Bryan Strang has returned to Zimbabwe from the West Indies, once again not required for a one-day series. He talked to John Ward about that historic tour.
JW: Bryan, could you tell the story of the tour, please, starting off with the plane trip?
BS: We left Harare and flew to Gatwick, an eleven-hour flight to London, and from there it's about a nineor ten-hour flight to West Indies. So it's a long trip and it took a lot out of us. We had a five-hour stopover in London because we fly in the morning, but on the way back it's a ten-hour wait, which is very very tiring. From Gatwick we went British Airways to Barbados, and then on to Grenada. We arrived in Grenada after about 35 hours and were welcomed brilliantly, and that's where we played our first warm-up game.
JW: Can you describe the scenery when you arrived?
BS: Well, it's magnificent. When we come in to land we don't see the airport or anything, it's coming right in from the ocean on to the runway. It's basically like paradise, with blue seas; Grenada's a very small island but they've got a good stadium there. In the first game they picked a West Indies XI against us and we played really good cricket, for which Zimbabwe aren't renowned in their warm-up games.
JW: How did you find the playing conditions?
BS: I played in the second match; in the first match the wicket was very flat. The wickets generally aren't as bouncy over there as they used to be, I think; they are quite flat, and what tends to happen on the third and fourth day is that the bounce begins to get uneven, especially for their bowlers, who bang it in, whereas our bowlers tend to kiss the surface more, being genuine seamers. It didn't really benefit our bowlers in most of the games. I enjoyed bowling there myself; I played two matches and in the first game got four for 36. There is a lot of wing around and I found the West Indian batsmen couldn't play swing that often because they don't have that many genuine swing bowlers.
I missed the first Test match, but enjoyed the second Test match. It's obviously quite different because they have seven left-handers in their side. I thought the wicket at Sabina Park was a very good cricket wicket, but unfortunately we didn't stay in the game long enough to make the West Indies bat a long time on the fifth day, because I think if they were chasing 300 it would have been quite tough with Brian Murphy in the side.
JW: In the warm-up matches I see Alistair Campbell did well with his two centuries, but failed again in the Tests.
BS: I know; I was very impressed with Alistair. He's really worked at his game. He played under pressure in both those games and it was just one of those games. In the warm-up games he played and missed first up, but he managed to get himself settled and play really well. But in the Test matches the balls he would have played an missed in the warm-up games he nicked. I think in the Second Test the spell that Rose bowled to him was unbelievable; he bowled with the new ball, swinging it around and he was caught lbw, and in the second dig a bit unlucky. I think he was a bit unlucky not to have made runs in the Test matches.
JW: Who else did well in the warm-up games?
BS: In the first warm-up game Grant Flower did really well. Neil [Johnson] opened for the first time and he made about 28, hitting the ball really well, and they decided to play him in the Test matches as an opener, but it didn't really work. Also Stuart Carlisle batted brilliantly, and from what I've seen of the one-days he still is. He's sorted out his technical problems and come a long way as a batsman.
JW: The First Test match?
BS: In the First Test at Queens Park, it was not a pitch that was suitable for stroke-making. It was more a bowler-friendly pitch, not that it was easy to get out but it was very hard to score, and that's why Andy Flower's century was so important for us. He was the only batsman who made over 50, so it was a brilliant knock. After Streaky had knocked them over and we got a 60-lead we really thought we had a good opportunity. But we could see when they batted in the second innings it looked really tough to bat; their last seven wickets fell for about 30 runs. We knew on the night if the fourth day that it was going to be tough out there, and our plan was basically to try and bat for as long as possible and try and score the runs. I think we batted 45 overs for our 63, but they just got better and better as the day went on. There was a bit of uneven bounce and unfortunately we folded under the pressure.
JW: Both Andy Flower and Dave Houghton were quoted after the match as saying that we should have got the runs, the implication being that the batsmen choked again - as you said, folded under the pressure.
BS: I personally don't think they choked; I think it was a combination of really good bowling and good fielding. We got to the stage where we were following our game plan, but as often happens in a match the bowlers were starting to get on top, especially with Curtly and Courteney and Franklyn Rose bowling particularly well. It became harder and harder to score, and they began bowling more and more wicket-taking deliveries. There was a lot of debate about whether we should have played more shots, but I don't think the way we went about it was the wrong way. It just didn't work out for us. In our mind it was the same old thing that has happened to Australia, happened to England, and in the last Test at Queens Park I think the West Indies were bowled out for 52 in the fourth innings. The ground actually has a reputation for a low-scoring fourth innings.
We batted for 45 overs, so it wasn't as if they ran in and just knocked us over. The guys really applied themselves, but if you think about it in the whole match I think there was only one cut shot. It just wasn't the kind of wicket that encouraged stroke-making, and every run really had to be worked for. They have one of the most experienced bowling attacks in the world, and they just exploited the pitch and put the pressure on us. Whether we folded under pressure or were beaten by a better bowling attack it's hard to say. I'd like to think we played it the right way and were beaten by a better side.
JW: And the Second Test?
BS: I think there was a crucial ten minutes before the end of play when Murray Goodwin was run out for 113, and the very next ball Andy Flower left one and was bowled. If we had managed to get through that first day at 220 for four and got a 400-run lead it would have been different, but once again when we were going really well the West Indian bowlers found something special, and the run-out was special - there was a mix-up. But from there we managed to make 310 and there was a good partnership between Henry Olonga and Stuart Carlisle at the end. We thought 315 was enough, especially when we had them 105 for five. But then unfortunately two partnerships blossomed, Jacobs and Adams, and Franklyn Rose and Adams, and it could have gone either way at any stage. Franklyn Rose played and missed a hell of a lot; we had a few really good chances, we dropped Jimmy Adams when he was on about 40 in the slips, so I think really the Second Test was all about missed opportunities.
JW: It always seems to be the eighth wicket that gets us: against Australia, against South Africa, and now West Indies as well this season.
BS: Obviously also a big factor in this Test match was that Heath Streak wasn't bowling. It was a bit unfortunate that that happened on the second day of the match. We were short of bowlers, so the bowlers were under more pressure. You know, Jimmy Adams to his credit batted really well, and that innings I think put them back in the game. I would have thought we would have made more than 100 in our second innings, but they came up and bowled very very well. I know a lot of people didn't see it, but they put us under an extreme amount of pressure. Courteney came up and bowled some absolutely fantastic stuff, and we did fold in the second dig, but I don't think it was lack of trying or lack of working out what was happening, it was just good bowling again.
JW: What was Heath's problem?
BS: I believe he did a nerve in his back. In the fielding practice he dived to take a catch in which he arched his back and just clicked something, which I believe was a nerve in a tendon joining his lower spine.
JW: Nowadays you seem to get more people injured during pre-match practices than on the field.
BS: Yes, it was unfortunate. I think after his nine for 72 in the First Test, to have to do without him in this Test match was crucial. You can look back and say maybe he would have bowled out Rose, and if at the end of the day that was his only contribution it would have saved us a 75-run partnership. He could have taken out the tail, but unfortunately he was out and we struggled to do that.
JW: What was the atmosphere like on the field?
BS: It was very good. The crowd at Sabina Park was the biggest Test crowd I've ever played before, and the noisiest. Having seven Jamaicans in the side they all came out to support their team. The total crowd after the third day was about 30 000; the West Indians like to make a lot of noise, and at times you couldn't hear yourself think. It's nice to play in front of crowds like that, the noise ringing in your ears, things going against you, and your concentration is so important. It's easy to let things go, but I think we managed to keep things in hand. It was an experience, it really was. They have such a passion for their cricket it's scary.
JW: And the atmosphere on the field with the West Indian team?
BS: It was very good. I think they're very good people and led by Jimmy Adams they're a good bunch. They just play hard cricket and they come at you hard. No sledging, not at all.
JW: That's good to hear. And then for the one-day series, once again they decided you were expendable.
BS: People have to make decisions about who can play and who can't, and the decision was that the conditions wouldn't suit me. It's one of those things; I'll have to train hard and look forward to England.
JW: Who else came home?
BS: Pom Mbangwa and Trevor Gripper joined me on the flight home.
JW: Have you had any indication whether you will be going to England?
BS: I've had no indication, but I think England would be more suitable to my bowling, so let's hope that I go. I've just got to train and to play well in these games against the ICC and the Logan Cup final this weekend, and focus on my cricket and what I can control.
JW: How did Brian Murphy do on tour?
BS: Brian bowled very well; he's not an Adam Huckle or a Paul Strang, but he has a lot of potential. He bowled better in the First Test than the Second Test, and I think he now plans after finishing his degree to come back and join the professional game. He won't be going on to England, but will be going back after the triangular tournament and finishing his degree in September.
JW: Any further general impressions of the tour?
BS: It's just a lovely place and they're full of passion for their cricket. Obviously Courteney Walsh broke the world record against us and it was amazing to see the scenes of joy, and to be there at the ceremony to honour him actually sent shivers down my spine, to hear about that guy's career, spending 13 years in Test cricket, at 37 and taking 435 Test wickets. Amazing.
JW: Did you get any free time to do any sightseeing?
BS: We managed to get down to the beach a couple of days but it was a pretty packed schedule and now in between the Pakistan games they've got a bit more time. They're just playing a three-day game against Grenada, and that will be a time when they can just relax and enjoy the West Indies.
JW: In our longest and busiest season ever, how are our guys handling it mentally?
BS: Obviously it depends on whether people are doing well or not, but there's a very strong bond in the side, we pull together whether we win or lose. There's quite a bit of pressure on us and Andy Flower has actually been inspirational. He's working on the synergy thing, all going in the same direction at the same time, and I personally feel we're just one or two games away from putting together some really decent performances and going from good losers to winners. As soon as we can do that, I think we've got a good enough side to compete and win. At the moment it's tough; people come at us hard because they know they can break us, and no one wants to lose to Zimbabwe. I think in the next two or three months, hopefully, if we play two or three county games well, we can get a winning streak going, the confidence comes, and you never know, we could win a Test match at Lord's.
JW: It's going to take some skill acclimatising, going from the heat of the West Indies to arctic England in April!
BS: Most of us have played in England at one stage or another of our careers. Everyone likes playing there, and we like playing against the English as well.
JW: Even after the last series?!
BS: Yes, even after the last series! We know that we can beat them, which is always a good thing.