WHEN Heath Streak was announced as the new Zimbabwe coach in October, some doubted that he would have the same success he had enjoyed as bowling coach of the rising Bangladesh team.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
After all, many had come before him and failed, including his predecessor, the highly-rated Australian World Cup winning coach Dav Whatmore, who had been sacked five months earlier after a string of poor results.
Streak, however, came with a very high reputation after spearheading Bangladesh’s transformation from the minnows of international cricket to a competitive side, which went on to secure automatic qualification for the ICC 2019 World Cup.
Since joining Bangladesh’s rejigged coaching group in 2014, the Asian minnows won a Test series and two One Day International (ODI) series against Zimbabwe, qualified to the knockout stage of the 2015 World Cup, and won a maiden ODI series against Pakistan, India and South Africa.
Streak also helped lead the Tigers to the semi-finals of the ICC Asia Cup hosted by Bangladesh in 2015, defeating the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The former Zimbabwe captain, however, still had a lot to prove in his first head coaching job at international level, having succeeded as a specialist bowling coach with both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
The ZC board tasked Streak with ensuring Zimbabwe qualifies for the 2019 World Cup.
“My promise is, I will leave no stone unturned in terms of our endeavour and our quest to improve the team’s performances. I believe that we have the resources here in Zimbabwe to do just that and planning is obviously going to be a major factor,” Streak said after his appointment.
After a shaky start characterised by an embarrassing series of losses at home to Afghanistan, the team appears to have turned a new leaf, with Streak and his charges reminding the world of the tremendous potential that Zimbabwe and its cricketers possess.
Streak’s charges stunned hosts Sri Lanka to clinch a historic ODI series win — their maiden series win in the subcontinent nation and first overseas triumph against a full member nation in 16 years.
And after arriving back in the country to a hero’s welcome after a massively successful tour last week, Streak made another promise.
“My promise is this is the beginning of even greater things, I’ve really got faith in this group of players and hopefully we can continue to make the Zimbabwean supporters proud and bring back the crowds to Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club whenever we have international assignments at home,” he said.
Zimbabwe also came agonisingly close to winning the only Test against the Sri Lankans, which Streak reckons they would have won were it not for the third umpire’s decision to give batsman Niroshan Dickwella a reprieve on the final day.
“Sadly, we lost the Test match because that would have been the cherry on the cake. You can never say 100% but in my knowledge of cricket, I reckon if that decision had gone in our favour as it should have, we had probably a 98% chance of winning from there,” he said.
The former Zimbabwe premier bowler, however, praised his charges’ effort saying it was commendable considering the limited opportunities the team had to play competitive cricket against top nations.
“It felt very rewarding given all the hard work we had put in,” Streak told Sports World in an interview on Friday.
“It’s always very difficult to prepare the guys when there’s such a big gap in our schedule, so I was very happy that the players were able to respond to all those challenges in a positive way.
“A lot of people questioned our decision to tour Scotland and Netherlands to play those matches ahead of the Sri Lanka tour. Hopefully people can now see the value of those matches in terms of preparing the guys and getting them ready for a very tough assignment like [playing] Sri Lanka.
“For the guys to go out there and have success is really great testament for all the hard work they’ve put in and credit should also go to my technical team, they’ve been working very hard behind the scenes with the players,” he said.
Streak feels consistency in selection and mental toughness carried his charges through the difficult tour where pundits had predicted Zimbabwe would struggle.
“We’ve been working with a mental strength coach where we’ve dealt with how to handle pressure and how to stay focused on the task and not what happened already, what we should have done or what might happen if we fail.
“We’ve also given the players the freedom and that also comes through consistency in selection and players having the feeling that if they fail once they’re not going to get dropped. It allows them to play with the freedom and to express themselves and get the job done.
“I would really like to thank the fans for their loyalty and patience. I know there were times where we obviously didn’t perform as well as we would have liked to in the past but hopefully we have repaid some of their loyalty on this tour,” he said.
Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer said Streak’s unmistakable passion for both the game and the country had brought out the best from him and his teammates.
“He’s brought in his passion for cricket and the country in general. You can see he always wants to win and it really hurts him when the team doesn’t do well,” Cremer said when asked about what Streak’s influence on the national team setup since his comeback last year.
“That’s obviously very good for us as players. You can have an experienced international coach but they are not going to have the passion that an actual Zimbabwean has for his country, that’s the main thing with Streak. He’s really proud of the way the guys have bought into the philosophy that he’s trying to create and guys trust him and they always want to do well,” he added.