December 17, 2002

Alistair Campbell on the Pakistan series

Alistair Campbell, acting captain of Zimbabwe during the Pakistan tour, spoke to ZCO about that tour and assessed each of the players who took part.

Pakistan have always had a talented side but they have been guilty of inconsistency, even more so than us because they have far more talented players than we have. But everyone in world cricket knows that when Pakistan play to their full potential they are up there with the best in the world, and we caught them when their big guns were fit and they were playing well.

They taught us a few lessons in how to play cricket: Wasim and Waqar bowled particularly well in the one-day games, their Test match bowling was really good - Shoaib was fit and bowling really quick, and some of his spells turned some of the games. Their batting obviously clicked for them: they were missing Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana against Australia and it just shows, when those two are back, what strength they add to their batting.

With some of their youngsters coming to the fore and getting some runs as well, it was really hard. Perhaps we didn't play as well as we should have; especially in the bowling department we were a bit lacking. But generally we caught a very good side playing really well and it's hard to compete, let alone beat them.

Yes, we did get beaten, and on paper it was very comprehensive, but we competed in patches but just weren't able to come home when we were in positions of authority, and they were always able to recover. It was frustrating because we did have a few chances but we weren't able to take them.

We had a very good competitive atmosphere between the teams, as it should be in international cricket. There were a few incidents concerning the ball-tampering and a few other incidents, but that's for the match referee to deal with; between the teams players there was some healthy competitiveness, which is good. There were a few fiery spells by the bowlers and counter-attacks by the batsmen, and a few blows being suffered by our batsmen when Shoaib was bowling, and a few words from him, especially against Taibu. That would have shaken Taibu up and made his realize what international cricket is all about; he handled it superbly, with a lot of guts and determination. It was a really good passage of Test cricket, and that's what Test cricket is all about: gutsing it out there, being tough in the face of adversity. There were a few instances where we had to summon up that sort of toughness and most of the time we came away looking good. It was the youngsters who did it, and that augurs well for the future.

I've played against these guys for a quite a number of years now - Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam, Yousuf Youhana, Saqlain, Shoaib, Azhar Mahmood - and I know these guys reasonably well, so it's good to catch up with what they're doing and ask them about the Aussie tour and what happened there, and they ask the same sort of questions. We encourage the youngsters to go there and learn a bit: Blignaut got to know Shoaib quite well and Wasim gave him a few tips, and a few of the batsmen were asking them how they played and what they need to do to improve their game, so it was a learning curve for the youngsters as well.

Pakistan didn't do well against South Africa in the first one-day international, but I've always said that their batting is their greatest nightmare. Their bowling is always competitive, and I said to someone the other day, when they asked me about their prospects in South Africa, "On the bowling front they'll do very well and will bowl South Africa out for scores they can get, but if they don't score enough runs they'll be under pressure."

Going back to our series here, we bowled them out for 280 in the first innings, and if we had batted better we should have got 350 or 400 on a good batting pitch. In the second innings, if Inzamam hadn't come to the party and Taufeeq Umar with a hundred, we had our opportunities, and they only got 360 in the second innings, and left us with 400 to get. But if we had got 400 in our first innings we'd have needed only 200 to win the Test match. We didn't bat well enough to win that Test match. Everyone likes to blame the bowlers but we didn't bat well enough.

In Bulawayo we had first use of a flat Queens pitch and only got 170. Any other batting side in the world would have got 400 there. Then they counter with 400 on a good batting pitch and the game is on for the last two days - up and down, bounce, turning a bit, and who knows what might happen? My greatest worry with Pakistan is that if Youhana and Inzamam fail, as they did in the first one-day game, then they're under a bit of pressure. Against us they seemed to dovetail. Their bowling will always be competitive, but their batting has always been a bit brittle under a bit of pressure, and they're not going to get as many freebies as they did against us here. I think that could be what will let them down, coping with sustained accuracy.

PAKISTAN PLAYERS

AZHAR MAHMOOD

He only played a couple of games this time. We played against him in the past and found him a quality all-rounder, bowling at a good pace, swings it out and hits the ball very hard. He should be a feature in their World Cup plans.

FAISAL IQBAL

He only played two innings; he's one of the youngsters and I didn't really get to know him. He came up with a hundred in the fourth one-day game but again we dropped him four times! He must be able to play if he's in the Pakistan side, and especially that one pull shot off Henry Olonga into the stands that he can hit the ball quite hard!

HASAN RAZA

He went home for the one-dayers and just played the Test matches. I think he was a better player when he first started against us when he was 14, 15 or 16, and looked a really good prospect. In the Test matches here he didn't look like he had settled in at all; he got a few runs but it looked like we could get him out at any stage. Maybe he's just going through a bit of a bad patch; he works really hard on his game but I think he needs to go back to where he was when he was that age and just play like he did then. He obviously scores a lot of runs in their domestic cricket and is a very focused young guy and wants to play international cricket, but he didn't produce the goods on this tour.

INZAMAM-UL-HAQ

We all know Inzamam, the gentle giant, who goes out there and gives the impression he's half-asleep when he's batting. His innings here in the Harare Test turned the game in their favour. We got two early wickets in the second innings and he came in and scored at nearly six an over for that first session of the third day, getting a hundred before lunch and showing what a good player he is and how well he can strike the ball. I admit we didn't bowl very well at him, but if you ask the great batsmen in the world how they score their runs they will say they hit the bad ball for four - and that's what he certainly did, and he did it very well. He's that sort of player, who can turn the game and make big hundreds. He had a relatively quiet series in the one-dayers because we didn't really get down to him!

KAMRAN AKMAL

He looked a solid enough keeper, but was always going to give you a chance when he batted - feet together and played on the up, played and missed a couple of times, but when he hit the ball he hit it really solidly. He looks set to take over from Rashid Latif or Moin Khan when they retire.

MISBAH-UL-HAQ

I don't think he's related to Inzamam. I only saw him twice; he came in right at the end of the fourth one-dayer and then at number three in the fifth one-dayer. He had a hook at Travis Friend and hit it straight up in the air so we didn't really get to see him. I saw him playing in Nairobi where he got a couple of fifties and looked really solid, so he's a youngster who when given an opportunity looks as if he may be an able replacement for some of the older generation.

MOHAMMAD SAMI

I was very impressed with him; a skiddy customer who is genuinely fast with a nice rhythmical action, fast-twitch fibres and a very fit guy. He bowled whole-heartedly and well throughout the series, and I think he's a real find for them, making good progression to being a very good cricketer.

MOHAMMAD ZAHID

I didn't see much of him: a tall guy, lanky customer who looks a good prospect, but is obviously lacking at the moment when I compare him with the other seamers that are currently playing for Pakistan. But he is young, and with a bit of guidance and a few more games under his belt should do well.

SALEEM ELAHI

He struggled early on; one we thought was very vulnerable outside the off stump and nicked him off early twice in the First Test here in Harare, and got him cheaply in Bulawayo as well. Then in the second innings in Bulawayo he came out and played a few shots, and that stood him in good stead for the one-day series, where he was superb. He got two hundreds in three innings before he was rested and played really well, showed why he was picked for Pakistan, and once he got used to the pitches here and used to our bowling he seemed to like it!

SAQLAIN MUSHTAQ

A quality spinner; he and Murali have taken off-spin bowling to another level, because of top-spin and the ball that goes the other way. There's no easy milking of runs on to the leg side any more; you have to be watchful of the one that goes the other way. He bowled superbly throughout the Test matches and the one-dayers, and it was a real proposition in both forms of the game to score quickly off him. He's a real wicket-taker and match-winner, and showed us what a good competitor he is.

SHAHID AFRIDI

We didn't get to see him very much with the bat, though he played a couple of little bright and breezy innings, but nothing punishing. He came in in the middle order and didn't open as he has done in the past to get them off to a flier. With the ball he did a steady job, and he and Saqlain play a major part in their spin bowling department wherever they go in the world, and he does a really good job of bowling in tandem with him.

SHOAIB AKHTAR

What can I say? He bowled express pace in the Test matches and the one-dayers, and when he gets fired up it comes out at the speed of light. He has superb match-winning qualities and when it comes to winning matches, you give him the ball and he bowls his fiveor six-over spells that can turn games on their heads, bowling at 160 km/h, yorkers and bouncers and so on. It was difficult to play him when he came back and had his mind on it.

It's not all the time that he bowls like that; he just comes on in patches and tries to turn games, and he bowled very well against us. Off the field he's a larger than life character, full of the joys of life, very friendly with all the players, and a real asset to the game of cricket. He's not always 100% on the field; he might come on and start a spell at 120 km/h and the last ball of the over is 160. He reads the game so well he knows when he's needed to do something, when there has been a long partnership or they need a break-through, and he does that so well. Whenever he came back for a burst when there was a partnership forming, he managed to get a breakthrough.

TAUFEEQ UMAR

A youngster and we were very impressed with him from the First Test match here. He had very good balance, very good shot selection and his 70 and 100 here were really well-played innings: he didn't look like getting out, didn't look like giving us a chance. He looked very balanced and I think he's one to watch for the future.

WAQAR YOUNIS

He's lost a bit of pace but is still a great cricketer; you don't take as many wickets as he has done if you're not a fine performer. His team had obviously been given a hiding by Australia and didn't play all that well in the Champions Trophy as well, so his job was under the cosh, as it were. He responded in the best way possible, led from the front and bowled well, led well on the field and had his team fired up. It was the most fired-up I have ever seen a Pakistan team; they were really keen to do well. He led from the front, and that's the sort of person he is.

WASIM AKRAM

Wasim Akram is Wasim Akram! He was a bit rusty in the first one-day international and went for 57 in his ten overs; he looked out of sorts, as it were, with a few no-balls, running on the pitch, and it looked like he hadn't been playing. But the great player that he is, he came back and for the rest of the series was superb.

He doesn't look as if he ages; I know he says he's retiring after the World Cup, but that guy could carry on until he's 40 and still get people out. His ability to swing the ball, his ability to move the ball off what seems like a very flat pitch is unbelievable. We thought that maybe we just weren't good enough to cope with him, but I watched that first one-dayer against South Africa and he bowled ten overs for 19, so he's doing it there as well!

He's a good guy off the field, a larger than life character, and the game is going to be all the poorer for losing him when he retires.

YOUNIS KHAN

He had a scratchy start and we thought he looked vulnerable outside the off stump. We got him out cheaply twice here in the Test match, and even when he got the fifty in Bulawayo he didn't look comfortable. He looked far more adept in the one-day game and played really well, scored a run a ball and got the scoreboard ticking over. He got limited opportunity because we were unable to get down to the middle order. Then in the last one-dayer he got the Man of the Match, scored 80-odd at nearly a run a ball and fielded superbly.

YOUSUF YOUHANA

He's a fantastic player. He always gives you the feeling that he will give you a chance; he loves playing outside the off stump, so we tried to get the ball on a length outside the off stump and get him to hit it on the up through the covers. It worked once, in the second innings of the First Test match, when we got it in the right area and he nicked off for nothing. But that was the last time we saw him get out for nothing!

He had a superb series and I asked him what he was doing, and he said he couldn't believe it either! The ball was hitting the middle of the bat and sometimes that happens, I suppose. We didn't help ourselves by dropping him three or four times in Bulawayo, and who knows what the series might have turned out like if we had got him out then. He took his chances and that's the art of batsmanship. He's in a rich vein of form and the pundits always tell you to capitalize when you're playing well, and he certainly did that.

He's a very nice guy, very down-to-earth, very focused on playing good cricket, and a gentle guy, but on the field he's a good competitor who concentrates really hard and puts a price on his wicket.

ZIMBABWE PLAYERS

ANDY BLIGNAUT

`Blignaut' has come back from the twilight, as it were, and he's come back with a bang. He's played really well; his bowling is coming on; his batting has always been cavalier-like, he scores runs quickly but he needs to get a bit more discipline in that department - when he gets a start, he needs to make it count. But in my opinion he's the most exciting prospect to come out of Zimbabwe cricket: he's such a talented guy, with bat, with ball and in the field, and can turn a game in either discipline. If we can get him fit and playing properly, he's going to be a real asset for Zimbabwe cricket in the years to come.

GARY BRENT

He only had two games and was steady; he's always hungry and always a competitor.

ALISTAIR CAMPBELL

I had a bad series and don't know what it was; I was hitting the ball well and got one start, 32 in Bulawayo, but after that no runs at all. That happens; it's pretty frustrating and mind-destroying at times when you work so hard in the nets and think you've got it right, and then go out there and just can't seem to get a break. But that happens; that's for me to deal with, and in the past two years I've had some success, averaging nearly 40 in the one-day game. When you're playing badly you always look for excuses, but there's no real excuse. There was a bit of pressure with the captaincy and playing against a side like Pakistan and getting beaten the whole time, but it's up to me to sort it out and get some runs in the bank.

DION EBRAHIM

He played really well in the Test matches, the First Test here in particular. He's had a bit of a technical problem when the ball is straight, falling over playing across it a bit, but he works really hard at his game and is hungry to succeed. Especially he wants to score runs at international level. He was brought back for the one-dayers here and struggled a bit, but against quality bowling. I must emphasize that facing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and then when they rest Mohammad Sami and Zahid and Saqlain coming it, it's tough. He didn't have the best of times but you have to take into account the quality of the opposition. I'm sure he'll come back.

SEAN ERVINE

With Blignaut and Travis Friend he's the future all-rounder of Zimbabwe cricket, but is still not getting the ball in the right area. He showed what he can do with the bat in Bulawayo with the innings of 60 he played, and hit the ball very cleanly. But he needs to produce on a more consistent basis.

CRAIG EVANS

He played a really good innings of 68 in Bulawayo, only to be tragically run out. If he had stayed in, who knows what might have happened? Since then he hasn't played particularly well, but that's due to some really good bowling in my opinion. Pakistan are at you the whole time, and he's been out of international cricket a long time, so after the first innings he struggled to get back into it. But I must emphasize that first innings, when you're under pressure in your comeback game, to weather the storm and then be able to capitalize showed some real guts and determination. But when he went in after that, the games were already really up; he never had the opportunity to go out there and win a game.

ANDY FLOWER

Andy Flower is Andy Flower; he didn't have a particularly good Test series but in the one-dayers came back with some superb innings. People don't understand how good this Pakistan side is, and when Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain are bowling well, Andy came in at number three in difficult situations and steadied the ship; particularly that innings in Bulawayo with Craig Evans when he talked him through it. When we looked like going home for afternoon tea, he came to the party, put his back into the game and we nearly won. He is immeasurable; what he can achieve is probably only in his mind and he sets very high standards. He's got a lot of runs under his belt in one-day cricket this year, and with the World Cup coming up it augurs well for us.

GRANT FLOWER

He was under a bit of pressure before the series started and it shows what a good player he is. He came back to score the most runs in the Test series and was just behind Andy in the one-dayers. He hit a superb hundred here under pressure in the third game, so he has come back really well. His bowling has always been steady and useful, and he can only go from strength to strength here. It just shows what an integral part of the side he is.

TRAVIS FRIEND

He was injured for most of the series and was a bit rusty when he came back. He's still too loose: he's another guy with plenty of ability, a big tall guy who can bowl quick, but he doesn't get enough balls in the tight area. He knows that and it's something he needs to address, because if he can keep the ball in the right area then he's Zimbabwe's own Glenn McGrath. His batting is also very good and he showed that while batting with Grant Flower, scoring 48 and hitting the ball cleanly. He's a real all-round asset and also still young.

DOUG HONDO

He was injured but came back towards the end, but he was rusty as well. He's lost a bit of pace; I think he's still trying to get his mind round his shoulder injury and believe it really is healed now and he can put it in. He's just easing into it slowly, so hopefully with two months until the World Cup he should be up to full capacity then. To be off for that long and then come back and bowl as he has done is very satisfying. He knows he's 20 to 30 per cent short of what he should be, but I'm sure he'll work up to that.

BLESSING MAHWIRE

We had a huge number of injuries, with four or five bowlers out for the First Test, so Blessing was the next in line after a very good Logan Cup season. He did all right, but it also showed what he needs to do if he wants to be competitive at international level. He was lacking a bit, but he's a hard worker and desperately wants to do well. From where he's come last year to where he is now, if he can continue that steady rate of progress, who knows where he might be in another year's time? He's accurate, and maybe it was just nerves that got to him there; it happens to the best of us. I've never seen him bowl so many loose deliveries; he played for Manicaland in the Logan Cup so I was able to watch him all the time, and one of his greatest assets was his accuracy. He knows where he went wrong and what he needs to correct, and hopefully he can go out there and do it. I think the lad can bowl a bit, and he is accurate, which is a good quality to have in Test cricket.

HAMILTON MASAKADZA

He has a lot of ability but I think he wasn't sharp enough; he's playing club cricket in Bloemfontein, which is hardly good enough preparation for Test match cricket. Make no mistake, he has tons of ability and I think he's got a good head on his shoulders and that he'll score a lot of runs for Zimbabwe, but you need good preparation if you're going to succeed. He should have come back here to play first-class cricket and practise with the squad and get his mind attuned to playing Test cricket. He seemed a bit late on the ball with the Pakistan fast bowlers and didn't seem focused. He's a man of the future, but he needs to play at a higher standard and prepare better for international cricket.

STUART MATSIKENYERI

He now has a sniff of what it's like to play at the highest level, against a top-class side doing well, and he will be able to measure his game against that. He has now realized how hard it really is, and as long as he can learn from that, he will go back to a few more A games and domestic cricket and put it into practice.

BRIAN MURPHY

He played a couple of games but is struggling a bit with inconsistency; he gets the ball in the right area 70% of the time, but at this level with so many loose balls they just put them away. But in the match against Kenya be bowled really well and there weren't many bad balls at all. He's a confidence guy and he got the ball in the right area, turned it and it was a really competent leg-spin display. He's a real asset in the field, quick to the ball, so hopefully that's given him a bit of confidence and he can go from strength to strength. We need Brian Murphy bowling well to give us some attacking options.

WADDINGTON MWAYENGA

He's another guy for the future; he pitched the ball up in his one match and kept a good line. He lacks a couple of yards but he's a young kid and his action needs to be sorted out a bit, but he got the ball in the right area and his first four overs were really good. Obviously on a flat pitch and with few wickets down they took toll of him later on, but he will have learned from that what he needs to do to be more competitive. He's got a great attitude and wants to learn; he's always keen to listen when the senior players are talking and pick up a few tidbits to improve his game. When I spoke in the changing room as captain he was always on the edge of his seat, listening to everything I had to say, and when a guy is that keen and that hungry for success, I think he's got a great future ahead of him.

MLULEKI NKALA

He had a bit of a shocker, to be honest; he's struggling a bit with his action at this stage, but he's a hard worker and a jovial character. If it were anybody else with a less positive attitude it would get on top of them, but `Syke' is always laughing, always with a joke on hand and always positive, so I'm sure he'll come through. He's got some time to get his bowling right and he's a youngster still.

We're trying to get him back to bowling his inswinger, which was his asset in his early days; he got away from that and tried to bowl outswingers but the ball was just going straight. At his pace he needs to be able to move the ball, and he showed in Bulawayo when he opened the bowling that he has got it back a bit with the new ball, beating the left-hander quite a few times outside the off stump. So he's working on that, and if he can put on a bit more pace and get more accurate and get that inswinger going again he could develop into a very competitive bowler. He needs to work on his batting because he needs to be put in the same category as the Blignauts and the Friends and the Ervines of this world, and he knows how to bat, so he needs to develop himself into a quality all-rounder.

HENRY OLONGA

He was out of favour before the series started, but came back in the Test series with a `five-fer', which is the best way to answer your critics. He has had steady performances in the one-dayers he has played, but he knows he needs to do a lot more work on his bowling; he knows that when he does get it in the right area when he's bowling quick, that's when he's at his best. He needs to be at that sort of level the whole time, which he hasn't been. Hopefully he can put in the hard work in the nets and on the field to make sure he achieves that.

RAYMOND PRICE

In the Test matches he bowled really well, especially in Bulawayo, where he bowled from one end and I thought was a bit unlucky. His only weakness is that he tends to bowl with his arm a bit low and he needs to get it higher, because when he bowls low he tends to bowl from wide of the crease, which nullifies lbws and also turning the ball. But on the other hand, as he showed in India, if the ball is turning that can sometimes be an asset, because it keeps the batsman in two minds. But he's a competitor; he really wants to do well and he was a real asset in both Test matches, not only holding up an end but also giving us an attacking option by taking a few wickets as well. He's a spinner who can do a real good job in Test match cricket, which he has done for two series in a row now.

BARNEY ROGERS

He had a couple of games, but he's a young man and looked a bit out of his depth at this present stage of his career. At a slightly lesser standard he looks the goods, hits the ball well and looks like he can bat. But we have to nurture these youngsters, don't throw them in too early, let them play for a period of time at a slightly lower level to get some confidence. Throw him in against a side like Pakistan and it's a bit of a tough one for a young guy. But he will have learned from that and will know what it's like to play at the highest level.

RICHIE SIMS

He came in as the off-spinner, had a sniff and bowled well in patches, but maybe suffered from a bit of inexperience, maybe a few too many bad balls. We've talked about it and he knows what he has to do to get a bit better, and he's already doing that. I played against him in the nets yesterday and he bowled really well, and he said, "I've learned and I'm working on a few different things." When that happens, it stands you in good stead.

TATENDA TAIBU

He had a very good series all round and chipped in when it was required. He's a busy little cricketer and really wants to do well, and I think he is now a part and parcel of the fabric of the team. He knows that he's nowhere near the finished articles and needs to work really hard to improve his batting and get bigger scores, and also to improve his keeping and make sure he keeps his mistakes to the minimum. He really wants to achieve that; he's hungry for success, motivated to succeed.

MARK VERMEULEN

He played well when he was given the third game here, and scored 79 at nearly a run a ball. He showed how hard he can hit a cricket ball playing orthodox cricket shots and that's what his greatest quality is. He's a big guy and hits the ball so hard. In Test matches he failed in his first innings but showed what he can do in that over from Shoaib Akhtar, where he hit four or five fours off him, playing quality cricket shots. He's got a few technical deficiencies he needs to iron out, and when he does that he's one of the youngsters I can identify with who will be a real asset to Zimbabwe cricket.

GUY WHITTALL

He didn't score many runs in the First Test but that spell of bowling, twelve overs from one end, really got us back in the game; he got the wickets for Pricey at the other end, by just getting the ball in the right area. It shows you, that if our fast bowlers were more accurate - that's how the Australians play their cricket, by setting attacking fields because their fast bowlers are accurate. They don't move the ball or bowl any quicker than anybody else in the world, but they're so accurate, and that's the secret of their success. Guy showed even at his pace, if you're accurate, what can be achieved. He injured his calf and hasn't had an opportunity since then, but hopefully in the Kenya series it will have healed by the Bulawayo matches and he can have a run-around then to stake a late claim for a World Cup place.