ALISTAIR CAMPBELL -- BIOGRAPHY
Full Name: Alistair Douglas Ross Campbell
Born: 23 September 1973, Salisbury (now Harare)
Major teams: Zimbabwe (since 1990/91), Mashonaland Country Districts (1993/94-1995/96), Mashonaland (1996/97- ).
Present club team: Universals
Known as: Alistair Campbell (nickname `Kamba')
Batting Style: Left Hand Bat
Bowling Style: Off Spin
Occupation: Professional Cricketer
Test Debut: Inaugural Test v India, at Harare Sports Club,1992/93
ODI Debut: 29 February 1992, v West Indies, Brisbane (World Cup)
Biography (December 1996)
Alistair Campbell, if not quite born with a bat in his hand, has at least been playing cricket for as long as he can remember. His father is Iain (`Poll') Campbell, a prominent league cricketer after the Second World War and headmaster of Lilfordia, one of Zimbabwe's foremost cricketing primary schools, for over twenty years.
When Alistair first handled a bat, his father insisted that he use it left-handed, despite Alistair doing everything else with his right hand. The theory was that the strongest hand should be at the top of the bat, which for a natural right-hander would mean turning around to bat left-handed. Certainly it seems to have done no harm to Alistair's batting! Alistair names Iain as the greatest influence of his cricketing career, while also paying tribute, in adult cricket, to the advice of Dave Houghton during his years at Old Hararians, and John Traicos for the mental side of the game.
He attended junior school at Lilfordia, during the time of his father's headship, but it was hardly nepotism that caused him to set a school record by playing for the first cricket team at the age of 8, with most of the other players four years his senior. This meant he spent five years in the team, often opening the batting. His first century came in his Grade Six year, 102 not out against Courteney Selous School, but he had recorded quite a number of sixties and seventies before them; afternoon cricket rarely gave a player the time to reach three figures. He was selected for the Partridges, the national primary schools representative team.
He then moved to Eaglesvale High School, creating a sensation in his first year there by scoring five successive centuries. He played for the first team from Form Three onwards. He was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 side, and then for Zimbabwe Schools during each of his final three years. His final year at school was a prolific one. In the National High Schools Cricket Week, at Prince Edward School, he scored three centuries in successive innings, and then did the same for Old Hararians in the National League.
These successes led to his selection for the national side while still at school. He played four matches against the touring Pakistan B team, including two for the full national side, and then became the youngest Zimbabwean to score a first-class century with an unbeaten 100 against the touring county side Glamorgan at the end of the season. He had limited success against Australia B, but won his place to the 1992 World Cup. Again, success was limited, but his class was obvious, and he was already batting in the key position of Number Three.
He was a natural choice, even though he had only just turned 19, for the Inaugural Test against India, and he played some good attacking strokes in his first innings of 45. He really came to the attention of the cricketing world during the series in Pakistan in 1993/94, when he took on the pace of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and plastered them all over the Rawalpindi Ground. Pakistani journalists went into ecstasies over his talent, going so far as to name him as likely to be the outstanding batsmanof world cricket in the Nineties. Back home, practical Zimbabweans were asking when he would start turning his brilliant fifties into big centuries.
"It didn't really sink in," said Alistair about the praise he received in Pakistan. "I was still a youngster, yet being compared to all these great names . . . but I suppose it did affect me, subconsciously. I felt that whenever I went into bat there was an air of expectation; I tried to convince myself that it didn't affect me, but I think it did. Instead of following the age-old advice of occupying the crease and letting the runs come, I felt I had to go out there and punish whatever was bowled at me because that was what was expected of me. I think that led to my getting a bit lazy and my technique became rather loose. As they say, bad habits die hard, and I think the reason I'm struggling at the moment is that I've fallen into so many bad habits over the past two years. I'm rectifying them, but it takes a lot of hard slog to get back to where I was, technically sound and playing very straight. I've tended to play a lot more square with the wicket, and I have to play straight -- play in the V, as they say in cricket. I'm trying to do that, and get my feet moving again, as I became a bit static at the crease as well, and failing to get my front foot far out enough. There is a turning point at some stage in everyone's career, and hopefully mine is on its way. I believe that, if you work hard enough, the rewards will come. As Gary Player said, it seems the harder you work, the luckier you get. Hopefully this series may be a turnaround for me."
As yet, Alistair has not yet recorded a Test century, although he did hit a superb hundred in a limited-over international at home against Sri Lanka. The nearest he has come was 99 against the same opposition a few days earlier. His form since then has been disappointing, not least to himself, but little is more certain than that century will come. He still has to set his mind to really high scores, though; for a batsman of his ability, his highest in any cricket of about 170 in a league match is not enough.
Alistair has been called `Zimbabwe's David Gower' -- a batsman of real class who nevertheless infuriates by his tendency to lose his wicket to apparently careless strokes and yet remain, to outward appearances at least, quite unconcerned. He is batting more responsibly these days, but such a reputation, once earned, is very hard to lose.
When reminded that he is often criticised for throwing his wicket away unnecessarily, Alistair smiled and said, "I totally agree with them! But you only learn by experience, as you get older, and I think I'm slowly beginning to learn that patience is not a virtue in cricket; it's nine-tenths of the game. Before I may have hit a few crisp shots and then thought that everything must go; the arrogance of youth, I suppose, and just liking to get out there and hit the ball. But cricket is a more refined game, and I think it's taking me a bit longer to learn than people would like. When I made my debut, I was batting at Number Three at the age of 18, but those who have been big scorers for our country like Dave Houghton and Andy Flower really only came to the fore when they were 25 or 26. So I am learning; I'm only 24 and should have a good 15 years left in me yet, so I'm confident that things will improve, and I am learning the value of getting my head down for a big innings.
On leaving school, Alistair was immediately engaged as a professional coach by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, eager to preserve and exploit this young talent to the full. At club level, Alistair has moved from Old Hararians to Universals, his present club.
He was appointed vice-captain of the team to tour Australia in 1994/95, replacing Dave Houghton who was not available for the full duration of the tour. He captained Districts occasionally in the absence of Andy Waller, but had had very little experience of captaincy before his appointment to succeed Andy Flower at national level. Reports generally agree that he did a good job on tour in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and had the respect and support of his team.
He thinks that some of the nations are playing too much cricket, especially with the amount of travelling involved. He also fails to see the need, as professional cricketers, to tour abroad and spend two weeks warming up by playing local sides; this, he thinks, is overly tiring. One week should be sufficient at the start of a tour, and after that cricket should be confined to international matches. Any young player in the party coming into the side due to injury or loss of form on the part of a player in the team should be professional enough to work out what needs to be done in the nets and should not need practice matches to keep in form. The strain of unnecessary matches tells on senior players, especially pace bowlers. If countries like England want inter-national teams to tour the counties, he feels, they should invite teams such as Kenya and West Indies B, rather than put the strain on top international players.
Outside cricket, Alistair spends most of his spare time playing golf, and is also not averse to a spot of gambling -- which he is learning to do less frequently when batting!
Andy Flower says, "I don't think Alistair has come close to fulfilling his potential yet. I think discipline may be a factor there, but he's a great character and a flair player, lovely to watch; I don't suppose you can have everything! This is also his approach to life and, because he has these characteristics, he will never be the totally disciplined type of player that Grant Flower is; you have to take the rough with the smooth!"
Dave Houghton says, "Alistair always looks good, but he's yet to produce the consistent form we require from him. Again, on his day, he's a dynamic player, and hopefully this season, now that he's captain, with a bit more weight on his shoulders, we'll see the best out of him."