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Bryan Strang is something of a self-taught cricketer. Although others have had an impact on his cricketing development at different times, in the end it is Bryan himself who has done his homework and made himself into the effective international cricketer he is today.
Like so many others, his first significant influence was his father. Ron Strang, now a first-class umpire, used to encourage and play with Bryan and his older brother Paul in their back garden. Bryan was also fortunate in going to the Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (known as Reps), near Bulawayo and one of the strongest cricketing junior schools in the country. He remembers few details of those early years, except that he played as an all-rounder and bowled left-arm spin. He was good enough, in his final year, to be selected for the Matabeleland Under-13 team and went to the trials in Harare for the Partridges, the national primary schools team.
He attended Falcon College during his high-school years, and found the same encouragement and opportunity for practice there that so many other top Zimbabwe cricketers of the present day have. He was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, and it was at about this time that he switched to bowling pace. Perhaps he did not have the patience to be a spinner and became frustrated at having good deliveries hit around in rustic style but, in his own words, he decided that "if I'm going to get hit out of the park I might as well send it down a bit faster!" Without any real coaching in pace bowling, he found he could swing the ball naturally and turned himself at that stage into a quality medium-pacer. He has never been able to bowl fast enough to trouble good batsmen, but his combination of accuracy, swing, hitting the seam, and lift and movement off the pitch have made him into a top-class performer. He is frequently under-estimated due to his lack of real pace, but his record speaks for itself.
He was still playing as an all-rounder, batting at Five or Six, and actually scored a century at Under-15 level in a school match against Peterhouse, which is near Marondera. However, his batting did not keep pace with the higher standard of bowling he was to face on his way up the ladder. Still, it has never been negligible, although he has at present no pretensions to being anything more than a useful tail-end slogger, with a first-class fifty to his credit and a few valuable contributions when runs have been vital.
In his final year at Falcon, he was selected for Zimbabwe Schools, and also played for Manicaland in the Logan Cup, in its pre-first-class days, although he can remember few details of his personal performances. For a while, though, he was to be lost to Zimbabwe cricket except for net practices and the occasional league match, as he was accepted at the University of Cape Town to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree. This was in 1991, when South Africa was still ostracised. He enjoyed the university cricket, although not finding a first-team place immediately; however, he was selected for the team that played in the South African Universities Week at the end of his first year, and was a regular from then on. The university coach then was the former Zimbabwean captain Duncan Fletcher, who gave him considerable help and encouragement.
On his return from university, he worked for a while as a sales rep, selling plastic for S K Petroleum. Interestingly, he also had a pilot's licence, obtained before he left for university when working for Guy Whittall's father on their family ranch. His cricket career at first-class level had already started, though, as he had impressed in net practices when on vacation from university, and the enterprising selectors had him high on their list.
His first match was a surprisingly high-ranking one: without having played any first-class provincial cricket, he found himself selected for the Zimbabwe A team to face South Africa A in a representative match at Alexandra Sports Club in Harare. Still at university, he had to fly home especially for the match, which was a disaster for his team but a success for himself; he was the one Zimbabwean player who could justly claim to have enjoyed a good match, as he took five wickets, including those of such fine batsmen as Mark Rushmere, Dave Callaghan and Louis Wilkinson. From then on, he enjoyed what was virtually a dream season. He was selected for the Zimbabwe Board XI to play in the UCB Bowl competition against South African minor provinces and B sides, and took 19 wickets, more than any other bowler in the team. He played one useful Logan Cup match and was then pitchforked into the Test team, becoming one of a select band of players from any country to play Test cricket during the season of their first-class debut. It was quite a vote of confidence for a bowler with so little experience at the top level, but the selectors had got it right.
He was selected for the Second Test in Bulawayo, replacing the injured Henry Olonga, but he would actually have played in the First, that glorious victory over Pakistan, had he not been unavailable writing exams. He took nine wickets in the two Tests against Pakistan and has never looked back. He finished the season with 51 wickets, a remarkable figure for any bowler in his debut season outside England, averaging just over 20. His bowling developed and his pace increased noticeably as the season progressed.
The following season, 1995/96, was a busy one for Bryan -- and successful, too. At home he bowled with the same success, including a five-wicket haul in the one-off Test against South Africa; abroad he visited South Africa with Zimbabwe A (not unduly successful), New Zealand, and the Indian subcontinent for the World Cup. The highlight for him was not an international match but rather the first-class friendly against a New Zealand XI in Wanganui, where he took 12 wickets in the match for the remarkable cost of only 59 runs.
He also attended a coaching course for fast bowlers in Madras, run by Dennis Lillee, but it was a surprise to hear that the Australian maestro did not rate him as highly as the other bowlers who attended. Bryan explains that, after a few days, Lillee asked him if this was the fastest he could bowl. When he replied that it was, Lillee tended to lose some interest in him, although still giving advice. He clearly felt Bryan did not rate as a fast bowler -- which is true. But he can certainly never be written off as a medium-pacer of genuine skill, most of it self-taught.
The 1996/97 season was a frustrating one for Bryan, as he lost his ability to swing the ball. He still earned success at lower levels, but he lost his Test place. He was only included in the First Test against England in Bulawayo after an injury to Eddo Brandes, and bowled poorly at first, although he was much more accurate in a later spell. This was not enough to hold him his place, and he was not even in the touring teams to South Africa and Sharjah.
In 1997 he played again for Wallasey in England, as usual during the off-season. After taking early wickets, he struck another lean patch. In the end, he paid a visit to Worcestershire, where he finally found the help he needed from the Worcestershire pace bowler Phil Newport. Newport had him change his grip and the position of his left arm immediately prior to delivery, and he quickly found that his swing had returned. He had also been trying to bowl too fast. He had been told by well-meaning advisors that he needed to speed up in order to fulfil his role at Test level but, for Bryan, that just didn't work.
Back at Wallasey, he began to take wickets again, and finished the season with 69 wickets and over 300 runs. On his return to Zimbabwe, he quickly took five wickets in the first innings of the Logan Cup match against Matabeleland, but was still not satisfied with his bowling. He felt he needs to keep working on his line to return to his top form. However, the selectors were well satisfied and, with a spate of injuries attacking Zimbabwe's other pace bowlers, he did not even have to fight to regain his Test place, but was an automatic choice against New Zealand. Even so, he nearly missed the First Test, being forced to withdraw in the middle of the match between Mashonaland and the tourists with a strained back. He just recovered in time, and was helped by Zimbabwe's batting first. He took five wickets in the Harare Test, but failed to take any in Bulawayo, although he bowled most economically.
With the return of Eddo Brandes, he lost his place for the first two one-day matches, although regained it for the third with Brandes obviously out of form. He proved to be the most expensive bowler, despite taking three wickets; he should be the ideal one-day bowler but as yet did not seem to have quite got it right in one-day matches. In Kenya he again proved rather expensive at times, but had one golden match against Bangladesh, when he took six wickets for only 20 runs, a Zimbabwean best in one-day cricket.
The highlight of Bryan's career so far has been his five-wicket haul against South Africa. He was particularly keen to do well in view of the rivalry between the two neighbouring countries, and his success was particularly satisfying. His immediate aim is to get on top of his game and do well in the World Cup of 1999.
Interestingly, he names Saeed Anwar as the most difficult opponent he has bowled to. He feels that Saeed, with his unorthodox style, has an answer for every delivery, and he finds it difficult to bowl a consistent length against him.
Bryan is open to a career as an overseas player in county cricket, and his bowling style, rather like that of the traditional top-class English seamer, would be well suited to it. He is wary, though, of the risk of losing his enthusiasm during the hard grind of an English season. He has met many of the English county players, but thinks the young professionals tend to be too arrogant, and have too much done for them, in the way of sponsored cars and so on, too soon, instead of having to work much harder for success first.
Bryan, who signed on as a professional cricketer with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union in August 1996, enjoys other sports as well as cricket. At school and university he played rugby, hockey, tennis and squash, and still plays the last two. His interests include reading, watching movies and sport in general.
Alistair Campbell says, "Bryan works very hard, but he had limited opportunities last season and became a bit frustrated. He went away to England and had a really good season there for Wallasey. With a few injuries to front-line seamers, he has had to come in and do a job again, and he has done it magnificently. The New Zealanders commented that he was one of the bowlers that they talked about endlessly, how to combat him. He's got his swing back, he has a bit more pace, he's bowling a magnificent line and length at the moment, and it culminated in his 6/20 against Bangladesh. If he continues bowling like this, he's going to put a lot of pressure on the front-line seamers and there will be a lot of competition for places."
Dave Houghton says, "Bryan lost a little bit last year, perhaps through trying to bowl too quick. He has to realise that his strength is as a seam bowler and that's his function. He's had a season in England now playing club cricket and done a lot of work on his bowling, and all the signs at the start of this season are that he has got his swing back. So I'm hoping that he'll be back in the fold again this year."
Andy Flower says, "Bryan had a really good start to his Test career against Pakistan in Bulawayo, on quite a responsive pitch, it must be said. He's done a steady job for Zimbabwe over the last couple of years, but has been in and out of the side, primarily because he lacks a bit of pace. His biggest assets are his attitude -- big heart and never gives up -- and his ability to swing the ball, mainly into the batsman, as well as to hit the seam and make it go away from the right-hander. I think he lost that a little last season, but from watching him in the nets he might have got that back. Even though he lacks a bit of pace and so suffers a little on pitches that don't offer much assistance to the bowlers, he can still create pressure by swinging the ball and setting his field correctly. He still has a role to play, probably as third seamer."
Guy Whittall says, "He's very committed, has a big heart, and is a very consistent bowler."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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