Heath Streak has returned to his rightful place as the bulwark of Zimbabwe's bowling attack after missing four Tests and five one-day matches due to a recurrence of his knee injury - and how Zimbabwe missed him! Here he talks to John Ward about his return to the Zimbabwean team, and especially about his part in Zimbabwe's historic victory over South Africa at Durban.
JW: Heath, first please can you trace the history of your knee injury and especially how it has affected you during the last year.
HS: It's something that has taken a couple of seasons and has just got progressively worse. It's been a chronic tendonitis problem, through over-use, and it's because of the force going through the knee when I'm landing. There was a small injury in there and by favouring it the muscles in there that support that particular tendon got progressively weaker, and then with the strapping that just made the problem worse than it was originally. At the World Cup it came to a head, and after that it was really frustrating me and limiting the quality of my practice in the nets. It was affecting my game and I had to get it seen to.
JW: When did it first start bothering you?
HS: Two seasons ago. I had a cortisone injection on it, and that seemed to help it for a while, and it subsided for half a season. I went to Cape Town to the Sports Institute and saw some specialists about my knee there a year ago. They gave me exercises to do, which I did, but halfway through the following season it started to come back again. Eventually I had to have a minor operation on it, and it's just been something that I've had get done. Unfortunately I came back a bit early, playing against the Australians, which set it back a bit. It's still not 100%, but it's getting a little bit better with the rehab I've done. Austin Jeanes in Harare has helped me a lot, and it's a lot better than it was, and I'm getting back almost to full fitness now.
JW: What were your preparations for the South African tour then?
HS: I did a lot of bowling at home in our nets, and then a lot with the guys. I didn't have a lot of match preparation, but it was just one of those things where I had to be careful how much I did on my knee. I just had to be careful not to overdo it, and I had to get a limitation on that.
JW: When did you actually start bowling again?
HS: About two weeks prior to the South African tour. When I say bowling, I mean bowling with a run-up. Prior to that I had done a lot in the nets just bowling off a couple of steps to keep the action grooved and trying to get back into it. So really I didn't have much practice going into the South African trip.
JW: Did it give you any worries on tour?
HS: Not really. Obviously in one-day games when you're batting you're doing a lot of shuffles and a lot of running in between, and towards the end of the game I could feel it a little bit, but nothing substantial and it recovered pretty quickly.
JW: If we had a five-day Test now, do you feel you would be fit for it?
HS: Yes, I think so, but definitely there would be limitations about how many overs I'd be bowling and I don't think I'd be bowling 25 overs in a day. Hopefully by the West Indies it will be a lot stronger and I'll just have to work out what that limitation's going to be, how many overs I can handle in a day.
JW: Have you held back on the pace a bit because of that?
HS: It's not really a case of holding back; it takes a bit of time, and you can be putting in maximum effort but it takes a bit of time to get back to full pace, getting back the strength to bowl, and it's one of those things that will come the more I play. I think I'm getting back close now to where I was a couple of seasons ago.
JW: What were your best moments bowling-wise in South Africa?
HS: I think in most of the games I was reasonably happy; I've tried to work on limiting wides and that sort of thing. I enjoyed the first game at the Wanderers [Johannesburg] - I thought I bowled reasonably well there, and most of my spells were pretty economical, but there wasn't really any one spell that stood out. Maybe that last game in Port Elizabeth where I turned in quite economical figures. I think probably if we had not lost as many wickets up front we could have come close to winning that game.
JW: How did your bowling go in that victory over South Africa in Durban?
HS: It went pretty well. I had a good first spell, I think, one bad over, and then I bowled pretty well at the end again. I felt pretty happy with that. Stuart Carlisle took a brilliant catch off my bowling to dismiss McKenzie and it went pretty well - we bowled well that day and held some good catches.
JW: What was the situation when you went in to bat?
HS: Guy [Whittall] was in and Andy [Flower] had just got out, and we put together a pretty decent partnership. We had about 30-odd runs to get at just over six an over, I think. We were looking for a win there and Guy and I carried it on, but unfortunately I hit a half-volley hard and low to Klusener's left and it deflected and went at a right angle straight to shortish midwicket. Guy and I were both committed to the run, and when we realised it had deflected straight to the fielder it was one of those things. He got out, and that put a bit of pressure on me as I had to see us through.
I managed to hit Pollock for a boundary over Jonty Rhodes at point, and that eased things a bit. I picked up a couple of twos, and in the last over with Kallis who bowled a pretty good over we managed to run for two. Then we needed one run to win with three balls to go. He hit two good balls and I think I hit them both to fielders, and I got one full pitch that I could have hit for one because they had forgotten to bring Henry Williams in from the long-on boundary, but I hit it straight to midwicket, so that was one opportunity wasted. The next one was a pretty good yorker, and I hit it straight to the fielder at mid-off. It would have been a silly attempt at a single and I would have come second-best.
Fortunately the last ball worked out for us. It was a good ball and I don't know if I got any bat on it; it seemed to miss everything. I had spoken to Gary [Brent, his partner] before and he was going to run whatever happened. The ball reverse-swung a bit, and I don't know if I got a little bit of an inside edge; it went between myself and the wickets, and it seemed to deflect a little bit and it went on to Boucher's left hand, which made it a bit awkward for him to throw down the wickets. We managed to squeeze through for the single for the victory, and Gary ended up making it quite comfortably; even if Boucher had hit the stumps directly, he would have still made it easily.
JW: What other memories of the tour?
HS: Obviously we were quite excited with the win in Cape Town over England, and Henry's spell - it was brilliant to be there and just to be part of the team, and I think our fielding generally in the team was excellent. We took some really good catches, and our ground fielding and throwing was good, so hopefully we can continue in that vein and keep progressing as a team.
JW: For yourself, how confident are you that you can keep on bowling in West Indies and England?
HS: Well, I hope so; I hope I can have an injury-free season now. There is a lot of cricket so it's going to be a lot of hard work, and it's going to be important that we look after ourselves and our bodies, and a little bit of management as to how much practice we do and what we do, make sure we eat and rest properly so as to be fit for the games. We have a trainer in now, so I think that helps the morale of the team and the professionalism. Hopefully he can help us as well and things like that can fall into place.
JW: Who is the trainer?
HS: John Bryceland - I think he's of Scottish descent, but he's married a Zimbabwean girl and is living in Harare. He's had a lot of experience, mainly in the British air force, so he's very good on the motivational side, on fitness and nutrition, which is all part of the game these days, and the more parts you can be professional in the better.
JW: You won't get much rest in the off season this year.
HS: No, I don't think we do have an off season! It's one of those seasons which just seems to go into the following season, so it'll be interesting to see what actually happens in terms of fixtures. But it's a brilliant season for us: our first trip to the West Indies and we're all looking forward to that, a Test series in England, playing at Lord's and grounds like that. Then the World Series in Australia, which some of us have already experienced, and all the more incentive to stay fit, stay in the side and be part of a winning side.
I think we're closer to our full strength now; we're a good unit, and with Neil Johnson back in and bowling as well we're only going to improve. Unfortunately Guy Whittall's out for a short spell now - he's been bowling and batting very well for us, and hopefully he will not be out for too long. But I think we're pretty close to a side that is well-balanced in terms of all-rounders, batsmen and bowlers. I just hope someone in the batting can really come through for us and pick up some form in the English series and get in a couple of big scores, eighties, nineties, and I think we can win some of these games.