December 9, 1999

Eddo Brandes: the legend returns

Eddo Brandes, the man who achieved legendary status in Zimbabwean cricket after his mighty deeds against the England touring team of 1996/97, was to the surprise of many recalled to the Test team for the third Test against Sri Lanka at Harare Sports Club - and with success. He talks to John Ward about what it was like to return to Test cricket.

JW: Eddo, the last Test match you played was against England three years ago. Can you outline the course your career has taken since then?

EB: Since then I've had a few injury problems and so I've been playing mainly in the one-dayers. I'm coming to the end of my career now and I've intimated to the selectors that I'd like to be available for all forms of cricket, because if I do have an injury problem now I haven't much cricket left to miss. So if I don't try to play in everything that's available those games are going to go by and I'll never get them back.

The start of the season was a bit of a problem; the selectors were going past me in that they were looking for youth, so I just made up my mind to get up to the top of my game and put pressure on them by performance. Thankfully I've achieved my goal.

JW: The World Cup was rather disappointing for you personally. What was the problem there?

EB: I wrecked my back at the World Cup. We were practising on a very cold day and when I bowled something just clicked in my back and went into a massive spasm that I couldn't get relieved. I was ready really for the last game against Pakistan in the Super Six, but they opted to go for players who had been playing. That's how it panned out, and so I moved on from there.

JW: Is this your final season in cricket?

EB: Yes, this is my last season and I'll be retiring at the end of it.

JW: With regard to this Test match, what was the first suggestion you had that the selectors were now thinking of you?

EB: I've been quite happy with my form and bowling well in league. Then we had this clinic with Bob Woolmer and Carl Rackemann and they told me to come down, have a look and practise with them, see if there was anything they could do to help. Slowly they got warmer and warmer towards me, and in the end they decided to go with me. I was included in the squad of 14 and they told me the night before I would be playing.

JW: Did you feel mentally prepared for it?

EB: Yes, definitely. I set myself a small goal about six weeks ago when the bowlers were struggling a bit and the opposition were posting big scores against us. I had set myself a goal to play this last Test and I slowly went about achieving it. They hadn't tried all their youth before then, so I could really only push once they had tried all of those, so I had to peak at the right time. In that sense it was quite easy, just to peak for one game. I'm glad it worked out.

JW: Could you talk us through the first day of the match, please?

EB: For me, I would have loved to have gone in and bowled first up, get that out of the way, but someone has to bat first and that was us. If we had won the toss we would have bowled because we had been batting first quite a few times and it hadn't been working to a certain degree, so we wanted a change and that would have suited me fine. It was just one of those things.

The first day it would have been nice to be, say, 220 for four end of Day 1, but it wasn't; I was in overnight and we just had to take it from there. I got in the next morning and bowled really well, and felt there was something in the wicket; it wasn't all doom and gloom. I just ran in, took my form from the nets into the match and bowled quite tidily.

JW: When you went in to bat you got quite a nice reception from the crowd.

EB: I was quite surprised, and it made me feel really good. It's a difficult thing at this stage of your career, and you're thinking that maybe you stayed on too long; it's a very difficult decision to make and with all the cricket being played locally at this start of this season I decided with regard to family and business it's really difficult to travel away. So to extend my career by six months because it's all here I was quite happy to do and fall in with the selectors' plans. It's hard because you feel that maybe you shouldn't be playing, but then to walk out and get that reception - it made me feel good.

JW: Your natural game is to attack, but when you had to come in just before the close, what policy did you use?

EB: I was quite happy just to stay there overnight, but it was quite difficult. 'Pushy' (Pushpakumara) bowled quite well but I managed to stay there, although in the morning I didn't get too many. But I enjoyed it.

JW: Can you give us a bit of detail about how you and Henry opened the bowling and took a few wickets?

EB: It's always quite a nice time to bowl, an hour before lunch, then you have a 40-minute lunch break which is quite a big break, so you can get stuck in. Henry got a wicket in the first over, so that got everyone up and going. I picked one up in my second over, and it was nice to get that out of the way rather than having to bowl, bowl, bowl before you get your first wicket. At least I got one quickly, and I felt I bowled quite nicely first spell - fair pace, swung a little bit and managed to pick one up. In each of my next spells I got a wicket and I was really feeling confident and good when the light came. I really thought I could get another one then, and in the morning nicked another one out.

But it didn't happen - we came off for light and the following morning I bowled reasonably. As you get older stiffness is always a problem, but the following morning I was actually quite surprised with myself. It went through quite nicely but I didn't manage to get a wicket, but that's how it goes. Henry got two, Brian got one, and they were all out for just a little bit past us.

JW: Can you describe the wickets you took?

EB: There was bat-pad to Jayawardene as he went forward to a little off-cutter; then first ball I bowled one to Jayasuriya that just held its line and he nicked it to the keeper. Then I got Chaminda Vaas; bowled two from wide of the crease straight at him, then I came straight and bowled a wide one, and he obliged by tipping it. Generally I just tried to bowl a disciplined line and length, eliminate the bad balls and bore them out to a certain extent. Discipline was the main thing.

JW: Who of the other bowlers do you think gave you the best support?

EB: I think everyone bowled well, everyone bowled to the plan, and that's how we managed to get them out for 200.

JW: Can you comment on Russell Arnold's innings?

EB: I thought he batted very well in the circumstances. He just ground it out, wasn't over-expansive, played each ball on its merits and played very tight. It was a well-deserved hundred.

JW: What were the feelings when rain stopped play and in effect ended our chances of winning the match?

EB: Obviously we had to have plenty of time to push any advantage we might have had as we were one-nil down. But when the rain comes, there's nothing you can do about it; sometimes they save you, sometimes they go against you. You've just got to take it.

JW: That must have meant quite a change of policy when we batted again on the final day.

EB: It brought us from a position of not being able to lose to a position of being able to lose. The wicket greened up and it became quite sporty, so from that aspect we played well, we managed to bat time out and had a little bowl at them at the end.

JW: One run off 24 balls is very unusual for you, so you were obviously just keeping your end up for Andy Flower at the other.

EB: Yes, I was just trying to stay there trying to get a little psychological advantage; if they had got a wicket it would have been a boost for them, and more if they had bowled us out.

JW: Did you know Andy was going to declare? I thought that might have brought about a flurry of runs from you.

EB: We were discussing it, but there was no need for a flurry of runs because they were never going to get near our score. It was very difficult especially for Andrew to bat there; the only thing that could have happened was for him to get out and it was more important for him to be not out. He came to me and said, "Why don't we just declare and get on the field instead of waiting for the light to go?" I said, "I'm behind you; you're the captain, and what you decide we'll do."

JW: Anything to mention about your bowling in the second innings?

EB: I was quite happy to get Atapattu out, but then one was dropped. That would have been nice; it's very difficult for the batsmen who were only going to face ten overs while the bowlers can come and do as they please when it's immaterial to the game. They were on a hiding to nothing, almost.

JW: I see you're going to Bulawayo for the one-day matches.

EB: Well, I'll see what they decide. There's still the policy of going for the youth, so I'll just go down, practise hard and see what they decide.

JW: Are you available for the tours coming up?

EB: Yes, I am available for South Africa and I am available for the West Indies. But that's all to do with policy and what the selectors decide. All I can do is to make sure I'm at the top of my game so when they come to decide the only thing they can say is, "He's playing too well to leave him out."

JW: And England?

EB: No, I'm not available for England; it's too long and I'm extending and extending my time away.