Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Kolkata Knight Riders bowling coach HEATH STREAK talks about being fired as Zimbabwe coach, the racism allegations and why world cricket needs to expand and not contract.
Sport24 asked: After failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup was your axing a surprise?
Heath Streak: It was a shock when I was told by Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) that my coaching team and I must resign, failing which we would be fired. It was massively disappointing that we missed out on qualifying for the 2019 Cricket World Cup but, since taking the helm 18 months ago, we almost doubled our win ratio and won our first away ODI series in 17 years. Moreover, getting players like Solomon Mire, Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis back from Australia and England respectively was also a good achievement for the future of the game in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the ZC board felt that we weren’t good enough as a management group and they wanted to go in a different direction after the big downer of missing out on World Cup qualification. We had a good lead-up to the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe but sadly lost our last game against the UAE, via the Duckworth-Lewis method, which proved crucial. Thereafter, I chose not to resign as I believe it would have been degrading to our national players and my technical team. As a result, I was dismissed with immediate effect. My lawyers are now dealing with the matter because there are contractual and labour infractions owing to the manner in which the dismissals were done. However, the axe has not only fallen on the national team, but the A-team, under-19 side and the selectors as well, who were given the option to either resign or be fired. For me, the most disappointing thing is how we have been treated. We didn’t get a chance to have a hearing and only received an e-mail outlining the course of action from the powers that be. It is extreme and short-sighted. In terms of Makhaya Ntini’s exit as Zimbabwe’s bowling coach in January, I think the board just felt that he wasn’t up to the mark with the coaching. It was something that was a general feeling and they wanted someone who knew the local players more. Ex-Chevron Douglas Hondo was the man they felt would do the job well. (In terms of some players not being happy as far as Ntini’s management style was concerned) those aren’t things I would like to get involved in. People did have opinions, but ultimately the feeling was that Ntini wasn’t able to do the job as needed... I must thank my staff who worked tirelessly, often going for months unpaid and, having had two pay-cuts during their tenure, still retained unwavering professional commitment. I would also like to thank captain Graeme Cremer and all the players for their patriotism and commitment. I’m deeply saddened if my journey with them ends here. I feel I have a lot to offer Zimbabwe cricket given that I’ve been involved for 12 years as a player and six years on the coaching staff. I would still like to be involved in some respect.
Sport24 asked: Did the limited 2019 World Cup places up for grabs hamper your chances?
Heath Streak: Yes. This is the first time that there have only been 10 teams to qualify for the Cricket World Cup. The ICC has reduced the number of teams competing at the tournament, which is always tough for nations like us. Graeme Cremer said that he hopes the ICC will look into more than a 10-team tournament after the 2019 Cricket World Cup and I agree with those sentiments. The reduction of four teams has had a massive impact not just on us but for teams like Ireland and Scotland, who’re also missing out. Where other sports are expanding, cricket seems to be contracting. (ICC CEO David Richardson has said: “We want the World Cup to not just be window-dressing but a shop window for cricket at the highest level”). But at the previous World Cup, there were 14 teams in the mix and I think it’s important for the game. Other sports are growing and cricket should also look to do the same. The World Cup is where you want to be playing and where emerging teams should be given an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Beating South Africa at the 1999 World Cup was one of the highlights of my career and was a memorable moment. (Streak claimed 3/35 in nine overs on that famous day in Chelmsford and helped Zimbabwe to a 48-run win).
Sport24 asked: You have been accused of being a racist by one of the suits. Your response?
Heath Streak: I think Zimbabwe Cricket have far too often tried to use the race card as a way to deviate from the actual issues of poor governance. They need to start looking at themselves in the mirror. All the players I have coached and the people around me know me well enough. I don’t even need to try to vindicate myself or qualify why I’m not a racist. For me, the allegations of racism (by ZC board chairperson Tavengwa Mukuhlani) are actually laughable. Not only do I speak Ndebele, my wife and I have a black foster son. I was pretty upset by Mukuhlani’s comments and it’s something I’m considering taking action against in the future. The statements against me are not only defamatory, but they are also damaging. I have spent a lifetime building my reputation and for him to say something like that publicly is not acceptable. I take it extremely seriously. I agree 100 percent with Ray Price who said: “Racism is not the problem in Zimbabwean cricket. Bad cricket management is the problem.” It’s now about getting the correct personnel involved and people with the requisite skills to be able to run an organisation as big as Zimbabwe Cricket. I’m pretty hopeful that this episode will prove to be the catalyst that brings people’s attention to the changes that need to occur within Zimbabwean cricket. Throughout sports organisations, you definitely need a balance between former players, who understand the needs of professional players, and people with good corporate acumen and proven track records in the business world. We need more cricketers involved in decision-making at the top level and on the board. I would like to believe that decision-making in the future will be in the game’s best interest. It would ensure that there is a pathway for the next generation of cricketers. My son loves his cricket and, if he’s good enough to play at a professional level, I want him to be able to have the opportunity to do so in Zimbabwe and for his country of birth. In the past, cricketers have had to leave Zimbabwe and we have lost them forever.
Sport24 asked: How would you describe your coaching experience in the IPL cauldron?
Heath Streak: It has been a good experience so far. I think there is a misconception that if you are a good cricketer, you are naturally going to be a good coach. Coaching is something you have to have a passion for and you must be open-minded and willing to learn. You have to learn the art of being a good coach and there is a lot that goes into it. It’s not just about cricket skills and knowledge. You are dealing with people and different personalities. You have to be able to operate in that environment and make the team you work with click and players complement each other. Every day, I learn something new as a coach. The day you think you know everything is the day you should hang up your notebook and retire. I have enjoyed working with Jacques Kallis, who is our head coach at the Kolkata Knight Riders. His temperament as a coach is very much like he was as a player. He is calm and calculated. He played the game in a relaxed manner and brings that to his coaching style. Moreover, his vast experience with bat and ball is invaluable and the amount of cricket knowledge he has is fantastic... There is an unbelievable atmosphere in the IPL. It’s something that is really difficult to explain if you haven’t experienced it first-hand - it’s crazy stuff. Unless you have actually watched a live match, it’s tough to describe. The passion, the noise and the level of support you encounter in India is unrivalled. In international cricket, you simply don’t get the same sort of vibe as you do at IPL fixtures. The event is really special and it’s nice to be part of. The tournament, now into its 11th edition, has captivated the cricketing world. If I was still playing the game, the IPL is definitely something I would love to have played in and not just for the fun of it on the field! The players these days are paid handsomely and deservedly so. It’s good to see cricketers being rewarded financially for producing some world-class entertainment. The advent of Twenty20 cricket has had a massive impact on how the gentleman’s game is played. Everything is sped up and the wider range of strokes from batsmen has made it tougher for bowlers but more interesting for spectators and the viewers.
Sport24 asked: What’s your assessment of the Proteas and their potential going forward?
Heath Streak: The Proteas are an extremely strong side at home and boast strength in depth. They have a solid group of pace bowlers and have had for a long time. Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are very exciting youngsters and, with Dale Steyn not being able to play at times due to injury, their emergence bodes well for South African cricket. The rising young talents are really going to balance out the side with their bowling ability. The Proteas also possess some tried-and-tested batsmen in the form of AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla. Most recently, I have been impressed with the development of Aiden Markram, who reminds me of a young Graeme Smith. I reckon it will be a really exciting phase for Proteas cricket over the next few years. The Proteas have proved a force at home in Test cricket and have made South Africa a fortress. In the ODI format, they will be a real contender at the 2019 World Cup in UK conditions, which will be hosted between May and July.
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