Brendan Taylor is just the sort of breath of fresh air Zimbabwe need
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Andrew Hughes looks at the impact swashbuckling wicket keeper/batsman Brendan Taylor has had for Zimbabwe since his emergence on the international scene
Take any group of young cricketers in their late teens and it is inevitable that only one or two will go on to fulfil their potential. Injuries, distractions, technical and psychological flaws all take their toll. It takes time for the wheat to be separated from the chaff, for the best young players to be groomed for promotion to the national side.
But in Zimbabwe, the reality has been very different. The political interference that led to the sweeping away of the top tier of Zimbabwe cricketing talent has also virtually dismantled the domestic game. This self-imposed chaos has exposed a whole generation of ill-prepared youngsters to the heat of international cricket. Understandably, many have wilted. Several of them, it appears, would struggle to hold down a place in a club cricket side, let alone a national team.
But one or two have shown enough to offer hope for the future. Foremost amongst them is Brendan Taylor, a tall, blonde haired attacking batsman and tidy wicketkeeper, who also bowls pretty useful off breaks. Thrust into the international arena at the age of eighteen, he was originally selected as a batsman, but with Tatenda Taibu's temporary exile, found himself as the number one keeper, a responsibility he embraced with the nonchalance of the natural sportsman.
And unlike many of his teammates, he has shown a relish for the big occasion. In 2006 he hit a six off the final ball to win a one-day international against Bangladesh. Last September, he was man of the match for his display in the astonishing Twenty20 victory over Australia. He brilliantly stumped Andrew Symonds, managed a direct hit with his gloves on to run out Mitchell Johnson and then steered his side home with a calm and assured half century, including two trademark clouts for six off Brad Hodge.
Inevitably, there have been signs of immaturity, particularly a knack for giving away his wicket when well set, often due to extravagant stroke play or lack of foot movement. Something of a loose cannon he has also been disciplined more than once, for offences as diverse as failing to turn up for training, defying a ban to play club cricket in Holland and going clubbing before a Test match. But in many ways this old school rebelliousness is a breath of fresh air, a young man doing what many young talented cricketers have done before him, refusing to be cowed by the malevolent atmosphere of Zimbabwean cricket.
If there is to be any hope for Zimbabwe, it rests on the shoulders of youngsters like Taylor. Much will also depend on what coach Robin Brown can do with his limited playing resources. The Twenty20 win over the Aussies and the one-day international victory over the West Indies were encouraging. Equally encouraging is the recall of some of the exiles, including Taibu, Brent and Price and the introduction of specialist coaches. But Zimbabwe have a long way to travel to restore their credibility as a cricket nation.
The current tour of Pakistan has proven to be as tough as might have been expected. But those people toying with the idea of backing the tourists in the fourth one-day match at Faisalabad do have one straw to clutch at. Having been spanked by 100 runs in the opener and 5 wickets in the second, they only went down by 37 runs in the third and at one point had reduced Pakistan to 78-5 thanks to a great spell of bowling by Tawanda Mupariwa. If you think it can be fourth time lucky on Wednesday, you can back Zimbabwe at 8.2.
Alternatively, if you believe there is such a thing as buying money, you can lump on Pakistan at 1.11. Of more interest might be the top batsmen markets where Brendan Taylor is an interesting proposition. He is coming to grips with conditions in Pakistan and hit a solid fifty in the last match. A confidence player starting to hit form, he should thrive on the flat Faisalabad track and even though he bats at five, he is pretty much guaranteed to have a fair number of overs to build an innings. He is available at 6.8
29 January 2008 / About Andrew Hughes
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