Interview with Alistair Campbell
John Ward (JW): Al, it must feel good to get the runs flowing in Test cricket again, but I suppose there must be the disappointment of missing a century today [he scored 88].
Alistair Campbell (AC): Yes, definitely. That was my goal and I just wanted to grind it out. I've been guilty in the past of getting pretty thirties and forties, so I just wanted to grind it out out there, no matter how long it took to reach the milestone. It didn't happen, but the way I was batting at the end of the England tour, in the one-dayers there, and the way that I'm batting now, I'm sure it will come. I'm confident mentally, and I'm batting well enough to do that, and I have a decent method worked out now, so hopefully if I can keep on plodding along the same road I'll be able to achieve it in the not-too-distant future.
JW: How did you get out of your run of poor form?
AC: People say I was in a rut of poor form, but to be honest I scored a lot of runs in first-class cricket - I think I scored three hundreds in the four first-class games we did play last season - and it was just in the Test matches that I really struggled. I don't want to make excuses, but some of the times I got some good balls, and I think for moments when I went in I lost the way I wanted to play, I lost the method I wanted to adopt, and as you know you just make one mistake and that's the end. I'm a lot calmer at the crease now; I think one of the criticisms levelled at me is that I don't seem as composed as I should be when I go in. So I've tried to work on that, and when I get a start I try and convert it. If you look back on my Test career I've made a lot of starts, a lot of twenties and thirties, and that's probably why I only average 24 because that's what I get all the time. So now I want to convert them into big scores.
JW: Yes, you looked a lot better today than I've seen you for a long time. In what sort of frame of mind did you approach this Test match?
AC: Regardless of what I had done in England, when I was batting really well, there were murmurs of my Test place being in jeopardy, so I was under pressure to score some runs. I'll just set my stall out for the next couple of years; I'm not captain any more, so there's no responsibility on my shoulders as the leader of a team. My job is to score runs, and with Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson gone there's a lot of pressure on our shoulders - myself, Andy Flower, Grant Flower - to do a lot of runscoring for us to compete. So my frame of mind for this game was just to give myself a chance, and if I did make a start to convert it. I wanted to play with a lot of patience, something I haven't displayed in the past, so I set out to bat time, grind it out. So I did that, and it was a bit unfortunate to fall 12 short.
JW: How did you see the match situation when you went in to bat yesterday?
AC: It was a good batting wicket, and the guys had made starts but got out. We knew 350 was the minimum score we needed to get on that wicket, so I didn't worry about what was going on the other end; I needed to keep my end intact. Andy [Flower] came out and I thought he was good for plenty, but when he got out, then Wishy [Craig Wishart] got out, Streaky and I put on a partnership. It's all about building partnerships. I just tried to look after my end so that people could bat around me.
JW: How is the pitch playing?
AC: It's playing well, but it's taking turn, as you saw with Wiseman and Vettori, and as you saw with Paul Strang this evening. He really bowled a very testing spell, so if he can bowl a long spell tomorrow and get balls in the right area, they don't seem to be picking his wrong 'un very well, and there's a bit of bounce there - who knows? But it is still a really good batting wicket and we're going to have to work hard to bowl them out. But if the luck goes our way and we managed to bowl them out for around 250, 270, and get a lead, we have a chance to bat and put some pressure on them on the last day.
JW: With an overall scoring rate of around two an over, is that just the way the tea played, or is the ball not coming on to the bat?
AC: No, it's a nice batting wicket, but it's our first Test match of the season and people forget that. I've just played one warm-up game but some of the guys haven't even had that; it's just been nets. So the object of the exercise in the first Test match of the season is to make sure you get time in the middle. So it was a case on the first day of just trying to bat out the day, no matter how long it took, and as the season progresses, as batters work out their games and become more confident, get more practice under their belts, then the shots will come and a better scoring rate will be achieved.
JW: What sort of tactics did New Zealand use against you when you batted?
AC: They bowled a lot of spin at me, but basically they just tried to bowl to defensive fields and wait for me to make a mistake - as I have obliged on many occasions in my career! I just said that if they were going to bowl the ball in the right area, which they did do, and I've got no opportunity to score without taking risks, then so be it - I'm just going to defend until they give me a ball I can get away in the gap. That's how I set out my stall. If they have to bowl on a flat wicket they tend to do that, just bowl in the channel and with a ring field. They did that and their bowlers didn't bowl many bad balls, so that's why our scoring was so slow. In the past I think we would have been 220 all out by trying to force the pace and play shots that weren't really there. But I think we've taught ourselves a valuable lesson, that if we can bat for some time, no matter how long it takes, and get a score on the board, we get the opportunity to put the other side under pressure.
JW: We did wonder in the press box if a little more effort might have been made by the team as a whole to keep the strike rotating, pushing for singles.
AC: Like I say, that comes as we get into the season, when we get more time in the middle, we get better and better and the scoring rate will improve. But for now this is our first Test match of the season, and the object was to try and get a good first-innings total, no matter how long it took, and for every batter to get in there and get some time in the middle. I think it will improve from here.
JW: Can you evaluate the New Zealand bowlers in this innings?
AC: It's a pretty flat wicket, and as you know I do take on the short balls so they did have a man back there, the seamers did try to bowl a few short. Otherwise they just tried to bowl channel to me. The spinners just tried to get the ball in the right area and make me play. It was turning a little bit, and they had two guys close catching. There was no special tactic as far as I was concerned, but they probably had a team meeting and said that I'm prone to giving it away, and if you get balls in the right area he's going to take you on, and that's how we're going to get him out. I managed to be patient and grind it out.
JW: Was there any particular point in your innings where you felt, "I know I'm I control and can really go on and make a big one this time"?
AC: I did. From yesterday evening when I was batting with Andrew [Flower] I felt really good, and in the first session this morning I felt really in control. After lunch I just thought that if I keep playing the same way, just keep batting, it's going to arrive. I wasn't really looking at the scoreboard, I was just concentrating on playing ball by ball, and he runs would come. They bowled me some balls I could put away, and if they bowled halfdecent balls in the channel I'm just going to defend. I was aiming at being 150 not out overnight.
JW: Is there any particular method you used mentally to help to concentrate so well this time?
AC: I think everyone has their little idiosyncrasies, but all I do is say to myself, "Watch the ball, watch the ball." It seems to be the simplest thing to do: you've got to watch the ball if you're going to hit the ball, so before the bowler runs in some people touch their thigh pad or do something with their pad or touch the helmet. But all I do, as the guy's running up to bowl, is say, "Watch the ball, watch the ball."
JW: What happened with the delivery that got you out?
AC: It was slower ball [from Nathan Astle] and I just picked the wrong line, to be honest. I was maybe getting a little tired, not as focused as I should have been, but I just feel I fell over a bit and picked the wrong line, which was unfortunate.
JW: It must be the longest innings you've ever played in international cricket.
AC: Yes, probably in Test cricket it is my longest, batting for near on five hours. But if you're going to score hundreds you have to learn to bat for five to seven hours, and sometimes longer if you want to score doublehundreds. Every batter knows that if you're going to score a Test hundred you have to put aside five hours. I should have done a lot more of those in my career, but now I've adopted a method and I've seen that it does work, and hopefully I can carry that on in the rest of the Test matches this season and beyond.
JW: Any particularly memorable strokes in this innings that gave you real satisfaction?
AC: Well, not really; it was just one of those gutsy little 'get in there, get behind the line of the ball and not give anything away'. It wasn't pretty, but I played a couple of good cover drives off O'Connor, I think, and a couple off Vettori, but nothing memorable. I just tried to pick the gaps when I could, not try to hit the ball too hard. I think that's what Test innings are all about. Andy Flower has shown it time and again, that if you're going to score big hundreds you have to be prepared to not look that pretty, get in there, guts it out and be prepared to bat for long periods of time, which is something I'm trying to do.
JW: In retrospect, do you think there's anything you might have done in that innings?
AC: Yes, I might have been a bit more positive against the spinners. I'm a natural attacking player and there were balls there that I might have run down the wicket and hit over the top, to change the field a bit; maybe played a few pick-up sweeps, which is one of my shots, but like I said I had the frame of mind just to defend, that if I batted enough time I had enough shots in my armoury, enough experience to get to a hundred. But in retrospect maybe I should have, so the guy's not just bowling at you, but you give him something to think about. As soon as you do that and you hit a guy over the top, if he sees you looking to come down he drops a few short and you get a few more scoring opportunities. So perhaps in retrospect I should have been a bit more aggressive against the spinners. But having said that, if I'd been talking to you now with 140 not out, then I would have said I'd have changed nothing, so just because I came 12 short I'm looking to find somewhere I could have scored!
JW: After you were out, we had quite a few runs from the tail.
AC: Yes, we did. Bryan Strang has chipped in for us before; he's got a Test fifty. Streak's a really good allrounder and he got a fifty today, and 'Psych' Nkala was really good as well. He rode his luck but played his shots and was really positive. Psych's going to be our future all-rounder who's going to fill Streaky's boots, and he's very capable of doing that. He bowled a good first spell as well with the ball. It's very important if you get to 270 or 280 for seven that the tail wags and you can get another 70 or 80 out of them, as happened today. And it might make a difference in this Test match, you never know.
JW: What comments do you have on the New Zealand innings so far?
AC: It's a good batting wicket so naturally they're going to come out and play their shots. That can work for you one day and not work the other day, and I think they're going to have their work cut out with Paul Strang bowling. He really showed it this evening, and it's going to be an intriguing day's play tomorrow. Obviously you're going to get some partnerships if they get stuck in; they've got some very good players so we're going to have to be on the ball, the seamers are going to have to be on a length, in the channel, and Strang might be the one to apply some pressure and nip them out.