'Zimbabwe was just another tour'
After injury ruined his home international season, the New Zealand batsman Scott Styris is back to full fitness after his debut season with Middlesex and New Zealand's recent tour of Zimbabwe. Andrew McLean caught up with him on his return to London.
A month or so ago, an unprecedented entourage of New Zealand news media touched down in Harare to cover possibly the most publicised tour New Zealand's cricketers have ever made. One media organisation went as far as sending a veteran war reporter, such was the anticipation. Against this background, you might have expected the players to feel a tad nervous about their month in Zimbabwe.
So, how was the trip? "It was just like any other tour," says Scott Styris. "In most of the countries we go to these days there is a high level of security". Indeed. There are now just three countries in the world where teams might travel without security - Australia, England and New Zealand - and, for this reason, Styris says a day consisting of going to the ground to train and a gym session back at the hotel is now the standard fare when touring. It was pretty well the same in Zimbabwe.
Styris says things have "changed a lot since I first started". On his first trip to India Styris went to the Taj Mahal; last time New Zealand toured they didn't go near it. In Zimbabwe it was no different, with marathon cards sessions and a few games of golf replacing organised outings. However when an offer of local hospitality - from Heath Streak and others - and the opportunity to get out the hotel was forthcoming, it was, according to Styris, "normally gleefully accepted".
"There were three or four opportunities to get out of the main centres and see some of the beauty that Zimbabwe has to offer," Styris says. "Having been there before, I know it's a fantastic place and the guys who hadn't been before really enjoyed it."
For those who didn't venture out, being in the hotel had an upside: watching the Ashes on television, which he describes as "absolutely enthralling" and while Styris takes the view England's victory was good for Test cricket and good for the game in England, he admits: "it's sad in a way that the Australians were beaten. They were the benchmark for everyone to aspire to."
The contrast between the contest that was the Ashes and the one-sided Tests in Zimbabwe has been highlighted in the media and although Styris would prefer Test cricket to have Ashes-type competitiveness he concedes it is unrealistic in these modern times. "For the smaller nations like ourselves, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan, we'll have our periods where we have good sides and can compete and, for the good of the game, the Australians, the English, the West Indians and the Indians probably need to be really strong," contends Styris. "At the moment I feel New Zealand has a really good side and, unfortunately, Zimbabwe probably doesn't but their time will come. It wasn't unrealistic that we beat them so badly: it was a sign of the times."
Leading the way in the demolition of Zimbabwe and India was Shane Bond, back from injury and bowling "very quick". Styris believes the New Zealand one-day side is especially strong with Bond adding a new dimension. "Even when the ball's old, he comes back and, all of a sudden, you have a wicket-taking option." What also excites Styris is having "15 or 20 guys" as genuine contenders for the playing XI, remembering that those who did not make trip to Zimbabwe included Daryl Tuffey, Ian Butler, Mathew Sinclair and Chris Harris.
One player whose rich vein of 2005 form continued was Lou Vincent after being unexpectedly thrown into the opening position. His 172 off 120 balls against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo eclipsed the previous New Zealand record one-day innings: Glenn Turner's 171 against East Africa in the 1975 World Cup. To those that doubt the authenticity of Vincent's knock Styris has this to say: "I'm sure [Zimbabwe] were a lot better than the East Africa side Glenn Turner scored his runs against. It doesn't matter who they come against, it's still a fantastic achievement to score than many runs and Lou was amazing that day. He hit the ball clean, he hit the ball hard, and he hit the ball in the gaps throughout the whole innings."
The triangular series in Zimbabwe gave the New Zealand team its first taste of the new rules being trialled in one-day cricket. Styris is a fan of the Powerplay concept but is concerned that the substitution rule could spell the end of an era for the genuine allrounder. The effect of being able to substitute a batsman for a specialist bowler during a match - which New Zealand did in four matches where they batted first - is to limit the need for teams to have a dual-skilled player.
Styris himself is illustrative of the point. In his last ODI prior to the series in Zimbabwe - against Australia at Wellington in February - Styris returned 4 for 40 off a full compliment of ten overs and in the 12 months to that day, he took 21 wickets at 22.85. Yet in the five one-day games in Zimbabwe, Styris' overs bowled per match numbered 0, 4, 3, 9 and 8 as the spinners Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel (twice) and Bond himself were used as the Supersub.
The irony for Styris is that his form with the ball for Middlesex this season has been outstanding: a total of 53 at 23.42 in first-class and one-day matches. It has come at a cost though. "I came [to Middlesex] hoping to advance my batting and, if anything, it went backwards," Styris says. "Having to bowl up to thirty overs a day can do that to you."
Styris does point though to a late batting revival in Zimbabwe where his last three innings were 63, 56 not out and 37. "It's a work-in-progress but I feel I've got something exciting that I'm working on," he says. "I'll play the odd shot at the moment where it feels like everything clicks."
If there are doubts over his batting, Styris could not be more emphatic about his county-cricket experience. "For me there's no comparison between first-class cricket in New Zealand and first-class cricket in England. The English game is so much more enjoyable because of the history and the tradition and the way the little things are done really well". As for being based at Lord's, Styris says "there's no better experience when it's your home ground and playing there every second week". Something tells me he might just be back for more next season.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show