Kevin Curran's second tenure as Zimbabwe coach started with resounding defeats on home soil. One of the heroes of the World Cup campaign of 1983, Curran talks exclusively to Cricinfo about the challenges that lie ahead, and what can be done to make Zimbabwe cricket competitive again.



From playing to farming and coaching, Kevin Curran has done it all © Getty Images

Is this the biggest challenge of your cricketing life?
Well, I had coached Zimbabwe previously when I got back from England in 2000, against New Zealand. We actually won that series and after that, I got involved in farming. Then I was assisting Geoff Marsh at the 2003 World Cup and then again went back to farming before returning as coach of the National Academy last year. And then I got this job half way through that job. So, yeah, it is a nice challenge for me, it has come at a tough time for Zimbabwean cricket.

A lot of senior players have left the country to further their careers elsewhere and some have retired, so it is a very, very young side. So it is not a going to be an easy task because you need seniors to guide the youngsters and teach them the skills. Experience is a key factor to being successful at the international stage. The talent needs to be built and to get that experience we need to play more competitive first-class cricket.

Most of the white players of your generation have either shifted to other countries or have stayed away from cricketing matters. How come you have continued to work for Zimbabwe cricket despite all its ills?
I got back to Zimbabwe in 2000 having played county cricket for 15 years. It was an issue with my kids especially about their schooling. I looked at the schooling system which is pretty sound from both the educational point of view and the sporting side. Then, with my knowledge of the game and my interest in cricket, I thought that putting something back into the game would be something I wanted to do. They have asked me to do that and I am enjoying it.

Could you tell us about the talent levels existing in the junior ranks?
We have always had a strong school structure, which is well organised. And right from the under-13 level there is a lot of talent, and there are a lot of people very keen to play the game. Since we attained Test status, the game has been televised and that has helped a lot - it is the single-most factor that has helped expand the game around the country. What we need to do is educate the coaches at the junior level because a lot of A-side players are coming through with genuine talent but you can see they have been wrongly coached. It's very difficult to change people's actions and techniques when they reach the age of 18 to 20. That is one thing we need to address - to have more qualified coaches at the lower level because it is important that they get the basics right.

But are there proper structures in place to nurture that talent at the grassroot level?
That is the idea behind the development programme where the priority is to get the right coaches coaching in the right manner and there are measures being taken to see to that we are not losing the talent.

Phil Simmons, your predecessor, was taken off the job inside one year of his appointment. Don't you think that was too harsh on him, especially given that he was gelling with the players?
The boards make decisions and it had nothing to do with me what happened to Phil. I was offered the job and as for any coach, to take charge of a national side is an honour and I took on the job.

Also, the players wrote a letter to the ZCU in praise of his qualities and how they felt he should stay since he had started to understand and improve individual skills. If you were aware of that letter, did you think up before taking the offer?
I am not sure about the correct wording of the letter and what happened, but at the end of the day I have had full support from all these players. I have coached all these players as I have been around for the last four or five years and I have seen all of them come through the ranks. I am not aware what happened to Phil, but as I said I have taken on the job and it is a challenge for me.

The constant drubbing of Zimbabwe just keeps enforcing the view that the country should lose the ICC status. Do you agree with that?
No, not all. What one needs to remember is that everyone wants to see the game develop globally. You talk about the problems with the Zimbabweans and the Bangladeshis, sure there are problems. But taking Test status away from the weaker Test-playing countries is a negative step, because if anything they should play more Test cricket to actually develop. What I have tried to make sure is that we structure our first-class system a lot better. We have got our domestic league but that is not so strong as it should be. But at the moment, Zimbabwe sides are playing in India and in South Africa. Now, this could really make a huge difference, and we need to do more of that to make us a lot stronger in the Test arena.

We just need to continue to do that right things in terms of coaching skills. The biggest single factor is more competitive first-class cricket. The average age of the side is 22. So for someone with a handful of games behind him to be thrown into the Test arena suddenly is not going to be easy. They need to play for about four or five years at the first-class level to really improve their game. It is going to take time. Four or five of our senior players, who had kept the Zimbabwe side together, are no more there; their boots have been filled by players with not even a handful of first-class fixtures to their name and it is not going to be easy for them to go out and be ultra-competitive in each game. The talent is generally there, but you can't buy experience in a supermarket. It will take time and exposure.

But when it comes to Test-playing standards, Zimbabwe are way behind. Wouldn't it better if they continue playing more first-class cricket and then come back to the Test arena when they are ready again?
Well, how long did it take a country like New Zealand to win a Test match? Something like 21 years. Zimbabwe did that pretty quickly: we got Test status in 1992 and we won our first Test in 1996. Sure, we have lost those senior players who played a part in that success, but we are in the rebuilding phase at the moment. And for these youngsters to develop, they need to play more international cricket, otherwise the game is dead and buried, it will never recover. So, I am not in favour of that at all.

Also, it is very well for countries like England to harp on about Zimbabwe, but at the end of the day the first-class structure in England is being strengthened by these 20 South African players playing in England due to the Kolpak agreement (they can play county cricket but can't play for England). Then, there are about 10 Zimbabweans playing in the county circuit and these 30 players have helped to raise the standard of the English county game.

What I would consider a forward step and a win-win situation for Zimbabwe and the ICC is if the ICC could give those Zimbabwe players dispensation to play international cricket for Zimbabwe as well as county cricket. Because at the moment these players, who are furthering their cricket and are being paid a lot of money in the county circuit, can't play on the Kolpak agreement if they played for Zimbabwe. So if the ICC could guarantee that money by having a contract with some county, these guys would certainly like to play for Zimbabwe.

But these players seem to have issues with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. And would the ZCU accept the ICC's helping hand?
They certainly would agree to that because it is a decision that is going to help cricket globally. It would make us a more competitive side, and then the spectators would come back to the game. I have mentioned this idea to the ZCU in my talks with them which would be good for the development of our game. It is an idea that can be explored in the coming few months. I have thought about it long and hard, and if a few meetings can be put in place with the ICC and the ZCU, something can surely be worked out.

How much autonomy do you have in the team selection?
We have a selection panel with which I have worked really well. They have obviously asked for my ideas, and most of the time they run with my ideas. So the selections process has never been an issue.

You talked about the game becoming popular due to telecasting of the matches. But cricket comes way behind soccer, which is the first game in the country
Yes, that is true. There are around 60,000 that play cricket in Zimbabwe. Cricket was generally a white man's sport and now it is growing fast amongst blacks. The other thing is the culture - my forefathers knew the cricketing culture whereas lot of these young guys' families don't know anything about cricket. So that does help, and that is coming through with the schooling system, education system and the development progamme, and that is getting a lot better.

Nagraj Gollapudi is sub-editor of Wisden Asia Cricket