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Alistair Campbell on Zimbabwe cricket, FTP, Sikandar Raza, and more - News Home

Alistair Campbell on Zimbabwe cricket, FTP, Sikandar Raza, and more

Pakistan’s 2022 T20 World Cup hopes suffered a major blow with a shock one-run defeat by Zimbabwe in Perth. An inspired performance from the Zimbabwean bowlers ensured Pakistan finished on 129 for 8, chasing 131 to win. And Alistair Campbell, a former Zimbabwe captain, is chuffed to bits for the team. Campbell, who played 60 Tests and 188 ODIs for Zimbabwe, had previously held the positions of director of international cricket and commercial affairs, chief selector and chairman of the cricket committee, during which time he helped oversee Zimbabwe’s return to Test cricket in 2011.

He spoke to Sportstar about Zimbabwe’s famous one-run win over Pakistan at the T20 World Cup, and the potential road ahead for the team.

Q. Did you watch the Zimbabwe-vs-Pakistan game, and what was your initial reaction? What were the turning points?

A. I watched bits and pieces of the game. But mainly the last few overs. I think the turning point was Sikandar Raza’s wickets in the middle overs because it looked like Pakistan were on top of the game and were very much favourites to win at that point. In the end, the way Brad Evans held his nerve in the final over…. They hit the boundary, so they only needed four off four, and he was able to defend that. That’s no mean feat against a side like Pakistan. You’d back Pakistan any day of the week to chase down that total, but those wickets by Raza were the main turning point.

Sikandar Raza has been in terrific form with bat and ball. What sets Raza apart from the others?

His energy, skill level and generally his reading of the pressure situation in a game. That’s very crucial in so far as high-pressure games are concerned — to produce the right stuff at the right time. He has been in terrific form. His work ethic is unparalleled to make sure he has all the bowling skills and all the variations, but his impact batting has been outstanding in the year so far. We may not have seen much of it yet in this World Cup, apart from the first game against Ireland. That said, whenever he is on song with the bat, he will do very well. He is one of the leading all-rounders in the world now. You throw in his energy in the field, and you’ve got the most complete package in T20 cricket.

Zimbabwe isn’t scheduled to play against Australia/India/England in the 2023-27 FTP. Do you think it’s high time ICC addresses this imbalance?

The imbalance in fixtures is always a talking point. Even when I was involved with Zimbabwe Cricket, going to ICC meetings, and trying to get those to play against ZIM — India has been relatively forthcoming. If you see, over the years, there have been more games against India than Australia and, particularly, England, and that’s more political than anything else. Yes, I think it is high time it is dealt with, and there is more equality in terms of matches against ‘bigger’ teams, particularly in the shorter format. You got to start somewhere. I can understand if you are talking about Tests and ODIs, but it is very easy to organise a three-match ODI and three-match T20I series to get the ball rolling and ensure an interaction between lesser-ranked teams and higher-ranked teams. Playing against higher-caliber teams helps improve the skills of the players.

The player pathway in Zimbabwe from first-class cricket and then to international cricket… is it a bit more well-defined now than it was a few years back?

The player pathway is a lot more defined now. Zimbabwe’s struggles with finances and a few other bits and pieces are well documented. Now there is a much better system in place. We see some very good tournaments taking place at a decent standard. It’s well-funded, players have contracts and are getting paid — that’s starting to show. That said, it can be improved, particularly from school-boy level up to franchise teams — to make sure there is more cohesion in so far as what Zimbabwe Cricket’s policy is, what coaches and scouts are looking for, to make sure any talent there is, is captured at an early age and groomed all the way to come through the system. They could do well to get better coaches involved…

ALSO READ – How coach Dave Houghton turned it around for Zimbabwe

We have seen what Dave Houghton has done with the national side, and there are a lot of ex-players out there who could do wonders with franchise teams and cricket in general in Zimbabwe, so trying to coax them back would be a big bonus. There are also players plying their trade in England — and Zimbabwe cricket should try to entice them back and strengthen the state of local and franchise cricket as well as the national team.

“His work ethic is unparalleled to make sure he has all the bowling skills and all the variations, but his impact batting has been outstanding in the year so far.” – Alistair Campbell on Sikandar Raza (in picture)
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

Are there enough young people taking up the game in Zimbabwe? Does it seem like it should be a lucrative option to make a career in cricket?

There is a lot of enthusiasm for cricket amongst young people and supporters. You need to look at footage of a game played at the Harare Sports Club to see the level of noise and support. I have seen it while Zimbabwe has been doing well at this World Cup. People are talking about it on social media, gathering at local pubs and sports clubs. But in government schools, cricket is underfunded. It is an expensive sport — unlike football, where you just need a ball, and people can kick it around. With cricket, you need all equipment — which impedes getting more people involved.

So, make sure it is better resourced, funded and better organised at the grassroots level, garnering enthusiasm and promoting it in a better way is the key.

Would you say that the 1999-2003 team was the best side Zimbabwe ever had, with the likes of the Flower brothers, Heath Streak, yourself, Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson, Olonga, and others?

All players from past years like to think their era was the best (laughs). But yes, I would like to think that that’s the best team Zimbabwe has put out, and the results are there to see. I also think we played in a better era. There was the Australian team that was nearly invincible with Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, and Justin Langer to name a few. Pakistan had an outstanding fast-bowling attack. India had Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, and Javagal Srinath, so we were part of a very great era in terms of cricket. Of course, we just had the ODIs and Tests in those days. That era missed out on playing a lot of bilateral T20 cricket. But the current lot, particularly in the shorter format, is leading the way insofar as results are concerned… They win a couple more games, and suddenly they find themselves in the semifinal of a World Cup (smiles), which is something we never achieved.

So, they are on the brink of greatness. Let’s hope they get the job done, and it does not get overwhelming.

What were your feelings seeing a Zimbabwean team come together, like in 1999-2003, and then fall apart?

Sad to see the team disintegrate and people move on. The politics of Zimbabwe at the time came into play. So, for non-cricket reasons, people left, and the team fell apart. I retired at 31, so when I look at what Raza is doing at 36 and Craig Ervine at 37, I feel I was just starting to get into my best cricket form at the time. So, it would’ve been nice to play on till 2006, or 07 because the players had started to gel as a unit… you still have those pangs of sadness and what could have been… But it is what it is. It could have been dealt with differently. But hindsight is a beautiful thing.

When you look back at your Zimbabwe career, how will you describe how your career went?

When I look back at my career, I think of the opportunities I gave away and think of a few more runs that I could’ve scored… and some situations that you would have dealt with a bit differently if you had them over again. I am saddened by the fact that I retired when I was 31. In your thirties, you are in your prime — you’ve learnt your lessons and gained all the experience, you are keen to put it into practice. I had a decent start, but towards the end, the politics took a toll on my performance. If I could have played for three-four years, I would’ve finished on a higher note than where I finished. That said, few people get the privilege of playing cricket for their country and I had the honour of playing with and against some of the greatest names in the game at some great venues.

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