Harare: His team made a winning re-entry in Test cricket, against Bangladesh. For Zimbabwe's Ray Price, this is just the start he and his team needed to boost cricket in the country. Excrpts from an interview.
You were once pigeonholed as a Test specialist early in your career and you are now No. 3 in the world in ODIs.
I had a goal from when I was about 24 or 25 to be in the top 10. Heath [Streak] did it, and it was my one of my goals to beat him because he has always been a kind of hero of mine.
It is quite a difficult job trying to catch up with Daniel Vettori because he is way up there on the points table. He is a fantastic left-arm spinner who has been playing from when he was really young, and that helps a lot. He has nice and easy action. I have learned a lot from just watching him.
You started as a fast bowler, didn't you?
I tried to be a Mitchell Johnson till I was 14. At that age everybody wants to be fast. I still want to be Mitchell Johnson. I would love to be that quick. Perhaps I should get some muscle and some tattoos.
Basically I got into cricket because my dad, Tim, worked at the Royal Harare Golf Club, which is about 100 metres from the Harare Sports Club. I would go with him in the June holidays to work with him and also play a bit of golf. In the afternoon I would practise with the third team at the Sports Club. I met John Traicos, one of the first cricketers I saw. He would finish in the office at about half past 12, take his suit off and bowl for an hour by himself and then go and have a shower, put his suit back on and head back to office. He would be back later in the evening to practise again. That made a huge statement for me, just about how much work I would have to put in to become an international spinner. I made sure that I tried to spend more time bowling by myself, not just in normal practice but outside of practice. Those are the things that make you a cricketer, that time you buy yourself and do a little bit of extra work [in].
I read in [one of] Sachin Tendulkar's biographies about getting on buses to go for training at strange hours and coming home late at night. It is all those little things like that that make you into a cricketer at the end. You appreciate your practice more when you put in that much effort to get there. So you make it purposeful.
Did that aggressive mindset help in your spin bowling?
Being aggressive works for me; it gets me into the zone quite quickly. Also, playing for your country, it is a very proud thing, and you should give it 100% each time you play. My dad always told me to make sure you finish the game knowing you tried everything you could. You can then relax in the change room and enjoy after that.
You once said you like to have some sort of interaction with the batsman because you felt it helps.
I enjoy just having a nice chat with the guy. It is between you and him only, and it is lots of fun. I remember when I first started playing, I actually hated when guys used to chirp and make noise and get stuck into me. But after playing with the Flowers - Andy and Grant - they never really sought after it, but if someone came after them they were not afraid to have a word. I don't try and get nasty. I don't swear at people. I don't believe in that.
My dad had a wonderful sense of humour. He died last year. He told the worst jokes ever - they were terrible but you would have to laugh at them. He was the worst pun-maker. But he was very good at public-speaking, and a golf professional.
Give us an example of a funny sledge you remember.
Jacques Kallis has lost a lot of weight in the last few years. When we played in South Africa two years ago, we were playing on the far left-hand square at Centurion Park, and one of the boundaries was just 45-50 metres away. Kallis went for a slog-sweep and got a four against me. I said: "In your older days when you were a little bigger you would have hit the ball out of the ground. But now that you are skinny, you can't reach." Both of us had a nice laugh.
Have you ever tried to get into a duel with a batsman?
I tried against Brian Lara in the fifth ODI of the 2003 series, in Harare. He was just knocking the ball around and making it look easy. He got 41 off 42 balls, but he was going too slowly in the beginning and we had not set much of a target, so he was just nudging it around. After my first ball, which he blocked back to me, I said to him, "Come on, you are supposed to be the world's best batsman. Let's see if you can take me on." Jeepers, he just tore me to shreds - he hit me over extra cover, hit me over cow, swept me, backed away and cut me past point. He lambasted me. My figures read 29 in three overs.
I learned that you have to pick your batsman before chatting them up. Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting definitely are batsmen I would never chat to. There are few guys people are afraid to bowl to - like, Virender Sehwag is an absolute nightmare. He was one of the few guys I was afraid to bowl at. Sourav Ganguly was the other one.
Why did you choose finger-spin?
I used to bowl out of the back of my hand, like Brad Hogg, until I was 17. I could spin the ball long way but I was not accurate. And once the batsmen work out you are going to spin the ball only one way, it becomes easy for them. My coach Simon Elliott suggested I bowl finger-spin. I was very accurate. In about the fifth game after I started bowling finger-spin, I got a hat-trick. That ball is in my cupboard. I keep all the balls that have earned me a name. I got Sachin to sign a couple. The first time I got him out he had made 176. He said he was going to make it difficult for me the next time.
Claude Henderson, the former South African spinner, helped me a lot. He showed me how to let the seam go, how to use the crease cleverly and the variations.
During the World Cup, Pat Symcox backed your brand of spin.
He is exactly the same as me. He told me about the things he had learned from Bishan Bedi, about different kinds of batsmen, how they use their feet, how some guys like to hit the ball on the up, so let the ball bounce, while others like to hit the ball right at their feet. Little things like that always are handy.
Were you a good student?
Elliott was a very strange man but he taught us discipline. Two of my mates were late for the start of a match once, so Elliott plucked out two stumps and caned them. I have been caned often for doing silly things. I went to Watershed College, a boarding school 60 kilometres outside of Harare, where when the lights went out you were not supposed to talk. I would, and I'd get the stick. It kept us in line.
Do you want to get a wicket every ball?
I don't really think about wickets. Wickets, I believe, are something you cannot control. I like to work out the best delivery to bowl to a certain batsman and stick to that.
There are few spinners like Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne who could say, "If I can get him to push forward I can get him caught at slip." I am not that kind of a spinner, unless the wicket is really spinning. All I try to do, especially in the one-dayers, I pick a slight weakness, or something he does not like in my bowling, and [work on] that.
Are you obsessive about your bowling?
A little bit, especially when I decide which line and length I want to bowl. I am hyper-critical of myself, especially in the middle, because I believe I have done enough work off the field to know where I'm supposed to be bowling. That helps me to keep my focus and helps me to be in the zone.
Once, in a Test in Bulawayo, I was bowling to Herschelle Gibbs, who is a very good sweeper and hits very well through extra cover. He ran down the wicket at me and I pushed the ball wide. I'd normally never do that. He went for it, tried to slash at the ball and was caught at point. I was actually going to push the ball down the leg. That is why I say some days you can bowl badly and get wickets and other days not get a wicket at all, even off good balls.
Who is the most difficult batsman you have bowled to?
Lara was such a difficult player to work out because he had so many different options of scoring. He was so good off the back foot as well as the front foot.
Matthew Hayden was a destructive batsman, too.
Then there was Adam Gilchrist. Like when Hayden made 380, Gilchrist made 100 off 84 balls. We had the problem dealing with Hayden, and Gilchrist was on fire as well. It was a nightmare.
Did I sledge them? No. I did not have time to as I was trying to fetch the ball off the roof. I remember Heath getting out Gilchrist in Sydney. I remember running up and hugging him, feeling so happy. Gilchrist ran down against me in one over, and he was beaten in the flight, but he still hit me into the stands with just one hand. So when he was out I was completely happy.
Have you ever got any compliments from batsmen?
I got six wickets in Sydney in 2003 and took a stump as a souvenir. We later went into the Australian dressing room. Steve Waugh was sitting next to me. I did not know what to say because he was a hero: a hard, gritty man who had made most of his opportunities, and the way he led Australia, how he changed the whole team into tough cricketers and all that. He took the stump and said, "Do you mind if I write something on it?" I was delighted and said it would be my pleasure. He wrote a little note: "To Pricey: love the attitude." It just made me realise that you have to have the right attitude when you are playing.
We were playing West Indies next. Waugh told me to make sure to put the mid-on back when Lara walked in. I was reluctant, but he said Lara would take me on and would love to dominate me from ball one. In that first Test, in Harare, I asked Heath to push the mid-on back. He was surprised but was fine. Off my eighth delivery, Lara ran down and was caught brilliantly at deep mid-on. I did thank Waugh later.
It is so important to talk to people who have played so much because they have got a certain gut feeling and instinct for the game and they also look at other players and work out not just the way they play cricket but also the kind of people they are.
You played your first World Cup this year. What did it feel like?
I was so excited to get to play. I missed 2003 because I wasn't really a one-day player. Then I started to do well in the B League and forced my way back into the side. Brian Murphy, a good legspinner, good fielder, good friend of mine, got injured and I came back and have never looked back.
I remember as a 16-year-old listening to matches from the 1992 World Cup on radio, and then watching it on the big screen at the Harare Sports Club over the weekends. I was so inspired and was dying to get "Price" on the back of my bright red shirt. I was dying to play for my country - did not matter as a bowler or a batsman. Those are the kinds of things that make you into the cricketer you are. I am happy I finally got an opportunity to live my dream. I don't think I will play another one, but I could come in as a spin coach.
What is your best cricketing memory?
One of my best memories was during one of my first games. I was playing for Zimbabwe A at SuperSport Park against the Northerns. It was my first day-and-night match. It was the first time my name was on the back of the shirt. I was given two. One I gave to my mother and the other is in my cupboard. It was a green-coloured one.
I was standing at fine leg. I had never signed an autograph in my life. There were a group of 20 or 30-odd kids, waiting with stuff to be signed. I was really excited. I grabbed the first bat and signed and kept grabbing and signing. I remember I was being arrogant and thinking in my head that I had made it finally in cricket. "I am now a world player." At the end of the day there were these kids, one about six and the other about 10 or 11. They had these big bats, probably their dad's or grandfather's. They were looking quite shy. It was the 48th over or something. The Zimbabwe batting line-up was on the scoreboard. I called the two and asked them to bring their bats and I would sign them. I started signing. Suddenly another kid walked past and said in the direction of the two shy kids: "Eh, you guys, what do you want his autograph for? Check his batting - No. 11!" I was completely deflated. It taught me to be humble. Don't get too big-headed. Even kids can teach you lessons.