Transcript: Couch Talk with Heath Streak

Couch Talk 133 (Play)

Guests: Heath Streak, Former Zimbabwe Captain

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Couch Talk with guest Heath Streak.

Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Zimbabwe captain and currently Bangladesh’s bowling coach, Heath Streak. He talks a about his career, the very good Zimbabwean sides he was the captain of, the black arm band protest by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga during the 2003 World Cup, the problems faced by the Zimbabwean players from the board, and his current job in Bangladesh among other things.

Hi, Heath! Welcome to the show!

Heath Streak (HS)– Thank you very much!

SJ– Thanks for being on!

I want to start off with your father… Not many cricketers could say that they played first class cricket along with their father, but you did. How instrumental was your dad, Denis, in the shaping of your cricket career, considering that he was a fast-medium bowler as well?

HS- Very much! In fact, I grew up around cricket field because most weekends I was watching dad play either club cricket or first class cricket. I grew up with some older cricketers. Kids around the cricket field also playing cricket trying to emulate them. I was very lucky and of course, him in playing cricket at an elite level gave me a big advantage in that I have got some very good quality coaching from a very young age. So, I was very fortunate.

SJ– Was it one of the reasons why you picked up fast bowling as your profession, considering your father was doing that too?

HS- Yes. Dad also was a bowler. So, I was trying to copy what he was doing ultimately. Then, I also generated a very early interest for cricket. In those days, it was the Kerry Packer series in Australia and I really enjoyed watching people like Malcolm Marshall and Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee, lots of greats. All those guys were playing on that stage. I wanted to be a fast bowler and then terrorise people just like they did.

SJ– I was watching some of your performances, I have watched them live, I was watching them on youtube recently. There was this one match vs the West Indies in 2001 when Zimbabwe, West Indies and Australia were paying in a tri-series. You won a match with your all-round performance. You scored 45 in a total of 138 and you took 4 wickets with the new ball in the match including the wicket of Brian Lara. Looking back, do you believe that you got the most out of you in terms of the all-round abilities considering that you had to shoulder the bowling for Zimbabwe for a long period of time and also the captaincy?

HS- My all-round abilities really came out in the latter half of my career. Of course, with the problems that we had in Zimbabwe, my career was cut off probably 4-5 years earlier than it should have been. I really missed out on my best years as a batsman. My average was picking up and I was making a lot of contributions. I really enjoyed it. initially, the team demanded a bowler out of me and made sure that my performances were key to Zimbabwe as a bowler, were up to the mark. Once my experience allowed me to spend less time working on my bowling, I was able to work on my batting too.

SJ– You just mentioned that in terms of the things that happened in Zimbabwe cricket. You were only 32 when your international career ended. Could you take us through the various things that happened in the 2005-06 time, which culminated in you picking to playing in county instead of Zimbabwe?

HS- Really, it all came down to our cricket board not having a clear policy on the integration that they had. It put a lot of doubt in a lot of the young players in terms of their future. There was one instance where one of the first class boards threatening to boycott because they felt that the team that has been selected doesn’t represent the demographics of Zimbabwe. It was a very unsettling time for everyone and all the players at that time –black and white- didn’t want these racial policies. They just wanted to play cricket and felt that the best XI that we had in Zimbabwe – given that we were a small country anyway- should be the one that was picked and represented the country. Unfortunately, as we see in other places, sometimes the people who run and administer the game forget about the players, because they are the most important product. If you look after your players and they perform well, it is easy to make a success out of your home board and what is going on.

SJ– There is a question from a listener Srikanth. He says that he admired you for going against the board and resigning. But, did you fear for your life under the Mugabe regime?

HS- No, not at all. It was really more people taking advantage of the political situation at that time. People who saw a lot of money in, as it was called then,  the Zimbabwe cricket union, it was bringing in a lot of moment and people who had no background or history of cricket suddenly were very interest in becoming a  part of the hierarchy in Zimbabwe cricket. That is where the problem started.

SJ– I want to go back to the team in the 1999-2003 time frame. That Zimbabwe team had a lot of the bases covered- very good batsmen, fast bowlers, spinners, all-rounders. Would you say that was the best side Zimbabwe ever had with the likes of Flower brothers, Alastair Campbell, yourself, Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson, Olonga and others?

HS- Yes. I think so. I think there were great Zimbabwe cricketers, individual cricketers. But, I think collectively, as a team, that was probably the best team we did have. You mentioned the Flower brothers, Henry Olanga, Neil Johnson, Murray Goodwin. We had Paul Strang. There were some really good world class cricketers at that time. Our results in that period showed it. we were able to beat many of the top playing teams regularly.

SJ– In the beginning of that, the World Cup 1999 side… There is a question from another listener – Sriram. He mentions how you qualified for the Super6 but did not make the semi finals based on net run rate when New Zealand went ahead of Zimbabwe. What was the mood around the squad during that tournament and what was the mood on how it ended, because it promised much more?

HS-  Obviously it was very exciting. Obviously, we upset India and that was a massive one for us. We had an opportunity also to beat Sri Lanka but we didn’t quite play our best game of the tournament. The big win against South Africa was a massive boost for us. We were really riding the crest of the wave at that stage. Then, we played and lost to Pakistan and we didn’t do that well in the Super6 as we would have liked to have. That was a bit of a disappointment after having a side as good as we had. We felt that even when we played Australia and gave them a good run for their money at Lord’s – if we played to our best and the top sides weren’t quite as their best we were capable of beating any team in that World Cup.

SJ– I want to fast forward a little bit to the 2003 World Cup. Zimbabwe qualified for the Super6 stage but failed to win any of the games there. But, that tournament is spoken about still in terms of the Black Arm Band protest by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga in the match against Namibia. I want to know from you, as the captain of the team, what was it for you: 1) when representing the country when all that was going on? And, when your teammates decided to stand and protest the actions of the Mugabe regime? 2) As a person representing the country and as a captain whose mates are doing this? I want to get your thoughts on those two things.

HS-  It was a very volatile and a very uncertain time for the politics of the country. That coincided with that World Cup. Unfortunately England didn’t come and play, that was rather unfortunate. We all wanted to play the game. it wasn’t an enjoyable time from that perspective.

In terms of Henry and Andy, that was something that they discussed with themselves. I didn’t even know about it till it actually happened. it wasn’t something that was be discussed among the players where they ask around if you wanted to join. It was something that Henry and Andy felt that they wanted to personally do the thing together and it put the rest of us in the team under a bit of pressure. They were brave to do what they did. They made personal choices to do what they did. We still got on and I thought the guys were really focused and continued to play hard cricketer despite all the media activity going on around the Black Arm Band protest. We still managed to play some good cricket during that tournament.

SJ– But still, as a captain, were you OK with what they did? They did put the spotlight squarely on you as the captain, because you were the one going to the press conferences, addressing the media etc. it takes attention away from what you had on hand, which is, to compete in the World Cup?

HS-  Given the choice, I would have preferred they had not done what they did. But, that is their own personal choice and opinions. It did put specifically me under the pressure to face the people. But I handled that well and we keep the political aspect of things away from the cricket side of things and we managed to do that. We still played some good cricket. The guys were still very focused. We know that that we wanted to make Zimbabwean people be proud of us. That was something that we were aware of and we did not let that affect our performance.

SJ– What were your feelings in terms of seeing a Zimbabwean team come together as we talked about – the 1999 – 2003 side had some of the great players, but then, suddenly it starts to fall apart and Zimbabwe cricket is basically in the reset mode. What were you going through personally, as a cricketer, as a captain and as a well wisher of Zimbabwe cricket?

HS-  I think the whole period from 2003 up until now has been a sad episode for Zim (sic) cricket, given the nwumber of players of good quality who departed after that World Cup. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga were leaving us for the UK. Beyond that, we had Murray Godwin, Neil Johnson also departed and went back to South Africa and Australia respectively. They continued to have good careers. We lost Sean Ervine, a world class performer. People like Travis Friend and Andy Blignaut stopped playing. Tatenda Taibu retired early. We had Gary Ballance, who is playing for England, who left Zimbabwe in that period because he didn’t see a future playing for Zimbabwe. He is now representing UK. We had another person who left in that period… Kyle Jarvis, who left recently. And another youngster left during that period  is also representing New Zealand now, DeGrandhomme.

We have lost some really good quality players and also some players who retired pre-maturely – people like Mluleki Nkala and Brighton Watamba and Dougie Hondo. There is a huge group of people who should be still playing, maybe not all for Zimbabwe, but still playing cricket at the highest level for Zimbabwe, certainly in first class cricket and being the senior players in the system and upping Zimbabwe cricket. We can see now in the recent series where they beat Australia. If the things were managed properly between 2003 and now, we wouldn’t just be hoping for the regular every now and then upsets. We could be a world cup side. That would be ranking in that no.5-6-7 position. That is how good the quality of players that the ones that we lost, you put those players along side the really world class players that we have in the likes of Brendan Taylors and Hamilton Masakadzas and Prosper Utseyas and some of these young guys, we would have a real pool and a world class team, with people that are currently playing cricket. That is the sad thing.

SJ– You just mentioned the recent ODI upset over Australia. There were players that came in to the Zimbabwean team when you were the coach. That must have made you very happy in seeing these guys actually blossoming into professional cricketers.

HS-  Yes. The sad thing with that is that I don’t think they are valued as much as they should be. Not valued enough just from the financial perspective but also in the way they are looked after and treated. That is why I said that there has been an exodus of players. You have to, at some stage, look at the mirror and ask “Why are all these players leaving?”

We are a country that has a small player base, but we still are able to upset occasionally a big team. We would do that more regularly if we manage to hang on to and look after the players a bit better and also prioritize what is important in terms of making sure that the players are looked after and made comfortable. You don’t just pay players a lot of money, you pay them for what they are doing, and you also make them accountable for it. You make people aspire to want to compete for that position and people value their jobs because they don’t want to let someone else take their place. I think that is something that has been non-existent – payment of players and people not being paid for months or weeks at a time. Those things are historically been there over the last decade. It has been a continual problem. The players certainly distrust the administration. It is a major problem for Zimbabwean cricket.

SJ– On the cricketing side of things, when you were the captain and you were given a team that was weakened with so many of the established players leaving the country…. Did you have a say in the selection of the players at all that were handed to you?

HS- We did have say in selection, but what the problem was, when people are part of the selection panel was starting to interfere. People who were board directors and had nothing to do with selections and wanted to see the balance of the team selected purely on racial ground. This was against the constitution that was in place. These people didn’t care for what was going on. They just were trying to push their own corners and try to get themselves into positions of power.

SJ– I want to talk a bit about your current role with the Bangladesh team as a bowling coach. There is a question from a listener – Nadhiya. Coming in as a foreign bowling coach with an Asian team with their own culture and backgrounds, how do you see your role with the team? Do you see any similarity in how you had to lead a very young Zimbabwe team post 2003 and the role in Bangladesh?

HS-  Yeah. I do think it is similar in that we have domestic system that still needs a lot of improvement. That is where we can work with the board and improve the system in which, like for me specifically, we see how the fast bowlers are nurtured and identified and looked after at age group levels into the first class system and ultimately into the Bangladesh A-team and national team. Those are important, that they get coached properly, looked after properly, playing in the right way and monitored; because once they get into the national team and I take over the technical and tactical work with them these guys have got at least a decent grounding. The level of domestic cricket is similar to that in Zimbabwe. It needs improvement and we need to make it harder and tougher so the gap between domestic cricket and playing international cricket is not so much.

Australia and English cricket for example – their state and county cricket respectively is played at a very high level and much closer to international level. Now, what we are trying to do is try and get more A-team games for Bangladesh A-team to bridge the gap between domestic and international sides so we have got a much better measuring tool on how players can perform. Players perform in domestic cricket and hopefully can showcase their abilities in the next level and we can see if they are able to kick on to the international level.

There is no doubt in the talent and ability in the pool in Bangladesh is massive. In professional cricket, it takes time. you have to invest in these players. You have to identify them early and look after them physically, train them the right way, getting them physically strong enough to withstand the rigours of playing at the highest level and support them and make sure that by the time they are playing for the Bangladesh national team, you are not looking at the silly things like diets and whether they are strong enough to bowl 15 overs in a Test match because those are the sort of things that you have to plan and make sure that they are happening at the level below.

SJ– You had said in an earlier interview about grooming a set of bowlers for Bangladesh and tried to move Bangladesh away from their over-reliance on spin bowling. How do you expect to go about it?

HS-  I think people have misread that part of it. Bangladesh has always produced quality spinners. Where they have fallen short is the standard of the fast bowlers has let them down, particularly when they travel. That is something that we try to identify and see how we can improve them and how we can give them more exposure.

One of the problems when it comes to Bangladesh is that they don’t play enough international cricket. If you look at India or England or Australia – they play from one series to the next. They play a good volume of cricket. And our Bangladesh boys need to play more regularly so that they can compete at that level more consistently. That is one of the issues that we are having. Hopefully the better they can play and compete, the more people will want to see them. The easier is to develop young, new bowlers.

SJ– What happens to the academy that you were running before you took the job at Bangladesh, then?

HS-  I have a couple of coaches who are running it for me. i am looking at the moment to getting a permanent full time sponsor which will allow me to hire a full time head coach – a highly qualified head coach. That is one thing that I am working on at the moment.

SJ– Finally, when you look back at your Zimbabwe career, besides the obvious pride in representing one’s nation in international sport, how will you describe how your career went?

HS-  I was very pleased with the outcome of the career that I did have. Now, I have some very memorable moments playing for Zimbabwe from 1993 to 2005. I enjoyed that part of my life. It is something that I cherish and always will cherish. I made some really exceptionally good friends both in Zimbabwe and abroad during that time. So, I am very fortunate I played as long as I did!

SJ– Alright!

On that note, thanks a lot for coming on the show, and I wish you the very best!

HS- Thanks, Subash! Cheers!

SJ– Cheers!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman