to have a way of knowing whether I had something to say in my heart or I didn’t; fair play to him.

He would stop the meeting and take me to one side to say “Tatenda feel free”. I used to talk to him a lot. He would come to my sit on the bus and ask me “How is the tour so far?”

I would tell him what I would be feeling and things like that. He would give me advice on what I should do with the money and even when I get more money; more really like a big brother.

Every time he was doing extra practice he would ask me to stay with him and I would do everything he was doing.

He would give me insights like; “You know what Tatenda, this is what I’m about to tell you but you won’t understand now but only when you face this bowler”.

He really looked after me very well. I would tell him that one day I want to be world number one. I didn’t want any peer pressure to distract my goals.

When the guys were pushing for me to go out, Andy would really stand up for me to stop them. I hardly went out, I would go into my room and stay indoors; study a little bit because I wanted to go back to school.

Sometimes Andy would get everyone to come to watch me bat in the nets and say “Tatenda just bats; he’s a youngster who doesn’t worry about any game plans, he just bats. Look how easy he makes it look”.

It was pretty nice for him to play that role. I’m told by many people that I’m a good listener.

Q: When you were thrust into the captaincy, did you get any congratulatory messages from the senior players who had embarked on the strike?

A: I don’t really remember but I did get one from Whittall. A lot of things were happening very fast.

There was a time I did put away my phone just because of all the phone calls and messages from relatives and friends. I didn’t read any newspapers. I gave Loveness the phone.

I remember Whittall, why, because before that when we were in Manicaland, he sat down with me and said “Tatenda you are going to be a leader one day and captain the national team. Every time you are on the field, look at what the captain is doing and think of what you could have done differently”.

I looked at him and said “Do you really know what you are talking about?” I don’t know what he saw in me. My thoughts of a leader were someone who speaks well in front of people.

I didn’t believe I was good at that and I ruled myself out. In the age-groups I used to stay away from speaking in front of people. When they would mention about the first black captain they would say Mluleki Nkala.

I would agree because he really speaks very well. When Whittall sent me a congratulatory message, I definitely remembered because it took me back to that conversation. I had started doing what he was telling me to make sure that I’m reading the game.

The other one was from Peter Chingoka. I guess there were others that sent messages but to be able to remember them, I would be lying.

Q: Moving on to 2005; you had had enough because all those people who were singing you praises had turned against you. We heard some horror stories that you and your family went through. Why had those same people turned against you?

A: To really tell you the story it would need the entire evening. I have put it in detail in my book.

But to give you an overall picture, it was a little bit more than what came out. It turned political; there were other people who were never in cricket circles that got involved.

I got a call from the then Vice President (Joice) Mujuru and she asked me come to her house because we needed to talk. Me being me, I went to her house and said things as the were.

She told me President (Robert) Mugabe wanted to know why I was retiring. I went back to what Streak and the so-called rebels were standing up for.

There were things that were there. I didn’t see them there because I wasn’t really aware of those things.

Some of those things they were standing for were really legit and I have started to realise these things and I now want to take a stand that’s why I’m retiring.

Something must be done because it is not really right and it would ruin the game. She was about to go to a funeral and she said “You really are speaking from your heart and you can’t be making things up but I don’t have time now, is it okay if I ask... (former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor (Gedion) Gono to deal with this case?” I went to see...Gono and he felt I spoke with so much conviction for my age.

Then I told him what I had told the vice president (Mujuru) but he asked me for proof for all the accusations I was making.

He then called in one of the senior officials from the President’s Office and tasked him to investigate what was happening at ZC.

During that time, I had also received some threatening calls and...Gono asked the President’s Office to provide me with security details.

So, there was a whole lot of confusion when it turned political.

It was like it’s the government fighting against me but it was the same government that was protecting me.

It became more complicated than what it looked like. Then two weeks after that, I got another call from...Gono and he showed me a file with the findings from the President’s Office which showed illegal things ZC were doing.

I told him this was the reason why I was retiring from cricket at a young age because a lot of money should be going towards development. I just wanted cricket to go on.

So, he said they will see what they would do. He gave me his private number and assured me I would be protected all the time.

At times there were cars parked outside my house and I couldn’t go outside. Loveness was almost kidnapped and we went into hiding for about 10 days.

I remember at one time I called...Gono and he didn’t answer. All the other calls he had answered. I sent him a text message and he didn’t respond.

The following morning, the guard did not come to my house and I panicked. I didn’t know what was happening now and I had not gone back  play.

I told Loveness to pack her bags and she went to her sister’s place. I had made a deal already and I was in contact with a good guy Riaz Mahmud.

I went to Bangladesh, from there I went to England and then to Namibia. So this is just to give you a framework of what was going on.

The Lord was just protecting me really because there was a whole lot of confusion, people didn’t know what it was all about.

I was now being seen around very political people and for someone who’s not into politics; not even one bit. I tend to be free spirited and I carry no hard feelings. When something is done; it’s done. I continued to chat with even those who were threatening me.

Q: What a story to end this interview but before you go can you give us some information about your autobiography and what will it be called and when will it be out?

A: I’m still struggling to give it a name. Initially, I wanted to call it From Highfield to Highfield but then that was only going to end to the point when I became captain.

From Highfield the place where I grew up and to the high on the cricket field when I was made captain but I had to change that.

There were things that happened after that. Then I tried to call it The High Calling and there was a little bit after that and people wouldn’t be able to understand it.

I then said there are a lot of things people don’t know about the puzzle called Tatenda.

For four years no one knew what I was doing so I’m going to call it Tatenda Taibu or The Incomplete Puzzle something like that.

I’m still to come up with a name.

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.