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Alistair Campbell on the World Cup and Zimbabwe's visit to Singapore

Zimbabwe cricket captain Alistair Campbell talks to John Ward about the World Cup and Zimbabwe's visit to Singapore

John Ward
Zimbabwe cricket captain Alistair Campbell talks to John Ward about the World Cup and Zimbabwe's visit to Singapore.
JW: My main feeling after the World Cup was that Zimbabwe came so close to qualifying for the semi-finals, yet Neil Johnson was the only player in the team to produce his usual form.
AC: Well, we didn't play particularly well. If you look back at all the games, we didn't bowl very well at all -- I think we were the most expensive team as far as extras were concerned [note: West Indies were marginally worse] -- and it was very undisciplined as far as the bowling was concerned. Our fielding wasn't as good as it should be, and neither was our batting. Johnno had a great World Cup and the other guys chipped in on odd occasions -- Andy Flower batted well in a couple of games, and so did others.
But if you look back, we were expected to beat Kenya; against India we were helped by the fact that they bowled a huge number of wides in that game and they had only 46 overs to chase 250, and we still endeavoured to lose that game. It looked like we were losing it but for a moment of brilliance; one of those things that happened as we need a bit of luck along the way. I brought Henry back and he did the trick for us -- obviously that's history now.
JW: That was an inspired decision!
AC: Everyone says that, but I think it was purely a cricketing decision, based on the fact that they only needed 11 to win, so you might as well put on your quickest bowler and hope he will bowl those reverse-swinging yorkers. He will either go for plenty and you will lose the game in quick time, or he will pick up a couple and you are back in the game.
Then it was back to reality against Sri Lanka and England; we didn't play well at all and we didn't bat well. To be fair, against England at Trent Bridge that pitch seamed around in the morning and was a very flat deck in the afternoon. We didn't bat very well that day and they bowled very well. So we lost those two games and all seemed lost. We had set our sights on reaching the Super Six and it all seemed far in the distance when we knew we needed to beat South Africa to get there.
We had a team meeting before the South Africa game and we said, "We have nothing to lose; at least if we get knocked out of this World Cup let's just bow out by showing the world that we can play good cricket, that we actually can compete." So we went out there and relaxed; we weren't as tense as in some of the other games, which had detracted from our performances. There were smiles on the guys' faces, although 230 was 20 or 30 shy of what we should have got on that pitch. But we got the ball in the right area and took our catches, and when they were 40 for six it looked like we were in there. But they still had Pollock, Boucher and Klusener, one of the strongest tails in the history of the game. It was just such a sense of relief -- it's quite hard to put you in the picture as far as the emotion was concerned. When Streaky fumbled the ball and then caught it, we had actually won the game and reached the Super Six. We not only got there, but got there with four points. It was then a huge disappointment not to qualify for the semi-finals.
It was all in our own hands. With the New Zealand match rained off, that was another point in the bag; we didn't bat particularly well there at all. We had partly got ourselves back in the game with three quick wickets before the rain came down, and if we had resumed play later on the game was on there. Against Australia again the bowling was far too expensive; you tell me any team that will chase 300 runs against the Australians, and I'll put all my money on them! It was a 260-270 wicket and we would have been happy chasing that. It was a good chase, and it would have been very easy, chasing 300 against Australia at a magic venue like Lord's, to be 120 all out. But Neil Johnson again played superbly well, backed up by Murray Goodwin, and when those two were batting we looked like we would win the game. But Andy Flower got a good ball; I hit one down fine leg's throat when any other day it goes in the gap for four runs. So we were a bit unlucky there and could have got a lot closer than we actually did.
We took a lot of heart from that game as we went into the last match against Pakistan. We were obviously going out there to win the game, but if not a close affair to lose by 20 or 30 runs, and we would have been in the semi-finals. Unfortunately we produced our worst performance by far for the last game. We had to wait for other results to go our way, which never happened.
JW: Can you account for the erratic performances of so many of the team?
AC: We have been trying to work on it and there are a lot of theories. We tend to have a very undulating graph as far as our success rate is concerned; we peak and then go right down in the valleys of depression next game, and we're trying to work harder at getting our consistency right again, playing to a reasonable level every game, not getting trounced one game and then beating probably the best one-day side in the world the next. That's something Zimbabweans have to work on as a whole, and I think it just comes from our mental approach to the game, our mental toughness. We've always said that it's one area where we need to improve, and it's going to be a test this season against Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka, who are a resurgent force now; playing against England in the triangular and then to the West Indies and England.
When this season has ended and the guys have performed, they can put their hands up and look in the mirror and say, "I have tried to toughen up my mind and been prepared for the season." But obviously only time will tell.
JW: Obviously you can't have been pleased with the accusations of choking and that sort of thing. There must be quite a fine line between choking and basic lack of confidence.
AC: I don't think it was lack of confidence, I just think big-match pressure is something else. You're never a truly successful professional sportsman until you've played the big points well, and Steve Waugh is a classic example of that. If you have played well under pressure and won game sin pressure situations for your team as an individual, or as a team you have won pressure games, then you can say that you can play at the highest level. There's the age-old clichi that you can lead a horse to the water but you can't make him drink. You can get all the sports psychologists in the world to talk to you, but at the end of the day, like everything in life, the answer is within. You have to dig down deep there and ask yourself if you want to do it or not. That's up the each individual in the team. We've done enough preparation now and had a lot of lectures on sports psychology, so we will have to see! The Safari Cup [in Kenya] is looming; let's see if we can better our performances.
JW: It seems, though, that the more difficult the situation, the more difficult the team found it to play well. For example, for the match against South Africa, I presume everybody thought, "Well, whatever we do we're back on he next plane," so the pressure was off and they played their best. But when the pressure was on so often they didn't perform.
AC: It was a nothing-to-lose game. But it's when you can win those everything-to-lose games that counts. Going back, we came to the final in Sharjah and lost by ten wickets. It's something we're going to have to learn. I think success breeds success. It's very easy to level those sort of accusations at the Zimbabwe cricket team, but you have to take into consideration that we haven't had that much success, so for us to reach the Sharjah final or the Super Six of the World Cup is an achievement in itself. Now we've progressed to the next level and we've put in place a four-year plan to achieve bigger and better things, so when we do reach finals we can win them, and when we reach Super Six stages we reach the semi-finals. It's a progressive step and we just need patience. We're not an Australia or a South Africa; we're still learning the game and have nowhere near the player resources that these two teams have, or any of the other nations. It's going to be a long haul, but those are the goals we've set ourselves. We just go one better every time we reach a final.
JW: I went into the changing rooms at Chelmsford after the match against South Africa to join in the celebrations, and there weren't any! Everybody just seemed stunned.
AC: Yes, we were! For a while afterwards the guys just couldn't believe what had happened. As I said, the emotion is hard to describe; it's only later that it actually sinks in and you realise the magnitude of your achievement, not only for cricket in Zimbabwe or for you as an individual, but for the whole nation. That sea of red looking over the balcony at Chelmsford will be something that will remain in the memory for ever.
JW: Did you get round to any celebrations in the end?
AC: Yes, we did. We went to a pub down the road that served Castle Lager, and all the Zimbabwe supporters took it over. There must have been 200 Zimbabwe supporters stuck inside this pub celebrating. It was really good -- it was goose-bump stuff!
JW: Moving on now to Singapore. First of all, can you describe the journey there?
AC: The journey there is a long haul. We flew Malaysia Airlines and it took us the best part of 34 hours to get there with all the stops. But we flew business class, which always makes a huge difference, so that passed the time away. The new Malaysia Airlines business class cabin is equipped with video games and all that sort of thing on your own personal TV screens. Craig Evans and I had a lot of golf matches over 18 holes on all the top golf courses in America! So it was quite fun, and much better than those days in economy class with all our big fast bowlers getting there and needing a week to recover from the flight.
We had to recover quickly because we only had a day and then we were playing the West Indies, so it was very important that we were reasonably fresh. The six-hour time difference is always a big thing, but it's all a mind thing. If you convince yourself that you're a professional sportsman and that you should be able to deal with these situations, then you will. But if you get off the aeroplane and say, "Six hours' difference; how can we be expected to play?", then you tell me which guy is going to succeed.
It was nice going to a place where we hadn't been before -- 37 degrees, 80 per cent humidity. If you spit on the street you get a Z$ 15 000 fine, if you throw litter on the street you get a Z$50 000 fine [JW: Good thing Guy Whittall wasn't there, knowing his ability to pick up fines!], so it was a bit of an eye-opener. It was a very well-organised tournament. Big cricket is very new there, they have a new stadium there, if you can call it a stadium -- 5 000 people, much like we started here. A small playing area, and a very good flat wicket. It was very nice to go to a new place for a change, just to see a different part of the world.
But the practice facilities still weren't up to scratch; we had to practise on Astroturf wickets so the preparation wasn't all that flush. But we had had good preparation here and we thought we were in with a really good shout. If we could just get into the final of this tournament, who knows what might have happened?
We played against West Indies first; I won the toss and decided we would bat. It looked a good deck and it was, but we didn't get off to a particularly flush start: Neil Johnson cut at a wide one and was out for 3, then Murray Goodwin fended off a short ball and was caught at gully for 2; Grant Flower was out for 12, so suddenly we were three down for 38, and things were not looking that good.
But Andy Flower and myself knuckled down for a bit and then started playing a few shots, and we progressed really well. We were about 45 for three after 15 overs, and after 30 overs we were 152, I think. So we were going at about seven an over and looking very comfortable. This is where I blame myself for getting out for 80 where it could have been 140 or 150 not out. You can ask any professional sportsman: when you're playing well, you capitalise, and I didn't do that. It was a lazy shot; I tried to hit one away on the on side, got a leading edge, and the ball went straight up in the air and was caught by the keeper. So we lost a lot of our impetus there. We sent in Andy Blignaut next to give it a bit of a crack, but he only got one; Stuart Carlisle got 27, but he and Andy struggled for the first few overs when they were together, so from 30 to 40 overs we only got about 30 runs or so. So we lost a lot of impetus, but managed to get it back for five overs, from 40 to 45. Then Andy got out and Stuart got out, so it petered out to a total of 244. It was still a decent score; we could still defend 244, but it should have been 270.
Then they batted, and just came out blazing. They didn't look back; they played superbly well and hit all the bad balls for four. We served up too many bad balls; I talked about getting consistency in the form of our results, and the only way to get that consistency is to be consistent in our disciplines, batting, bowling and fielding. Our bowling really struggled this tournament. I know it was a flat wicket and batsmen were always going to score quite a few runs, but if you bowl in the right area and restrict sides to 240 or 250, you can win games. We didn't do that, and we got thoroughly outplayed. We got a few wickets but generally it was very disappointing after getting 244. It was always a bit shy of what we should have got, but if we had bowled properly with our fielding, who knows?
We also have to be philosophical and realise that it was the first game of the season. The guys hadn't played any competitive cricket yet, so there were a lot of cobwebs to be got out and there were a few positive performances. I was very happy with my batting, Andy Flower played particularly well, and Stuart Carlisle showed signs of huge improvement batting at number seven, which is a very hard position to bat. You need somebody there who can play in the last ten overs to win you games, a la Michael Bevan. Our fielding was very good, really committed, but the bowling left a lot to be desired. You can see the bowling figures here: Johnson 4 overs for 29 -- Andy Whittall did all right with 8 overs for 34 -- Paul Strang 6 overs for 42, Olonga 6 overs for 49. Those are unacceptable figures. We had a team meeting and we knew we had to get in there and make sure we competed better next game, that we kept steadily improving the whole time.
Then came the India game. It rained overnight and there was a very soggy outfield. I won the toss again and elected to field. I reckon that in a 30-over game if you know what you have to chase it makes a huge difference. You don't know what is a good score in 30 overs. The wicket was seaming a bit, as it had been under covers. We just didn't get the ball in the right area. There were far too many extras -- Johnson 8 wides and 1 no-ball, and so on. 14 wides and 2 no-balls -- that's 16 extra balls, nearly three extra overs in a 30-over game. Against the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Jadeja, you can't do that sort of thing.
They came out and, to be honest, we served them up so much rubbish again. But they also played some good shots, and we were lucky that Jadeja had to retire, or we might have had to fetch 260. He played really well -- 88 off 61 balls, an unbelievable innings. Tendulkar 85 off 72 balls was obviously the mainstay of their innings. Once they got 245 in their 30 overs we didn't have a price. As expected we went out there and played far too many shots, and we were 19 for four at one stage. We were never going to recover from there. Andy Flower and I put on a bit of a partnership, 47 runs, but then I got out. Andy batted really well, getting 63 off 69 balls, to show that we might have got a little closer had we shown more patience. 30 overs is still a long time, and we didn't have to go out there and play a shot a ball. We were playing well in the nets, but cricket is a lot more than that; it's about getting the mental side of your game right and you approach to the game and your plan.
We got a big hiding in this game, and the guys realised that there was a lot of work to do. The World Cup is a distant memory now; it's about today, and what we do this season. It's time to forget that and for everybody to knuckle down and do their job properly, which is what we're trying to do this week. Our performance has been much improved in our safari camp.
JW: I noticed the batting order was different in this tournament . . .
AC: Yes; I'm going to bat at three now. There has been a lot of talk about where I should be batting, and I bat best when I'm up there. Murray is going to go in at number four, and we'll see how that works.
JW: Will this apply for Test matches as well?
AC: We'll see. Murray has a really good record at number three in the Test matches, so we might leave it that way round, but I just seem to get the majority of my runs when I'm batting in the top three, whether I'm opening or batting at number three. So I think I'm going to stay there; I've had a reasonably successful start, so I hope I can score a lot of runs there and add some stability to the top order. That's my plan, anyway!
JW: With hindsight, is there anything that could have been done differently at Singapore that would have made a difference?
AC: Not really. Our fielding was very committed but, as I said to one of the reporters there, unfortunately the laws of cricket do not allow you to have your fielders standing on the tops of trees or marquees! They have to be on the field of play. We just didn't get enough balls in the right area, and we got punished. The guys have got to understand that, and some of them actually said they had forgotten what it was like, the margin for error in international cricket, especially on flat wickets against good batsmen. We've done a lot of work here with the bowlers. As for the batsmen, Johnson had a really good World Cup and it's important for us that he scores a volume of runs; Grant Flower, Murray Goodwin and obviously Andy Flower, Mr Reliable did his bit again. We've got a very good top six there, and we just need the guys firing. Our top six compares with anywhere else in the world, as long as we have our mental approach to the game right and we're scoring the volume of runs that we should do. If that can be backed up by our bowling, getting the ball in the right area -- we don't have any Wasim Akrams or Shoaib Akhtars or Glenn McGraths, but we do have bowlers who can get the ball in the right area. If we can do that, then we can compete.
JW: Are you planning any other changes or batting order, bowling order or personnel in Kenya?
AC: No, but obviously we have a few changes. Craig Wishart has got a cartilage problem and has had an operation, so he's out; Craig Evans is out, and Guy Whittall has come back, which will strengthen our all-round department. We have David Mutendera, a new black fast bowler who is in the frame, a very good prospect who has had a spell at the Plascon Academy. So we can give him a run there and see how he shapes up in international cricket.
So we have a very good squad and it's a hard side to pick. But this week has been very sound, the guys look like they're getting the ball in the right area, the batters are hitting the ball well, and we've been fielding very well. So hopefully we can get things right.
I believe the easy work has been done in the World Cup. We set a standard there, and it's going to be very difficult for us, especially taking into account the quality of the opposition, to maintain that, and the guys are going to have to work really hard to do that. But there's a lot of public support out there, and there's an air of expectation, and we need to start now in the Safari Cup by winning some matches.
JW: I just hope the guys really do believe that they CAN beat Australia, and South Africa again.
AC: I don't think there's any problem with that; it's just about us performing well on the day and, like I said, performing well under pressure.