Paul Strang: Heading for Fitness
Leg-spinning all-rounder Paul Strang, who first came to the cricketing world's attention during the World Cup of 1995/96, has had a tough time of it during the past two years, as loss of form and injury have resulted in frequent absences from international cricket. Still not fit enough to tour the West Indies with the national side, he was drafted in to captain the CFX Academy team in the Logan Cup. He scored a pugnacious 72, but strained a knee in doing so, which prevented him from bowling. Before the match he spoke to John Ward about his frustrating season.
JW: Paul, can you outline the history of your arm injury, please?
PS: It started just prior to the World Cup, but it wasn't serious enough to prevent me from playing then. It was a muscle tear or something in the forearm that didn't get a chance to heal, and the arm just got weaker and weaker every time I played, so obviously the injury was getting worse. I was getting to the stage where I needed a bit of rest and recuperation; it became an over-usage problem, although it didn't start as one. Through constant play and no rest it was making the injury worse and worse, so we decided to get a specialists' advice and the recommendation was six months' break. Now I'm slowly getting back into it. It just needed rest, I think, because it's come on nicely. Six months later, after I stopped playing, it's still not 100%, but at least I'm bowling more now than I was when I finished playing.
JW: What have you been doing during that time?
PS: I basically stayed fit; I knew I would be off for a long period of time and that was it. I coached the Under-19 side to Sri Lanka for their World Cup, I've been involved at club level in coaching, etc., and helping out, and I've been on a lot of rehab. Almost every day I've seen a physio or done something for it, so it's been a long process but we hope we're getting there in the end.
JW: What were your impressions of the Under-19 World Cup?
PS: It was a very well-organised tournament and I was fortunate enough to go as coach. It was a bit of a last-minute thing as the coaches they wanted to take weren't available. It was a great experience for me to coach youngsters because this is where I feel I can give something back to the game. It's the sort of age-group that I like coaching because there's a bit mental aspect to it, not only technical, and I feel that's one of my strengths.
JW: How have you been involved with your club, Old Hararians?
PS: I played in the final for them last week, but didn't really get an opportunity to do anything. But I have been involved in coaching at club level in that regard, net practices on Tuesdays, going down and organising the practices when I've been around. There are four or five of us on their books doing that, and we just make a plan.
JW: What do you think are the prospects for you making the England tour?
PS: I've told the selectors I'm available to play one-day cricket; I think Test cricket is too much of a jump. I've told them I don't want to be rushed to come back. I think that's a danger after an injury because you do feel a bit of pressure and you're quite keen to get back in as well because you've had such a long break. So I've made myself available for one-day cricket, and I've said to them I'd just like to play some cricket and get some confidence back. I just need to satisfy myself that the arm is up to match play and I'm slowly building up. I hope to bowl ten to fifteen overs in a game and just go as I feel and not overdo it. If I made myself available for Test cricket I might have to bowl twenty overs in a day and I think that's unreasonable.
JW: Does that mean you've ruled out Test cricket in England as well?
PS: Basically, yes. I've more or less said I want to get some one-dayers, because it's not so much the game itself, it's the practices that go with it, and the stresses of international cricket mean that you are practising three or four times a day. That has a lot to do with the injury. If you're playing Test cricket you have to be able to bowl an hour in the nets, but if I'm practising only for one-day cricket I only have to make sure I'm able to bowl ten to twelve overs. I haven't totally ruled out Test cricket but I think we should take it one step at a time, and that's been my approach.
JW: How has the injury affected your batting and fielding?
PS: They are two things I wasn't allowed to do either, because there is obviously some use of the forearm involved, but like I say I've been bowling since the end of January, slowly, and at the same time I've been doing a few throw-downs. To be honest, I haven't really been doing much batting, so that's something I'll be taking easy in this match, just batting down the order, trying to look after the arm a little bit. I don't really know what effect batting has on the arm; it wasn't the direct cause of the injury but it obviously does use the muscles. Fielding I have been doing for quite a while, getting involved in practices and doing a lot of catching, but still obviously I'm not yet up to scratch. That just comes from the hardness of playing cricket.
JW: Last season you didn't look quite as penetrative as before with your bowling. Was that due to your injury, perhaps, which may have affected your action?
PS: No, the injury didn't affect my injury at all, it just meant that I couldn't play at the intensity I wanted, I couldn't practise as much as I liked. If that's how it seemed, maybe I didn't have such a good year, but the injury was getting to the stage where I had to start managing practice time if I wanted to be available in the middle. But if you look at some of the results, I had quite a good tour of Bangladesh, although we only played them and Kenya there, but apart from them most of my season was in England. I thought I had a pretty good one-day season, although I can't remember much about it. I obviously didn't play much Test cricket, but that's the way it goes.
JW: Some of the critics at the World Cup claimed to have noticed flaws in your bowling action during the tournament which they felt reduced your effectiveness as a bowler.
PS: Have they ever seen a spinner turn the ball in England in the middle of the winter? It doesn't happen there; they don't have many turning wickets in England. The one game where it did turn was at Chelmsford, and Adam Huckle played in that game. There's a role for a spinner to play in one-day cricket, and if it's an attacking role, fair enough. Sometimes it's a defensive role and you let the seamers do the job. I didn't play in many World Cup games, only about four or five I think. I sat two out. I wasn't terribly upset with my World Cup; sure, you can't run in and get five wickets every time you bowl, and it wasn't one of my better tournaments, but I don't think it was a disappointing tournament.
JW: You used to be such a regular member of the national side and your role seems to have diminished a bit . . .
PS: Well, that's probably just the passing of time. You can't hang on to your youth for ever and you have to be looking to change things. You can't always have the best season of your life; the injury certainly did impact on the way I practised and played, and that probably could have changed my effectiveness.
JW: Do you feel that too much one-day cricket may have affected your bowling a bit?
PS: I haven't had too much opportunity in the Test arena recently so it's a hard answer to give. If we played more first-class cricket perhaps I'd be able to tell, but we don't.
JW: The Australian Terry Jenner was one of those who in England said he had noted one or two flaws in your bowling action.
PS: That's been communicated to me several times. I've been working on it, but you just can't make the adjustments while you're still playing. I've been working on it for six months and I'll see how it goes. I'm aware of what Terry Jenner says and how he coaches, but I've never met him; perhaps he could look at me and see if he sees anything.
JW: I've heard recently that as a result of your injury you've asked to be released from your professional contract with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union - is that correct?
PS: Well, the ZCU will be issuing a press release about it soon, so it would be out of line for me to discuss it at this stage.