September 24, 1999

Alistair Campbell - a short biography

FULL NAME: Alistair Douglas Ross Campbell

BORN: 23 September 1972, Salisbury (now Harare)

MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (since 1990/91), Mashonaland Country Districts (1993/94-1995/96), Mashonaland (1996/97- ). Present club team: Universals

KNOWN AS: Alistair Campbell (nickname `Kamba'; Shona for 'tortoise', due to his former lack of speed in the field)



OCCUPATION: Professional Cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Zimbabwe B v Pakistan B, at Harare South Country Club, 2 October 1990

TEST DEBUT: Inaugural Test v India, at Harare Sports Club, 1992/93

ODI DEBUT: 29 February 1992, v West Indies, Brisbane (World Cup)

BIOGRAPHY (updated September 1999)

Alistair Campbell, if not quite born with a bat in his hand, has at least been playing cricket for as long as he can remember. His father is Iain (`Poll') Campbell, a prominent league cricketer after the Second World War and headmaster of Lilfordia, one of Zimbabwe's foremost cricketing primary schools, for over twenty years.

When Alistair first handled a bat, his father insisted that he use it left-handed, despite Alistair doing everything else with his right hand. The theory was that the strongest hand should be at the top of the bat, which for a natural right-hander would mean turning around to bat left-handed. Certainly it seems to have done no harm to Alistair's batting! Alistair names Iain as the greatest influence of his cricketing career, while also paying tribute, in adult cricket, to the advice of Dave Houghton during his years at Old Hararians, and John Traicos for the mental side of the game.

He attended junior school at Lilfordia, during the time of his father's headship, but it was hardly nepotism that caused him to set a school record by playing for the first cricket team at the age of 8, with most of the other players four years his senior. This meant he spent five years in the team, often opening the batting. His first century came in his Grade Six year, 102 not out against Courteney Selous School, but he had recorded quite a number of sixties and seventies before them; afternoon cricket rarely gave a player the time to reach three figures. He was selected for the Partridges, the national primary schools representative team.

He then moved to Eaglesvale High School, creating a sensation in his first year there by scoring five successive centuries. He played for the first team from Form Three onwards. He was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 side, and then for Zimbabwe Schools during each of his final three years. His final year at school was a prolific one. In the National High Schools Cricket Week, at Prince Edward School, he scored three centuries in successive innings, and then did the same for Old Hararians in the National League.

These successes led to his selection for the national side while still at school. He played four matches against the touring Pakistan B team, including two for the full national side, and then became the youngest Zimbabwean to score a first-class century with an unbeaten 100 against the touring county side Glamorgan at the end of the season. He had limited success against Australia B, but won his place to the 1992 World Cup. Again, success was limited, but his class was obvious, and he was already batting in the key position of Number Three.

He was a natural choice, even though he had only just turned 20, for the Inaugural Test against India, and he played some good attacking strokes in his first innings of 45. But he had a high proportion of failures, and quickly drew criticism for the ways in which he tended to get himself out when he should have been set for a major innings.

He really came to the attention of the cricketing world during the series in Pakistan in 1993/94, when he took on the pace of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and plastered them all over the Rawalpindi Ground. He scored three fifties in five innings, and the two he scored at Rawalpindi created a tremendous impression. Pakistani journalists went into ecstasies over his talent, going so far as to name him as likely to be the outstanding batsman of world cricket in the Nineties. Back home, practical Zimbabweans were asking when he would start turning his brilliant fifties into big centuries.

"It didn't really sink in," said Alistair three years later about the praise he received in Pakistan, at the time when he first became Zimbabwe's captain. "I was still a youngster, yet being compared to all these great names . . . but I suppose it did affect me, subconsciously. I felt that whenever I went into bat there was an air of expectation; I tried to convince myself that it didn't affect me, but I think it did. Instead of following the age-old advice of occupying the crease and letting the runs come, I felt I had to go out there and punish whatever was bowled at me because that was what was expected of me. I think that led to my getting a bit lazy and my technique became rather loose.

"As they say, bad habits die hard, and I think the reason I'm struggling at the moment is that I've fallen into so many bad habits over the past two years. I'm rectifying them, but it takes a lot of hard slog to get back to where I was, technically sound and playing very straight. I've tended to play a lot more square with the wicket, and I have to play straight -- play in the V, as they say in cricket. I'm trying to do that, and get my feet moving again, as I became a bit static at the crease as well, and failing to get my front foot far out enough. There is a turning point at some stage in everyone's career, and hopefully mine is on its way. I believe that, if you work hard enough, the rewards will come. As Gary Player said, it seems the harder you work, the luckier you get. Hopefully this series (against England) may be a turnaround for me." And, to an extent, so it was to prove.

As yet, Alistair has not yet recorded a Test century, although he has recorded three centuries in one-day internationals. The nearest he has come in Test cricket was 99 against Sri Lanka in 1994/95. His form since then has been disappointing, not least to himself, but little is more certain than that century will come. He still has to set his mind to really high scores, though; for a batsman of his ability, his highest in any cricket of about 170 in a league match is not enough.

Alistair has been called `Zimbabwe's David Gower' -- a batsman of real class who nevertheless tends to infuriate by his tendency to lose his wicket to apparently careless strokes and yet remain, to outward appearances at least, quite unconcerned. He is batting more responsibly these days, but such a reputation, once earned, is very hard to lose.

When reminded at the time of the England tour of 1996/97 that he is often criticised for throwing his wicket away unnecessarily, Alistair smiled and said, "I totally agree with them! But you only learn by experience, as you get older, and I think I'm slowly beginning to learn that patience is not a virtue in cricket; it's nine-tenths of the game. Before I may have hit a few crisp shots and then thought that everything must go; the arrogance of youth, I suppose, and just liking to get out there and hit the ball. But cricket is a more refined game, and I think it's taking me a bit longer to learn than people would like. When I made my debut, I was batting at Number Three at the age of 18, but those who have been big scorers for our country like Dave Houghton and Andy Flower really only came to the fore when they were 25 or 26. So I am learning; I'm only 24 and should have a good 15 years left in me yet, so I'm confident that things will improve, and I am learning the value of getting my head down for a big innings."

Although the big innings still have not come, Alistair quickly proved himself the man for a crisis. The first one-day international against England provided him with a severe test of temperament, and he came through with flying colours. England, all out for 152, had reduced Zimbabwe to 97 for five before Alistair came in at number seven, sporting an injured hand. Two more wickets fell quickly, leaving Alistair to score 47 in partnership with the last three batsmen in order to win the game. Heath Streak and Eddo Brandes, who hit his first ball for six, both did their part, while Alistair put his head down but kept the score moving skilfully towards that target. His eventual unbeaten 32 won the match for his team and was worth many times that amount.

In the First Test in Bulawayo, Alistair came in first wicket down, as he usually did, after an early wicket fell, and took on the England bowlers in superb style. He displayed a wide range of effortless strokes, seemingly devoid of risk, perhaps the best being an immaculate hook off Darren Gough for four. He seized the initiative with both hands, but again fell frustratingly short of a Test century, getting out for 84. He played a major role in building Zimbabwe's match-winning total in the third one-day international, and played some valuable innings in the triangular series in South Africa.

"I think it went reasonably well," he commented on his season. "I played a few good 'crunch' innings, but again there was the lack of a really big contribution. There were times when I had set it up perfectly for a big score, and just threw it away. So in that respect I wasn't very happy, but in respect of the team's success, in my first season as captain and my contributions I was very happy, apart from the last tour in Sharjah, where I had a real shocker. But after setting myself up for a few big scores I didn't follow through, so obviously that's something I have to work on."

The chief regret of his career remains the fact that he has not yet scored a Test century. "It's something that will come," he asserts, "but it's pretty frustrating that it hasn't come earlier. I've had the opportunities to do so, but I haven't really followed through yet." He also regrets having thrown his wicket away on many occasions, a tendency which still has not left him.

He continued to show his ability to rise to the crisis against New Zealand early in the 1997/98 season. He had a moderate Test series with the bat, but Zimbabwe were on top almost throughout both Tests without being able to finish the match. Alistair recognises this as being a symptom of Zimbabwe's lack of experience in winning, a situation which may take time to improve. But a major test came in the second one-day international, as Zimbabwe, chasing a New Zealand score of 185, slumped to 42 for three, thanks to some indiscreet batting from the top order. Gavin Rennie was still there, playing a fine mature innings, but Alistair quietly took charge of the situation. They shared a stand of 123 before four more wickets fell in fairly quick succession, but Alistair stayed to the end, scoring an unbeaten 77. He looked ready to pull Zimbabwe out of an even tighter situation in the final match, only to be run out by his partner before he was able to get into his stride.

He had now moved down the batting order from number three to five, deciding at the start of the series to play Andy Flower, who had been in outstanding early-season form, at three. The success or otherwise of this move remains dubious, but certainly Alistair is finding number five a good spot from which to steady the ship if necessary.

As captain, Alistair still has not started producing the runs desirable at Test level, and admits that he still gives his wicket away too often. He aims to get his Test batting average up to 35 or 40, no easy task now after 33 Tests with an average of just under 30. He does not find Zimbabwe's lack of continuity in Test cricket easy to handle, though, with constant mini-series of just two or even one Test match at a time. He has done far better in one-day internationals, especially since he started opening the batting. He first tried this in the two-match one-day series at home against Pakistan in 1997/98, and continued to do so until Neil Johnson later took over the role. He scored a superb 102 opening for Zimbabwe against Australia in the first match of the triangular tournament of April 1998, when Zimbabwe were at one stage 143 for one chasing a target of 253. But an appalling middle-order collapse destroyed their hopes of victory, although Alistair stayed to be last out in the final over, immediately after reaching his century.

At home against India in September 1998 he led off with two dashing fifties, neither of which led to victory, and then recorded a third one-day century in the Mini World Cup against New Zealand, another match his team narrowly lost. In Sharjah he lost form, although in the 'dead' match against India he experimented by batting at number six and giving Craig Wishart the chance to open. Wishart failed, and Alistair was required to come in at 46 for four and stop the rot. He did so with a fine unbeaten 83, and this time his efforts were rewarded with victory.

As the team continued to Pakistan, it was decided that Alistair should stay in the middle order where he have just proved his ability to add stability, at number five, while Johnson should open, as he had been used to doing for Natal. For Johnson the move proved immediate dividends, as he kicked off with 74 and 103 in his first two matches. Alistair steadied the innings in his first match with 42 almost single-handedly, but since then his form has been erratic. His best innings perhaps was his 97, run out, which rescued Zimbabwe, who had been overconfident, against Bangladesh in the triangular series also involving Kenya in Dhaka. In the 1999 World Cup in England his form was poor, along with most of Zimbabwe's other batsmen, his only satisfaction being useful innings against Kenya and New Zealand. Against stronger opposition he was unable to rescue his team when necessary and too often gave his wicket away with 'soft' dismissals.

At the start of the 1999/2000 season the decision was made to move him back to his old position at number three for one-day matches, as Murray Goodwin had suffered a long period of poor form in that position. He feels, though, that since he started opening he has made a great improvement in his one-day cricket. He was keen to try out innovations, to improvise and develop new strokes with the field compulsorily in close, and he enjoyed simulating match situations in the nets. He was disappointed to drop down the order, but was unselfish enough not to demand his own way and to realise that this was for the good of the team.

On leaving school, Alistair was immediately engaged as a professional coach by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, eager to preserve and exploit this young talent to the full. At club level, Alistair has moved from Old Hararians to Universals, his present club. He felt he needed a change, but the commercial aspect was also a strong factor, as he was offered a good salary and realises the need for cricketers, with a comparatively sport career span, to cash in on offers coming his way. During the recent off-season in 1997, he did a lot of marketing on behalf of his fellow players, which he recognises as an important part of the modern game. He managed to close a few deals for the players, concerning, for example, fuel and cell-phones. "With the team's success, there are people out there willing to help and contribute," he says. "It's just a matter of going out there and putting a proposal forward. I do quite a lot of that in the off-season."

He was appointed vice-captain of the team to tour Australia in 1994/95, replacing Dave Houghton who was not available for the full duration of the tour. He captained Districts occasionally in the absence of Andy Waller, but had had very little experience of captaincy before his appointment to succeed Andy Flower at national level. Reports generally agree that he did a good job on tour in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and had the respect and support of his team.

Since then he has kept the captaincy of the national side, through good times and bad. He has frequently been criticised by television commentators in particular for a lack of tactical awareness, especially since Dave Houghton retired and was only able to give advice in his off-field capacity as coach rather than on the field itself. But that is trying to put an old head on young shoulders, and Alistair admits that he is still learning the job all the time. He tries to maintain a positive approach, to learn when to attack and when to defend, and to keep the attitude of 'We can win'. Houghton has always been more than willing to give wise advice and he is satisfied with the way Alistair is developing in the job.

The best innings of his career, Alistair feels, was his first-innings score of 63 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi, that innings which won him such lavish praise from the Pakistan scribes and which was concluded with a very dubious lbw decision, one that was highly unpopular even with the partisan home crowd. He remembers, when reaching fifty, that Javed Miandad came up to him in the middle of the pitch to shake his hand, a rare occurrence. He feels inclined to rate Wasim Akram, one of the bowlers he pasted all over the ground on that occasion, as perhaps the best bowler he has faced during his career. He also notes the Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq as a bowler who has bowled particularly well to him.

He thinks that some of the nations are playing too much cricket, especially with the amount of travelling involved. He also fails to see the need, as professional cricketers, to tour abroad and spend two weeks warming up by playing local sides; this, he thinks, is overly tiring. One week should be sufficient at the start of a tour, and after that cricket should be confined to international matches. Any young player in the party coming into the side due to injury or loss of form on the part of a player in the team should be professional enough to work out what needs to be done in the nets and should not need practice matches to keep in form. The strain of unnecessary matches tells on senior players, especially pace bowlers. If countries like England want inter-national teams to tour the counties, he feels, they should invite teams such as Kenya and West Indies B, rather than put the strain on top international players.

His main aims for the future, more vital to him than reaching that first Test century, are to win a Test series for the first time as captain, especially a series away from home. He feels that away victories are the real measure of a team's ability, which cannot be judged simply by its successes at home.

Outside cricket, Alistair spends most of his spare time playing golf, which he finds important in order to relax, and is also not averse to a spot of gambling -- which he is learning to do less frequently when batting! He is married to Adrienne, and they have a step-son approaching his sixth birthday, and a young son.