September 16, 2000

Interview with Alistair Campbell

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As Zimbabwe struggle to save the First Test against New Zealand, Alistair Campbell carried most of the responsibility as he goes into the final day on 45 not out. John Ward interviewed him after the fourth day's play.

John Ward (JW): Al, you're approaching two fifties in the same Test match. I presume you can remember the last occasion you did that?

Alistair Campbell (AC): When did I do that?

JW Against Pakistan, at Rawalpindi, 1993/94 . . . [when he had local reporters bursting into extravagant praise by hammering Wasim and Waqar all over the ground]

AC Yes, yes, that's right!

JW How do you think you're batting has developed since those days?

AC It went downhill! I think in those days, when I first started, I was carefree and played a lot of shots - the innocence of youth, I suppose. Since then I've tried to play the same way but I've had some technical flaws and I also haven't been mentally strong enough, so I've had glimpses of good form or shown that I can bat for periods of time, but not consistently. Like I said to you the day before yesterday, I've got a good method now that I want to keep, made a few adjustments to my technique, I've got much stronger mentally, so it is paying off so far. But it's a long season so I'm just going to stick with this method and see where it gets me.

But it's not so much milestones I'm after now - we were in a good position and threw some wickets away tonight, and we've got to get to lunch tomorrow without losing any more wickets. Then maybe we can think about what we're going to do with this game, but there's a long way to go and Queens has this habit of producing close finishes, so maybe we'll see one tomorrow.

JW You've looked more comfortable and secure in this match than I can recall seeing you before in a Test match.

AC Like I said, I think my shot selection is a lot better now, and also I have a lot more patience. I think any batsman you speak to will tell you that's the essence of batting, and also being able to bat for long periods of time. That's Test cricket. You're going to get times when you can't score but you can't give it away. You've got to get through those tough times and you're going to get periods when you're able to score a bit more freely. I'm learning, and developing I suppose a bit late, but I like to think I'm learning how to play Test cricket, and it is showing. But like I said there's a long way to go. One game doesn't make the rest of my career.

JW Turning to today's play, it took a long time to get rid of the last three New Zealand batsmen.

AC Yes, I think their last five wickets put on about 200 runs, but we knew that any side that has Adam Parore coming in at number nine and Daniel Vettori at number ten - Parore has I think two or three Test hundreds and Vettori has a career best here of 91 against us - was going to be hard to get out. But we did lose it for a bit; we didn't exert enough pressure, but that's one of those things. We've had that problem in the past. We don't have a strike bowler who can run in there and clean up the tail. We have limitations in our bowling side, but having said that they did bat well and Paul Strang bowled magnificently - eight for 109, and with any spinner in the world you can't ask for more than that. It kept us in the game on a very batsman-friendly wicket that is starting to take a bit of turn now.

So who knows - if we can get up to 200 or 210 and leave them 50-odd overs, you never know. They may have a crack at it and we may make early inroads and have them trying to bat out time for the last ten or fifteen overs, three wickets in hand . . . who knows what might happen?

JW Any way you can think of, in retrospect, how you might have bundled them out more quickly?

AC Like I said, it is a batsman-friendly wicket and those guys are not mugs, they're not tailenders. I think now that world cricket is progressing, and you have to be a bowler who can bat. You can see with teams all over the world now that sides are batting all the way down; you don't see tails getting knocked over that easily any more. There are always contributions from down there, so I think that's the trend of world cricket and bowlers, captains and coaches are going to have to think of other methods of getting tailenders out. But the word tailender is slowly going out of the game as more and more bowlers are learning to bat better.

JW Then at the start of the Zimbabwe innings we lost three quick wickets.

AC Yes, I think our guys got a bit excited and wanted to score a bit quicker than in the first innings, with the idea of setting them a total. But you can't think like that; we should have been tighter. We knew that Vettori wasn't going to bowl, so if they guys had been a little tighter and their shot selection better then that wouldn't have happened. I think they tried to play a few too many shots but we'll learn from that, because if you've got your shots you can pick the bowlers off. The general game plan should have been to bat out tonight and we should have been something like 100 for two, then tomorrow we could have tried to push it on during that first session and then give them after lunch to bat and see what happens. But that's not going to be the case; we're five down now; what's happened has happened, and Streaky and I have to get out there and make sure we bat until lunch.

JW So what was your own game plan when you went in to bat just before tea?

AC We were two down then and Grant Flower got out straight away, so 21 for three is not such a good situation. So it was just a matter of trying to bat some time and get a partnership going. That's what any captain or coach will tell you - it's all about partnerships. Andy Flower and I were doing that and we were looking good, getting the scoring rate going and picking the bowlers off, then unfortunately he got out, and Wishy got out, so that was a double blow. That put us behind the black ball a bit, but Streaky's batted really well with me. We've got to bat well for three hours tomorrow, and if we do that we'll either save the game or give ourselves a chance of winning it.

JW Can you compare the tactics the New Zealanders used against you with the first innings, and the individual bowlers?

AC It was much the same - just wait for me to make the mistake. They were attacking a little bit more with the spinner because the ball is turning a bit more now, but as far as the seamers were concerned it was bowling to one side of the wicket. Astle was bowling to me with four or five guys in the covers, so it wasn't that easy to find the gaps, and a bit of patience was required. No doubt they'll employ the same things tomorrow; they'll try and attack one end with a spinner and try to bowl channels the other end with a seamer.

JW They're obviously handicapped by losing Vettori.

AC Obviously he would have played a part because he's a quality left-arm spinner, but that's one of those things. We played in the West Indies when Heath Streak had a back strain, in that Second Test which could have made all the difference. People say that Vettori could have played a part, but I don't think it could have got any better than having us 100 for five on that wicket. So I think they'll be very well pleased with what they've done, and they're going to be trying to bowl us out before lunch tomorrow, even by tea, and give themselves a chance of winning the game. We've just got to fight it out tomorrow.