Multi-tasking Taylor ready for challenge
All 12 captains at the upcoming World T20 will have issues on their mind ahead of the big event, none more so than Zimbabwe's leader Brendan Taylor. He will have the treble role of leading the side, anchoring the batting and playing as the first-choice wicketkeeper. Taylor has done all three jobs before but never all at the same time. That makes this tournament as stern an examination of his ability as multi-tasker as it will of his team and the progress they have made since their return to Test cricket last August.
Taylor took over the captaincy shortly before Zimbabwe were ready to re-enter the elite club of the game and has shown himself to be creative, unafraid and a strong performer while in charge. He led Zimbabwe through a successful comeback and has kept the armband for longer than most of his counterparts. He has also earned many personal accolades in the time and was being picked up by T20 leagues in New Zealand and Bangladesh as reward for his efforts.
He has developed into one of the country's most reliable batsmen and when Tatenda Taibu announced his retirement from the game in July, to follow his spiritual calling in the church, Taylor had to become its premier gloveman as well. Whether he will do the job in the longer format remains to be seen but he is man in possession for now and has shown no signs of being overburdened.
Taylor took the gloves in the unofficial T20 tri-series played in June, which Zimbabwe won after beating a South African XI in the final of the competition, which also featured Bangladesh. Taylor was the second highest run-scorer in the tournament, making 163 runs in five matches, including a half-century.
Zimbabwe's openers, Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda, ensured that Taylor was rarely under pressure in at No.3. On one of the occasions when he was, in the final, Taylor featured in a 118-run partnership with Masakadza and scored 59 to guide Zimbabwe to victory.
It was a small example of the way Taylor responds to increased responsibility. Zimbabwe's most experienced player, Ray Price, has no doubt that Taylor would continue in that vein at the World T20. "I think he'll sweat quite a bit in this weather but I think he'll do well," Price said at Zimbabwe's arrival press conference in Colombo. "When you're keeping it's also easier to manoeuvre the field and in T20, he'll be pressed for time, so that will be a big advantage for him."
Taylor's position behind the stumps is not the only thing he has going for him ahead of the tournament. He was the only Zimbabwean player to feature in the recently completed SLPL and while he did not find any form for the Uthura Rudras, with just 46 runs in his six innings, he was able to get first-hand experience of conditions in Sri Lanka and gathered information to pass on to his charges.
Most notably Taylor thought that there would be more life in the tracks on the subcontinent, despite their reputation. "I thought the wickets moved around a bit so it was fairly challenging," Taylor said. "Last year we were here for the World Cup and I think the wickets have changed a little bit since then so it will be quite interesting to see how it goes."
Price said he also expects something for Zimbabwe's bowlers in the group stage. "Hambantota does swing around and there's quite a bit of wind there as well," he said. "The most important thing is to attack as much as we can. Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu have been bowling really well, so it will be interesting to see how they apply what they've learnt from those past experiences."
More than the conditions, the place itself may give Zimbabwe an advantage. Known as one of the most remote international grounds, Hambantota has been criticised for the lack of other facilities, such as hotels and shops, in the area close to the ground. Taylor is aware that some teams, including the hosts, would be uncomfortable in the city. "It's new to the South Africans as well and I know the Sri Lankans would probably rather play elsewhere," he said.
For Zimbabwe though, just playing international cricket is enough. Their national team has not been in action since January when they toured New Zealand and have had to make do with unofficial tournaments and training camps since then. Lack of preparation has been a common thread for Zimbabwe.
"It hasn't been ideal but our preparations back home have been close to what we've wanted. We had a good six or eight weeks together, playing a lot of T20 matches and team-building so we feel prepared and we're all ready to go. I think we've covered all the angles. We've all played enough cricket in the past so it's just we're all ready to go."
Sparse competition at the top level means that Zimbabwe do not see their role as making up the numbers, even though the groupings would suggest otherwise. Each three-team ensemble has one outfit that are likeliest to exit early and Zimbabwe are under no illusions. Taylor insists he won't let that stand in the team's way.
"We know what we're up against and to be honest we're not too flustered about it," he said. "It's going to be extremely tough but that's why we're here. We want to showcase our talent and skills and it's great to be part of a good tournament. Hopefully we can have a so-called upset but we feel we're good enough to go out there and win."
As Price will remind him, it will only take one good performance to advance to the Super Eights. "The good thing is if you win one game you've got a good chance of going through," he said. "If we can scratch a win between the two of them it will be very good for us."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent