March 2, 2001

Paul Strang interview: Board XI v Border 'B'

The Zimbabwe Board XI had a disappointing weekend at East London where they played Border B in the last matches of their league programme. They lost the three-day match and tied the one-day, but still managed to finish top of the table in both leagues. Coach Trevor Penney feels that some of the players may have been a little too relaxed, with supremacy in the league almost assured; captain Paul Strang disagrees. After the match Paul Strang talked to CricInfo about it.

Because we have been playing Logan Cup cricket, the preparation for these matches was quite good. Everyone has been playing and practising for their provinces, but the weather hasn't helped. We've been struggling to get good net facilities, but we've been doing fielding practices. Trevor Penney has got us doing a lot of fielding and we've practised when we can.

One of the problems is that for B games the team is selected very late, so we can't get the squad together. But, like I say, it doesn't matter who was picked; everyone was practising. Craig Wishart and Craig Evans were left out of the squad from the previous game, as was spinner Ian Engelbrecht, and in came Trevor Madondo and Doug Marillier. Douggie Hondo was left out and Brighton Watambwa came in.

We flew down to East London the day before the match, after having a day off because it's a long trip, changing planes at Johannesburg. We had a practice and a fitness session, and arrived the night before the match. It was about eight hours' travelling because of the connections.

We went down there knowing that as long as we got a few bonus points we were through to the three-day final. Border were our closest challengers, and they had to win the game with maximum bonus points and hope we got none. On the day we left out Everton Matambanadzo and lost the toss on what admittedly proved to be a helpful pitch for them, but only in the first couple of hours.

We lost our top order quickly. They had an experienced attack who bowled very well, good channels, put the ball in the right areas and we nicked off, limping to 136 all out.

The pitch had flattened out considerably by the time we bowled that evening. Brighton Watambwa opened with David Mutendera and did a great job; we had them at 25 for five, including a run-out. Then two of their senior players came together, Klopper and Fourie, helped by Hinkel. They were the backbone of their team for the whole four days because they were experienced players who just got in there and played time. We didn't get enough balls in the right place, although we didn't bowl particularly badly.

They batted very well and reached 320 all out. But fortunately, with the way the bonus point system works, we took one batting point and took six wickets in the appropriate overs and so were through to the finals provided we didn't incur any penalty points for slow over rates.

So at that stage we knew we were in the final, but obviously still had to try to win the game. But when we batted, wickets started falling again, and in our second innings there was only one real highlight, which was Trevor Madondo's excellent 98 not out. He got in early and batted for most of the innings. We ended up with 218 and they needed 36 to win, which they knocked off on the morning of the third day.

I thought Border bowled very well throughout the match. They didn't give us much at all and they bowled consistently in the right place. They had good seamers who hit the deck, and our batsmen just weren't patient enough. Obviously we have batsmen who are going to get out early, nicking off of being bowled, but there are too many batsmen getting to 20 or 30 and not carrying on. As Trevor Penney puts it, "We don't think like cricketers; we're just playing like them." So we have to learn to improve our cricket minds.

So that was quite a substantial hiding, losing by nine wickets. Watambwa bowled very well; Mutendera bowled well, and they got the ball in the right area, but I think we were lacking consistency in that regard. As a team we just couldn't maintain the pressure for any length of time. That, I think, boils down to the individuals, who have to learn to keep their intensity levels going.

We knew the one-day game was the more important of the two, so we tried to make sure that the three-day game was up to scratch, because we wanted to go into the one-dayer with some confidence. So I don't think it was a case of being too relaxed; if it was, it certainly didn't come from management or captain. We did emphasize how important it is to keep playing good cricket and, results aside, these guys are also playing for places at international level. That was made very clear to the players, so if our loss was a result of that, they only have themselves to blame.

It may be a case of a team with several international players losing to a province B team, but that B team was not the worst. The men who carried the weight for Border are all ex-senior players who did a very good job: they scored all the runs and took all the wickets for the team. If we had taken those three guys out they would have struggled. Our international players were those who are slightly out of nick and need to get some sort of form. Trevor Madondo and Doug Marillier, coming down from the national side, haven't played much cricket, especially first-class, for the last two or three months. We may have six internationals in our side, but none of them, except myself, has played for any length of time.

The one-day game was quite important because Border again were our closest challengers. We went into the game two points ahead because they had had a rained-off match while we had won every game. We knew that whoever won the game would go through to the final so it was a semi-final situation.

I lost the toss again on a dampish pitch and we collapsed to about 25 for three. Then Mark Vermeulen and Dion Ebrahim batted well and got us into the position of about 130 for four after 30 overs. I felt from there we should really have pushed on to 210, but again we batted poorly: a couple of guys threw their wickets away, there were a couple of good balls and poor shots, and suddenly we were 166 for nine.

Then Ebrahim coaxed Watambwa along and we got up to 192. I was disappointed with our batting, considering the skill we had at our disposal, but having said that we were happy with 192, although 200 was a par score I think.

We got in and bowled very well up front, although the pitch had flattened out a great deal. Watambwa and Mutendera reduced them to 10 for three, but then the three senior players came in again and started to take us on. They needed five an over and they kept up with the rate, but kept losing wickets at regular intervals. The game came up to an exciting climax, when they needed 44 off the last ten overs with three wickets in hand.

In the end they needed four off the last over with one wicket in hand; scores were level with two balls to go and then Andy Blignaut bowled their number eleven. I thought that was a great all-round intensity effort from the players and we did well to defend that score. A couple of bowlers took some stick, but they hung in there and we pulled it back nicely. The fielding was brilliant and we had a couple of good run-outs. The bowlers backed me up immensely, so I was very proud of the guys. The tie obviously got us through to the final.

My arm is holding up all right at the moment - it's not great but it's not bad. I'm very happy with the way I'm bowling, although I know I can bowl a lot better. This B cricket is just the right level and intensity that I need to keep me going: better than league and like Logan Cup for me. Physically I'm there or thereabouts, and I'm enjoying it. I'm struggling a bit with the bat and haven't had a chance to get in the nets in the last few weeks, but I'm just going to get in there and back my natural ability.

Apart from that I'm enjoying my cricket. My fitness is good and I'm enjoying captaining the B side. I hope I get the opportunity to take them down to Cape Town now because I'm finding it very challenging to captain the team. It's just what I need and giving me extra zest for my life at the moment.

We look forward to the finals which will be in two weeks' time; they will combine the finals, so it will be ten days away for the side they choose. I don't know what sort of a side they will be selecting, but whatever goes, we wish them well. Western Province are the best outfit down there and I don't think they have lost any games at all. Playing away from home we are going to be against it, but hopefully we can come through.

DATES: One-day final: At Cape Town, 13 March
Three-day final: At Cape Town, 15-18 March