Mired in turmoil and strife, Zimbabwean cricket received a major shot in the arm when the Graeme Cremer-led team nearly beat Sri Lanka in a Test match before winning 3-2 in an ODI series in the island nation two months ago. It was a significant step in the right direction for a country that had struggled on and off the field in the past decade owing to different political and administrative issues.
They unearthed quite a few talented players in the past few months and formed a strong backbone in the middle order comprising Sean Williams and Craig Ervine. But the X-factor, someone who could play an anchor role as well as lead from the front, was missing.
In their heyday, they had Dave Houghton, Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Alastair Campbell or Tatenda Taibu. But such was the political mess in which Zimbabwean cricket found itself that they lost a large bunch of their cricketing talent to England counties. The likes of Gary Ballance, the Curran brothers, New Zealand's Colin de Grandomme and quite a few others are originally from Zimbabwe.
The scenario changed very recently with Heath Streak becoming head coach and Taibu appointed as convenor of selectors. They were two players who understood Zimbabwean cricket well, had fought for the players' rights against the administration during their playing days and returned as saviours for the younger lot of this country's talent.
Zimbabwe's biggest loss in recent years was Brendan Taylor — that flamboyant, elegant, classy wicket-keeper batsman who stole the limelight in the 2015 World Cup with some scintillating performances. Little did the world know then that Taylor had already made up his mind to take up a Kolpak deal with Nottinghamshire.
"I was concerned about the future of Zimbabwe cricket and with the administration side of it. I felt people were not qualified enough to run Zimbabwe cricket officially and just the way we were treated as players. It was really difficult to try and play the best cricket you could and deal with the issues," the Zimbabwean had said at the time.
The loss of Taylor was huge for Zimbabwe at the time. But he did mention at the time that his departure may not be on a permanent basis and that he could return to the fold. But even after two years, despite some controversies in Nottinghamshire, Taylor did not return.
Somebody had to break the ice between Taylor and Zimbabwean cricket, and that turned out to be Taibu. With Zimbabwe slowly but steadily rising courtesy a more stable administration and some talented players, their new-found renaissance gained momentum with Taylor announcing his return to Zimbabwe.
It is with a heavy heart i say goodbye to everyone @TrentBridge today. A place i will always keep very close to me! Thank you for having me!
— Brendan Taylor (@BrendanTaylor86) September 14, 2017
Just to clear the air,I am returning to represent my country again after 3 years and this time I plan to finish my career with @ZimCricketv
— Brendan Taylor (@BrendanTaylor86) September 14, 2017
"Winning two trophies for Notts in these past few months, including one at Lord's, has been a real highlight in my career, and given me moments that I will never forget. But being away from my wife and children has proven to be very difficult for me, and I have reached a point in my life where I must consider their needs," Taylor had said.
Being away from his family and the betterment of payment systems in Zimbabwean cricket was instrumental in his comeback. Hours after he announced his return to the country, Zimbabwe re-contracted the wicket-keeper batsman — an indication of how highly he is rated in Zimbabwe. They barely needed to consider anything. Taylor is one of Zimbabwe's most prolific batsmen, both statistically and otherwise, and his recent form in Nottinghamshire has also been eye-catching.
What this ultimately means is that Taylor will be available to play for Zimbabwe in their very next venture. With them gathering momentum as a unit in recent months, Taylor's return is a massive boost to their vulnerable top order, which has failed to be as consistent as their more stable middle order.
Zimbabwe have struggled to fill Taylor's void but with Ervine and Williams shouldering a bulk of responsibility, the middle order coped. The top order continued to struggle with none of the top three batsmen able to play the kind of role Zimbabwe want them to.
Taylor, who averages 47.16 in ODIs at No 3, will add stability to the lineup as they prepare themselves for the World Cup qualifiers that Zimbabwe is confident of hosting. They also have series against the Netherlands, Pakistan A and a two-match Test series against the West Indies this year. There is little doubting that the wicket-keeper batsman will play a vital role in marking Zimbabwe’s presence on the cricketing map once again.
In 2011, Zimbabwe returned to Test cricket after a self-induced exile under Taylor's captaincy. He smashed four hundreds in his next seven Tests at the time to lead the side from the front. That is the kind of attitude that Zimbabwe needs from their senior player at this time.
They have a World Cup to concentrate on apart from stamping their presence on the longest format where Ireland and Afghanistan are tussling to gain attention. But now, Zimbabwe will be less worried, because their Dark Knight has arrived and Gotham may well and truly be saved.
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