It is very difficult to dislike Tatenda Taibu. A part of this sentiment stems from the image he represented on a cricket field - a tiny, combative character, willing to snatch his share from the mighty world in front of him. It's also about how he carries himself off it.
At 5'5'', he was tall enough to sledge a seething Shoaib Akhtar in his prime. The same Taibu was also large enough to leave the game and pray for the sick in church, giving hope to those in need.
It now seems long ago, but there was a time when Zimbabwe Cricket brought hope to lesser teams in world cricket. And, a young Taibu, all of 18 on his debut, came into the side as a beacon of resoluteness, soon evolving into one of the pillars of their cricketing surge.
Soon after, the team that he had walked into, and hastily made captain of, turned from a promising unit into a clammy mess, hounded by the country's political complications.
Today, a 35-year-old Taibu is more than half a decade into retirement, happily settled in the United Kingdom. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Taibu talks about his playing days, his surprise comeback, controversies in Zimbabwe, and a little about his autobiography 'Keeper of Faith'.
There was an entire backdrop of political turmoil, almost as soon as you walked into the national side. You quickly graduated to captaincy too, during such a difficult time. What were the biggest challenges back then?
I never really focused on the challenges, because everything was happening too fast. I was made vice-captain at 19, and captain at 21, and I was very young to understand what is required of a leadership role.
In hindsight, the most challenging thing was that since I was still learning my game, having been burdened by the leadership role was tough, because as a leader you must have answers and you have to consider other people's games, while as a youngster you're still trying to make a mark.
In a career that promised a lot, but couldn't hold its flow amidst the tumultuous developments around, what, according to you were your major achievements?
Having three world records that still stand is something I am proud of, but one of the biggest achievements was being named the U-19 WC Player of the Tournament. To have such a feat for a team that ended eighth was a great achievement.
And major regrets...
My biggest regret was that I didn't play enough Test cricket. I loved and still love Test cricket, and when we withdrew for four years, I was World No. 27 and I was only 21. I wonder what I would have achieved.
I wanted to be No. 1 at some stage.
The shock clear-out of the backstaff by Zimbabwe Cricket last year, when you were the Convenor of Selectors, made headlines. What went wrong?
What went wrong is that people running the sport in the country know very little about the sport. They make decisions on an emotional basis. I still don't understand why I was dismissed, or why I was asked to resign, because a couple of months before that I had been asked not to select, even when I was the selector.
Then they said that the selection was wrong. How could I get the blame of selection if I was not selecting the last two series and the Qualifiers.
I never really bothered to ask because I knew they won't have any reasons, because the people who made the decisions had no cricketing reasons.
There were several reports that you left the game to become a pastor. What's the real story?
I know there has been information flying around that I started a church or I was a pastor or priest, which was not correct. I was a trustee at a church. I do pray for the sick and it's a part of my life that has a lot of fulfilment and when you uplift someone else, for me, there's nothing else in the world that can give more satisfaction to the heart, than someone who's lost all hope, finds it by God's grace.
What are your thoughts on the current situation of Zimbabwe Cricket?
I don't have a lot of thoughts about Zimbabwe Cricket at the moment. Not too much is going on. I know they hadn't played for six months before they had the recent series against UAE.
They're obviously missing the World Cup, so there hasn't been a lot of interest, and I have been keeping busy with the other projects I got.
You started at a time when wicketkeeper-batsmen were slowly gaining attention for their batting prowess alone. Do you think the role of a specialist wicketkeeper is now redundant?
The role of a specialist keeper died a lot of time ago. It was the start of the (Romesh) Kaluwitharanas, the Jeff Dujons, they started that. Then you had the (Adam) Gilchrists, and the Andy Flowers. Even in Test cricket, that role has died.
And, because of the vast number of coaches around and the money that is coming to the game, teams have got more coaching staff and it is easier to produce real good keepers who can also bat. You see pretty much all keepers bat well.
Which current keeper do you rate the highest?
I am a pure lover of different keepers, and I appreciate the different styles and techniques of keepers. Because of that, it is difficult to single out one.
The reason why I don't (pinpoint) is because I have kept in different countries, and you start to appreciate keepers from other countries because of what they have to deal with on a regular basis.
You start to appreciate the techniques that are used, how they are used because of the conditions that keepers play in most of the time.
If you go to India, you are going to find tracks that turn a lot; in England, you will find wickets that wobble. If you say NZ, there's lots of swing and wobbling - Australia's bouncy, and SA is spongy bounce on the slower side.
You still have a solid fan following in India, despite being away from international cricket for years now.
I always say Asia is my second home when talking to people. It's amazing that even if today I go to India, it will be difficult for me to walk on the streets because I am still recognised. Before I know it, there will be a mob. Last year, we had an experience like that.
I enjoy Asia, I like Asian people, I have a lot of friends there. Not only that, I love Asian food as well - to point out that, my wife can even now prepare Asian food! I love being in India. Every time I go to the country, I cherish it.
I have a fairly decent record against India, scoring a couple of fifties in ODIs. Did not manage a century though, they were all against South Africa.
And then there was the brief stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders that not many remember...
I am a very competitive opponent, even if I am playing first-class or club. I really enjoyed the stint in IPL for KKR. I still follow it a bit to see how KKR is doing.
At 34, you decided to return to the game as a player. There were reports that a part of the decision was based on a conversation with your son. Tell us more about it.
The appearance in Sri Lanka was mainly driven by the conversation I had with my son and I just wanted to show that I can still play the game. I liked the SL experience because it is sad to know what has happened with the bombings. Knowing that, I actually spent two nights in Colombo - a lovely place that I cherish. Quite unfortunate to see what is happening there.
When I moved to England, since I was not a trustee (you can be in a different place and still be a trustee) I wasn't as busy with church work as in Bulawayo. I started playing club cricket.
That's partly what brought me back. I had found answers I was seeking, and I could find time for cricket again.
How was that experience?
I really enjoyed the experience in Sri Lanka and made friends, which is one of the main things in cricket.
I did not struggle to get back to the speed of first-class. It was fairly easy. Failed to convert 30s and 40s, apart from that, I really enjoyed everything else.
Would you say you missed international cricket?
I don't really remember how it was playing international cricket (chuckles). I have been away from it for a very long time.
The competitive edge differs from level to level. For me, it has never been about international, or club, or first-class cricket, because whenever I get onto the field, I enjoy the time I am on it.
Because of that, I don't think I really miss international cricket.
Your autobiography will be out this month. What was the reason behind penning your story for the world?
Once, I was talking to my wife about a few things she asked about my debut. When I was talking about the events that transpired during that time, I suddenly saw tears in her eyes. Upon seeing this, I stopped to ask if everything was okay.
She said 'How come you never told me what transpired?' I told her that's how I am and how I like to just go on with things.
She replied "There are several things that you haven't told me. I know a lot of things that the world doesn't know. Why don't you do a project where you write a book and tell the world life events that are hidden away from the public".
And that's why I wrote the book.