South Africa in Zimbabwe 2014

Was dropping Brendan Taylor warranted?

While Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo's uncompromising approach that will keep people on their toes is something to be lauded, the question remains, does Brendan Taylor's recent run of form justify him being left out of the eleven?

Firdose Moonda

August 22, 2014

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Brendan Taylor has probably earned some time to remain flat-footed © AFP

To speak of Zimbabwe cricket and certainty in the same breath is to speak of white Christmases in Africa: they just do not happen. The former sways between changes to the structures, payment delays and a fixture list that can make the shifting sands of the Arabian desert seem stable when compared with cricket in the country, but one man changed that. Brendan Taylor.

Since making his debut in April 2004, Taylor has been involved in almost every ODI - the format Zimbabwe play most often - his country has taken part in. Almost, because in 2008, he missed out on 17 ODIs after making himself unavailable because of a dispute with the board and a year before that he was dropped for the last match of a series in Bangladesh and the return home series after notching up scores of 1, 1 and 4 in the three games prior to his axing.

Apart from those games where Taylor was left out, poor form had never accounted for his place in the XI until Thursday. With Zimbabwe 2-nil down in a three-match series and batting their broken element, their most experienced top-order player, Taylor, was left out. He was not injured, he was not being rested, he was dropped.

The disbelief resonated from the commentary box to social media platforms were questions over whether a return of 20 runs from the two matches that preceded the final fixture was reason enough to bench the man who put on 93 in a Test a week earlier and scored a half-century and a 43 against Afghanistan in the last month's contest. Zimbabwe's coach Stephen Mangongo believed it was.

"It's a professional sport, there is always pressure. It is not Boozer's XI," Mangongo said. "It is a privilege to be selected, it is not a right. Whether you get one game or 20, there is always pressure and if you are professional and you get paid to do the job you must go and do the job."

The truth is that almost no one among Zimbabwe's specialist batsmen were doing their job. Although their margins to South Africa defeat got smaller as the series went on, their methods of getting to those results grew worse because of their batting. Mangongo acknowledged that the efforts were lopsided with the tail wagging the dog quite literally.

"The lower order batted with a lot of courage, a lot of determination, a lot of pride and dignity. They put runs on the board more than the top order," he said. "Obviously we've got our work cut out for us in terms of the top order. It has been a perennial struggle and we've still got that problem on our hands. We've got to confront the demons and deal with them and get it right at some stage if we want to compete, let alone beat international sides."

In attempting to piece the puzzle together Zimbabwe trialled different combinations, all unsuccessfully. The Vusi Sibanda-Richmond Mutumbami pair yielded 16 runs before Hamilton Masakadza, who came in at No. 3 steadied things. When Masakadza was promoted into Sibanda's spot for the second game, he put on 21 runs with Mutumbami but Sikandar Raza who was installed at No. 3 did not score at all. On their second go, Masakadza and Mutumbami were out in the first two overs and while Raza showed promise, it was up to Elton Chigumbura, promoted into Taylor's spot, to give the innings a backbone.

Exactly what Zimbabwe gleaned from all that is probably only that Masakadza should not be opening. Although he has scored most of his runs at the top, he has admitted to being more comfortable at first-drop. Sibanda's talent has bought time often in the past but whether it will continue to do so with both Raza and Mutumbami around is doubtful, unless Mutumbami moves down. There may be a case for Chigumbura being given more time at the crease but there is doesn't seem to be any for leaving Taylor out, something which seems to be happening increasingly.

Taylor was stripped of the ODI captaincy after the Afghanistan series as part of a plan to unburden him. He was also taken off wicketkeeping duty, which Mangongo explained before the South Africa series. "I'm looking at a specialist role. I don't believe in part-timers," he said. "Wicketkeeping is a key role and I need the best man for the job, not a part-timer and that is the route we are going to do. BT is going to specialise in his batting, not keeping. That's his role. We will look at a specialist keeper to do the job."

Mangongo promised to be equally harsh on other players who did not pull their weight. "Nobody is safe. We are coming from bruising encounters with Afghanistan where we have slid to our lowest levels - losing to an Associate member. It just tells you that there is something wrong here and we need to fix it," he said. "This is part of the roadmap to fixing it and making sure we are competitive against the top teams and we thrash the Associates. Nobody is safe because we haven't done well."

Sibanda experienced that recently and now, so has Taylor. Although his dropping is proving more difficult for Zimbabwean fans to stomach. Taylor's decade with the national team has included acts that have made him a hero to people of varying backgrounds.

Taylor refused to join the white-player walkout because he felt he was too young to involve himself politically and wanted to play for Zimbabwe. Although he had a dispute with the board in the years when chaos reigned, his was shortlived. On Test return, he led from the front. When more players walked away, he remained and that is not for lack of opportunity to follow them.

As recently as the eve of the South Africa Test there were whispers that Taylor was contemplating a Kolpak offer. He denied that and confirmed he had resigned with ZC for the next year. Following his axing, he posted on Twitter: "I can't wait to represent my country again. I will be back," he posted on Thursday."

Mangongo's uncompromising approach that will keep people on their toes is something to be lauded in an environment where mediocrity has been accepted too often. That said, Taylor has seldom been the protagonist of those middling times and so he has probably earned some time to remain flat-footed. The tri-series will tell.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ZCFOutkast on (August 24, 2014, 9:03 GMT)

@Jono Makim I've given you stats which prove that since the start 2011 when ZIM has regularly been taken "seriously" as a Full Member Taylor has been a far much weaker ODI opener&would not have managed to keep his place in that team, yet you fail to acknowledge that obvious fact.

Secondly even if you broaden the stats to include all batting positions(see below), Taylor's average is still very much comparable to pretty much everyone else(NO inc). Not just 2/3 matches of low scores but longer like others. This article is about ODIs&he's been in the same class as the rest! As I said, I have absolutely no doubt that batting from the same position, Hami&Vusi would also have been able to convert some of the 50s into 100s plus a higher average, but they are almost always out come say the easy middle overs&powerplay.

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=2;filter=advanced;orderby=batting_average;spanmin1=01+jan+2011;spanval1=span;team=9;template=results;type=batting

Posted by Nduru on (August 23, 2014, 16:46 GMT)

@Jono. You are correct. Sadly, the current setup is going to continue to alienate the best players. My concern is with the authoritarian approach and with the attitude that your best players should do as you tell them or you will punish them like school boys. I read an article the other day that Mongogo made guys who came late run 30 laps of the ground and they were too tired to bowl in the nets, to the detriment of them and the batsmen. Sure, they should not come late, but there should be a more professional system of punishing them. Then there is the statement by the convener of selectors who said that if a good batsman does not score "match winning" scores, he should be dropped. But the fact is that Zim is going to lose most of its matches, so do you drop all the players? And what if a batsman has more pressure because the bowlers were poor, or the openers did not fire? The reasoning is so poor and you wonder if the admin even know anything about how cricket works!

Posted by   on (August 23, 2014, 16:05 GMT)

@Nduru, I have a bad feeling you are right about what comes next for Zimbabwean cricket, they've already lost a lot of talent over the last couple of years in Taibu, Ervine and Jarvis and while I was excited to see Nyumbu bowling the other day, he looks a good talent, ZC just cannot afford to keep watching their players set off into the sunset. There is always going to be more players come through to replace them, but a stronger team creates an even stronger competition for places underneath it. I see more departures in the near future.

Posted by   on (August 23, 2014, 15:08 GMT)

@ZCFOUTKAST, well I guess you just have different criteria for a player to be dropped. I would never drop a player like Taylor, nor Masakadza or Williams. Why? Because they are clearly the best batsmen Zimbabwe have, they are all hard working pro's who keep their reputations clean and all compete as hard as they can on the field. You don't drop blokes like that after two or three failures, not even five or six, perhaps not even a dozen or more, because they are the best you have and if you are going to build the strongest team possible you need your best and hardest working talent, regardless of form. You will never have a team of xi in form players, never. So you pick your best men and stick with them, most of the time 8 or 9 will be pretty clear choices, in this case Taylor is certainly amongst those. Right now Zimbabwe just does not have the luxury of leaving out their best cricketer, even if he's not at his best he's a mile better than a Waller, Sibanda or anyone else.

Posted by Nduru on (August 23, 2014, 11:55 GMT)

Thanks @Jono Makim for bringing much needed sanity to this debate. When you have player who has proved time and again to be the best in the side, you do not just drop him when he plays one or two false shots. He is not out of form for goodness sakes, he just scored 93 in the test and he has been going out trying to push the scoring along when he feared the team were falling behind in any case. Mangongo's coaching style is going to push all the best players out, mark my works. These are not high school boys but professionals who also need some respect.

Posted by ZCFOutkast on (August 23, 2014, 11:44 GMT)

@Jono Makim don't shy away from facts through broad generalisations. Your answers are entirely inconsistent with the context of the article and my arguments in response to the article. I have provided SPECIFIC series as examples(look them up) where Taylor also deserved to be dropped after 2 or 3 failures as was the case recently, in order to prove that what Mangongo did is not surprising. It has been done to others and captaincy is the only thing that prevented the same from happening to him, not that his battiing record was better.

Since 2011 these are the stats for ALL openers: http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?batting_positionmax1=2;batting_positionmin1=1;batting_positionval1=batting_position;class=2;filter=advanced;orderby=batting_average;spanmin1=01+jan+2011;spanval1=span;team=9;template=results;type=batting

Taylor has failed opening, but the solution was to drop down the order where he found more success. As an opener he's worse. Vusi's 50s prove class!!!

Posted by   on (August 23, 2014, 11:05 GMT)

Finally, just to show how highly BT ranks amongst Zimbabwean batsmen, he is one of just four with a test average about 35, having played 20 innings. The others are Andy Flower, Dave Houghton and Murray Goodwin. By Zimbabwean standards that is very good going indeed. BT is very clearly Zimbabwe's best allround batsman since Andy Flower departed, no amount of baseless arguments is going to alter that FACT. Just like Australia never dropped Ponting, England never dropped Cook and SA never dropped Smith, nor should Zimbabwe be dropping Brendan Taylor.

Posted by grahaam on (August 23, 2014, 10:49 GMT)

@jona Makim, thanks for the stats, that we all knew would show BT is where you describe. @ZCFOUTKAST quotes stats that do not exist , those he dreams up, as he continues his fantasy Zimbabwe Cricket perception.

Posted by   on (August 23, 2014, 10:33 GMT)

Another stat for you, here is the list of players who average more than 30 for Zimbabwe, with a qualification of 20 matches... Ali Campbell 30.50, C.Ervine 35.10 (what a pity he has left), Andy Flower 35.34, Grant Flower 33.52, Neil Johnson 36.50, Brendan Taylor 33.39, Sean Williams 32.60.

Only AliCampbell with 7 centuries has more than BT's 6. Grant Flower also has 6.

Notable mentions should go to Stuart Carlisle, Tatenda Taibu, Heath Streak, Hami Masakadza and Murray Goodwin who all average between 27 and 30. And a special mention also for Forster Mutizwa who averages 31 from his 17 matches, one wonders why he has not played for Zimbabwe in the last few years? Particularly with his FC average of 40.

So then it is pretty clear, Brendan Taylor belongs to the upper echelon of Zimbabwe's very best batsmen and having made 93 against SA in the test match was evidently not in poor form.

A top 7 of Hami, BT, Ballance, Taibu, Williams, Ervine and Chigumbura would be a great sight!

Posted by MuthuKumar_Vanalingam on (August 23, 2014, 10:09 GMT)

I am from India, but I follow cricket played all over world. If there is one person in zim team who has earned the respect of cricket followers from all over the world, it would be Brendon Taylor. His brave decision to chase 370+ in 4th innings against NZ in NZ and came close (just falling short) is something that indian fans can only wish to see from their country captain. So I was shocked to see him dropped for an ODI. This is not the way to manage cricketers as far as I am concerned.

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