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Interview with Alastair Campbell, April 1997

by John Ward

Alistair Campbell tells the story of the recent Zimbabwean tour of South Africa for the triangular series, in conversation with John Ward. He includes some interesting insights into the players and the play.

At the back of the England series we went to South Africa, knowing we had a point to prove, knowing that after that success we needed to capitalise on it. We knew there was an air of expectation about the tour and we wanted to live up to that.

Our first warm-up match started well and Dave Houghton batted particularly well. Some of our batsmen got out to half-decent bowling but overall it was a good warm-up.

Then came our first international game against South Africa at Centurion Park. We knew the South Africans had probably the best one-day side in the world so we went out there to prove a point. Grant Flower played magnificently for 90 but there was a bit of a stutter in the middle of the innings before we came good at the end, with Paul Strang, Heath Streak and Guy Whittall all chipping in with a few. But the real crux of that match was when we had them 7 for three, but failed to convert it into a win. That shows the depth of their batting and their cricketing prowess as a whole. We failed to convert it, but we did give them a run for their money and we had many people in South Africa saying they were surprised at our improvement and that we were now a very competitive side. I think we gave the South Africans a bit of a shake-up and they realised that playing against us wasn't like two years ago when they were in cruise control; they now had to play a good game of cricket in order to win. That's one of the goals that I set out when we went to South Africa: to be competitive, because once we are competitive then there is every chance of winning games.

Our fielding under the lights there wasn't our greatest display and we did drop a couple of catches that went up into the lights -- well, you couldn't call them dropped catches as we didn't get a hand on them! Playing under lights was another new situation that we had to contend with, so fielding second we soon found we hadn't had enough practice catching balls under lights. Also with the dew the ball comes to you quicker than it does on a normal day, so there were a lot of misfields, guys getting their hands down too late. So we had a few things to work on after that game, but all in all the guys felt quite happy.

John Rennie gets very excited when he takes a wicket, and it's not advisable to be in his path when he comes running down the pitch, because the adrenaline is pumping and when he slaps you on the back you tend to know all about it. When he gives you high-fives, you run the risk of having your fingers broken as he bends them all the way back. As he gets excited, his glasses start steaming up and he could probably do with some windscreen wipers when he bowls. Craig Evans calls him 'Beetle-Juice' after that famous character who kicks open the double doors when going into the saloon, bursts in and says, "Hi, I'm here!" That's a bit like Johnny when he takes a wicket, a very excitable person!

We then moved on to our second game against India, at Boland Bank Park. In all 236 was quite a decent score, as it wasn't the easiest of pitches to bat on, and Srinath I think bowled the quickest that any of our guys had ever seen. He bowled a really quick spell early on, even quicker than Allan Donald; he was timed at 157 km/h, a good 10 km/h faster than Donald was bowling throughout the tournament. Grant Flower was hit on the thigh pad, and when he came off he said he thought he had broken his leg!

There was a good contest between Craig Evans and Kumble, and a few words were exchanged. Kumble inquired as to whether Evans thought he was Sir Donald Bradman; then he missed a ball and Kumble inquired as to whether he had brought his bat out with him. Then Evans hit him into the stands and pointed after it, a la Babe Ruth, only he did so after he had hit it instead of before!

We knocked over three quick wickets, thanks to Eddo Brandes again, and it looked like we were in total control. They needed nine an over for the last five or six overs, and the Robin Singh came in to play a gem of an innings. He hit Streaky for six in the penultimate over -- it was a no-ball as well, which cost us -- but we were disappointed only to tie that game because we were in the driving seat and had played the better cricket all the way through. That was probably the game people look back on and say, "If we had won that, we would have got into the finals."

It was a bit disappointing in that regard, and I suppose you have to look at my captaincy there, because I brought in the third man on the penultimate ball of the game, when they needed five runs to win, and the batsman opened the face of the bat and hit it over the fielder for four. I wanted to put another man out on the leg side, so I brought in the third man to do so -- and that's one of the things that happens. Funnily enough, I also toyed with that idea the other night, when we were down in Port Elizabeth for the Mashonaland match against Eastern Province, and decided to leave him back there this time. The batsman nicked the ball straight to the fielder and they only got one; had it gone for four, the match would have been tied and we would have had to replay the game the following night. So you can say one learns by his mistakes!

Then to beautiful Newlands, where we won the toss and decided to bat, because we had been advised that about 85% of teams batting first on that Newlands pitch had won the game, so we decided to go with the statistics. It wasn't the easiest pitch to bat on, though, and South Africa were a really good bowling side; it was a seamer's wicket. We lost Grant Flower early on and never really got above three an over until Dave Houghton and Guy Whittall played magnificently to get us up to 226. The commentators thought it was a good score, but our bowlers didn't bowl well enough, giving them a four-ball an over. We weren't really able to put them under enough pressure, so we lost that game -- but we were competitive. In this tournament, in the early matches we never seemed to get everything together: we either batted well and bowled badly and fielded half-decently, or we bowled well and batted badly, and couldn't get all the departments together.

We then went on to the Wanderers, where we had our best match yet; the guys played really well, and we thought we were in there with a total of 256. But again our bowlers, after the initial early breakthroughs, didn't follow it through. When they were 102 for five, we thought, "The game is ours," but then Pollock and Cronje, who was our main tormentor in the series, were able to score seventies each and won the game. We were very disappointed after this game because, no matter who you make it against, 256 is a big score in a one-day game and we should have converted again. But the three scores we made against South Africa, had we made them against any other side, I think we would have had a good chance of winning. It's a more difficult proposition against South Africa in their own back yard.

At about this time we had a team meeting, and Guy Whittall had gone to watch his mate Ian Noble play rugby. He phoned me up and said, "I'm just watching a rugby game; I won't be there for the team meeting, but you don't mind, do you?" I replied, "Yes, Guy, you take your time -- but for every minute you're late I'll increase the fine!" He came in eventually, looking very beleaguered -- "Sorry, guys." I said, "Never mind, Guy, it's just 300 Rand this time!" For that kit we bought down south for the Zimbabwe cricket development programme, most of the money came courtesy of Guy Whittall. We raised the money through a system of fines, especially for being late, and I think Guy ended up paying about $1500 this season! Guy is always late; he hasn't any sense of time. It's just a matter of discipline; if you are late, there is no arguing about, "Sorry, I was caught in a traffic jam," and so on. There are no excuses accepted, unless there are special circumstances; for example, if a guy had to walk to the ground because he pranged his car into a lamp-post or something, we will be a bit more sympathetic.

There were two more games against India, and we knew we had to win them both. And then came the thriller. At Centurion we put on our best bowling and fielding display of the tournament, and restricted them to 216 on a good batting wicket. We thought we had the game in the bag, but then the rain came down and we needed 170 in 34 overs. The wicket had spiced up with a bit of rain on it, and dew on the outfield -- but that, I suppose, is in the batsman's favour because the ball gets a bit harder to hold. But then our batting collapsed dramatically, and it was left to Evans and Strang, with Streak at the end, to pull us through. It was a very, very exciting game.

We had Nick Price and Mark McNulty, our Zimbabwean golf stars, in the changing room; they were there to play in a golf tournament and they were egging us on. The next day, in the South African Open, they wore our Zimbabwe caps because they were playing together in the same three-ball, and Fulton Allem was wearing his South African cap. We went to watch that, and they were very happy with our performance.

We thought we had done enough to get into the final, but you know what happened in the Benoni game: Tendulkar played one of the finest innings we'll ever see in one-day cricket. Mark McNulty came to me after that game and said, "It's the same as if you were leading by four shots going into the final round at a major golf tournament and someone shoots 62. There's nothing you can do about that!" I took heart from that, because those guys have played in pressure situations and they know a bit about life. The guys were very disappointed, to tell the truth; we played some good cricket, and had the crowds on our side; Price and McNulty had been going to fly down and watch us in the final in Durban; there were about 400 people due to fly down from Zimbabwe to watch us. The support was magnificent, and every South African, it seemed, wanted us in the final; we really made a lot of friends down there, so it wasn't just a personal disappointment but also that of letting down a nation and those people who had supported us through the whole season, because not only was it for them but it was our first final ever. It would have been magnificent to have played in front of a packed house at Kingsmead against South Africa, with half the ground filled with people supporting Zimbabwe. But that wasn't to be -- that's cricket.

We came back to Zimbabwe, and we extracted our revenge very comfortably in Bulawayo. I haven't seen the Queens wicket go like that, but I've been told how it does play up. Eddo bowled really quick early on before Streaky came on; John Rennie bowled really well on a seamer's wicket and in fact everyone did well. We kept them well behind the clock and kept on taking wickets. They got 168, which was never going to be enough. Grant Flower batted well, as he has done all season, and then Guy Whittall came in and the two of them finished it off by eight wickets, very comfortably.

It was a very dark and dismal day, and I was surprised to see so many people there; it was probably double the crowd that was there for England on a sunny day, and that just shows you what success does. From the England tour until now, we have had a really successful season and the onus is on us to continue with that.


 

Date-stamped : 03 Jul1999 - 14:45