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A positive spin

Part of the job of a national coach today is what is now known in political circles as spin

John Ward
John Ward talked to Geoff Marsh at the end of Zimbabwe's tour of England
Part of the job of a national coach today is what is now known in political circles as spin. They are required to put on a brave face after the greatest of catastrophes and sound positive no matter what anger or despair may be churning inside them.
But Zimbabwe's coach Geoff Marsh sounded genuinely positive at the end of Zimbabwe's second official tour of England, although the results on paper looked like an unrelieved catalogue of woe, broken only by that unexpected victory over England in the first match of the NatWest Series.
His first comment was on how much the players, mostly young and cringingly inexperienced, enjoyed the tour. "We've been hurt by our losses, but we've sat down and discussed them and areas where we can improve. The pleasing thing for me is that the players got up every day and they went to training with smiles on their faces, wanting to learn and wanting to become better cricketers."
No doubt Marsh would like to comment, but cannot, on the selection policy that sent so many youngsters on tour while leaving behind more experienced players like batsmen Craig Wishart, Gavin Rennie and Trevor Gripper. All three have had their chances in the past, enjoyed some success, but been dropped for long spells after a few low patches. They were not given long runs in the side or enjoyed the confidence in and, some would say, indulgence shown to the likes of Alistair Campbell in the past or Dion Ebrahim in the present. But their extra experience would have helped the woefully fragile batting, especially when Stuart Carlisle's injury forced him out of the NatWest Series and Mark Vermeulen was sent home for disciplinary reasons - both big blows, says Marsh.
"Looking back on it, the players we had here were young and just didn't stand up to replacing them," he explained. "With hindsight, those players were really missed in the one-day series."
When asked about the players who made particularly pleasing progress on the tour, it is perhaps significant that Marsh mentioned two senior players rather than the promising but unfulfilled youngsters. "Heath Streak has had an outstanding tour," he said. "He captained the side very well and he has led from the front with his performances. I think Stuart Carlisle's performances in all the lead-up games were excellent, although unfortunately he got injured before the one-day series."
Marsh, like Duncan Fletcher, prefers to work quietly behind the scenes and is not given to giving headline-making statements. Earlier this week, though, he did criticise the poor quality of many of the pitches his team had had to play on during the tour. He said, quite correctly, that so many bowler-friendly pitches were unsatisfactory for the development of young English bowlers, as they would not be forced to learn the skills required to succeed on less responsive surfaces. He was probably thinking as much of the damage done to his inexperienced batting line-up on such pitches when most of them have still not perfected their techniques on good batting pitches. In such conditions Zimbabwe could be competitive, but their collapses on seamer-friendly pitches did no good to themselves, their opponents (who were thus scarcely stretched), the spectators, or the game's financiers.
"Lord's was a really tough Test match," recalled Marsh. "The ball swung and it was a perfect Bob-Massie, swing-bowling day, and we struggled there. But in general I think the most pleasing thing was the spirit of the side. They set themselves a goal to be a unit, and they really stuck together and worked together. They were a very inexperienced side - but they not inexperienced now, and it's been a good occasion for them. Now it's up to them to go back and do well in the Logan Cup, and look forward to facing Australia. We'll go there with a better side, but it will be a tough tour."
Marsh is pleased to see that several A tours have been lined up, as he feels this is a vital stage in the development of the young players. Zimbabwe A will tour Namibia in August, host Sri Lanka A in January and February, and then tour India later that month.
There is certainly raw potential among the young Zimbabwean players, especially the allrounders, and, all things being equal, in three or four years time Zimbabwe should again be able to give the senior Test nations a good run for their money in both forms of the game. But the most crucial factor is the state of their native land. Unless the situation there is resolved speedily, yet more talented cricketers will be on their way out.