April 4, 2003

ZCO - Guy Whittal Interview - Part One

Guy Whittall recently announced his retirement from international cricket. He spoke to ZCO about his career with Zimbabwe and about the World Cup.

It's the end of a long road, but it's been a great ten years. I've been playing for Zimbabwe for 13 years altogether; I made my debut in April 1990 against Worcestershire at Harare Sports Club.

I've learned a lot and experienced a lot, and must admit I thoroughly enjoyed playing the game of cricket in Zimbabwe against the world's best. I've enjoyed some personal achievements as well as some great team achievements.

I'm riddled with injuries at the moment. Every time I walk on the park I seem to get something else: if it's not a calf, it's a hamstring; if it's not that it's my leg. My knee has obviously been a big part of it for three years. I was up and down all the time, and that's the major factor in my retirement.

There are other major factors. I'm quite tired of going on long tours away from my family now and I've been away quite a lot. There's also a family hunting business and I want to try to expand the business within the region. I'm off to Tanzania in May to have a look around there; we've extended into Mozambique and I also want to get into Zambia and Tanzania. We've got a good base in Zimbabwe, with about 25 or 30 years in clients, so we can afford to expand.

I can't really see myself as a coach in this country, or a commentator, so there isn't much to offer in cricket for me after playing. That's quite sad, but I think the hunting safari business will get me further down the line. There's far more scope for me in hunting than in cricket.

I did consider whether I wanted to play only in one-day internationals or Test matches, but my gut feeling is telling me to go back to the bush. I belong in the bush. When I first started playing cricket, I loved being competitive, just being out there competing. But my first love was always to go back to the bush. I wanted to be hunting and involved in conservation, in watching animals grow and watching the wild grow. It's been pulling me the whole time, and the last couple of years has been harder financially in cricket for myself.

I kept aiming for the World Cup. Before it started I just said, "You can't just keep holding on in here with all those injuries and the hunting season about to start. You've got to make a decision." My parents loved watching me play and they really wanted me to carry on.

There's a lot of sad things going on in cricket circles with players and officials. There's a lot of backbiting that's going on and there are going to be a lot more spots in the team now that myself, Andy (Flower) and Henry (Olonga) are leaving. They might get a bit more consistency if they get a young team going and they try to rebuild a side for four or five years' time.

I think that's what's actually going to happen and I don't know whether it will be for better or for worse. You might see a lot of the older guys moving on because they won't be able to hold down cricket as a career. It's one of those unfortunate things, but that's the way it's going to be now, and you have to accept it.

I've handed my retirement in to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, and told them it was due to my injuries, that I was tired of spending time away from home, and that I wanted to get into the family business and broaden our horizons in Southern Africa. I'll still play a bit of cricket when I can and if the Union wants me to help out here and there, if I'm available I'll do it.

I believe our preparation for the World Cup was very good. We had three or four weeks of good hard training within the camp, working out game plans of what we wanted to do and some team-building exercises. The guys tried to build a bit of confidence in themselves and looked forward to playing in this World Cup.

After those three weeks, we had South Africa A coming up here and managed to beat them without Andy Flower until the last game. It was a real confidence-booster for all of us.

In the first game we played like real idiots. We sat down and talked about game plans, and after 15 overs we had about 25 runs. That was not what we wanted to achieve. With all our goals and targets nothing was achieved.

Geoff Marsh sat us down and came really hard at us. It was about team spirit and everyone trying to play for each other, and that we would never become a better side if we did not do so. Each player had to make a difference for himself and the team. He gave us a good revving. He was disappointed with the attitude and the way we carried ourselves out there, with no one prepared to stand up or try to take anything to the South Africans barring Grant Flower with the bat.

One day he put up on the board, "Are you just living or are you trying to make a difference?" Everyone came up with a few little chirps they had come up with, just something to put in the back of their minds. Two days later we came back and beat them, and everything we talked about we did.

The main problem with the World Cup was that our bowling was struggling. I don't think we contained any side to 60 or 70 in the first 15 overs; I think even Holland got hold of us. Our bowling was a let-down, which put more pressure on the batting.

Our bowling attack is quite young and I feel that over the years, chatting to Geoff Marsh, guys like Sean Ervine and Travis Friend are big prospects. They will get better over the years, and the more internationals they actually play the better they will get. Travis I think is a very young cricketer upstairs still, but he's quite passionate about the game and he'll come good. He just has to develop his cricketing maturity.

It's very difficult to teach someone how to put the ball on the spot; you've got to get out there and do it, many, many times, over and over again, and prove to themselves they can do it. They've got a bit of pace and add variation to the attack, so our bowling department might look good in the future. We're desperate for a spinner, and I see they've come up with Raymond Price again in the squad.

We got off to an absolute blinder when we played Namibia. We had a good run rate and did really well, so there are no complaints there.

With England it was a case of they were coming, they weren't coming, they were coming, and so on. We didn't know until about two days before if they were actually coming or not. There was a lot of tension in the air and if they had arrived here I don't think we were prepared for it. We wouldn't have been ready and it would have been a bit of a farce.

The ICC made it quite clear to the whole world that safety was not a problem in Zimbabwe. They were the professionals and had a lot of meetings here, and that was for them to discuss with the various unions. But once England had had those threats in Australia it was different for them. Once you get threatened, and you come from the developed Western world, they were pretty nervous of coming here, and I feel the ICC should have taken that into consideration.

I don't know about reports that some Zimbabwe players didn't think the World Cup should be played in this country. Some guys I think were probably misquoted. I think the whole thing was a bit of a farce, and even if all our matches had been played in South Africa it would still have been a bit of a farce, because it wasn't all sorted out six or seven months prior to the tournament. It was just bad management.

The second game was against India. I thought they bowled superbly. They didn't come out with the bat like they usually do, playing a lot of shots; they just got together a partnership and got going from there. We managed to pull it back quite well from there; Grant had an outstanding World Cup but once again the first 15 overs let us down.

India came to this World Cup after a very poor tour of New Zealand and were playing under a hell of a lot of pressure because of their public back home. But their bowling department was special throughout the World Cup, and I would have said they were the best attack at the World Cup.

What happened to them in the final I don't think was a case of poor bowling but a case of class batting. That ball was moving around and went past the edge a couple of times; they tried their guts out. Listening to the interviews afterwards, it was said they bowled badly, but I don't feel that at all. They were just totally outplayed by world-class batsmen. Good balls are going for four. Just miss your length by a fraction and you get pulled for four.

Australia are playing with a hell of a lot of confidence and they are an elite bunch of cricketers. Carl Rackemann, when I spoke to him about bowling to the West Indies in their heyday, said they just kept coming and played with so much confidence, and good balls kept going for four. He told me on that wicket if they bowled exactly the same as they did then, no other side in the world would have been able to take them apart. There was no way it would have happened. No other batting line-up in the world would have been able to do what the Australian batsmen did in those first 15 overs. Gilchrist is something special in the first 15 overs.

I think the Australian game was quite exciting. Andy Flower got another fifty; he and Grant had a great partnership. The highlight of the game was Blignaut and Streak coming in later and stamping their authority against the Aussies. I really love it when other guys in the team do well, and to bring out a performance like that was great. It was something for the public to see. We were looking dead and buried at about 150 for five, but we managed to get to 250.

Now that I've retired I'm not going to face him again, but Brett Lee I think averages between six and seven runs an over against Zimbabwe, ever since we played against him. He's gone the distance against us, and that's one thing we're quite happy about. In the changing room we discuss that he's the guy we're going to get after because he hasn't a good record against us. But he is a world-class bowler. We lost that game, but there were some good things that came out of it that were quite exciting.

This Holland game is I think where we started to lose some of our focus on what we were supposed to be doing. Wishart had made a hundred and then didn't get many runs against India or Australia, and Mark Vermeulen hadn't made runs yet. So the two of them started going into their shells, instead of looking at the target of 60 or 75 in the first 15 overs. Their confidence wasn't up at this stage, and maybe at this stage team management should have started looking at putting Travis Friend up the order, or maybe changing the order.

Mark Vermeulen looked out of sorts. Just before the World Cup he had a car accident and rolled it a couple of times, and he was quite concussed. He wasn't at his best.

Our bowling went the distance again. We managed to recover with the bat and Andy Blignaut gave us a quick-fire fifty, and Andy Flower got a seventy. So we managed to get up to 300, which was happy days. But that was a bit of a turning point, I think. Our openers failed again, and we went into the Super Sixes with a rained-off match against Pakistan.

Then came New Zealand. `Wishy' opened with Dion Ebrahim, but I don't think Dion's an opening batsman. He's more for the middle order; in the modern game you need someone who's going to be able to rotate the strike and get a run a ball and hit a few boundaries. Dion's not that kind of player.

But Andy Flower and Wishy managed to get us up to 60-odd in the first 15 and they set the platform. Then we lost some absolutely ridiculous wickets, three quick ones: myself, Grant and Wishy. Then was another highlight of the tour, as `Taibs' came right and played an unbelievable knock.

I think Taibs should go up the order rather than play at number six; I think he's one who can actually play through an innings. But maybe later on in his career; not just yet.

This guy Ervine is a really serious cricketer and I think he should go up the order and be batting at number five or six. But the disappointing part was that we needed another spinner (Brian Murphy) and he got injured before we even went on to the field.

The Kenya game was dismal. Getting bowled out for 38 by Sri Lanka was the biggest low for Zimbabwe cricket; getting bowling out for 99 against West Indies, and then losing to Kenya in this game. These games were probably the biggest lows of Zimbabwe cricket.

We were still there with a chance in the Super Sixes before that game and the guys were eager. But if the batsmen don't put enough runs on the board, we just don't have the attack to be able to defend that total. I remember that day Blignaut bowled his heart out, but we dropped five catches, and that could have been the difference in the game.

There were a couple of big factors affecting us but I'm not going to go into that. There was some work behind the scenes: it pissed guys off, but they should have been professional enough to handle it. But they're tired of it, and it's been going on for a long time.

The final game was against Sri Lanka. I think we bowled quite well and pulled it back, but they got away from us in the last ten overs. I think 210 or 220 could have been possible for us.

But I loved the World Cup. People can say Zimbabwe didn't look excited, but when you're playing a sport spectators are entitled to their own opinion. You know as a player when things aren't working out.

I remember when I was a youngster in the side, we were a very young side. Dave Houghton was the oldest, and there were eleven individuals all giving it 150 per cent. We were tigers out there. Now we have an age-group difference from 20 to 35, and the side has been very unsettled over the years, with so many changes, and I wouldn't say it has the same sort of bite that it used to. They'll get it eventually, but it's just going to take time, a few years.

I think Geoff Marsh is a very good coach and his man-management is very good. I get on very well with him and I wish him all the best. With a new young team, with Grant and `Streaky' at the helm, I think he'll be able to build up some team spirit and get some real weight behind them. The side is going to get ploughed into the ground by a few teams, but we've handled that over a few years. It's how we bounce back that counts.

Without Andy in the middle, and Alistair who used to fire quite nicely at the top of the order, we'll struggle - but there's a bit of talent out there, and it all depends whether they have the character to turn it into big ones. They show signs of it, but the game is getting faster and faster; run rates are getting higher and higher, and people are getting better and better at chasing.

Guy also gave some fascinating and amusing recollections of his career highlights, as well as some opinions, which will be included in our next issue.