December 22, 2000

Paul Strang on the Indian tour

Paul Strang had his Indian tour with the national side cruelly cut short by a recurrence of the arm injury, a muscular or tendon strain that kept him out of most of last season. He had to return home and undergo treatment, the results of which are still awaited. He talks to John Ward about his injury and his visit to India.

Paul Strang is a resilient character. This is his third successive international season severely curtailed by injury of one sort or another, but he remains positive, if rather frustrated, and eager to get back into action.

"I was bowling as well as I can remember bowling for a long time," he says, talking about the tour to India. "I did well in the warm-up games and got a few wickets - they come after you when you bowl spin there - but I was happy with the way I was landing. Then halfway through the first innings [of the First Test] it started to bother me. We're not too sure why; there's obviously something wrong with the arm but they can't find it. I think it's obviously what they call an `interesting case' and one day it'll come to light, but we'll see what happens. I know there's something wrong because I can't bowl a ball, but it's very intermittent and they're not sure what's happening.

"At this stage we're still waiting," he says when asked for news of his arm injury. "I went down to see a specialist in Cape Town and he didn't find anything untoward that would require surgery. We're still waiting for the reports to be send up from Cape Town to Austin Jeanes, who will then notify the ZCU, so until that stage I am not allowed to play cricket, until the ZCU have told me what is going on, and Austin's prognosis and recommendations have been taken into consideration."

Turning to the Indian tour, Paul compares the route of travel there to a slow boat to China. From Zimbabwe it involved an eleven-hour flight to London, and then another eleven-hour flight to Bombay, from whence they travelled to Indore for their first warm-up match against the National Cricket Academy. This was the most economical way to travel, with Zimbabwe travelling on to New Zealand and Australia afterwards and using British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas airlines who have an alliance regarding those routes.

Paul is very impressed with the accommodation and food in India these days, although it is not always so good at the smaller centres. "The food and hotels were brilliant," he says, "and the restaurants we went to were top-class."

The pitch at Indore was a belter, according to Paul, "and a lightning-quick outfield; you can see how they score six or seven hundred in some of their Ranji Trophy games. It turned out to be a batters' feast and the bowlers had to dig deep. It turned into a dull draw at the end of the day. Alistair [Campbell] scored a hundred and Andy [Flower] got a hundred, and some of the other guys batted well too. The bowlers just shared the wickets round."

From there the team travelled up to New Delhi, to play against the Board President's XI at Faridabad, a satellite city about two hours' drive away. "A lot of pollution and smoke," Paul comments. "We played another good team. Again, it was a flat pitch and a lightning outfield." After three declarations the Zimbabweans had to chase 262 in 54 overs and got them, with Andy Flower and Gavin Rennie batting well.

Recalling the First Test, Paul says, "We batted reasonably well in the first innings and declared; they got in and batted really quickly. Dravid got a big 200, Tendulkar smashed 130, and then we didn't bat so well in the second dig, apart from Andy. So that was that, basically. Andy and Henry had a good partnership; in fact the whole tail batted well with Andy and we went on to double our score. But the top order really didn't fill their boots on what was a reasonably good deck to bat on. Srinath bowled well, though - all credit to him. He just kept it around off stump and we nicked off a lot."

This was the match when Paul's arm began to trouble him again and the decision was reluctantly made to send him home for treatment. "It was a tough decision because I could have carried on, but I'd have been unavailable for the Second Test," he says. "And then tried to get through the one-dayers. You just hang on and get through the tour, but after a while it's quite frustrating. You wake up every morning not knowing how the arm is, you feel like you're letting people down, because if they pick you you have to bowl 20, 30, 40 overs - and clearly I wasn't able to do that at that stage.

"I could feel there was a serious problem so I thought I'd go and get it looked at, sure they would find something. All credit to the ZCU: they jumped around and got me down to Cape Town, but the specialist there didn't find much. But when we're talking nerves, it's like an onion: you keep peeling back the skin and hopefully something arrives. You can't look at it all in one go. It gets very expensive after a while, too, so we just went for what we thought were the main things and nothing turned up. So now I've just got to plug along."

We talked about Henry Olonga, who has had a poor tour of India after changing his bowling action, apparently after having problems following through down the pitch. Paul did not know about this, but he says, "He was just out of sorts, and when bowlers are out of sorts they just have to keep persevering with it. They just try to work through it, and hopefully they will."

Trevor Madondo has in the past been rather a controversial character whose lack of personal discipline has handicapped his career. Given another chance, he was selected for this tour, finished it with 71 opening the batting in the final one-day international, and according to Paul has fitted in very well. "He was good," he says. "I personally never had problems with him, although I was aware of his little foibles. I think he's done well on this tour. I think that technically he's still got a bit to do because he's a great striker of the ball but he's still got to learn to build an innings. As a lot of young people do, but until they learn to do that they're going to get a lot of fifties, sixties and seventies.

"We're seeing it in Alistair [Campbell] now; he's tending to bat through a bit more and get hundreds and seventies or eighties. He's really put his mind to it, and now we need a few other young batters to come through and do that, guys like Stuey [Carlisle], Doug Marillier and Gav Rennie. We need those guys to go through and make big scores, because if you look at other countries their young batters are doing that. Our guys are showing promise but not really going through with it.

"But we must realize that they're only in the first or second year of their careers. We don't have a first-class system like other countries so we don't have the opportunities to learn. I'm finding this lack of a first-class system here very frustrating. I'm not in the national team at the moment, but I want to play cricket and there's only league cricket to play. That's obviously not first-class cricket, so it's quite frustrating.

"What do you do when you finish playing international cricket? That's it - you're in pasture. In other countries you can go back and finish in the first-class competition for two or three years, give something back to the game; here that's obviously something that has to be addressed, and they are no doubt looking at it." Hopefully the new Logan Cup competition with six teams, to be played next February and March, will help to address that problem, but it does not help players to find their form at the start of a new season.

Returning to the subject of Trevor Madondo, Paul says, "Hopefully he will do well. People obviously mature as life goes on; we all have our little problems as we're growing up for one reason or another, and perhaps he's seen the error of his ways and is going forward positively.

"His attitude was fine; everyone has a good attitude on tour, when we all get stuck in. In touring sides, we travel a lot; the culture is different and it can be very much in your face at times. They march to a different drum there, so you have to be very patient as well. So it's important to keep your spirits up and that's what they've been doing. Obviously I wasn't there for the one-dayers and I know they went backwards and forwards across the country, so they were probably happy to get to New Zealand at the end of it and stay in one place for a few days."

One of the sad aspects of the tour was the behaviour of Indian captain Saurav Ganguly in the fourth one-day international, when he turned in a brilliant all-round performance but was suspended from the final match for several counts of over-aggressive appealing, dissent and what were perceived as attempts to intimidate the umpire. Although Paul was not there for the one-day series, did the Zimbabweans have any problem with him off the field?

No, says Paul. "We get on well with most of the Indian players off the field. On the field they have a different way of doing things. They're used to appealing like that, but we've always played by the rules, so we get very frustrated by people who deliberately transgress the rules and then nothing veer seems to happen. That was just a boiling over because it had been happening throughout the series, and after continual warnings they still persevered, and our guys started asking, `What's going on here? Is it one set of rules for them and another for us?' I think that's all it was; not that anyone really got out of line but they mimicked him a bit and obviously said their bit, probably telling him not to get bigger than the game. Because they are good players and they are legends where they come from. But I think it was just one of those things and nothing needs to be made of it. Off the field we get on very well with the Indians."

Paul has kept in touch with the team by e-mail during the rest of their trip and has seen Andy Flower, who is back on three days' leave as his wife is shortly to produce their second child.

Did any of the young Indian players impress Paul in particular, or any he has met before show great progress? Paul does not feel he can name any names, but he is certainly impressed with the depth of batting talent in India. "A lot of guys get given chances and they come in and play positively. There aren't many players there who just graft; they all score quickly, but the pitches are flatter - not many fiery ones, and they play spin incredibly well. They just keep coming at you.

"Look at `Murphs' [Brian Murphy]. The commentators keep saying how well he's bowling, because he is, but if you look at his figures you struggle to understand why. He's landing the ball in the right place but the batsmen just keep coming at you. I think he'll do well in New Zealand, because I don't believe the New Zealanders play spin that well. So we'll see how it goes, especially if the pitch turns a bit."

I mentioned how unsuitable the New Zealand pitches are for leg-spin, being generally low and slow, and Paul agreed. "No, I've struggled in the past, but you can still do a job," he said.

Thinking of other Zimbabweans to make progress on the tour, Paul says, "Travis [Friend] showed bits of class again, but he just needs to get on the field a bit more, because I think he's injured. But the selectors have done the right thing: they've stuck with the team even when there have been some calls for change. I think we've got the best 14 or 15 players out there and you've just got to stick with them and hopefully someone learns and comes up. People have bad matches, they have bad tours, and you've just got to get behind them and let them know you're backing them."

In the meantime, it's the waiting game for Paul. He has not given up hope of rejoining the side for the Carlton and United Series in Australia, although it must seem unlikely. This was the series six years ago when he first made his name on the international stage, impressing experienced judges as he first played on the fast, bouncy pitches there. Another dose of that would do him a power of good.