Paul Strang - a short biography

John Ward

November 25, 1999

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FULL NAME: Paul Andrew Strang

BORN: 28 July 1970, Bulawayo

MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (since 1994/95), Mashonaland Country Districts (1993/94-1995/96), Mashonaland (1996/97- ). Present club team: Old Hararians

KNOWN AS: Paul Strang

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat

BOWLING STYLE: Leg Breaks and Googlies

OCCUPATION: Professional Cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe B v Kent, at Old Hararians Sports Club (Harare), 30 March 1993

TEST DEBUT: Third Test v Sri Lanka, 1993/94, at Harare Sports Club

ODI DEBUT: 2 December 1994, v Australia, at Perth

BIOGRAPHY (updated September 1999)

Paul Strang has quickly become one of Zimbabwe's most renowned cricketers. He was born in Bulawayo in 1970, the elder son of Ron Strang, now a first-class umpire. Although Ron did not play cricket at a high level himself, Paul pays tribute to the support and encouragement he received from both his parents. They encouraged Paul and his younger brother Bryan from the start, playing with them in the back yard, sending them on coaching courses during the school holidays, and travelling to watch them play.

Ron was then in the police force, which meant regular moves around the country during Paul's schooldays. He attended junior schools at Hartley (now Chegutu), Wankie (now Hwange), and finally at Cecil John Rhodes in Gwelo (now Gweru). It was at CJR, as it is commonly known, that he first learnt to bowl leg-spin. He tagged along on a coaching course with his father and saw the art demonstrated by former South African Test cricketer Peter Carlstein, who played several seasons of Currie Cup cricket for Rhodesia and was the national junior schools coach at the time of Independence in 1980. Paul experimented and practised his leg-spinners in the school nets and was soon quite adept at it. In his final year at junior school, he reaped a rich harvest of wickets, with the assistance of a couple of good wicketkeepers. He was selected that year for the Midlands Under-13 team, but was not chosen for the Partridges team (the national primary schools cricket team).

At high school, he attended Falcon College, near Esigodeni, as a boarder. The fast, lively pitch there is ideal for young cricketers, and especially encouraging for leg-spinners. The school is sports-oriented and has produced several other Zimbabwean Test players. At first he batted Number Three in his age-group team, and in one match scored about 150, but was promoted to the school first team at the age of 15 or 16. This did set back his batting temporarily, as he was thought of primarily as a bowler and sent in to bat in the tail. He appreciates the experience gained in the Logan Cup competition, where it is possible for all-rounders like himself to bat high in the order and have the opportunity to play long innings. At Falcon the cricketers were encouraged to spend their spare time at the nets, and Paul put in many hours of hard work. At that time he bowled very slow, high-flighted leg-breaks, but was forced to speed up somewhat when he started playing league cricket and found adult batsman coming down the pitch more readily to attack him.

His family was now living in Bindura, and during the school holidays he commuted into Harare to play for the Old Hararians Under-16 team. They then moved on to Mutare, and Paul began his club career for the Manicaland team. Ten years ago, Manicaland was a stronger cricketing province than it is today, and there were several national players in the team. Paul pays particular tribute to the captain, Terry Coughlan, another leg-spinner. Coughlan took a personal interest in him and gave him much advice; Paul found him a very disciplined, strong-minded man who had worked out his own game and knew how to play within his own limitations. Other senior players to encourage him were Jon Brent, Kevin Walton, Kenyon Ziehl and, during a brief stay there, Eddo Brandes.

In his first league match for Manicaland, Paul had the thrill of taking five wickets against the Bulawayo Sables team. During the winter he played for Makoni (the Rusape area) in the Mashonaland Country Districts league. Finally, realising that his progress would be quicker, he moved to Harare and played for Old Hararians, the traditional Harare club of his family. He worked for Border Timbers in Harare after leaving university; they were very good to him and gave him all the leave he needed to tour, until he resigned at the end of 1995 to play more full-time cricket, including a season in the Birmingham League. Then, in 1996, he accepted an invitation from the Zimbabwe Cricket Union to become a full-time professional.

He was perhaps a little late coming to prominence in Zimbabwean cricket due to the years he spent at the University of Cape Town, where he came under the influence of Duncan Fletcher, former Zimbabwean captain and the University (now Western Province) coach. Since South Africa was then still in international disfavour, he could play at no higher level than university, at the risk of being included on the United Nations blacklist and banned from playing in Zimbabwe.

His representative career actually began when he was still at school, as he played in a one-day match for Mashonaland Country Districts against Bert Vance's New Zealand Young Internationals team. He scored 11 not out and took the wicket of opening batsman Trevor Franklin for 58 runs in 10 overs, out of a New Zealand score of 294 for three; Districts lost by 101 runs.

Paul's promise led to his inclusion on the Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan in 1993/94. He was taken mainly for the experience and to help as a net bowler, the Zimbabwe batsmen needing the presence of a leg-spinner to practise against with Mushtaq Ahmed in the opposition. But he was still very inaccurate in those days, although steadily tightening up. When Steve Peall proved ineffective against the Sri Lankan tourists the following year, Paul made his Test debut in the final Test at Harare Sports Club. He took three wickets, but with indifferent balls; still, it was a start. He was not so fortunate when Pakistan toured, taking just one expensive wicket. But his promise as an attacking spinner was evident, and his gutsy batting and brilliant fielding helped to keep him in the side.

More hard labour for little reward was ahead of him, as he failed to take a wicket against the South Africans and only took three expensive Test wickets in New Zealand. He was also on the receiving end of a violent century from Chris Cairns. However, Paul is less affected than most by heavy punishment; he realises that the batsmen are giving him a chance and hopes to be able to exploit it.

Paul came to prominence on the international scene during the 1996 World Cup in the Indian subcontinent, where he was Zimbabwe's leading bowler. Taking 12 wickets at an average of 16, he finished top of the bowling averages for all teams for a bowler taking ten or more wickets. He began the tournament with 4/40 against the West Indies, and the highlight was 5/21 against Kenya, when he was Man of the Match. People worldwide suddenly sat up and took notice, helped by the fact that it was at this time that several promising leg-spinners were appearing in world cricket and a new one from Zimbabwe was also noted.

Paul's stature grew the following season, when Zimbabwe toured Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He found the pitches in Sri Lanka, prepared especially to suit the home spinners, very helpful, but he was faced by batsmen who had been brought up on them against quality spinners. In those circumstances his return of nine wickets in the only two significant innings was a good one. He also scored his first Test fifty as Zimbabwe finally learnt how to fight back, too late, in the Second Test.

Nobody expected, though, his rare achievement in the Sheikhapura Test against Pakistan. Zimbabwe were in trouble at 142 for six, although Grant Flower was still there, when Paul came to the wicket. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were for once unable to swing the ball as much as they would have liked, but Paul took full advantage and fought his way to his first career century, achieved with the last man at the crease. He then took five wickets when Pakistan batted, although his figures were mauled during the incredible innings of 257 not out by Wasim, which quite overshadowed Paul's feat in becoming only the 18th player in Test history to score a century and take five wickets in an innings in a Test match.

Paul's greatest qualities are his fighting spirit and his unselfish approach. He finds it difficult to remember details of his best performances, and the outstanding achievements lose most of their gloss if his team does not win the match. His century against Pakistan was his first in first-class cricket, but he cannot remember many details of his hundreds in minor cricket. His highest score in any match was an innings of about 150 for an Under-14 team at Falcon College; in adult cricket, he recorded a couple of league centuries while playing for Manicaland. On several occasions he has taken seven wicket in an innings in minor cricket, but not more -- yet.

Paul is one of the best fielders in an outstanding fielding side, often seen in the covers or backward point area. He is at his best as a batsman when the pressure is on and runs are needed urgently, as he proved while scoring his Test century. As a bowler he has a wide repertoire -- regular leg-breaks, googly, top-spinner and flipper -- and his control has improved considerably during the last few seasons. However, a preponderance of one-day cricket has made him more of a defensive bowler, more accurate but no longer the attacking threatening bowler he used to be; that route has been followed more by Adam Huckle. When they bowl together, he sees himself as doing more of a 'holding job' while Huckle does the 'attacking job'.

His match double of a century and five wickets in a Test innings is the major career highlight so far, and he took great pleasure in his 87-run partnership with his brother Bryan. There is no rivalry or jealousy between the brothers, who support and encourage each other to the hilt.

Paul played a prominent role in the Zimbabwe team during the England tour of 1996/97; in fact, he was used so frequently by his captain that he was in danger of becoming a stock bowler. His accuracy made it very difficult for the batsmen to attack him with success, and he was at times brought on and kept on to keep down the run rate. The English camp claimed that most of their batsmen could read him without too much trouble, but this appears to have been an exaggeration; Nick Knight, in particular, often failed to detect which way the ball was going. They had more respect for him than they would admit -- and not for his bowling only, but also for his gritty innings and fielding. Paul could be stationed remarkably deep at backward point or in the covers, and the English batsmen had more sense than to risk a run to him.

The England tour was followed by the triangular series in South Africa, in which India also participated. Paul had a good series, and was sent in at number four on occasions to play a dashing unorthodox innings. He played an important part in Zimbabwe's first victory over India, scoring a vital 31 not out at number eight in a crisis. He had less success with the ball, but he clearly impressed the South African critics.

While he was in South Africa, he was contacted by the Kent County Cricket Club with an offer to become their overseas professional for the 1997 season, as their usual overseas star Carl Hooper was expected to be unavailable for much of the season with international commitments. Paul jumped at the chance, and had a most impressive season with Kent. He did not score as many runs as he would have liked, but on several occasions played vital innings for the county down the order. At a vital time when Kent were pushing towards the championship title, he took good wicket hauls which led to victories over Essex and Gloucestershire, although he found that on the whole, in a wet summer, the pitches did not suit his bowling.

The main value to his game, he thought, was the experience he gained in learning to develop the right mental attitudes over a long season and in learning to hold his end up with the bat when necessary, to bat over longer periods of time. He won many bouquets for his contribution to team spirit and his general positive attitude and enthusiasm, especially when coaching youngsters. Kent felt unable to re-engage him in the future, deciding they should keep faith with Hooper, but Nottinghamshire were very soon on to him and have signed him up for a two-year contact.

Paul was disappointed not to be more successful against the New Zealand tourists back in Zimbabwe. He did not feel jaded, as some people suggested, and he played an important part in the tour without turning in any outstanding performances. He had even more bowling to do than usual, much of it in partnership with Adam Huckle, who returned to Zimbabwe to take 16 wickets in the two Tests. Paul saw his job mainly to tie up an end while Huckle, the more attacking bowler, took wickets at the other end. The highlight of the tour for him was his bowling in the second one-day international at Harare Sports Club, when he bowled 10 superb overs at a cost of just 13 runs, which played a major part in Zimbabwe's victory.

Paul feels he bowls better away from home as the pitches are generally more suitable for his bowling, and certainly he has a much better record away, with both bat and ball. He enjoyed bowling on the pitches in Kenya in the triangular tournament there which also included Bangladesh; his bowling was hard to get away and he found the opposition weak against spin. Against weaker opposition he rarely had the chance to play a decent innings, though.

Then came the infamous tour of Sri Lanka, where he took wickets on helpful pitches without ever bowling his best. When the team moved on to New Zealand, the conditions were very different, but he was still keen to bowl as long as the team had runs to play with. Unfortunately, on this tour they hadn't. Morale in the team was low after the farcical ending to the Second Test in Sri Lanka, and the team's batting was particularly poor. Paul himself enjoyed a good batting double in the Second Test in New Zealand and also took wickets, but they were expensive.

The team returned from its disastrous tour to face Pakistan at home, but morale improved after Grant Flower led the way with a magnificent century. Paul bowled with success until he tried to take a sharp return catch and injured his hand. The nail came off and he had a chipped bone, causing him to miss the Second Test. So valuable was his batting and fielding considered, though, that he was chosen for the two one-day internationals despite being unable to bowl, as he was also during the triangular tournament in India, which also included Australia. However, he was to enjoy little success in this role.

Gradually recovering his fitness, he returned to the English county scene, this time for Nottinghamshire. He found that team and his experience with them very different from Kent. Unlike Kent, Nottinghamshire were a struggling team, and although Paul refused to create waves the use they made of him as their overseas player left a lot to be desired. He usually found himself batting at number nine, a batsman who had scored a Test century off Wasim and Waqar, and he had to play most of his matches on green seamers' pitches. This naturally resulted in his being given short, infrequent bowling spells, and it is hard to see how the county could expect him to thrive in such conditions. When Clive Rice took over the running of cricket at Trent Bridge, he decided to put all his faith in pace bowling, and Paul was bought out of the second year of his contract and replaced by the West Indian Vasbert Drakes. Paul, with a typical positive attitude, refused to see his year with them as a waste of time, but felt that he had learned a lot in adversity' it was a tough year but it made him a harder cricketer.

It was as well that he thought so, as he was to find more difficulties back in Zimbabwe. In the second one-day international against India he took a nasty blow while batting, and also tore his stomach muscles which put him out of the rest of the match. Although fit again for the Test match, he was overlooked in favour of Adam Huckle as the selectors felt the latter was bowling better.

Paul fought back in Sharjah with some good bowling, taking seven wickets in two successive matches, although in the final he like everyone else suffered at the hands of Tendulkar. He had little opportunity to bat, though; he was now generally going in at number nine, Heath Streak being promoted ahead of him on potential rather than performances; Paul still has quite a superior batting record overall.

He had less luck as a bowler in Pakistan, the home batsmen treating him roughly at times in the one-day series, and then found himself put out of the Test series due to an unfortunate accident, when a team-mate wearing spikes accidentally trod on his right hand. Paul got a stud through his finger nail, and so missed out on another Zimbabwean Test victory. He was due to play in the Third Test, only for it to be abandoned due to persistent fog. He therefore went through the whole season without playing a Test.

He found more success at the triangular tournament in Bangladesh, though, taking five wickets against Kenya in the opening match and finding the opposing batsmen quite helpless against quality spin. Huckle was given the matches against the host team, and it was clear that the two were often in competition for the same place. Both played in the final against Kenya, though, taking three cheap wickets between them.

Paul was a natural selection for the World Cup in England, and due to his superior all-round skills initially won a place ahead of Huckle. He began the tournament by reverting to the role he had played with the bat in South Africa two years earlier, as a pinch-hitter at number three. It was a dual role, actually, as he was also expected to see off the swinging white new ball to make things easier for the middle order who followed him to the crease. He began with a dashing 29 off 21 balls against India, but his effectiveness in this role diminished with each match, until he was dropped from the team to play South Africa altogether and replaced by Huckle, as he was not bowling well. This was another great Zimbabwean victory that Paul had to watch from the sidelines. He returned to the team for the final two Super Six matches, but without success, and Australian spin 'guru' Terry Jenner noted technical faults that had crept into his action.

Paul spent time at the start of the 1999/2000 season working on his bowling action in an effort to regain his best form. Then he was forced to take a break from the game for several weeks due to an arm injury which required a long period of rest, and did not expect to be able to play again until January 2000. He has lost some ground over the past two years and is no longer assured of a place in the national team, but he is as keen as ever to resolve his game and become a force in international cricket again. As a courageous and determined player and a thoroughly modest and likeable man, he will have the support of fans the world over.

One law of the game that Paul would like to see changed is the lbw law, as no doubt would all bowlers who turn the ball appreciably from leg. Paul frequently loses wickets through sharply-spun deliveries which hit the pad, would have hit the wicket, but pitch marginally outside leg stump. There is certainly a case for permitting this, as long as the bowler is delivering the ball from over the wicket.

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