December 16, 1999

The Player's View: Guy Whittall on the first two One-Day Internationals

Guy Whittall and John Ward

As before, we asked one of the most successful players for his views on the first two one-day internationals against Sri Lanka. Guy Whittall had a good all-round weekend and he has this to say with John Ward on those matches in Bulawayo - the first of which was drawn due to rain, and the second won by Sri Lanka by 13 runs as Zimbabwe threw it away.

JW: Did the changes in the team for the one-day matches make much difference to the approach?

GW: I don't think it made any different to our attitude. The guys were ready to go, and we knew that not having Neil Johnson there would weaken the batting a lot, so the guys knew they had to pull together. Things got better in the last Test match, which gave us a bit of confidence and we believed we could beat them if we just got the basics right and the luck went our way. Missing Johnson was a big hole, but I'm sure that's going to sort itself out and we'll have him back soon.

JW: Without giving away any secrets, are you able to talk about any strategies the team used to play the Sri Lankans?

GW: Bowling to Jayasuriya we have to bowl it fairly straight and not give him any width outside off stump. Pom Mbangwa hadn't had much match practice for a while and he missed his line, he missed his length and his first four overs went for 49. He just struggled, and wherever he tried to get the ball it didn't work. Sometimes when you try to get the ball in the right area you think you're doing it but you're not; you're just putting it there and things start going wrong.

But the fortunate thing is we've had Carl Rackemann here and he's a bowler, he's been in those positions before, and he knows the mental side of it and how to get it right. He's had that bowling experience and coaching experience, so he understands where a bowler's coming from. He's been an absolute pleasure to work with on the bowling, just like when we had Graham Dilley at the World Cup in England. But Carl has been very good for the bowlers - he has a good sense of humour and been very direct.

We had a chat after the first game, the bowlers and the team, and Carl had a few words to say, such as how are we going to bowl to Jayasuriya. Gary Brent got him in the first match, bowling straight, but the one that went away from him; he tried a pick-up shot, going against a ball that was just doing a little bit, and got a top edge, and I took a catch down at deep square. The next day we tried exactly the same, only it was John Rennie opening the bowling, and he managed to get the ball in the right area and came up with the results. Each batsman we had a chat about - not that we haven't done this before, but the bowlers were more disciplined in their line and length, and their concentration in practice, because they've got someone who understands the bowler. You can see it straight away; I know with myself when I bowl a few balls, and if I bowl a bad ball he'll walk straight up to me and say, "That's a load of ****. You're not concentrating." That's all he said. He can tell if you're struggling or he can see if you're not concentrating. There's a fine line between the two and he can pick it up straight away.

The next day we got out on the park and the bowlers got the break-through. We got a couple of early wickets, thanks to Henry and John Rennie, but from then on we got the ball in the right area, forced pressure, and they played some indifferent shots and a bit of luck went our way. Just at the end we lost it a bit. But after the first fifteen overs in the first match, we actually bowled quite well after that. I think they hit 170 in the last 35 overs, five an over when they were supposed to be building up.

JW: Do the players still prefer playing in Bulawayo to Harare?

GW: Yes, but I don't think I can really comment on it. We had some very good net practices in Bulawayo; Noel Peck got some very good nets going for us down there, where we can get the batsmen hitting through the line of the ball. The nets there are just like the wicket, which is great - a top batting wicket. We bowled Sri Lanka out for 213 in the second game, but that was really a 270 pitch.

JW: What else can you say about that first match?

GW: That was another very good batting track, and if we had lost this game we would have lost it in the first fifteen overs of the game because we didn't bowl too well then. But we have a gutsy little side, with a lot of character to them, and I think Stuart Carlisle may be coming in for the next game. I think it's a good batting option; I think he can work the ball very well and he's good in that position. He just needs a few batting chances as a one-day specialist.

I bowled a long hop outside the off stump and I got a wicket with it! Atapattu just hit it to backward point. With Jayawardene I got one to come back a little bit and got him lbw. In the one-dayers I got the ball to come back off the seam, not purposely doing it but just getting the seam upright and it did its own thing. Arnold I got out at the end in my first over there; I bounced one a bit outside off stump and he went to cut it and was caught at the wicket.

Gary Brent was my room-mate and we got involved in eight of the nine wickets there, and gave the rest of the team a bit of a rev, telling them to take part in the game! Yes, Room 213 had a good game in the field, and he got a run-out as well, and I got a catch. He's bowling really well and he's got a big heart, and I think he's a good one-day bowler. He bowls good little seamers; I don't think he's an opening bowler but more of a first change. In the middle overs I think he's quite good there. He's developed a very good slower ball out of the back; he's worked very hard at his game and he deserves to be there.

Our fielding wasn't very good in that game; in fact it was poor. It had its moments, but continually through the 50 overs it was not very good. The next day was better, but still not as good as it should be. But I hope we can take this bowling into tomorrow's [Wednesday's] game - discipline, line and length, bowl into the channels and to get that 'death' bowling sorted out as well. Just as Carl Rackemann said after the game, everyone lost the game; you can't blame one individual, but you must just say, "What could I have done more to win the game?" I think that's a very good way to look at it and the sort of attitude I think the guys need to be going for.

When we batted we got off to a very good start, and the two openers got us off to a 50-run partnership. We were comfortably poised; we had to get 98 in our 25 overs before the rain came, and if we had got that in we would have won the game.

In the second game we were a bit lucky to have Kaluwitharana hit wicket against Henry. To him we were going to keep the ball up more, as opposed to bowling short to him. He does nick the ball and Henry did it well. Jayasuriya hit a six off the second ball, so things weren't looking too good, and then we got the wicket in the first over. Then Andrew Whittall took a great diving catch at short midwicket off Gary Brent after Henry was taken off; only he would have been able to take it, he's so long!

Then Jayawardene was bowled by Henry; he tried to work it to the leg side and happy days - gone! Dilshan was the first of my wickets - I can remember another ball I bowled like that, when I got Jacques Kallis in Kenya with a very similar ball. It was a real beauty, shaped away a bit and then came back off the seam and bowled him.

Chandana wasn't looking comfortable; he was trying to play an anchor role there and Andy Flower took a gem of a catch diving to his right in front of Alistair Campbell. These half-chances can get you into very good positions in one-day cricket, and that perks up a bowler even more and keeps the buzz going.

We kept taking wickets, which continually put pressure on their batsmen. Gary took another wicket with Vaas - Room 213 again! Then I came back for my second spell and I bowled a bit of a long hop outside off stump again! Murray Goodwin caught it at backward point again [Wickramasinghe]. So the old long hop outside off stump is doing quite well! Then I got Murali with one that just shaped away outside off stump and he went chasing it, and Andrew [Flower] took the catch again.

Arnold batted top-notch; he hung in there and hung in there until the last ten overs, and then he just threw the blade at the ball and it came off. It was slogging, but he slogged in the middle of the bat and he did really well.

JW: In retrospect, is there anything that might have been done differently to deal with Arnold?

GW: Yes, we talked about it. To Arnold we tried to bowl back of a length and straight, with five on the leg side. He likes to free his arms on the off side, so we tried that and it actually worked quite well; we kept him quiet for a while, mainly because they had lost a lot of wickets. He played and missed at a few, and just nicked one or two straight ones off my bowling early doors. I think maybe tomorrow we will just keep bowling back of a length at him. He got a hundred against us in the last Test, and then a fifty and a hundred against us, so in his last three knocks he's done very well against us. So we've got to get him out early, and hopefully he'll give us a chance and we'll take it. We've just got to keep on sticking to the basics and hopefully we'll get him early.

John Rennie bowled his ten overs for 40; I think in his last two overs he went for 20. He bowled his first eight overs for about 19, and in that I think he bowled six or seven wides. Brent bowled very well again, another top spell - Room 213! I had a bit of luck, getting four there, and Andrew [Whittall] and Grant bowled some good stuff, so our 'fifth bowler' only went for 41, after the seamers got it right, so that was very good. And it was a great batting track!

Then our batting - a great start from our two openers. Grant tried to push on the score a bit which I don't think was necessary, and unfortunately got out. Andrew Flower and Alistair put the ball on the ground and ran very well, kept it ticking over at five runs an over which was the game plan. Then unfortunately Andy got out trying to work it on the leg side and got a leading edge, caught by Chandana.

Now for a bowler like Jayasuriya, our game plan is for him to go for 50. We do play spin quite well and a spinner's got to go for five an over. This is where we went wrong. Trevor [Madondo] came in - I don't think he was under a lot of pressure but he just couldn't find the gaps. He struggled for 22 balls for his four runs, that's four overs. Maybe he was just not used to the spin. Murray went in and tried to play an anchor role, and I tried to play a few shots - I had to, and maybe one too many.

When I went in to bat I personally didn't think we should have been in that position, needing six an over, but we were, and Murray and I managed to carry it on at six an over, but we just cracked under that pressure. I went for a big shot and maybe I should just have gone for a single, and we would have had nine off the over. But I got a bit greedy, but I thought I could hit Murali into that cow-shot area and I failed unfortunately, and I think that was a bit of a turning point in the game. I should have kept the ball on the ground, but I was just trying to push the score on a bit. The real turning point was when Murray got out, because he and Gavin Rennie were still on six an over. We struggled in our batting then.

In this sort of position, all you need to do his hit one boundary and get five singles, and you get nine off the over. That's what I should have been doing, but I think I only got two off the over before, and that put me out of it. Jayasuriya was bowling quite well and it was hard to get him away, so I thought I would hit Whatzisname [Muralitharan!]. We basically messed it up, and I believe I messed it up badly for the team as well. We had a partnership going between Murray and myself, and we should have carried it on. But we all let ourselves down.

There were a couple of positives from that match, though. We bowled well in the second game; we have to take that positive into this game and do exactly the same - improve on it. Our batting - we batted well for the first 25 overs. We won the first 25 overs, and we've now got to win the next 25 overs. We basically won 70 overs of that game and lost 30. That last ten or fifteen overs is very important and that's the area we've got to win. We have to win the first session and then win the second session, and I think the guys have got to get focused on doing that.

JW: If we win the toss again it will help.

GW: Yes, I think the toss here will be very important.

JW: Have you had a look at the pitch yet?

GW: Yes, there's a lot of grass on it and it's soft. It's going to be hard work.