Brendan Taylor has been named as Zimbabwe's new captain ahead of the team's return to Tests, taking over from allrounder Elton Chigumbura. His first duty as captain will be to lead the team against Australian and South African A sides at home, with their first game against Australia A at Harare Sports Club on June 29.
Taylor admitted he was surprised when he heard the news. "Yes I was surprised, but happy at the same time," Taylor told the Associated Press. "I know it's different when you are captain, but I don't see it affecting my performance."
There had been talk for some time over Chigumbura's continued captaincy tenure, and ESPNcricinfo learned that he was on the brink of handing in his resignation in April. The following month, Chigumbura denied anything had been settled, saying: "Yes, at one time I contemplated quitting the post but I never officially tendered my resignation." Now it appears that instead of jumping, he has been pushed.
With former captain Tatenda Taibu having made clear his disinterest in a return to the leadership role, Taylor was one of a number of senior players in the running for the position. His sparkling form in recent years will certainly have done him no harm - since his maiden one-day century against Bangladesh in November 2009 he's averaged 38.96 and hit two further hundreds against quality opposition - and he is one of a handful of current players with Test experience, having played 10 games before Zimbabwe's suspension in 2006.
One thing he doesn't have a great deal of experience in is captaincy at the top level. He has led his franchise, Mid West Rhinos, on the odd occasion but played under Tatenda Taibu and Tino Mawoyo at Under-19 level before making his national debut, aged just 18, in 2004. Nevertheless, he was noticeably vocal in the field in his short stints as Zimbabwe's wicketkeeper and despite his run-ins with the cricket authorities in the past is undoubtedly a senior member of the side.
One potential hiccup that appears to have been pleasingly side-stepped is the issue of race: Taylor is Zimbabwe's first white captain since Terry Duffin led the side to the Caribbean in 2006 and, given the acrimonious race relations that led to the rebel saga in 2004, there was a chance that the colour of his skin could be divisive.
Time will tell, but such have been the positive developments in Zimbabwean cricket in the last two years, the naming of a white captain on merit should be a non-event. Taylor would only have been appointed with the full approval of the board, and appears to have ZC managing director Ozias Bvute's backing. "We have watched Taylor develop into a mature, experienced player and we stand fully behind him in his new role," said Bvute.
Though Chigumbura was unwilling to finally relinquish the captaincy, the end of his rein may not be the worst news either for him or the team. He enjoyed some initial successes in the role, leading the team to victories against India and Sri Lanka in a home triangular series, but his own form slipped alarmingly and he averaged 21.06 with the bat and 158.50 with the ball in 20 ODIs as captain.
Zimbabwe desperately need a fit and firing Chigumbura in the lower order to give both their batting and bowling extra oomph. Without the added weight of the captaincy he could focus on regaining the form that brought him five characteristically rapid half-centuries and 23 wickets in the year before he took over from Prosper Utseya, and led to a county contract with Northamptonshire in 2010.