Guy Whittall: Taking time out

John Ward

February 8, 2002

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All-rounder and former vice-captain Guy Whittall, after scoring few runs in the home series against South Africa and England, found himself dropped from a touring party for the first time as Zimbabwe went to Sharjah, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka without him. In the meantime, he has been making good runs for the Zimbabwe Board XI and should certainly be in the running to tour India. He talks to CricInfo about his situation, and also about the Board XI matches against Easterns B in Boksburg, South Africa.

I bounced back after a long tour of Australia and New Zealand at the start of last year. In Australia I got into some bad habits, getting twenties and thirties and then getting out, when I was opening the batting, and that was quite disappointing and frustrating for me.

Then we came back home for the Bangladesh series, and I had a session with Andy Flower and managed to work on a few things, and after a poor one-day series I bounced back in the Tests. I didn't do too well in the two Test matches against India, but then I bounced back in the one-day tournament against West Indies and India; I think I averaged 60 in the series, and I scored runs at difficult times, which I was happy to come through.

Then in the West Indies Test series I got off to some good starts and was actually feeling very good; I got two forties and 10 not out at Queens, when I was feeling good but we lost five wickets for about ten runs. I thoroughly enjoyed going in number five against them in the one-day series and the Test series. Opening I don't think is quite me. Against Bangladesh and India I opened because the team needed me there, but I don't think I'm quite the opener. We had been getting some very bad starts, so because I play a few shots they looked to me to play a positive role and get the innings started.

It came off against Bangladesh, and then I found myself a bit too aggressive against a better attack, when India came. I found myself going after too much instead of consolidating, and before I knew it the series was over. I think when Zimbabwe used me as an opener, it was because I was hitting the ball quite well and they put me up at the top to give a bit of a boost to the innings. I don't think they will ever look at me as a permanent opener; it's more as a fill-in role because maybe they don't have enough confidence in anyone else and they bounce from one opener to another.

I was feeling really good when the South Africans came out. I scored 16 in the First Test and was feeling really comfortable when I got a good slower ball from Kallis that got me out, when he was just trying a few things in his last over, and unfortunately he won the battle. In the second innings I got out to the spinner.

In the three one-dayers against South Africa I was not out twice, hitting out at the end in a no-win situation, and in the third game, when I was out, I was just trying to speed up the run rate because guys were just messing around and we couldn't cope with the strength of the South African attack, backed up by their fielding. Our bowlers couldn't consolidate and put any pressure on their batsmen, and in all three aspects of the game we were outclassed.

We were privileged to have South Africa here and the Zimbabwe public was honoured to witness some beautiful cricket and some fine players. I think sometimes people actually forget that when we play large countries we are actually privileged to have them here. If you look back 12 years we were having county sides here - so from county sides to the world's best, I just feel it's something Zimbabweans take too much for granted.

I was dropped after the England series, but I wasn't too fazed, and I was actually happy to be out of the cricket situation for a while. I've really worked hard on my fitness to try to get back, though. I have my sights set on India, but I wouldn't be too fazed if I didn't go.

As far as my bowling is concerned, I don't do much bowling in the B side now, because it is a development team and is supposed to be developing young players. I've done a lot of bowling over the years and I've had a few injuries, and I feel that the youngsters coming through must learn how to bowl at that level. I just come and bowl my five or six overs and work on a few things, but I'm confident in my ability and what I'm actually doing with the ball. But I don't want to push it to the extent of trying to do too much.

My knee injury comes and goes. I haven't felt it since I started bowling when South Africa came out; it's been fine since then.

ZIMBABWE BOARD XI v EASTERNS

Three-day match, at Boksburg, 25-27 Jan. Board XI 290 (A D R Campbell 65, R W Sims 37, G J Whittall 100) and 289 (D D Ebrahim 93, R W Price 71, M A Vermeulen 51). Easterns B 329 (R W Price 4/100, R W Sims 2/63). Match drawn.

We flew down on the Thursday morning from Harare to Johannesburg and booked in at the airport Holiday Inn. We didn't practise that day because they didn't have any facilities for us. The next morning we left the hotel at about eight o'clock, and it was a 25-minute drive to Boksburg, where we were playing at the Christian Brothers College ground against the Easterns B side.

The facilities were fine, but it was just like a small club ground. It was a good batting wicket, with the ball new moving round a bit early doors. It was quite hard to cut the ball on it. There was no crowd at all to watch the game.

They won the toss and put us in to bat first. We lost Dion Ebrahim early, just back from his long tour with the national side. He was back to the opening role with Campbell, but didn't last long. Then Richie Sims and Alistair Campbell managed to put up a good partnership of about 100 runs.

It's good to see Richie Sims in the B side because I think he's been a solid club performer. Two years ago he didn't really know much when he started at the Academy, but he is one of the Academy players who has really listened and learned and put into practice. He's quite a strong-willed character, though a quietly spoken person, a good fielder, and really wants to go places in cricket. I don't know if he will go the full distance, but with two years in the B side I think we'll see how far he can go. But he has the will to learn and tries really hard to do the right things.

Then Alistair got out and Richie soon followed. `Syke' Nkala had been promoted up the order to bat at five; I was batting at seven, with Dirk Viljoen at six. We lost five wickets for about six or seven runs, so suddenly we were in a situation of being about 115 for six after being 105 for one.

Alester Maregwede batted with me for a while, then he got out, so I decided to hog the strike from Raymond Price until he settled down a bit. He set his teeth and ground it out for a while, and the two of us must have put on about 100 runs together. We took the score to about 230 or 240, and then `Pom' Mbangwa came in - and when Pommie comes in you know you have to try and do something with the tail! So I basically faced four balls in the over and gave him two to face.

He started gaining a bit of confidence, but at this stage I had lost a bit of rhythm because I was trying to hit a few boundaries for the team's sake - I haven't too much confidence when someone like Pommie walks to the wicket! I was trying to get a boundary an over, with a single from the fourth ball, leaving Pommie to face one or two balls at the end. So I was trying to hit the ball a bit too hard.

When I got to 90-odd I decided at this stage of my career I needed a hundred, so I started playing for myself a bit, which I don't normally do. Pommie managed to hold out at the other end. When I reached 100 I decided to take the attack to them and I got out straight away. Then Brighton Watambwa came in, and when he comes in you have no idea what's going to happen! - nice enough character though he is full of bulldust! He and Pommie managed to put on a quick 30-run partnership to take us to 290, which was a fantastic effort after being about 100 for six. It's always very important that someone in the top order bats with the tail, and this was a classic example of how we can build big partnerships from that.

Then Easterns went in to bat. Watambwa bowled very well and beat the outside edge two or three times an over, and they were quite lucky to survive. They batted very slowly, killing the game as they batted past us; they had 106 overs because they were allowed the overs that we didn't bat out of our 100. If they had batted past us they should have gone on to score 400 or 450 and put us under pressure the whole time, but they only got 39 runs ahead of us, and if we had tried to make a game out of it after that, there would have only been one winner, because the track wasn't doing much.

In our second innings Dion Ebrahim batted well for his 93; Raymond Price threw away a hundred when he got out for 71, and Vermeulen threw away his hundred, getting out for 51. But it was good to see `Syke' Nkala coming in at number five; I think it's about time he took some sort of responsibility on his shoulders, because he was a talented schoolboy cricketer who has batted at number nine or ten for the national side and hasn't proved himself as a batsman. I think it's important he knuckles down in the B side now at number four, five or six, as well as in his club side - I've tried to tell him that he should open for his club side and try and bat for long periods of time, because he has to build up his confidence and develop himself into a all-rounder. Right now he's not an all-rounder at all; he's a bowler, although he did win us one game in India. So I think it's a positive now that they've put him in the B side, and they should keep him there for a year or two to develop his skills and temperament.

ZIMBABWE BOARD XI v EASTERNS

One-day match, at Boksburg, 28 January 2002. EASTERNS B 223/4 (45 overs) (R W Price 2/33). ZIMBABWE BOARD XI 224/7 (44 overs) (D D Ebrahim 31, R W Sims 48, G J Whittall 43, P A Strang 46*). Won by three wickets.

It was an interesting game. We started off bowling quite well and had some good passages of play and some bad passages of play. We just couldn't quite keep them under the pressure and crack their middle order. They had one batsmen whose name I can't remember, who batted really well and made 120 or so. Again, Brighton Watambwa bowled well for us up front with Pommie Mbangwa, and we should have used him in the middle, but our captain thought differently. Also we should have bowled Richie Sims and got another spinner in.

They posted a good total, and then we lost Campbell in the first over; he's our match-winner there. Richie Sims and myself managed to put on a good 70-odd partnership and we were coasting at 4½ or five an over. But Richie didn't play one of the best of shots and got bowled; he threw it away, really. It's quite nice that you can actually go and talk to him about it, because you know with Richie that it's sinking in and he doesn't take anything personally but takes criticism to better his own game. This is what a lot of Zimbabweans actually lack, and feel as if someone's having a dig at them.

Then `Syke' Nkala, who was batting at six, didn't bat too well at all - this is where I feel Syke has to learn to take responsibility on his own shoulders and learn how to play in situations. When he came to the wicket he was feeling a bit sore, and didn't take the initiative, which is what he should be doing from what he has learned in one-day cricket - he knows what I'm talking about. He'll listen, he'll learn.

He put us under a bit of pressure, because I think I faced two ball in three overs, without him scoring at the other end. Then I said to him, "You have to take this fast bowler on," and then he did take a bit of initiative, but got out soon after that. The run rate we needed had gone up from about four an over to seven or seven and a half an over. Then Paul Strang came in and we saw off the one spinner. A bit of rain came down and the ball started skidding off a length and was quite hard to play.

I lost my rhythm when Syke came in, but Paul managed to hit 46 off about 35 balls. I got out trying to hit a boundary shot, and then Alester Maregwede came in and scored a beautiful 20 or 30 runs to help Paul Strang. Maregwede played really well for us in that innings; he took the initiative, he knew what he had to do. He's quite a confident guy who plays well on the off side and over the top, and he put us back in the game. Then Raymond Price came in and finished the game off.

It was an exciting game and we thought we were out of it at one stage. Paul Strang played an awesome knock and really put us back in the game. He's just got to get his confidence back with the ball; he's got to say to himself, "Right, I have been injured; I'm going to play Test cricket again and I'm going to play one-day cricket again, and if the selectors ask me how my arm injury is I'm going to say it's fine." Start with the mental side and take it from there.

It looks to me as if he's not getting the bite that he used to, and as if he's just putting the ball there. There are a couple of areas where he's perhaps thinking too much about his game instead of actually bowling the ball as he used to.

In every single [three-day] B game I've played so far, we've been outscored. We've got Alistair Campbell, who is a genuine Test player who has underperformed, we have Andy and Grant Flower who have been in Zimbabwe's Test cricket since the beginning, and once you get past those players I can say honestly our next best batsman after them is actually someone like Paul Strang. He's technically quite sound, though he's rather unorthodox, but his average speaks for itself, batting down at the bottom.

Trevor Gripper, after starting at Test level two years ago, has come back and seems to be playing very well; I don't think he's one-day player at all, but he seems to be managing his Test role as an opener and has added a few more shots to his repertoire. He's far more confident now, and that's after two years in the B side, which I feel was very important. But generally there's nobody who has consistently made really big hundreds at first-class level after Campbell and the two Flowers, and suddenly under a bit of pressure we crumble, and that's what happens in our Test cricket and one-day cricket.

Our bowling side is not as strong as one would think it should be; we have Watambwa who can run in and bowl quite quickly, but he doesn't land the ball consistently in the same place, pushing a guy forward or back - he's just got a bit of pace. After that, you have Pommie Mbangwa who will nip it around, but he's lost a yard since he was playing Test cricket. Then you have Raymond Price who is trying to find his way back, but is still bowling with a very low action and is not as effective as he was a couple of years ago when he was bowling sides out.

Straight away that tells me that sides can dominate our attack very easily, because they can put the bad ball away, and you're not working on getting people out because there's a bad ball every over and there's never any pressure on the batsman. What I found when I first started playing Test cricket was that if you bored sides out, collapses happened. Bryan Strang was a classic example of being able to move the ball both ways on the spot. Our guys cannot do that with discipline; they are still developing their game to out-think a player.

When you say our B side is full of Test players, how many of them should have played Test cricket? If you look at a lot of the B side players in the sides we play against, a lot of their techniques are far better than ours. We don't play spin very well, bar a few players. But those guys are technically quite good and they're mentally a lot stronger. They have that will to win down south and they're really passionate about the game. I don't think we are as passionate about the game as they are.

They have so many more people to select from down south. And in South Africa, they still have a cricketing culture in all their schools as far as coaching is concerned, whereas in Zimbabwe we don't have that cricketing culture, that same passion about the game. Down there they often have three or four quality, experienced coaches in each age group, whereas in Zimbabwe we have perhaps one qualified coach in each school. They also have the facilities behind them, so I think we're a long way behind that.

In India they are cricket mad, and if our national side don't start doing well, I fear there will be a whole lot of people out here who will start going back to soccer matches, as opposed to wanting to be cricketers. I think it's something we've got to be very careful of. We have to make sure this national side starts doing well.

There is so much more in the South African coaching system than we have here. They have the development coaches they are bringing into the high-density areas and provincial players going in to spot talent. Their development programme is huge because they have the money to do it. In Zimbabwe we don't have the money, so it's going to be a very slow process.

Also in South Africa you can get all the cricketing equipment you want, and there are companies down there with lots of money who will throw in sponsorship for equipment. In Zimbabwe's economy, people are struggling to do that now. We might get a few international sponsors, like a few my cousin [Andrew] is trying to work on. We're fortunate to have him in the marketing team, marketing for the ZCU, because he's played the game at national level for Zimbabwe and has a feeling for what Zimbabwe actually needs. If the money is not spent on the development of the game, especially in the schools and the clubs that are playing cricket now, we are going to struggle.

Everyone thinks at the moment that because 40 people have played for the national side, everybody thinks he should be in the national side. They should be thinking, "How can I get into the national side?", as I remember it was a few years back. I think they should be looking at 17 guys and saying this is how we should be going for it. Some of them can go into the B side and work on the game, but these are the guys we think are going to win us Test matches.

There are too many guys playing international cricket as far as I'm concerned. I've played with someone like Hamilton Masakadza, and watched him play, and I think technically he is one of our better players. He's got a century; he's got an 80; he's got the temperament to do it. I think that's where the selectors should look. Do they have the temperament? Do they have the technique? Even if he's going through a bit of a bad trot, I think he should remain there in the national side. I think he's capable of doing it, he's got the will, and he's patient about the game.

I'd leave him out of the one-day side and make him concentrate on Test cricket. We've got a good Aussie coach here [in Geoff Marsh] and we can just let him work on it.

I've really enjoyed playing B team cricket and it's nice to win again. I just hope the national side can go to India and start hardening up and sorting themselves out, with assistance from the top.

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