HARARE – Regardless of his small stature, Zimbabwe Cricket convenor of selectors Tatenda Taibu is a man full of wisdom.
His return to national cricket administration after a premature end to his playing career has come as a welcome relief to Zimbabwe Cricket’s chairperson Tavengwa Mukuhlani, who described the 33-year-old as “a sincere and honest man who has come with the passion that I like and the sincerity that I look for” and indeed ZC would have been way off the mark without him.
In just his initial efforts to transform the landscape of local cricket, Taibu recently launched his Zimbabwe Rising Starts Academy in partnership with ZC that will see 16 young cricketers being attached in Liverpool, England for six months.
The Daily News on Sunday Sports Writer Austin Karonga sat down with the former national team captain to get more insight on the newly-launched academy and a host of other issues.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: What a night it has been, congratulations on the launch of the academy, how do you feel about this?
A: I’m really relieved that this has gone very well. I think it’s a start of something that has never been done before even in other countries to have an academy of such type. Normally you have an academy in a country you just develop players to be just good cricketers but with this one we are incorporating life skills into that so that as opposed to developing a good cricketer you develop a proper all round human being who will be a credit to any society. I’m really excited that our hands will be full in the next six months, we are going to be drilling the cricketing side as much as we are going to be drilling the life skills side of things as well.
Q: What motivated you to come up with such an initiative?
A: When I left ZC through an early retirement I got involved in business and getting involved in church work, I always had a little bit of a guilty conscience that I did not pass the information that I had to the next generation because as a player you pass information in the changing room or on the field because there’s a lot of information to be passed as a cricketer because cricket is such a complex sport. I spoke at length with John Lewis before he passed on and David Houghton as well as Andy Flower. I have got all this information about the culture of ZC and I never got the opportunity to pass that information to the next generation and I thought this could be an avenue where I could pass this information to a group of youngsters that are talented and who are looking to represent the country. And also as a convenor of selectors I had a small player base to choose the national team from, the A side from so as a way of increasing my player base I thought it’s imperative to have an academy which will be able to increase those numbers.
Q: In brief what will these players be exposed to while in England, how will this whole initiative work?
A: We will practise outdoors at a very good ground — Liverpool Cricket Club with excellent facilities so we practise on a Monday, we have got the facilities the whole day. And on a Tuesday we have got the indoor facilities for four hours where we will have video, they will be on camera and on Wednesday during the morning and part of the afternoon it’s a life coaching skills and together with life coaching as a group and individuals and talks from other prominent sports people from different backgrounds whom we are still speaking to at the moment. On Wednesday night we have got a 25-over match we have registered a competition. On Thursday we have secured 12 fixtures four of which are county second sides, Academies, MCCs and some of which we thought were not really strong enough for us so we turned them down and we looking to get another four or five more and that will get us to about 40 matches for the season and we get the players involved with the clubs that will get the players playing at least 60 matches or the season. We will not be able to get that number of matches in Zimbabwe. And if we get that number of matches it simply means they have played against each other many times and they are getting used to playing against each other which really doesn’t develop a player but over in England they are playing 60 matches against 60 different teams, a player will be able to develop quicker.
Q: So it’s going to be an odd six months away from home for these youngsters?
A: They will be in England over the English summer for six months when they come back we are in talks with Heath Streak at the moment who has opened an academy in Bulawayo and we will work in collaboration with him so that they will be stationed at his academy and they also form one of the first class teams and I’m quite certain that they will be beating the other provincial sides so that’s the longer route to that academy.
Q: And why England, how did this project come about?
A: Well I have good relations in England; I have made a lot of friends in England I have been in England where I met Nick and being a person who has followed Zimbabwe Cricket in particular for some reason and he knows the history of Zimbabwe Cricket as well as I do for an Englishman who has never been to Zimbabwe and we shared the passion of the growth of Zimbabwe Cricket so he kept probing me to come up with such initiatives that’s why I’m working closely with him.
Q: And the next intake?
A: It’s next year and the next five years all things being equal would have had 80 players exposed to the conditions in the UK (and) to a lot of teams in the UK so we can only get better. I’m shooting at the stars here because where I was I had started talking to some friends of mine around the world we have registered for a competition in the United States which has got prize money and I had promised the boys that if we win that tournament half of the prize money goes as sponsorship from the previous year cricket academy to the next intake — learning to now pass information, pass initiatives, pass a culture to the next intake. And then I have got friends in Pakistan who simply said “Tatenda with your academy feel free just a phone call you can come and play some matches here” but now the only little bit of a question mark is the finances. If the finances were available like this then we will be able to get matches for them in Sri Lanka, in Pakistan, in Australia, in Nepal wherever they could play cricket.
Q: Naturally, we all have a bias towards one or two individuals in a group over others, as convenor are you spared on this as far as this unique group of players is concerned that you may be looking at giving national team game time in the earliest possible time?
A: There are quite a number of players that are already in the national team. All things being equal I didn’t want these players your Carl Mumba, your Tarie Musakanda — I didn’t want them to have played international cricket — they have already started because right now they have to deal with the pressures of international cricket which is difficult as it is and they also have to start to learn the base of cricket — by this I’m talking of how to be an ambassador, how to be a professional sportsperson, how to work hard and how to work smart and how to realise your full potential so they have to learn those things while they are playing international cricket and that’s a recipe for disaster but now when they come in the academy will start to drill all the basic stuff so that when they make that step again in the national team they just have to deal with events on the field.
Q: You also were handed national team debut at an early age, is this some personal experience that you have just shared?
A: I was one of the lucky few ones why because Andy Flower took me under his wings and he treated me like a brother. I mean all the information that he had he passed on to me. So yes, I was stashed in early, if I did not have the guidance of Andy which everyone knows I would have crumbled. I would have lost confidence; we have few examples of players that went on international stage and lost confidence. So a lot of that information is still with me and I intend to pass on this information to these players so that they become better cricketers and better human beings in the future.