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There are many reasons to retire from international cricket: because you’ve always wanted to work with Danny Morrison; because the colour of the new one-day shirt clashes with your neck tattoo; because when your partner draws the curtain on the morning after a match you creak like a recently disinterred Egyptian mummy; because the idea of being clapped through one more round of press-ups and shuttle runs by an adrenalin-crazed cone botherer with a loud hailer is more than flesh and blood can stand.
But Tatenda Taibu, the youngest ever Test captain, is to retire at 29 because he’s heard the call. Not the kind of call you get from a sheepish chairman of selectors assuring you that it is nothing personal and that you’re very much a part of future plans. No, this is a different kind of call altogether.
“My true calling now comes in doing the Lord’s work.”
He didn’t say what that work might be. Is there much demand in the church for leaping sideways at short notice or swishing a piece of wood in a belligerent fashion? Cynics have suggested that he may have one eye on becoming a Kolpak Reverend in the Church of England and it’s worth noting that the General Synod XI has been without a decent wicketkeeper ever since the Bishop of Chichester sprained his mitre taking a low one against the Buddha Barracudas.
God, characteristically, has remained silent on the issue. However, I’m on good terms with the Almighty and I happen to know that He’s slightly aggrieved. It’s bad enough when cricketers start thanking Him for helping them get a lucky wicket with a long hop or for giving them the strength to bring up their fifty with a streaky inside edge. He has, on occasion, picked sides (the Israelites, Worcestershire) but by and large, He’s neutral. And He loves His cricket.
So this latest development has not gone down well upstairs. Prayerful devotees are ten-a-penny but international class Zimbabwean wicketkeepers are rather thinner on the ground. And what if it catches on? He was lining Zimbabwe up for an unlikely World T20 success in the autumn, but if the players start quitting to take holy orders, what’s He supposed to do?* Turning water into wine is one thing, but fixing things so a Zimbabwe Reserve XI can win an international trophy might be pushing it a bit.
So I suggest you reconsider, Tatenda. As it says in the Book of Flower, “In Zimbabwean cricket, many are called and most of them are chosen, but few of them are any good.” There’ll be plenty of time when you’re past it (37 ½ ) to spread the word or fight the good fight or to do whatever it is that church types like to get up to, but for the next few years, your country needs you.
* Though, I do think that Ray Price would make a splendid Methodist preacher. His in-your-face sermonising and tendency to resort to unholy expletives might not be to every congregation’s taste, but there’d be no arguing with his conversion rate.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73