''Geoff Marsh lends the Australian touch to our approach''

SANJAY RAJAN

KEVIN MALCOLM CURRAN's most successful appearance for Zimbabwe in the two World Cups that he played in was against India at Tunbridge Wells in 1983: the contest that Kapil Dev turned on its head with that magnificent 175. Curran, currently the assistant coach of the Zimbabwe team, took three for 65 while making early inroads with his fast-medium pace and followed it up with 73. But Kapil had well and truly clinched the contest by then.

From left to right:Zimbabwe assistant coach Kevin Curran discusses a point with Travis Friend, Heath Streak and Brighton Watambwa.-N. BALAJI

Curran is from a cricketing stock, his father (K.P. Curran) has played for Rhodesia.

Curran first played for Zimbabwe in 1980, made the '83 and '87 World Cups and toured Sri Lanka twice and England once in the early 80s.

By 1994 he had qualified to play for England, having spent a major part of his career in County cricket with Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire. He had earlier set his heart to play for England and appeared regularly high up in both the batting and bowling averages.

In a chat during Zimbabwe's tour opener against Board President's XI in Vijayawada, Curran looked back at his career and his hopes for Zimbabwe cricket.

Excerpts:

Question: Had you ever set your heart on playing for England?

Answer: I had acquired an English qualification during a particular stage of my career as I was living and playing County cricket in England. There was a time when I thought I could represent England. It would have been an honour. I had a few good County seasons, but wasn't picked, which I presume was because I was born in Zimbabwe.

Who were your rivals for the all-rounder's position?

I had no competition for that slot then. At that point in time I had scored something like 1,400 runs and picked up some 70-odd wickets. If the selection was on performance they should have picked me. I guess there was a little bit of bias there. They already had Allan Lamb and Robin Smith (both South Africa born) in the side and they probably thought having another Zimbabwe-born wouldn't be the right thing to do.

Do you regret not having made yourself available for Zimbabwe as you would have been a certainty along with John Traicos, Dave Houghton and Duncan Fletcher?

I gave it a lot of thought at that time. But then, when I made my decision Zimbabwe hadn't yet got Test status.

Can you recapture for us the events at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup and Kapil Dev's remarkable innings?

Coming into the competition after the ICC Trophy triumph, we had India in deep trouble at 17 for four. Peter Rawson and I opened the bowling, I think. Then Kapil came up with that amazing 175. He gave us that one chance at about 100, and had we got him then we'd have only had to chase some 150 or so. Owing to Kapil, India got to 260-odd. I got 73 in that game. Had I only a bit more experience, I could have seen Zimbabwe through.

You were a part of Zimbabwe's famous victory against Australia at Trent Bridge on June 9, 1983. Your feelings about that victory.

Those were the days when people called us pretenders and minnows of international cricket. We outplayed Australia completely in that encounter. They had a great side with the likes of Lillee, Rod Marsh... We were just a side led by Duncan Fletcher which went about with a game-plan in a methodical manner. Actually, we were the best fielding side in the championship. Duncan was instrumental for this. It was Zimbabwe which introduced high standards of fielding in limited-overs cricket. This because we knew we didn't have the individual talents of bigger Test nations. So we just got out there and saved the 20-30 runs in the field and converted the half chances. This helped us to win a lot of games.

What was the influence of Traicos, Fletcher and Houghton on Zimbabwe cricket?

John Traicos was a great player himself. As you know, he played Test cricket for both South Africa and Zimbabwe. He is a role model to a lot of people. He put a lot of work in the game back home. He has now settled down in Australia. Duncan is also a very knowledgeable man who understands the game. Houghton coaches at the Academy and has helped a lot of the young players come through. All three have contributed tremendously to Zimbabwe cricket.

Your father played cricket for Rhodesia. What was cricket in his time? You must have watched Currie Cup matches.

I was very young then. But I remember that the Currie Cup at that time was a very strong competition, played in South Africa amongst provincial sides. There were many greats players. We sadly didn't get to see much of the Pollocks, Barry Richards in the Test arena. I hear it is still very strong and is compared to the Sheffield Shield (now Pura Milk Cup).

Your experiences in Natal?

When I stopped playing for Zimbabwe I went and played for Natal as its overseas player. The cricket was of a high level and the competition very, very stiff. It helped me in my County cricket also. It was truly a great learning experience.

The happy news about Zimbabwe cricket is that even senior players are willing to play under juniors. Is it because the game is still largely amateur?

Once the selectors decide who is going to be captain, we take it upon us as coaches to see that the senior players support the captain. Look, at the end of the day we don't have the depth of talent that India or Australia possess. Hence it is very important for us to have a good team spirit. For this the senior players will have to be very supportive of the captain. They play a major role, you see.

The participation of players like Mpumelelo Mbangwa, Brighton Watambwa and Tatenda Taibu is obviously a very healthy sign. Is there a special programme for the development of ethnic cricketers in your country?

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union has been doing a lot to develop the game in the rural areas. A lot of money is being pumped in to develop ethnic talent. A lot of them are coming up, like Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, who scored a century on Test debut, among others. Many more such players are sure to come through in the years to come.

Obviously you will be in line to become the country's coach. Geoff Marsh is highly experienced. What are the principal lessons you have learnt from him?

It has been a good combination. Geoff has been a successful coach of a successful Australian team. He lends the Australian touch to our approach to the game. I've played a majority of my cricket in England. I've been under a lot of coaches in England who have taught me how the game should be played. At the same time I've lived in Zimbabwe.

So I know how the players feel and think. I've learnt quite a bit from Geoff. Perhaps he has also learnt something from me. We are together for the next two years.

I hope we can help Zimbabwe put up a good show in the coming World Cup.

The last two-Test rubber against India at home saw Zimbabwe make a magnificent comeback to square the series. Do you give yourself a chance to do it this time around?

Anything can happen in this game. Look, we have the players. Andy Flower is a magnificent player. We are looking to him to score the runs. We have Alistair Campbell, who is very experienced at Test level. We have some good younger players like Stuart Carlisle, who has been around for a while. It is a question of that particular day. If we can get in and rattle up a big score and apply pressure with the ball we can do it. At the end of the day, it is a team effort. We have Heath Streak to spearhead the attack, a couple of young seamers in Travis Friend and Brighton Watambwa and a left-arm spinner in Raymond Price, whom we hope will get us some wickets on the turning tracks here.

Limited-overs cricket is Zimbabwe's strength. But you have been doing badly of late. Why?

It happens to all the countries in the world. Look, we lost two class players in Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson (both left the country) from the side that took part in the last World Cup. It takes time to find replacements for such good players. We were going through a rebuilding process in the last year or slightly more.