'The Australian tour taught us a lot'
Mark Vermeulen has been one of the building blocks of Heath Streak's new Zimbabwe. John Ward caught up with him recently to find out about his personal renaissance since being sent home from the tour of England, and the renaissance of the Zimbabwe team this season.
Mark Vermeulen: a mainstay of the Zimbabwean batting line-up © Getty Images
First of all, we need to put to bed the matter of your being sent home from the England tour. Is there anything you want to say about that incident?
Not really. It's something that happened in the past, and I've got over it and I'm now concentrating on my cricket.
How did you pick yourself up after that?
I didn't dwell on it too much, but just got on with doing what I love, which is playing cricket. I spent another month playing some club cricket in England, because I just love playing cricket. Then I came back here (to Zimbabwe) and started training and getting fit for our season. I think that's the best way to deal with situations that go wrong, just forget about them and make things better.
Since that tour, have you made any technical or mental changes to your game?
Not really. Nowadays I try to assess the situation of the team more than in the past, and try to occupy the crease, especially in the longer games. Being in Zimbabwe, we don't get to play as much cricket as we would like to, so that's always been a thing that lets us down. Most Zimbabweans have all the shots and it's just a case of spending more time out in the middle.
How do you feel the Australian tour went for you?
Personally it went well. We didn't beat the Aussies, obviously, but we learnt a lot. They played good hard cricket but they also helped us out. After that second Test we went into the changing room and chatted with a couple of their players. They told me I must look to rotate the strike more. They pointed out that bowlers normally work you out during an over, so if you can drop the ball and run a single they have to build another game plan to another batsman. That's probably the biggest point I've learned over the last six months.
Can you review the situation and your game plan when you scored your Test century against West Indies?
I did badly here in Harare (in the first Test), so I told myself I've got to get runs in Bulawayo. I set my stall out just to bat and bat for as long as I could - if you don't get runs you get dropped, which is fair enough. The team was 31 for 3, so they needed somebody to stick in there, and after watching Heath Streak do it in Harare as a bowler, scoring 127, I thought it was my turn to do it for the team in Bulawayo. So I just gutted it out and managed to score my first Test hundred. Most of my family who are left in Zimbabwe are in Bulawayo, and there were a few of them in the crowd, so it was good to do it there, where I also made my Test debut, so it was a special moment.
Can you assess the West Indian bowlers?
They've got a good variety in Fidel [Edwards], who is a slingy bowler and I don't think I've ever faced a bowler like that - I think Brighton Watambwa is probably the closest to him. Fidel's quite short so he slings it and his trajectory is totally different to that of the other bowlers. When [Merv] Dillon bangs it in short, with the steep bounce it's easy to get underneath it, but with Fidel's low trajectory I found it difficult to get underneath, so that's why I fended a few balls in the air. [Corey] Collymore is pretty consistent, but they didn't have a top-quality spinner, which is why they struggled in the first Test here. They look like they're on the up; they just need to get a bit more experience under their belt and they'll be a good team in a few years' time.
Vermeulen in action during the second Test against Australia at Sydney
During this year as a whole, which bowlers have you found most difficult to play?
Jason Gillespie, until he pulled up short in the second innings of the first Test in Australia. I found him quite difficult because he skids on to the bat. His deliveries actually picks up pace off the deck, so in the short time I got to face him I struggled, not to keep him out but to score runs. He and Edwards, who gets it to move late as well, so balls I thought were going down leg then came up at my chest. Stuart MacGill was a pretty good bowler, who turns the ball quite a lot and gets a bit of dip.
The Zimbabwe team seems to be going through a bit of a revival after the disasters in England. Can you account for it?
I would say that on the Australian tour, after we struggled a lot early on, we learned quickly, and we gave them a bit of a scare in the second Test. We came out to bat in the second innings of that match and I've never been chirped that much in a while. They obviously thought we were in with a chance, so they came hard at us, which was quite surprising, because usually they were more relaxed than that. After that our confidence has gone up - Raymond Price is bowling well, as is Streak. Blessing Mahwire bowled a few good spells, and basically our bowlers are beginning to create a bit of pressure, which is what we need. The batsmen have managed to get some runs on the board, and it was a fine effort to get over 500 in the first Test against West Indies, although it was the bowlers who scored most of the runs.
The bowlers were spraying it all over the place in England, so how have they got it all together now?
I've seen a vast improvement. Streaky has started bowling more within himself, more consistently, and when required he just turns it up a few notches. Blessing, I thought, improved the most from Australia, and he came back home and bowled some good channels, which created pressure. The guys seemed to be a lot more relaxed and comfortable out there. I'm sure Bruce Reid has had a big influence, as the results seem to show.
What do you think is the biggest weakness that the team needs to
Our top order still seems to be struggling. We still, myself included, need to work on getting more solid starts. We're lacking one more batsman, and hopefully Grant Flower will soon be fit enough to fill that gap - it will make a big difference, with his experience. We might have won the one-day series with him in the team. On the final weekend, on the Saturday, the pitch was pretty quick with the ball coming on to the bat, and then the next day it was slow and Chris Gayle seemed to sum it up quicker than we did. It looked like soft dismissals, but the ball was holding up, so that's why we kept chipping it to midwicket and extra cover.