EXCLUSIVE: Heath Streak on Bangladesh stint, future of Zimbabwe cricket and the India job
Former Zimbabwean captain and current bowling coach of the Gujarat Lions, Heath Streak speaks exclusively to Sport360.com
by Ritwik Mallik
4th June 2016
In his playing days, Heath Streak was often described as a lion-hearted performer. As a result it was no coincidence that a large part of his playing career coincided with Zimbabwe cricket’s best performances on the field.
An out and out team man, Streak was his country’s bastion of hope as cricket collided with politics.
Today, he is one of the most sought after coaches in world cricket having overseen Bangladesh’s resurgence on the back of the rise of some exceptionally talented young fast-bowlers.
No longer associated with the Bangladesh team, Streak has since tasted success with the Gujarat Lions IPL franchise who topped this year’s league stage.
In an exclusive chat with Sport360.com, Streak talks about wide ranging issues covering cricket in three different countries and reveals Rahul Dravid was nightmare to bowl to.
Thanks for speaking with us Heath. It must be feeling good being back home after a long time on the road.
It does, I was obviously kept busy during the T20 World Cup and the IPL. The time went quickly, but it has indeed been a long time away from home.
Ahead of the T20 World Cup, Bangladesh were touted as the dark horses, but the results said otherwise. Would you say things didn’t go to plan?
I think we were close to it. If we had won that game against India, which by all respects we should have – that was more us losing it than India winning it – it could have been a different story. In that case, the last game [against New Zealand] would have had more on it for us, to play a team that had already qualified. We could have really done something there.
Disappointing in the end, given our form going into it and having such a good Asia Cup, it was a disappointment to not live up to our expectations especially in those conditions.
Your tenure with Bangladesh cricket coincided with its one-day rise, what sparked that?
As a coaching group, with the new coaching staff that came in, we changed what we felt needed to be changed in order to progress. Fortunately for us that worked. Credit has to go to the players as we can only create the idea and make them buy into the changes we brought to them. But the credit goes to the players who bought into the new method of training.
We saw the emergence of younger players who really stood up to complement the presence of stronger players like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib al-Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza. The Taskins, the Mustafizurs, and the Sarkars brought an X-factor to Bangladesh cricket which they never had. Also our quick bowlers working in tandem have helped strengthen our combination over the past year or so.
Are you the man behind Bangladesh’s sudden unearthing of talented fast bowlers?
As a coach what I have tried to encourage is for the players to recognise their abilities, I think in Bangladesh, the conditions never ever suited them. When we actually prepared conditions that did suit them, we realised what potential that they did have.
There is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes in terms of technical work, also a lot of tactical awareness in terms of them knowing what their roles are and how to go about their work. I think that’s where we managed to change that.
Fortunately for us the World Cup was in Australia – because we knew we were going to conditions where we needed our pacers to step up, the board bought into us giving a bit more opportunities to the quicks. Post the World Cup after having been successful, everyone realised what the bowlers were able to achieve.
Bangladesh fans can be incredibly critical of their side. Do you think they need to be more forgiving?
Firstly, we need to understand that the Bangladeshi fans are very passionate, which is obviously a very good thing. When we play at home we see how passionate they can be. Correspondingly, they can also put the team and individuals under a lot of pressure. At times, I think their expectations are quite high. Understandably so, but they also need to realise that the players are also human beings and they can’t come out score hundreds every time.
Hopefully, the more cricket Bangladesh play, the more the public understand that. As long as they see the effort and commitment of the team irrespective of the result – something Indian fans realise when they see MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli lead the teams – it becomes easier for the fans to be a lot more forgiving when things don’t go their way.
Mashrafe Mortaza has led the country ably for a number of years, is there a concern that there is no heir apparent?
No, I don’t think so. Without a doubt, Mortaza’s partnership with the head coach has been a good one and yes, he is in the twilight of his career. But I think there are good options coming up. I think the likes of Sabbir Rahman and Soumya Sarkar are two young guys who I see have the leadership ability. In Test cricket, maybe Mominul Haque.
Hopefully these guys can establish themselves in the team where they can be viewed as captaincy contenders. It’s just important that they make sure that their performances are good so that they can warrant their spots because you don’t want to be looking at a scenario where you are doubtful about your captain’s place in the XI.
Bangladesh cricket is on a high right now, do you think it’s perhaps a bit early for you to be leaving your job, especially with the Champions Trophy happening next year?
It was something I was looking at. But for me, my time away in conjunction with the IPL was too much time away from home. We have got a well established business here in Zimbabwe, my kids are well settled and it’s very difficult to move them across to Bangladesh – it’s very difficult for me to spend that much time away. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the time I would like to spend with my young family.
So is it then fair to say that you will not be applying for the job of India’s head coach?
I wouldn’t be applying yet, it’s something I would like to look at in the future. I would like to evolve to a head coach’s positions and gain more experience. I really love the IPL and hopefully in another year or two, I can take the next step going from a specialist coach to a head coaching position.
I certainly really enjoyed India, it is a lovely place – some of the bigger cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru in particular were some enjoyable places. And somewhere in the future I can see myself doing some work in India.
At the IPL this year, you formed a good partnership with Brad Hodge and Suresh Raina at the Gujarat Lions. How did that relationship unfold?
I really enjoyed that. Both Hodge and Raina were really supportive – we had a good team and coaching group working together. It’s good to have experienced international captains like Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch on your side. The time was enjoyable and I would like to believe that I was able to impart quite a lot of experience from a bowling perspective as well from my learnings as a specialist coach with an international side.
While with the Lions you were coaching a set of players who were preparing to face Mustafizur as opposition. Do you think it’s an ethical dilemma to decide how much to reveal about a bowler you have worked with so closely?
It’s a dilemma a lot of coaches face these days. With all the different tournaments that take place across the world, coaches keep moving from one team to another. It is difficult because when you play against the bowler who you have worked with, you know what his tactics are and what he is looking to do.
At the end of the day, a lot of the things you know about that bowler are already known by the others but they still need to go out there and play. It’s one of those things you face in a cosmopolitan coaching arena.
What is the key to success for a bowler in the IPL?
All the successful bowlers in the IPL have very reliable skill sets. I think that’s why the guys who have had success are the ones who have a very reliable stock ball, they’ve got a couple of good slower variations and they execute their yorkers very well.
If you look at Mustafizur, he’s got an unbelievably good slower ball which is hard for people to decipher but the reality is that he nails yorkers very consistently and knows to hit the right lengths consistently as well.
Do you think bowlers like Mustafizur will get found out after a few years of international cricket?
People will improve and will find ways to counter his skills. Definitely that will happen but like all bowlers, he too will find other methods that he can use against batsmen, just like we see batters come up with new shots to counter certain kinds of deliveries. Hopefully he continues to improve because if you stagnate in today’s age, you’ll get left behind by the competition.
Since T20 cricket forces a bowler to use variations like cutters and slower deliveries, do you think we will soon see a time when there is no place for an out and out pace bowler?
The game is evolving but fast-bowlers will continue to stay. We’ve seen with England, how they have protected bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad from T20 cricket as they are so valuable as Test cricketers. People don’t like it when you are bowling at 140/145 clicks, and you can be successful in T20 cricket with that pace. You’ll just see some faster bowlers develop the slower variations as a mix-up to add to their game – for me, that’s sort of where the game is going to lean towards.
Cricket in your country seems to be witnessing turbulent times currently with the sacking of Dav Whatmore and captain Hamilton Masakadza, what did you make of that?
From an outsider’s perspective, they have had a bit of a lean patch lately. So I don’t think it’s totally unwarranted for Zimbabwe cricket to look at ways in which they can improve. I think getting a person like Lance Klusener is a good thing. Graeme Cremer has been a consistent player for a while, it was unfortunate that he was injured ahead of the T20 World Cup, but he was the pick of the players. Hopefully he can bring something different as captain. Hamilton is still a good player and will play an important part for his side over the next few years.
Naturally, Dav Whatmore will be disappointed but the involvement of someone like Tatenda Taibu is a step in the right direction and hopefully they’ll be able to entice a few of the players who have left the setup to come back. Ultimately, losing the likes of Kyle Jarvis and Brendon Taylor had a massive impact on Zimbabwe cricket and to have those two back alongside the other performers would give the team a lift.
Back in the day Zimbabwe used to boast of a host of stars, do you think politics has hindered cricket in the country?
I think in the past there have been some well documented issues that have happened with Zimbabwean cricket. Those have had a big influence and I think the exodus of senior players has had an impact. Not just those who left during my time, but even the premature retirement of people like Tatenda Taibu and Stuart Matsikenyeri affected us because even if they weren’t going to play international cricket, they should have been retained to remain as senior players in the domestic setup in order to guide the youngsters.
We have lost a lot of young talent also, 18 and 19 year olds who are playing County cricket currently. Those sort of things have had an impact and unfortunately, the cricket board struggles to retain the players as County cricket’s financial stability is extremely lucrative.
India will be touring Zimbabwe in a week’s time, albeit with a young side, do you think it’s going to be all too easy for MS Dhoni’s team?
If the Indian youngsters carry on with their IPL form then they’ll be a tough side to beat for Zimbabwe. However, experience is a factor and we have seen young teams when put under pressure struggle a bit. MS Dhoni’s presence – to have his guidance and leadership – will be a calming influence no doubt, making India a tough team to beat. But Zimbabwe will be playing at home, will be aware of their conditions and they might just be able to spring a surprise.
Laatly, as someone who has been a part of a number of India-Zimbabwe contests, who is the batsman apart from Sachin Tendulkar you did not like bowling to?
Probably that’s going to be Rahul Dravid. Rahul was one of those guys who you never felt was going to give you a chance. He was always in such control of everything, he was prepared to occupy the crease, bat long periods and make it difficult for you. Behind Sachin, I would say Rahul was the next most difficult batsman to bowl to, especially in Test cricket. He was just an amazing batsman in that form of the game.
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