On the eve of playing his last match for Zimbabwe, wicketkeeper-batsman Brendan Taylor admits he made the difficult decision to say goodbye to international cricket with the long-term stability of his family in mind.
Taylor retires from Zimbabwe Cricket after the final Pool B match in Auckland today, and embarks on a new journey after going Kolpak and signing a three-year deal with English county Nottinghamshire.
The deal means he will be ineligible to play for Zimbabwe during that time, and he can qualify to play for England at the end of that period. Taylor, however, has kept open the option to come back and play for Zimbabwe after he finishes the contract.
Taylor, who is Zimbabwe’s top-scorer in the World Cup so far, said it was the toughest decision of his career.
“I’m very proud to be a Zimbabwean and I’m very proud to represent my country on a great stage tomorrow to finish up and hopefully end on a high note,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s been one of the biggest decisions I’ve had to make; in fact the biggest decision.
“Yes, international cricket has always been the pinnacle for me, but it’s something that I discussed with my family and my wife, and after two, three months of doing that, I decided to go and play in England.
“All players tend to try and maximise a little bit, and when you’ve got kids at home, you want to try and make sure they’ve got the best sort of upbringing that you can give them. That favoured the decision. It’s a three-year decision.
“I am very, very sad to leave Zimbabwe cricket. I’ve had some fond memories and I have some great friends here but life goes on and you have to try and make the best decisions for your family.”
Looking back at his 11-year career with Zimbabwe, during which Taylor played 23 Tests and 166 ODIs and scored 11 international centuries, he said: “It’s been fairly enjoyable the 11 years that I’ve been extremely grateful for.
“Every player’s dream is to represent their country, and I have been lucky enough to do that.
“We have had our challenges as young players coming into the side. We have had some tough losses, but we have slowly evolved and managed to sneak a few great wins for us. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable.”
Mohammed Shami hails from a small town called Sahaspur. Literally translated, the name means ‘Village of the Braves’. It has absolutely no cricketing history, and does not possess even a single cricket club.
Only a Braveheart like Shami would have dreamt of traversing a journey from such a place to becoming the No1 strike bowler in his country.
India has always felt the absence of a genuine fast bowler, someone who can touch 145kmph on the radar, and yet have the ability to make the ball talk. The soft-spoken Shami is the answer.
There is a remarkable transformation in the Indian bowling attack in this World Cup after struggling in every format of the game during the bilateral tour of Australia and the Tri-series.
While every member of the bowling unit has risen to the occasion, there is no denying the fact Shami is leader of the pack. In four matches of the World Cup that he has played – he missed out against the UAE in Perth with a knee injury – Shami has taken 12 wickets at an average of 11.75, second only to Australia’s Mitchell Starc.
68.6 – Mohammed Shami (68.6%) has the highest dot ball percentage of all bowlers delivering 50+ balls at #CWC15. Tight.
— OptaJim (@OptaJim) March 10, 2015
He has also been one of the most miserly bowlers at 4.14 runs per over, a huge achievement considering how the new playing conditions have meant that fast bowlers are getting hammered especially towards the end of the innings.
Since making a sensational Test debut against the West Indies in 2013 in his adopted city of Kolkata, where he took nine wickets to fashion India’s crushing win inside three days, his graph has been on the rise. He has taken 47 wickets in 12 Tests and 82 wickets in 44 ODIs at an average of 24.54.
There are certain character traits that set him apart. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has always praised his terrific work ethics, but more important is his determination to learn. As witnessed recently in Hamilton after India beat Ireland, nothing comes between him and good advise – not even his inability to speak English.
After the match, Shami was seen almost pulling Team Director Ravi Shastri so that he could be introduced to Sir Richard Hadlee and pick his brains on bowling.
“That’s how I am. I have no qualms about walking up to anybody and get their thought on my bowling. And obviously, he was the Richard Hadlee,” said Shami on the eve of India’ final Group B match against Zimbabwe.
“I always want to find out from the senior players things like how they bowled on certain wickets, and what did they think of me and my bowling if they watched me. I will ask any player without any hesitation if he has anything that can make me better.”
The 25-year-old, who celebrated his birthday five days ago on March 9, is a precious commodity, a national treasure in a country which is more famous for churning out spinners than fast bowlers. And one person in the team who has handled him with utmost care is the skipper.
Shami concedes Dhoni has had a major role to play in his success so far.
“I have played all the formats of the game under his captaincy. I have made all my debuts under him,” he said. “I like the way he handles the team and how he handles me as a bowler. He has always given me the freedom and I don’t think I have ever been tense when he has captained the side.
“Dhoni is not someone who will keep demanding things when I am bowling. He is someone who will always tell me about my mistakes and ask me to try and not to repeat them in the future.
“He never gets angry. He will tell you things very calmly and that helps a bowler. The support of the captain and backing of your captain despite making mistakes is very important and he does that.
“In fact, when I was playing domestic cricket, I used to think how it would be to play international cricket with the seniors. But when I reached this level, honestly, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
Asked how he managed to motivate himself after the Australia tour before the World Cup, and if he ever got frustrated during that period, Shami added: “Not at all. I know as an international cricketer, I will have good times and I will have bad times. The important thing is not to dwell over it for too long.
“The truth is, the moment we started playing the Tri-series after the Tests, our mindset changed. And the moment the World Cup started, we forgot about the Triseries and had new objectives.”
Pakistan’s spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed has backed the pace battery to continue delivering the goods in the world cup after exceptional performances in last three matches.
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The team was on the brink of crashing out in the group stages having lost the first two group B matches against India and West Indies. The early losses put Pakistan team officials on loose footings and they came out with all sorts of excuses that the team went handicap in the mega event after injuries and suspensions to key players.
However, there has been a refreshing turnaround in the fortunes as Pakistan bounced back in style to gather momentum with wins against UAE and Zimbabwe, and then came the big jolt when they thumped favourites South Africa.
Now the Men in Green are just a win away from sealing their place in the quarter-finals and Mushtaq, who was one of the standout performers in the 1992 world cup victory, feels that the dependency has shifted from spinners to fast-bowlers now.
“We’ve been successful in last three matches due to our fast-bowling and we’re depending a lot on them to deliver the good in world cup,” Mushtaq said while speaking to reporters in Adelaide.
“They have been running in hard and bowling with lots of heart, so there is no need to experiment right now.”
The quartet of Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali have bowled effectively as a unit.
Pakistan have Yasir Shah in their ranks and there has been talk of including him against Ireland but Mushtaq maintained that the plan cannot be changed just for the sake of it.
“There is no doubt leg-spinners are match winners. I played a vital role in 1992 (Cricket World Cup) but we’ve to set a combination and Yasir doesn’t set in our current plans. The think tank has to look very carefully into the playing 11,” Mushtaq said in relation to Yasir, who was specially selected because the selectors and team management believed that he could turn out to be the surprise weapon down-under.
“Shahid Afridi has not bowled well so far but history suggests that whenever he doesn’t do well in two or three matches, he comes back hard with a top performance. There has been a great vacuum after our match-winner Saeed Ajmal was ruled out so the balance had been disturbed a bit.”