Bryan Strang - a short biography

John Ward

November 25, 1999

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FULL NAME: Bryan Colin Strang

BORN: 9 June 1972, Bulawayo

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

KNOWN AS: Bryan Strang. Nicknames: Strangy, Jurassic (he is said to run like a dinosaur!)

BATTING STYLE: Right Hand Bat

BOWLING STYLE: Left Arm Medium Fast

OCCUPATION: Professional Cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe A v South Africa A, at Alexandra Sports Club, 4 October 1994

TEST DEBUT: Second Test v Pakistan, at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo, 1994/95

ODI DEBUT: 22 February 1995, v Pakistan, Harare Sports Club

BIOGRAPHY (updated November 1999)

Bryan Strang is something of a self-taught cricketer. Although others have had an impact on his cricketing development at different times, in the end it is Bryan himself who has done his homework and made himself into the effective international cricketer he is today.

Like so many others, his first significant influence was his father. Ron Strang, now a first-class umpire, used to encourage and play with Bryan and his older brother Paul in their back garden. Bryan was also fortunate in going to the Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (known as Reps), near Bulawayo and one of the strongest cricketing junior schools in the country. He remembers few details of those early years, except that he played as an all-rounder and bowled left-arm spin. He was good enough, in his final year, to be selected for the Matabeleland Under-13 team and went to the trials in Harare for the Partridges, the national primary schools team.

He attended Falcon College during his high-school years, and found the same encouragement and opportunity for practice there that so many other top Zimbabwe cricketers of the present day have. He was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, and it was at about this time that he switched to bowling pace. Perhaps he did not have the patience to be a spinner and became frustrated at having good deliveries hit around in rustic style but, in his own words, he decided that "if I'm going to get hit out of the park I might as well send it down a bit faster!" Without any real coaching in pace bowling, he found he could swing the ball naturally and turned himself at that stage into a quality medium-pacer. He has never been able to bowl fast enough to trouble good batsmen by pace alone, but his combination of accuracy, swing, hitting the seam, and lift and movement off the pitch have made him into a top-class performer. He is frequently under-estimated due to his lack of real pace, but his record speaks for itself.

He was still playing as an all-rounder, batting at five or six, and actually scored a century at Under-15 level in a school match against Peterhouse, which is near Marondera. However, his batting did not keep pace with the higher standard of bowling he was to face on his way up the ladder. Still, it has never been negligible, although he has at present no pretensions to being anything more than a useful tail-end slogger, with a Test fifty to his credit and a few valuable contributions when runs have been vital.

In his final year at Falcon, he was selected for Zimbabwe Schools, and also played for Manicaland in the Logan Cup, in its pre-first-class days, although he can remember few details of his personal performances. For a while, though, he was to be lost to Zimbabwe cricket except for net practices and the occasional league match, as he was accepted at the University of Cape Town to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree. This was in 1991, when South Africa was still ostracised. He enjoyed the university cricket, although not finding a first-team place immediately; however, he was selected for the team that played in the South African Universities Week at the end of his first year, and was a regular from then on. The university coach then was the former Zimbabwean captain Duncan Fletcher, who gave him considerable help and encouragement.

On his return from university, he worked for a while as a sales rep, selling plastic for S K Petroleum. Interestingly, he also had a pilot's licence, obtained before he left for university when working for Guy Whittall's father on their family ranch. His cricket career at first-class level had already started, though, as he had impressed in net practices when on vacation from university, and the enterprising selectors had him high on their list.

His first match was a surprisingly high-ranking one: without having played any first-class provincial cricket, he found himself selected for the Zimbabwe A team to face South Africa A in a representative match at Alexandra Sports Club in Harare. Still at university, he had to fly home especially for the match, which was a disaster for his team but a success for himself; he was the one Zimbabwean player who could justly claim to have enjoyed a good match, as he took five wickets, including those of such fine batsmen as Mark Rushmere, Dave Callaghan and Louis Wilkinson. From then on, he enjoyed what was virtually a dream season. He was selected for the Zimbabwe Board XI to play in the UCB Bowl competition against South African minor provinces and B sides, and took 19 wickets, more than any other bowler in the team. He played one useful Logan Cup match and was then plunged into the Test team, becoming one of a select band of players from any country to play Test cricket during the season of their first-class debut. It was quite a vote of confidence for a bowler with so little experience at the top level, but the selectors had got it right.

He was selected for the Second Test in Bulawayo, replacing the injured Henry Olonga, but he would actually have played in the First, that glorious victory over Pakistan, had he not been unavailable writing exams. He took nine wickets in the two Tests against Pakistan and has never looked back. He finished the season with 51 wickets, a remarkable figure for any bowler in his debut season outside England, averaging just over 20. His bowling developed and his pace increased noticeably as the season progressed.

The following season, 1995/96, was a busy one for Bryan -- and successful, too. At home he bowled with the same success, including a five-wicket haul in the one-off Test against South Africa; abroad he visited South Africa with Zimbabwe A (not unduly successfully), New Zealand, and the Indian subcontinent for the World Cup. The highlight for him was not an international match but rather the first-class friendly against a New Zealand XI in Wanganui, where he took 12 wickets in the match for the remarkable cost of only 59 runs.

He also attended a coaching course for fast bowlers in Madras, run by Dennis Lillee, but it was a surprise to hear that the Australian maestro did not rate him as highly as the other bowlers who attended. Bryan explains that, after a few days, Lillee asked him if this was the fastest he could bowl. When he replied that it was, Lillee tended to lose some interest in him, although still giving advice. He clearly felt Bryan did not rate as a fast bowler -- which is true. But he can certainly never be written off as a medium-pacer of genuine skill, most of it self-taught.

The 1996/97 season was a frustrating one for Bryan, as he lost his ability to swing the ball. He still earned success at lower levels, but he lost his Test place. He was only included in the First Test against England in Bulawayo after an injury to Eddo Brandes, and bowled poorly at first, although he was much more accurate in a later spell. This was not enough to hold him his place, and he was not even in the touring teams to South Africa and Sharjah.

In 1997 he played again for Wallasey in England, as usual during the off-season. After taking early wickets, he struck another lean patch. In the end, he paid a visit to Worcestershire, where he finally found the help he needed from the Worcestershire pace bowler Phil Newport. Newport had him change his grip and the position of his left arm immediately prior to delivery, and he quickly found that his swing had returned. He had also been trying to bowl too fast. He had been told by well-meaning advisors that he needed to speed up in order to fulfil his role at Test level but, for Bryan, that just didn't work.

Back at Wallasey, he began to take wickets again, and finished the season with 69 wickets and over 300 runs. On his return to Zimbabwe, he quickly took five wickets in the first innings of the Logan Cup match against Matabeleland, but was still not satisfied with his bowling. He felt he needed to keep working on his line to return to his top form. However, the selectors were well satisfied and, with a spate of injuries attacking Zimbabwe's other pace bowlers, he did not even have to fight to regain his Test place, but was an automatic choice against New Zealand. Even so, he nearly missed the First Test, being forced to withdraw in the middle of the match between Mashonaland and the tourists with a strained back. He just recovered in time, and was helped by Zimbabwe's batting first. He took five wickets in the Harare Test, but failed to take any in Bulawayo, although he bowled most economically.

With the return of Eddo Brandes, he lost his place for the first two one-day matches, although regained it for the third with Brandes obviously out of form. He proved to be the most expensive bowler, despite taking three wickets; his accuracy should make him a capable one-day bowler but as yet did not seem to have quite got it right in one-day matches. In Kenya he again proved rather expensive at times, but had one golden match against Bangladesh, when he took six wickets for only 20 runs, a Zimbabwean best in one-day cricket.

This was followed by the tour to Sri Lanka, where pitches do not favour pace bowlers. He played in the test at Kandy, bowling economically and, he thought, well but without taking a wicket. He remembers troubling Aravinda de Silva, who played and missed several times, but would then break loose with a suoerb four. He lost his place for the Second Test, but was looking forward to the one-day series when in an off-field incident he broke his jaw and had to return home.

He therefore missed the tour of New Zealand where he had enjoyed so much success two years earlier, but returned to play in the Second Test at home against Pakistan. He was brought in to strengthen the seam attack in place of his brother Paul, who was injured in the First Test. Zimbabwe were 152 for seven when he went in to join Guy Whittall, and the pair added an invaluable 111 together with positive batting. Bryan reached his first Test fifty, mainly by getting on the front foot to attack whenever he could and being prepared to take the shorter balls on the body.

This has proved to be his most successful method of batting. After a recent run of fairly low scores, he came to the conclusion that this was simply because he was thinking too much, making batting too complicated a business for one with a self-admitted limited technique, and that he should go back to his old block-and-bang tactics.

He took thre wickets in that Test match but was dropped for the one-day series. He was now feeling somewhat disenchanted with his position and was thinking seriously of rejecting a contract from the Zimbabwe Cricket Union for the following season and taking a break from the professional game, although still continuing to play as an amateur. He was selected for an unofficial team to visit Kenya during the 1998 Zimbabwean winter, but he had already signed another contract with Wallasey and did not want to let them down, particularly as he had had to leave early the previous season in preparation for the visit by New Zealand. After discussion with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, they agreed to release him from the remainder of his contract so that he could miss the Kenya tour.

After another pleasant season at Wallasey, Bryan returned to Zimbabwe more willing to sign up again for a new professional contract, only to find that the cricketers had been required to apply for contracts for the 1998/99 season and he was too late as all 16 posts had been filled. He put the mix-up down to the change in administration as Don Arnott handed over as chief executive to Dave Ellman-Brown, and probably also due his absnece from the Kenyan tour; he was not notified of the new system but feels it was a genuine error.

He therefore spent the 1998/99 season out of contract, living mainly off his own resources, which included a good salary from Wallasey. He was not selected for any international cricket and also missed the World Cup, despite a good season in domestic cricket. He decided to take his loss of contract positively, that he would simply enjoy himself playing cricket, play hard and become more involved in the Zimbabwe Board team. He got on well with Trevor Penney, the Board XI capatin and enjoyed considerable all-round success. He took a vital six wickets for 33 against Free State B in Bulawayo, a match his team won by only 27 runs, and made useful if not spectacular contributions in the other matches. He bowled well against England A and was most disappointed to be overlooked for the World Cup. As the only left-arm pace bowler of international quality in the country, he would have added variety to the pace attack; English pitches often suited him and he had had considerable experience of them.

Popular opinion was that Bryan's incident in Sri Lanka was being held against him as far as selection for the national team goes, but Bryan himself does not believe that to be the case. He thinks that the selectors tended to go for the contracted players during that season, rather than pay out money to those who were not under contract, and that perhaps this was more the reason for his omission.

During the season, being rather at a loose end at times, he approached Dave Houghton and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union with a view to becoming involved in coaching. He was appointed as a part-time assistant coach to the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy and found he enjoyed the work.

He spent the English season instead of playing in the World Cup coaching at Epsom College in England, a posting for which he was indebted to the director of the academy Gwynne Jones, who used to coach there himself. He took a complete break from playing himself and enjoyed the change. His aim is now to qualify for the coaching grade three certificate, the top level. He hopes to tour England in 2000 with the national side, but failing that plans to return to Epsom.

He was keen to secure a contract for 1999/2000, and seriously thought of giving up a regular playing career and probably going into provate coaching, possibly in England, if he was unsuccessful. However, he applied and was accepted.

He did not begin the season particularly well as a player, and found against the touring Western Province team that he had lost his swing. He was later able to put that down to trying to bowl too fast, and also through a faulty action. He had had advice from Gary Crocker before the season began and learned that he had not been following through well enough with his front arm. He had plenty of net practice with Grant Flower and put it right before the arrival of the Australians. He needed `a lot of conscious work to sort it out', he says, as he never thinks about his action when the ball is swinging, but only when it fails to swing.

Just before the Australians arrived for the Harare Test, he received a phone call from the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, asking him to join the squad at nets. The day before the Test began he was told he would be playing. After so long without international cricket, Bryan says he felt more `revved up' than usual; it was something special to be playing again at the top level, like going back to the start. Playing against the Australians was also something special.

Zimbabwe batted first, and Bryan contributed a typically robust 17 off 21 balls before being run out in the second such foolish mix-up of the innings. Henry Olonga opened the bowling with Heath Streak, but was in poor form and soon gave place to Bryan. Bryan took a couple of overs to settle down, aiming the ball outside off stump, but next morning almost immediately dismissed Michael Slater, caught at the wicket. This increased his confidence and he worked at swinging the ball in to the batsman and moving it away off the pitch.

He was impressed by Mark Waugh's easy style, and to him he concentrated on bowling straight with a bit of swing. He swung the ball well and appreciated the extra bounce in the pitch. He thought he had Steve Waugh caught at the wicket while in the eighties, but the umpire disagreed and Bryan was disappointed at failing to take the wicket of the Australian captain. Waugh actually paid a rare tribute to Bryan after the match, saying that he had never faced a bowler like him in Test cricket before, and had to watch him very carefully as he bowled so cleverly with a mixture of swing and cut.

With a seriously weakened bowling attack in that match, with many of Zimbabwe's main bowlers either injured or out of form and Streak still struggling after a knee operation, Bryan virtually held the bowling together in that match. He was unlucky to take only two wickets, and almost certainly Streak, who took five, got at least some as a result of Bryan's steadiness at the other end.

Bryan did not bowl quite so well in the Bloemfontein Test against South Africa; on a flat pitch he did not feel comfortable at the end from which he did most of his bowling and lacked his customary accuracy. In the return Test at Harare he tended to pitch too short at first and suffered at the hands of Jacques Kallis at others, but once he found the right length he caused the South Africans much more concern than any of his team-mates.

At club level Bryan moved back from Alex to Old Hararians for the 1999/2000 season, as he enjoyed playing there -- perhaps the notoriously uneven pitch has something to do with it as it concerns his bowling! -- and was disappointed at having to bat generally at number nine for Alex. His good early bowling for Old Hararians in club cricket did much to win him back his Test place.

Despite Zimbabwe's thin bowling resources, Bryan was not called up for the one-day series against Australia. The view among the selectors appears to be that Bryan is too slow and predictable for one-day cricket, but in fact he has the best record of any Zimbabwean bowler with ten or more wickets in one-day internationals and would certainly have been able to bowl to his field to greater effect than the inexperienced pacemen who did play.

But Bryan feels that he has matured as a person recently and is not so `het up' about selection as he used to be; criticism also affects him less. His policy is to take one thing at a time this season, focusing on Test cricket but taking his opportunities in the one-day matches if given the chance. Altogether he is enjoying his cricket more this season at all levels than he has done for a long time, and is able to relax more knowing that his finances have been taken care of.

The highlight of Bryan's career so far has been his five-wicket haul against South Africa in 1995/96. He was particularly keen to do well in view of the rivalry between the two neighbouring countries, and his success was particularly satisfying.

Interestingly, he names Saeed Anwar as the most difficult opponent he has bowled to. He feels that Saeed, with his unorthodox style, has an answer for every delivery, and he finds it difficult to bowl a consistent length against him. He also says that he has never bowled at a batsman with so much time to play him as Mark Waugh; he just appeared to wait for the ball to arrive and then play it casually at the last moment.

Bryan is open to a career as an overseas player in county cricket, and his bowling style, rather like that of the traditional top-class English seamer, would be well suited to it. He is wary, though, of the risk of losing his enthusiasm during the hard grind of an English season. He has met many of the English county players, but thinks the young professionals tend to be too arrogant, and have too much done for them, in the way of sponsored cars and so on, too soon, instead of having to work much harder for success first.

Bryan, who signed on as a professional cricketer with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union in August 1996, enjoys other sports as well as cricket. At school and university he played rugby, hockey, tennis and squash, and still plays the last two. His interests include reading, watching movies and sport in general.

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