In this ultra-professional age of Twenty20 cricket, in which the game is increasingly analysed to within an inch of its life, it’s refreshing to return to the shortest format’s roots.
And, recall what the early days of the Indian Premier League were like.
IPL squads these days are assembled on the back of hours and hours of statistical examination, highbrow tactical debate and attempts to control even the minute of a head-to-head encounter.
But this was not the case in 2008, when the first edition of one of world sport’s most successful events was effectively a game of real-life fantasy cricket played by India’s millionaires.
The extreme to which this went is brilliantly represented by the story of Tatenda Taibu, Zimbabwe’s diminutive wicketkeeper-batsman, who scored a lucrative gig at Kolkata Knight Riders, thanks to having admirers in high places.
Taibu was at the top of his game in January 2008, but was nonetheless taken aback to receive a phone call from a certain “Diraj” during Zimbabwe’s tour of Pakistan — the sort of call that might raise one’s eyebrows.
Diraj said that KKR wanted to put Taibu’s name in the auction for the inaugural IPL, and could he provide his email address so that he could complete the necessary forms.
Taibu was fresh from scoring 81 in an ODI in Hyderabad, a city in the Sindh province of Pakistan, but soon obliged.
He was duly snapped up for US$125,000 at the auction, and was on his way to Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan’s team.
It would be a few months before he learnt KKR’s primary motivation for adding him to a squad that had Brendon McCullum and Wriddhiman Saha among the wicketkeeping stock.
“Shah Rukh was brilliant, amazing, although maybe I’m a bit biased because I was his son’s favourite player,” Taibu recalls to Cricbuzz.
“I remember him bringing his son (Aryan) into the changing room and he came straight to me and said, “Tatenda, there is someone I would like you to meet.” His son was 10 at the time if my memory serves me right.
“And he says, “you know what, yours was the first name I wrote on the paper, because my son thinks you are round about the same age (as him), because you are short.”
The story should not diminish Taibu’s reputation as a cricketer.
He was selected for a tour of the West Indies in 2000 at the age of 16, at a time when Zimbabwe were peaking as a cricketing nation.
He became the youngest captain in Test history, and his batting capabilities were the difference between heavy defeat and total annihilation in most games.
By late 2005, he quit international cricket and went wandering — through Bangladesh, England and South Africa.
He announced his international comeback in mid-2007 with an unbeaten century against South Africa.
“Late 2007 to 2009 was when I played my best cricket, after rejoining the national team,” he says. “I remember my state of mind during that period, I concentrated less on the team and more on myself.
“That was because of the disappointment, which anyone who knows my history will understand. Zimbabwe cricket was not in a good state at that time. We had withdrawn ourselves from Test cricket so we were only playing 50-over cricket.”
In 2008, a three-year contract with KKR, which netted US$110,000 per year (after tax) was handy — particularly for someone with healthy habits.
“It was a lot of money in comparison to what I was earning from Zimbabwe Cricket, which at the time was about US$80,000-US90,000 a year,” recalls Taibu.
“I’m very economical when it comes to using money — I’m not a flashy kind of person or materialistic. So, I bought a property and used some of the money to pay back to my coaches who had given time for me to achieve what I achieved.
“My wife and I helped out a children’s home as well, and managed to put some in savings. It went a long way for us.”
But Taibu’s ambitions went beyond a big pay-day and its potential to assist people around him.
He wanted to succeed on the field as well.
His first task, though, was simply to get onto that field. While he had an admirer in high places, Aryan Khan was not picking the playing XI, and Taibu was seen as a middle-order batting option in a squad full of international stars. — Cricbuzz