Harare - Tatenda Taibu was only 20-years-old when he made history as the youngest cricketer ever to captain a Test side. But nine years down the line, he was gone, swept away by a spiritual wave.
Taibu is not a giant of a man; at 167cm he is as diminutive as they come. But, Cricinfo saw something special in him last year to include the Zimbabwe wicket-keeper batsmen in its exclusive seven-member club of ‘Little Men With Big Hearts’.
The list includes Alfred Percy “Tich” Freeman, who starred for England in the ‘20s, Syd Gregory, an Aussie legend who played in the Ashes contests between 1876 and 1912, Parthiv Patel, the baby-faced Indian wicket-keeper and the West Indies duo of Alvin Kallicharran and David Williams.
It also includes the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the finest batsman of all-time and the only man to hit 100 centuries in international cricket.
“A relative giant now at 167cm, Taibu looked like the schoolboy he was when he toured England with Zimbabwe in 2000,” Cricinfo said in their summary of Taibu.
“He turned 17 during that trip and made his Test debut the following year. Before he was 21, he was captaining a beleaguered side as a series of damaging disputes forced several senior players out.
“But Taibu maintained high standards behind the stumps and with the bat – he averaged touch under 30 in Tests and ODIs – and even starred occasionally with the ball, once becoming the first designated wicket-keeper to take his side’s first wicket in a Test.”
Cricinfo ‑ part of ESPN International, UK ‑ is one of the top newswires that provide international cricket news, live scores, photos, columns and player profiles. It provides archive scorecards, statistics database, and ratings.
On Monday, Taibu sent shockwaves around the world when he announced that he was walking away from international cricket because he wanted to devote more time to his spiritual work.
“I just feel that my true calling now lies in doing the Lord’s work and although I am fortunate and proud to have played for my country, the time has come for me to put my entire focus on that part of my life,” Taibu said.
It might have stunned the world, given the way those in the game have responded, but those who are close to Taibu have been seeing it coming.
Teammates tell of a man who has been bowled completely by his spiritual mission; he has undergone a complete transformation from the guy they used to know at the turn of the millennium.
His double-storey house in the Meyrick Park suburb of Harare used to have all the modern day gadgets like big-screen television sets, satellite dish, intercom and a large swimming pool.
But all that have gone because Taibu believes they distract him from answering the call from God since he became a member of the Eagle Eye Tabernacle Church.
“The problem with TV these days is that it is highly influenced by sex,” Taibu told Saturday Trends, the first newspaper to capture the exclusive story of how his life had changed.
“Everything has to do with sex, from the commercials to the programmes, it is all contaminated.
“This is the life that I have chosen, to have nothing to do with television. I don’t even listen to the radio. My wife and I are in the process of killing the life we lived before we became Christians.”
Killing that life, too, also means moving away from cricket.
That he was good a batsmen as any of the best who have played for Zimbabwe is beyond question but you only need to get into his living room and read an inscription on the wall to understand that Taibu has changed for good.
“The choice has been made. There is no looking back,” reads the inscription.
“I have stepped over the line. I won’t let up or shut up. My focus is clear, my path straight; my God reliable.
“I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
At 29, Taibu had about another 10 years in the fast-lane of life as an international cricketer if he had chosen to hang around.
A serious athlete ‑ who does not drink or smoke, his longevity in the game was virtually assured.
No wonder Zimbabwe Cricket gave him a glowing farewell in their statement.
“Taibu has expressed the wish to follow a ministerial calling and leaves the game at the age of 29, after a career that spans almost two decades,” Zimbabwe Cricket said in a statement.
“Zimbabwe Cricket considers the wicket-keeper to be one of the success stories of its development programme and is saddened to be losing his services.
“Although Taibu was appreciative of Zimbabwe Cricket’s open door policy should he wish to be involved in the future.”
Taibu will be remembered as one of the finest, if not the finest, black batsman to emerge out of Zimbabwe.
His best One-Day International (ODI) score was an unbeaten 107 against South Africa at Harare Sports Club five years ago and he captained his country in 29 ODIs, won two and lost 27 times.
In March last year, Taibu became the fifth Zimbabwean to score 3 000 runs during his innings after scoring 53 of 74 balls in a 2011 World Cup match against Kenya at the landmark Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India.
Ironically, Eden Gardens was also his home when he played for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the debut Indian Premier League season.
Taibu battled against the game’s administrators, every time he felt they were moving in the wrong direction and at one stage he even considered playing for South Africa, had a stint playing in Namibia and also played in Bangladesh.
But his heart was always at home.
Now ‘The Little Man with a Big Heart’ has walked away from the game that gave him his fame and fortune because there is a higher calling that he can hear.