The Captain's view -- Zimbabwe in Pakistan (part 2) (19 January)

19 January

The Captain's view -- Zimbabwe in Pakistan (part 2)

John Ward and Alistair Campbell

John Ward concludes his interview with Alistair Campbell, who talks about Zimbabwe's victorious Test series in Pakistan.

We were disappointed to lose the one-day series 2-1, but we took heart from the fact that we had never before won a one-day maatch in Pakistan. The biggest thing was that everybody realised now that we really could beat the Pakistanis, and so we went into the Test series with confidence.

We didn't actually think we could win the series, but we did think we could snatch a Test match and make it difficult for them to come back -- and we knew that the best time to do it would be in the First Test at Peshawar.

First Test (Peshawar). PAKISTAN 296 (Ijaz Ahmed 87, Yousuf Youhana 75; Heath Streak 4/93) and 103 (Henry Olonga 4/42, Pommy Mbangwa 3/23) lost to ZIMBABWE 238 (Neil Johnson 107; Wasim Akram 5/52, Waqar Younis 4/78) and 162/3 (Murray Goodwin 73*) by seven wickets.

They prepared a huge green seaming pitch, which actually helps to even the chances of the teams. On a flat deck they have two quality spin bowlers, batsmen who can make huge scores on flat pitches, and bowlers who can reverse-swing the ball at pace. So when we play them on flat patches we're behind the black ball a bit, but as soon as we play on a green pitch we'tre back in business because we have bowlers who can bowl really well on seaming decks, and our batsmen play better than theirs in those conditions.

So we were really confident in the first match. We were very happy tow in the toss and put them in to bat. We didn't bowl particularly well on the first morning -- not enough in the right area -- and we spilt a couple of chances. Their fourth wicket fell at 210, and we had been looking to bowl them out for 200.

We did come back a bit in a good final session, and we managed to get them six wickets down by the close. We talked about that, and realised we hadn't bowled enough in the right area, we hadn't made the batsmen play enough and we weren't sharp enough in the field. So we needed to rectify this.

The next morning it couldn't get any better than this. They put on another 20 runs and we knocked over their last four batsmen with the new ball. Streaky got four wickets again, and Pommy Mbangwa bowled really well for his three wickets at less than two an over -- he was one guy who got them in the right area. Henry Olonga bowled really well and was unlucky to take only two wickets.

So our seamers came back the next day, but we knew then that we would really have our work cut out batting. It was a 200-run wicket, and after Pakistan got nearly 300 we knew some good batting was required.

We did a lot of playing and missing, and they dropped a few catches and gave us a few chances. But we were in dire straights at six for 115. We knew that the Pakistanis' ability to wipe up the tail is quite phenomenal.

But then Neil Johnson came to the rescue to play one of the finest innings I've ever seen on a green pitch. He played in a typical Ian Botham mould -- he didn't hang about, but hit on the up, hit through the line of the ball, took them on, pulling and cutting, and hit the ball really sweetly. He played really aggressive cricket, and scored 107 off only 117 balls. It was virtually a chanceless innings; perhaps there were a few half-chances -- he was dropped at slip on 99 -- but on that pitch you were always liable to get edges to slip. He took calculated risks, choosing his balls correctly: whenever it was short he pulled well, whenever it was pitched up he drove, and he left well when the ball wasn't quite there. "Fortune favours the bold" is the age-old saying which came true in this particular innings.

Streaky batted really well in support, and so did Andy Whittall. We now knew we had to bowl well, as we didn't want to be chasing more than 250 in the last innings. So our goal was to bowl them out for under 200.

Then came one of the most exciting passages of Test cricket I have ever been involved in. Henry Olonga, just bowling very quick and very straight, knocked the stuffing out of their batting. We caught our catches; we were a little fortunate on a couple of occasions when the ball hit the pads and rolled on to the stumps, but when it's your day it's your day!

We had them six down for 41 at one stage, which was a magnificent effort. They recovered a bit; if they had reached 150 and we had needed 200 to win it was a different ball game. Things looked to be sliding a bit: Wasim, as we know, can bat a bit -- a truly good all-rounder -- and Saeed Anwar, probably their best batsman, was still in.

But Pom accounted for Wasim, and then I called back Henry and he knocked over Saeed Anwar. Saeed had been trying to steal the strike and Johnson ran out Mushtaq brilliantly from gully. Then Streaky knocked over Aaqib Javed, and they had folded pretty meekly, for 103.

On that pitch, Pakistan must have backed themselves to make us fight for the 162 we needed to win. We lost Gavin Rennie early, but Grant Flower and Murray Goodwin put us in a good position. Murray played superbly for his 73 -- great concentration, picking the right ball, left the ball superbly, excellent discipline. He was really the backbone; it looks a comfortable victory in the end, but let me tell you that a lot of hard work went into that and some very good individual performances throughout the match.

It was a team effort and the guys really felt good within themselves; we had a few beers that night and really let it sink in.

Second Test (Lahore). ZIMBABWE 183 (Andy Flower 60*; Waqar Younis 4/54, Saqlain Mushtaq 5/32) and 48/0 drew with PAKISTAN 325 (Saeed Anwar 75, Yousuf Youhana 120*; Henry Olonga 3/63).

The Second and Third Tests you can basically put down to fog. At Lahore we played on another green-top and were in rather a poor position there. Andy Flower batted well to give some respectability to the score, but we scored 183 on what we thought was a 250 deck.

We had them 215 for eight, which was a great comeback. Henry Olonga on the third morning bowled really well and knocked the stuffing out of their batting. Then Waqar and Shoaib hung around with Yousuf Youhana to frustrate us in good tail-end stands. The pitch had flattened out by then and it was a little easier to play on.

Then we had a bit of a testing time to bat, when Wasim and Shoaib Akhtar were bowling really quickly. They had to guts it out, and Grant got hit a couple of times on the foot with yorkers. It was a time to show your true colours, and Grant and Gavin Rennie did that.

We reached 48 for no wicket by the close, but there was no play the next day due to the conditions, which were unbelievable. You would wake up in the morning and be unable to see ten metres in front of you, and when it did clear it was just hazy and the visibility was still poor. It was a thick white fog, rather like you see up in the Eastern Highlands in the early morning.

It was the same in the last Test match, just thick fog until eleven or twelve, and then it cleared up a bit but the haze still prevented play. I suppose you could have played club cricket in it, but not Test cricket when there is so much at stake.

It was pretty disappointing in that respect because we wanted to play all the games in the series. A series victory is still a series victory, but playing cricket would always be better than sitting on your butt doing nothing, especially in a place like Pakistan where there's not much to do.

But when we got on the plane the guys were really delighted with what they had achieved. It was a series win against a side which in their own country are hardly ever beaten.

Regarding the Pakistan captaincy, Aamer Sohail was captain for the one-day matches and the First Test, then Moin Khan took over. It's hard to understand what goes on over there; it's obviously a lot to do with politics. With the match-fixing inquiry going on, that obviously didn't help matters, but you never get to know the bottom line. We have played them in 12 Test matches and they have had six different captains.

The two teams got on really well despite that, though. It was competitive on the field but no worse. I think most sides get on well with the Zimbabweans because we are a naturally friendly race and don't have the traditional feuds that some other countries have. We're the youngsters just coming into this, so we go out on the field and are just grateful for the opportunity to play tough competitive cricket.

I think that's what most sides admire in us; with the infrastructure we have here, to compete the way we do they find it quite an admirable quality. We do have moments: things happen at times when bowlers get heated up and it adds to the edge. But it never got very far at all in Pakistan.

We were rather lucky with injuries on the tour. Paul Strang was injured when somebody wearing spikes stood on his hand and so he couldn't play in the Second Test. There were a few niggles that go with the territory as far as the fast bowlers were concerned, but the batsmen kept free from injury.

(In answer to a question about Waqar Younis) He may have lost a bit of pace, but he still swings the ball. He gives you plenty of opportunities to drive, but also bowls a great many that you can nick behind the stumps. He can still reverse-swing the old ball and now has a good slower ball. He has gained in guile and is still quite a formidable bowler.

Wasim is the best bowler in the world, in my opinion. His variety is unbelievable. He can bend the ball either way at will, seam it at will, he uses the crease well, has a well-directed bouncer, a good slower ball, a very economical run-up -- he is just a complete bowler.

(In answer to a question about which players made the most progress on tour) I think everybody made psychological progress. This game is all in the mind, and everybody now realises what it's like to win now, and what we have to do to win.

As far as performances go, I think obviously Henry Olonga played really well, Mbangwa came through in the Test we won, Murray Goodwin had one good innings, and Neil Johnson played particularly well throughout. Perhaps there wasn't enough consustency in our batting; we weren't getting the scores we should have done, especially in Sharjah.

But at the end of the day results are what count, and as a team we achieved more than we ever thought we would have achieved. It was just disappointing in the crunch games not to have performed as well as we did in the other games. But that's something we obviously have to work at.

Our fielding had its moments, but also needs to be more consistent; we put down more chances than we should. But we now realise that we are a competitive, competent side, and if we continue to play the way we are doing with added improvements, then we could be a very strong force in the World Cup.