Stuart Carlisle has had an uneven career. Once Grant Flower's opening partner in Test cricket, a back-foot weakness was exploited by the English tourists of 1996/97 and he disappeared from Test cricket. On his return from Technikon in South Africa, he worked hard to re-establish his career and improve his technique, and won high praise from coach Dave Houghton for his determination and dedication.

The selectors too believed in him, and gave him a number of chances in the national side which certain members of the press and public thought he scarcely deserved, as he rarely succeeded. But, forced to bat at number seven or even eight in a one-day side, he had virtually no scope for success. Promoted to number five for the third one-day international against Sri Lanka, he failed to score, defeated by Muralitharan's arm ball.

Then, on Saturday 19 December, he gave his critics the best possible answer by scoring a magnificent undefeated 121 in the fourth one-day international. The following day he talked to John Ward about that match.

JW: Stuart, obviously you played that match yesterday under a great deal of pressure.

SC: Yes, it's always hard coming in when you've made a nought the previous innings, to bounce back like that, but I knew it was a good opportunity batting at number three. I also knew it was going to be hard because I've been playing B cricket [for the Zimbabwe Board XI in the UCBSA Bowl competition] in the last two months, and the results haven't been in the paper, so the public generally have no idea what's been going on. They were probably asking questions like, "Why is this guy back in the side again?" but in all modesty I felt I deserved it, so I was really happy to get a big hundred.

JW: When were you actually told you were going in three?

SC: I think after Wednesday, because I hadn't faced Muralitharan recently, they decided it was a good idea that I go in three and play against the seam. I agreed with it, and it certainly took a lot of pressure off me.

JW: How were you feeling while you were sitting in the changing room and the opening batsmen were out there and you knew you had to go in next, and that this was a big one?

SC: Very tense. Very tense, but very focused on what I needed to do. I was also backing myself and hoping I'd have a bit of luck to start me off. I knew that if I could get beyond the first 20, because that's always a bit nerve-racking, I should do well. But I don't think there's any batsman in the world in an international who doesn't have a bit of butterflies, and they are actually quite good for you sometimes. But I was definitely under quite a bit of pressure.

JW: They say if you lose them, you've also lost your edge.

SC: That's right; you don't ever want to get too relaxed.

JW: How did your innings start?

SC: I remember I cut the second ball for four, and I was very happy with that shot. I think that was quite a confidence booster; it always is when you hit a boundary. I think in the first couple of overs I got a couple of inside edges on to the pads; I know for a fact I was leaning over, certainly to Chaminda Vaas, because I knew he bowled the inswinger four out of six balls, and I kept leaning over because I wanted to make sure I was getting in line with it, or even outside the line, and I was going across too much. So I was missing out there and struggling a bit.

But I know, with Alistair [Campbell] as well, it was hard to start off with and we both went quite slowly. That pitch was pretty hard and I thought they bowled very well in the morning, especially Wickramasinghe; he bowled back of a length really well, so we found it quite hard to score. It's not too easy when you get two batsmen who are finding it hard to score, and there's a bit of pressure. But the best thing we did, I think, was that we didn't panic, which is always a good thing in one-dayers; we just held on a little bit longer and just wait for that bad ball or that little break. That first 20 or 30 runs was quite a fight, but when I got to 20 or 25 I knew it would be hard work to get to 50, but I started to get a bit more confidence.

I've been hitting the ball really well in the last two months and I've got those sixties and seventies with the B side. I've been playing very straight, which has been great. I'm playing with a heavier bat now, which seems to help me a lot. Even after getting my hundred I think I might have been guilty of trying to hit the ball too hard; at that stage you should have your eye really well in, which I did, but I think you have to try and stroke the ball.

For the first twenty or thirty runs of my innings I had to work really hard. I hadn't been facing international bowlers for the last two months, and that was always going to be hard, especially when you have guys like Muralitharan. This was the first time I had faced him on this tour, although I did face him in the World Cup, but with those Duke balls it's much easier to see the seam, and he was actually bowling a little slower in the World Cup; here he was bowling a lot flatter so it was more difficult to read it in the air.

I had a bit of luck when I was on about 12 when the ball hit the edge of my bat and popped up between mid-on and mid-off, but in most hundreds you have a bit of luck like that. I took that as a good sign and grafted the first 20 run or 30 runs; it was quite hard and quite slow, but once I got past the 30 mark I started playing more naturally and I backed myself to play a lot of the shots I know I can play. I was dropped once when I was about 70 or 80, but by that stage I had to be taking risks and I was going well with Andy. Basically I was really happy to get my first hundred. Before that I had batted at seven or eight all the time; I batted at number five once, on Wednesday, and then at number three. So it was particularly good to bat at number three for the first time and get a hundred, almost my first genuine chance.

JW: So many of our guys are getting good thirties and forties but then giving it away, yet you managed to rise above that and stay right to the end. Is there anything that particularly helped you to go on to your hundred?

SC: Yes, when I got to 38, I think, I said, "Right, 12 more runs," and I worked really hard to get to my fifty, because in the back of my mind as well I knew I didn't have a one-day fifty and I was really keen to get there. When I got to my fifty I was obviously happy, and then I got I think 16 runs off one over and found I was on 70-odd. I suddenly thought, "I can go through and get a hundred here." I hadn't actually been expecting to get a big hundred, or a hundred at all, but when I got to the seventies or eighties we had about 10 o 12 overs left, and I thought I could definitely get a hundred.

Then when I got to 100 I suddenly thought, "Well, my average is down since I've been going in number seven"; it's reasonable for seven, I suppose, but if I'm going to bat three and more up the order I need to improve my average, so I wanted to be not out as well. Andy was playing very well and we had such a good partnership going; we had set a target eight or ten overs before to get to 230, but we landed up with 260, just from rotating the strike, and Andy played some really good shots all round the wicket, so I just strove to be not out. That was one thing I was quite proud of.

I think in the last three overs I really struggled with my fitness. I'm not saying I'm unfit at all; I think my fitness is reasonably good, but it was the first time I had batted in that intense heat, and to get a hundred in 50 overs means a lot of running, a lot of twos, a lot of threes. So the last three overs I certainly struggled a bit. But that's another thing I can work on.

JW: It didn't seem to affect your batting at all. 'Kalu', when he got into the eighties, slowed right down, but you just kept up your momentum all the way through, and if you were particularly nervous it certainly wasn't evident.

SC: It wasn't nerves at all, just tiredness; you just have to keep lifting yourself, keep backing yourself. I saw that with Kalu as well; when he was in the eighties he was calling for water every second over - it was very hot. It's nothing too serious, just something to work on, and I'm very glad I got through it.

JW: Can you describe the Sri Lankan bowlers you faced?

SC: Russel Arnold is not a bad off-spinner and he varies his bowling; all the spinners, I find, and the same with Jayasuriya as well, vary the pace of their bowling a lot, and that's their main form of attack, I suppose. It wasn't turning a lot out there, so they were just banking on different lengths; obviously Muralitharan was turning it a hell of a lot, but he can turn it on glass, as you know. So he was quite hard to face, but I knew that I could just back my sweep because he was turning it so much. I got right behind the line of the ball, got my pad out so if it did miss it then it hit my pad, and I backed myself to hit hard and on the ground.

Chaminda Vaas, as I said earlier, I think is a very good bowler; he bowled quite a few balls swinging in to me and on to my leg side, so though I missed it with the bat we still ended up getting quite a few runs down the leg side, which is quite important. He has a straight one, but he doesn't really have one that goes away from the bat to the right-hander. He has one that he rolls his finger across and it goes straight across the line.

Wickramasinghe I thought bowled very well. He bowled back of a length; a tall guy, gets good bounce and his line was impeccable for two or three overs. I know Alistair also found it very hard to get him away. But otherwise he wasn't swinging it a lot; he just banks on hitting the seam. The only real seam bowler is Chaminda Vaas.

Then there was the first-change seamer, Pushpakumara: the odd times he swings it away, but that's only early doors - I didn't really face too much of him early on. When I did come to face him the shine had gone, so he was basically just up and down. He hit the seam as well, and looks a good bowler, especially on a livelier pitch.

Jayawardene I think is not a bad spinner either; just varies his pace but didn't turn it much. Upul Chandana looks like quite a reasonable leggie; he's got the one that goes straight as well as the normal leggie - didn't bowl any googlies or anything like that. He turned it a lot more today [Sunday] than he did yesterday, but he wasn't too hard to face.

JW: Did you do much chatting with your partners while you were out there?

SC: Yes, I had to do a lot of it myself, because although we had chatted a lot before the game I hadn't been playing and hadn't faced them for quite a while, so it was quite important to have a lot of communication. I find the guys do talk a lot and really encourage each other, and I find this a big factor.

When I bat with someone like Andy Flower, he often asks me, for example, "This guy Chandana's on; where are you going to hit him? How are you going to play him?" Or for example Jayasuriya: I'll tell Andy straight away that Jayasuriya's got those full, almost yorker-length balls, almost arm balls, and I'm definitely going to hit him straight, to mid-on or mid-off; if he bowls a slower one I'm going to back myself to slog-sweep him, which is one of my attacking shots - otherwise I'll just sweep him on the ground. We always discuss things like that, and Andy's quite positive and if he thinks it'll work he says, "Go for it."

For example, that one over where I got 16 I said, "I'm going to take this guy on," because we were going really slowly, and Alistair, whom I was batting with then, was really positive and said, "Yes, back yourself; it's good stuff. Where are you going to hit him?" So it's good, and you've got to communicate all the time.

JW: What was it like coming off the field after scoring your unbeaten century?

SC: I think the players were quite annoyed because I didn't lift my bat towards them! But it was a great feeling, with everyone clapping and even standing, so it's a great honour. Everything was happening around me so fast I didn't have time to lift my bat to everyone. But they were just joking around; every player came and said, "Well done; that was an excellent innings," and they were really chuffed, and every Sri Lankan shook my hand at the end and said, "Excellent batting; good innings and well batted."

JW: I don't know how much you remember of the Sri Lankan innings; you may have just been on too much of a high to think about what was going on then!

SC: One thing was for sure - my legs were very tired! This morning I woke up and I found it very hard to get my legs going. I think today my feet were probably a bit lazy. But the saddest thing was that we lost the game. If we could only have won, that would have been an even better day. It would have made us 2-1, and if we had won this game again today it would have been two-all in the series.

I don't want to put all the blame on certain people, but our bowlers didn't bowl as well as they should have. I know that in that first fifteen overs they had something like 68 or 70 runs for only one wicket. It was sad that they bowled both sides of the wicket and were worked away quite easily.

Kaluwitharana is a short guy and he's very quick to pull; he's very good off the back foot and cuts very well. I think he's a very good player, and he's got that extra-cover drive so you cannot give him any width because he'll put it away. I thought he was definitely the most impressive batsman yesterday. I see Jayasuriya has been struggling; he's got himself out a lot of the time and I don't think he's scored any big runs, but I know he's a good player.

I thought Russel Arnold was a very good player as well. He strokes the ball very hard, seems to back himself a lot. Atapattu is technically very good, I think; he's more of a grafter, slow off the mark, but when he gets going he can be quite devastating. You're going to get those different players in different sides; for example, Kaluwitharana is attacking, Jayasuriya can be very attacking, while the other batsmen are more grafters. They may take it slow in the beginning but have all the shots in the end. Other players like to have all the shots in the beginning and don't have an end!

JW: You must have had very mixed feelings yesterday evening.

SC: Definitely. As I say, it was sad we lost, but I had a lot of people come up to me and say, "Well batted," and you suddenly find a lot of the Zimbabweans are very supportive when you do well! A lot of people called me and congratulated me, and the family were actually more excited than I was! But as Murray [Goodwin] was saying earlier, his only one-day hundred was the same thing, in Sri Lanka when Zimbabwe got 230 and he got a hundred but they lost the game. It's a real pity when you lose games from that kind of position.

JW: You proved a lot of people wrong.

SC: Yeah, sure! I don't want to go too far into the press side, but there's been quite a lot of trouble, and the reason why I say it is that our results for the B side have not been in the papers for the last two months. That's why a certain reporter criticised me.

Ravi Shastri said to me, "You've had quite a lot of problems in the press just recently, and what a way to answer with the bat!" So I said, "Yes, that's why I kept quiet, and I answered in the best way that a cricketer should do." I'm the one with the last laugh in the end. I hope I can carry on from here and go to greater heights.

Next I hope I'll make the tour to South Africa, so I'm going to train a lot early January and really get focused. I'm not sure I'll bat three again because Neil Johnson will be back, more likely five or six; rather than be seven or eight, being a batsman, I'd definitely like to be in the top six all the time I play. When I'm out of form and when other fringe players like Craig Wishart come in, I'd like to see us guys batting between one and six, as opposed to seven or eight, because that's our job and we need to get more specialised. Someone like Guy [Whittall] who's a good all-rounder would be good at seven, being a bowler as well, and maybe Andy [Flower] at five, so the less experienced guys coming in are between two more experienced guys, and I think that would be a better option for the Zimbabwe batting line-up.

Certainly I've got a few things to work on with my batting, but for the guys who haven't been playing international cricket at least we've had those B sides because it certainly does help us to maintain our standard of play.

JW: You will have some lean times in the future, but when you do think back to this innings and soak your memory in it so you've something to fall back on - you've proved you can do it.

SC: That's right. I've always thought I could do it; it's just as you say the opportunities early on. So I was really glad to get that one opportunity. I'll definitely be watching the video tape of the match again several times and seeing all the good shots and the bad shots I played, and working from the tape. All of us are going to go through bad times; we're going to have bad form and luck's not going to go our way and we'll all get criticised. I'm not saying I don't like getting criticised in the paper at all, but what I don't like is when they don't have any statistics to back it up, and everyone knows it was just so false.

I'm going to keep out of that side; I'm just going to go on playing my game and I hope that side improves. By all means they can criticise us when we're doing badly, if we're not performing, but after a long string of bad performances, not if you get a hundred one day and nought the next, and then they criticise you and ask why you're in the side. One-day cricket involves a lot of risk and there could be several innings in which you get twenties or thirties. You just have to be patient, I think, and wait for that one time you get past 30, and make sure when you get to 50 you reach 100.