The Captain's View - Zimbabwe in Sharjah (13 January 1999)

13 January 1999

THE CAPTAIN'S VIEW -- ZIMBABWE IN SHARJAH

Alistair Campbell talks to John Ward

John Ward has interviewed Alistair Campbell about Zimbabwe's recent cricket tours of Sharjah and Pakistan. Here he presents some of the national captain's thoughts on the trip to Sharjah, where Zimbabwe reached the final of a major international competition for the first time. We travelled economy class to Sharjah, via South Africa and Dubai, arriving in the early hours of the morning. We stayed at a very good hotel in Dubai, and we travelled about twenty minutes to the ground in Sharjah every day. Sharjah is a separate Arab emirate, but there are no passport controls or problems crossing the border between the countries . There is a big shopping complex and food court in Dubai, with a subway and a McDonald's, and we used to enjoy going for a walk there in the little free time we had. It was very expensive, though. We get a bit tired of meals in the hotel after a while, so the guys were able to go out and have a few beers and get a hamburger on the way back.

I think we ate all the lamb chops in Dubai as well! We had them for breakfast, and the guys really enjoyed them. The hotel grew quite irritated as there weren't enough for their other guests after we had finished with them! Adam Huckle and Andrew Whittall used to have about 15 each for breakfast!

We had a bus driver called Kamran who used to take us in every day. When I got in the bus before the first match, he grabbed my little finger, shook it and spat on it. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied, "Inshallah (by the grace of God) you will win today." He did the same every game we played. He phoned me in Pakistan and did the same over the phone -- and we won a Test match, so maybe we should get him here more often!

For the first time we were playing there under day-night conditions, which was a very good experience for us. It was very well organised, as these tournaments are.

It is called the Cricketers' Fund Benefit Series, and is played for the benefit mainly of former players from the Indian subcontinent, but also for others from outside who have achieved great things, such as Allan Border and Viv Richards. They really try to look after those who have made contributions to the game, as well as the teams participating.

We had a few days to practise, as the first match was between India and Sri Lanka. After that it was a pretty hectic schedule; players need a couple of days' break playing day-night cricket in between matches, but we played our five matches in a period of seven days.

They have very good facilities there and the ground is in magnificent condition. The square has full grass cover, but the pitches are shaved until they are basically rolled mud. After a lot of rolling it gets a shine to it, so the pitches are pretty unique. Two pitches were prepared for this tournament, one markedly better for batting than the other.

First Match: Sri Lanka 196 (De Silva 55, Mahanama 51; Brandes 3/19, Evans 3/11) lost to Zimbabwe 197/3 (G Flower 87*, Goodwin 54) by seven wickets.

We talked about our game plan, which was to try to unsettle them as much as we could with our tactics. We planned to put them in to bat if we won the toss, as they prefer to chase targets, and that is what happened. We got off to a great start. Eddo Brandes bowled particularly well, really straight at a good pace; they didn't move their feet and he got three lbw decisions. We got amongst them early. Aravinda de Silva played reasonably well but didn't really look in touch. Craig Evans kept on saying he was the best 'death' bowler in the world, so I tested him out and he didn't let me down.

Their 196 was not a very good score, and after a slight hiccup, losing two wickets for 31, Grant Flower and Murray Goodwin played particularly well before Andy Flower came in and finished it off. It was good to win after the disappointment of losing to New Zealand in Bangladesh.

Had we won that, I feel we could have beaten Sri Lanka in the next match and won through to the semi-finals. They looked a bit out of touch, their batsmen out of form and their bowlers pretty tired. I think they had had too much cricket and needed a break. I don't think they were too well prepared, to be honest; they had had a lot of rain in Sri Lanka and had only been able to have indoor nets.

Be that as it may, we still beat the world champions, and it was a very good start to the tournament. We wanted to win at least one more game after this and get into the final by virtue of our victories, not just on run rate.

There were articles in the press about low morale in the Sri Lankan camp. We did get that impression: Muralitharan wasn't playing for them due to injury, which knocked a lot of stuffing out of them, and also when people like de Silva and Ranatunga are not scoring runs. It's important to their success that they are firing, which in the last couple of years they have been, and they have been the mainstay of the batting. Also Jayasuriya has been giving them magnificent starts, and the poor form of these key batsmen really knocks the wind out of their sails.

But a lot of accusations that have nothing to do with cricket get levelled at teams when they win the World Cup and then go through a bad run; that's the sort of criticism they have to bear. I don't think they were the same quality side that we played against in the past, but everybody has bad runs. They are good enough players to pick themselves up, get out of this rut and start playing good one-day cricket again.

Second Match: Zimbabwe 196 (Streak 59) lost to India 197/3 (Tendulkar 118*; Strang 3/32) by seven wickets.

We didn't distinguish ourselves in this match and were in poor shape at 83 for six at one stage. Then Streaky showed what a capable all-rounder he can be with 59, ably assisted by Wishart, and then Strangy and Eddo at the end of the innings. This was the better batting pitch, so 196 was not a very good performance.

Tendulkar batted magnificently and we were outplayed, so it wasn't a night to remember. We had a bad game, but we remembered that we were generally playing good enough cricket, and when Tendulkar gets going most sides have suffered when they thought they had a chance. Basically, though, our batting let us down.

Third Match: Zimbabwe 259/7 (Johnson 72, A Flower 95; Wickremasinghe 3/28) beat Sri Lanka 235 (Tillakaratne 72*; Strang 4/32) by 24 runs.

We knew that our best chance of winning the one further game we needed was against Sri Lanka, as India were playing pretty well and they had beaten Sri Lanka twice.

We were put in to bat, but didn't get the best of starts at 24 for three. We talked to ourselves, realised that we were playing on a decent pitch and had a lot of batting, and just needed to build a partnership. Neil Johnson and Andy Flower played magnificently, running the ball round in the middle, and the score picked up at the end when Eddo hit 28 off 22 balls. We thought we might be ten runs or so shy of a good total, but also realised that if we could put their batting under some pressure and field like tigers, we could do things. We had them 103 for six through some great bowling.

Paul Strang had a magnificent tournament and this game was no exception. The others all chipped in; Tillakaratne played really well at the end, helped by Dharmasena, but they needed 16 an over off the last four overs and we knew that if we just bowled with discipline we were home. This victory secured our place in the final and the guys were understandably delighted.

Fourth Match: Zimbabwe 205/7 (Campbell 83*) beat India 192 (Olonga 4/46) by 13 runs.

This match was a bit of an anti-climax, coming before the final, and nobody really wanted to play it; we felt we needed a break for some quality practice and preparation for the final. But we had to step out and play on that pitch that wasn't so good, and managed to scrape home. We changed the batting order a bit, and gave Brandes, Strang and Streak a rest, as they were our potential match-winners with the final coming up. We put Wishart up the order as he hadn't been getting a knock, but he was very unlucky: Grant straight-drove back down the pitch and the ball hit the bowler's finger-tips and then the stumps with Craig backing up. At 65 for five, this was hardly the best of starts. But I was batting at number six and managed to get a few. Gavin Rennie and Andrew Whittall batted really well with me and we managed to put on a good number of runs for the sixth and seventh wickets.

We realised that 200 on that pitch was a score we could defend, but we still had to bowl and field well and hold our catches. Henry Olonga bowled very straight and quick; he had Tendulkar caught behind off a no-ball, and the next ball fending off his nose to be caught in the gully; and Ganguly lbw first ball. They didn't look comfortable against him, and this knocked the stuffing out of their batting.

There was some great fielding, including three run-outs, by Olonga and two by Grant Flower, and some tidy bowling by the others to back up Henry. It just goes to show that, even if we rest what is supposedly our first-string bowling side and give guys like Olonga, Mbangwa and Huckle a crack, they can do just as good a job.

It was particularly gratifying to be able to beat Sri Lanka and India in what is virtually their own back yard, where they are pretty formidable opponents.

Final: Zimbabwe 196/9 (Strang 46; Srinath 3/40) lost to India 197/0 (Ganguly 63*, Tendulkar 124*) by ten wickets.

Again our batting did not get off to a good start. Paul Strang and Brandes tried to rescue us after being 81 for six, but 196 on that good pitch was never going to be enough.

We dropped Tendulkar off a skied catch which went straight up in the air, through a bit of a misunderstanding between Strangy and Andy Flower. He had about 60-odd, so this just compounded the issue. We knew we hadn't scored enough and were totally out-played.

Maybe it was lack of experience in playing in a final, maybe pressure got to the guys -- but obviously the more finals we play, the better we learn how to play in them. We now know the emotions we went through before the match, we know what we did wrong in the middle, and what we need to correct next time. So next time we get to a final I'm sure we'll give a better account of ourselves.

But, to sum up the whole tournament, we have to say that to beat India and to beat Sri Lanka twice at Sharjah is some achievement. We were very happy with the way we played, but just disappointed with the end result.

We did have an enjoyable ending to our tour. There are a lot of expatriate Zimbabweans living in Dubai, and a couple called the Kidsons organised a braai for us on the beach on the last night, as they did the last time we were there. They live in a sort of expatriate compound right by the beach. An interesting development was taking place right where we were. Gambling is illegal in Dubai, so they are getting around it by building a huge casino hotel about fifty metres into the sea, so it's off-shore!

We went for a swim, had some beers, watched the sun set, and they brought out all the chicken with stuffing and all the trimmings, etcetera -- they really laid it on. But before that, with all the matches so close together and so few rest days, we were really knackered.

On the off days, the guys would get on the bus and go to do some shopping, visiting the sports shops and doing other bits and pieces. But it was too congested a tour to go out and explore Dubai.

Next article: Alistair Campbell talks about the tour to Pakistan.

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