Life has come full circle for Zimbabwe’s head coach Dave Houghton. He was his country’s first Test captain, scoring a fantastic 121 against India in the drawn match at Harare. Thirty years later, Houghton, in his second spell as a coach of Zimbabwe, is ready to take on India with his new ‘fearless brand of cricket.’
Houghton, 64, took over from Lalchand Rajput and immediately produced the results. Zimbabwe secured its first ODI series over a fellow top-tier team since 2017 when it chased down 291 in the second ODI against Bangladesh. They also won the T20I series 2-1 for its first-ever T20 series win over a top-tier team.
The Indian Express caught up with Houghton, who had probably played the best knock of the 1987 World Cup (142 off 137 against New Zealand), spoke at length about cricket in Zimbabwe, its decline, the future of international cricket, and the upcoming three-match ODI series against India.
India will present a more formidable challenge than Bangladesh. What are your expectations from your team, and what kind of cricket do you want them to play against India?
Let’s not disrespect the Bangladesh cricket team because they are a good side, particularly in white ball cricket. We are playing good attacking cricket. We are enjoying playing the aggressive brand of cricket, and it had led to some recent success. It will be a good test for us, considering the strength of India. The series will tell us whether we are progressing or if it was just a flash in the pan.
Fearless cricket has become a new buzzword these days, with ‘Bazball’ in England being a trendsetter, you have spoken about instilling fearlessness in the Zimbabwe players. Can you define what precisely this fearless cricket is?
I don’t set to relate what we are doing to what Brendon McCullum has done with England’s Test team. For me, fearless cricket is when cricketers express themselves in the middle, no matter who the opposing team is.
It worried me when I took over this side; the players I have seen playing some breathtaking shots in the local cricket were too scared to play similar strokes while playing for the national side. They were too afraid to play reverse sweep or improvise because they were worried about the repercussions of getting dropped in the next game. That was the fear that I am trying to get rid of.
In cricket, you live and die by your success individually as well as the team. So that responsibility is still there, but they won’t be lambasted in the change room because they have played a rash shot. And if you are that fearful, you can never progress. So that is the fearlessness I am trying to instil in this team.
What is the difference between fearlessness and foolishness, and how do you explain this to your boys?
There is a fine line. They will only learn the difference between fearless and reckless with experience. It is not what coaches have told you in the team meeting; one must use their senses during the game and learn from others, be it the teammates or the opposition.
You’ve been involved with Zimbabwe cricket for almost half a century. From being a competitive side in the 90s, it declined drastically, and after that, they failed to produce players with the same skill sets.
It was a very experienced team. A lot of the players played in that era, including me; we got to play more international cricket. We didn’t even have domestic cricket back then, other club cricket. We learnt at the international scene. By the time we got to 1999, and we had a couple of good additions too, Murray Goodwin coming back from Australia, Neil Johnson from South Africa. Shortly after that, players left the country; there was a collapse in cricket around 2003. A lot of people retired; some went off to play in England. And we had to start again. And in the restart, the board started first-class cricket, which is now known as franchise cricket. It took them a long time to start producing their homegrown talent. People like Sikandar Raja, Craig Ervine, and Sean Williams are the product of the aftermath of the collapse.
From its traditional white strongholds, how far has the game spread to the average Zimbabwean?
Now you can see the influx of young players coming through the first-class system. That’s the big difference between now and how it was in the mid-2000 and early 2010s. The late 90s side had a good 13-14 players, but there was no depth, and that’s why the collapse happened. But things have changed now.
T20 franchise tournaments have become the most preferred option for cricketers now. Do you think ODI cricket, the bilateral series, will soon be a thing of the past?
Tough to guess. Everyone is guessing. But in my own opinion, I think cricket has almost reversed itself, instead of having so much international cricket throughout the year. I believe cricket will probably end up like football. There would be more franchise-based competition globally, and there will be only a three-month window for International cricket.
Can you name a few promising youngsters from your team whom you think are capable of playing in the overseas T20 leagues in the future?
Wessly Madhevere: Top order batter, very, very exciting prospect. An all-format cricketer and he is only 21. He is a stylish right-handed batsman and bowls some decent off-spin, and is an excellent fielder as well.
Tony Munyonga: A right-handed middle-order batter, played a couple of brilliant cameos against Bangladesh in the recently-concluded series. He is a finisher, and I look forward to seeing him excel in that role.
Blessing Muzarabani: We are without Blessing, which is disappointing. He suffered a thigh muscle tear during the ICC T20 Men’s World Cup qualifier. But a top-class bowler.
Victor Nyauchi: Another outstanding seam bowler. Slightly wrong-footed but can surprise the batters with the extra pace and bounce.
Zimbabwe vs India Livestreaming: Watch the LIVE coverage of India tour of Zimbabwe 2022 on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels at 12:45 pm from August 18.