In a wide-ranging interview, Murray Goodwin speaks to Rob Johnston about his life in cricket.
You had a 20-year first-class playing career and have now started doing some coaching work with Sussex and in Western Australia. It’s obviously a very different discipline. How has the switch from player to coach been?
As a player you are so engrossed in what you are trying to achieve – and you have your goals – that sometimes you can be a little bit selfish. We are trying to keep our careers going well and trying to succeed, and in doing that we miss certain things about what is actually done for us as players. Now that I’ve been on the other side as a coach, the amount of preparation and organisation – as well as actually trying to pick the right squads – is so in-depth and thorough. It’s quite a different perspective as a coach but it’s brilliant because you know that you’re not there for yourself. It’s not for the coaches at all; it’s all for the benefit of the player.
Your career straddled the emergence of Twenty20 cricket. Do you think batsmen need to worry less about technique these days?
I think that the main thing for every cricketer should be to play Test cricket. I think that is the ultimate test as a cricketer because it’s a test of your technique, it’s a test of your courage, it’s a test of your patience and it’s a test of your skill level – as well as the discipline to do that for long periods of time. An element of technique has to be there to play the longer form and to play the swinging ball and to play on different pitches. My philosophy with batting was very simple: I wanted to try and stay in the present. Yes, you do need a certain level of technique but more importantly you need to have a head space where you are able to try and shut out the stuff that’s going on in your mind to just play the next ball.
Does that approach change for Twenty20 cricket?
Certain shots such as the ramp and the reverse-sweep have their own techniques and certain ways you can play them but you don’t have to play them all. I was never a big hitter of the ball but I found a way to score quickly in Twenty20 cricket. That was the huge challenge for myself. When you’re a Chris Gayle, you get away with muscling the ball over the boundary so you need less technique in white-ball cricket. For others, it’s more about improvising to keep the scoreboard ticking over, taking risks but without taking silly risks if that makes sense. That’s where T20 has such a fine line now. The skill is in taking risks but knowing when to take those risks and that is the hardest challenge of Twenty20 cricket as a batsman.
You made your Test debut at Kandy in 1998. What do you remember about that game?
Before the game I remember doing some sweep shots and Dave Houghton, the coach, and Andy and Grant Flower were there and we were just doing sweep shots because we knew we’d have to play it a lot. I’d never really played the sweep shot before because I was brought up on the WACA in Australia and you don’t really play a lot of spin there. I made 70 against Muttiah Muralitharan, who was spinning it massively, in the second innings. I had to learn very quickly and that preparation really helped me to make those runs. I was extremely angry with myself when I got out because I was on my way to a hundred on debut.
You made three Test hundreds in your 19-match career and a 91 against the Australians who had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in their ranks. Which one stands out?
All the hundreds were very special. The 91 I got against Australia at home was pretty good, even though I didn’t get a hundred. I’d been run out after facing just one ball in the first innings so I had extra motivation. Henry Olonga came in and Shane Warne was bowling so well. I thought I should try and take him on and got out trying to get to my hundred because we were nine wickets down. It was just one of those things on a wicket that did a little bit at Harare Sports Club, so it was quite nice. Any hundred you make in international cricket is special but there’s not one that stands out. The 148 in England was pretty good, as was the one in the West Indies, because they were totally different atmospheres and conditions.
That Zimbabwe team of the late ’90s and early 2000s was a strong side with yourself, Heath Streak and the Flower brothers. Do you think that was the best team Zimbabwe has ever produced?
I think so, yes. Before Test cricket was around, Rhodesia, before it was even Zimbabwe, had some tremendous cricketers. As Zimbabwe itself after Mugabe took over in 1980, it probably was one of the better teams. It was fantastic to be playing alongside some of the friends who I grew up with and to challenge myself against the best in the world. It was a superb experience but the real reason we had some success was because we got along so well. Away from cricket, we were going to play golf together or we were going to people’s places to have BBQs, so we were all pretty good mates. It was wonderful to be a part of and I think it made a difference because the cricket community was pretty small.
Cricket in Zimbabwe has been in the doldrums for as long as many can remember and recent results against a second-string Indian side were not encouraging. How do you feel about Zimbabwean cricket now?
I feel sorry for the current generation, I really do. All those guys are trying to do is forge a career and a living, playing the game they love for the country they love and live in. I feel really sorry for them and I’m hoping Zimbabwe Cricket can do a U-turn because things have spiralled downwards. There’s not a lot of good news coming out of the system and I’m concerned about the infrastructure at grassroots level and what’s happening there. I don’t believe the funds that are there have filtered all the way down. You’re trying to make do with coaches who are giving up their time and getting paid peanuts to coach and it’s not the quality of coaching that is needed to try to help the country regenerate its cricketing culture. It’s in a bad place and that’s part of the reason I left, which was at the start of the decline.
You stopped playing for Zimbabwe after that 2000 tour to England. Your penultimate innings was the 148 not out at Trent Bridge. It must have been a tough decision to give that up when you were still in your prime?
With the country the way it was and the political situation, it didn’t help but I could make a plan for that like everyone does because we loved living there. The real reason I left was because the Zimbabwe Cricket Union just wasn’t functioning in a way that meant we as cricketers could go out and concentrate on performing to the best of our ability. There were always these underlying factors that we had to deal with. I loved playing for Zimbabwe. I was newly married and we wanted to be there until my career finished. The way things worked out with the ZCU, I had to make a decision. It was either get divorced or do the sensible thing and pursue my cricket elsewhere.
You arrived at Sussex in 2001 and had a great time there winning seven trophies in 12 seasons. What do you remember of that first season?
To be perfectly straight, I didn’t know where Sussex was before I went there. I had to look at it on a map when they’d signed me, even though I’d played there the year before at Hastings, to check the proximity to London. In my first year, I was filling the massive shoes of Michael Bevan, who had been there the year before. For me to do as well as Bevan had done was a bit of a shock because he was a fantastic cricketer. To win the second division of the Championship in the first year there was very special. I ended up staying for 12 years and I loved it, really loved it.
What do you think made the team that won the County Championship for the first time in the county’s history in 2003 so successful?
As a team, I think our balance was brilliant, especially when we had two overseas players who were performing so well. Whether it was Yasir Arafat or Mushtaq Ahmed, or Rava Naved and Mushy, it was a huge boost to us and the depth of our squad. We had some phenomenal local bowlers in James Kirtley and Jason Lewry, who stayed fit most of the time, and people like Robin Martin-Jenkins who gave great support to them too.
All we had to do was make a few runs and the guys seemed to bowl them out. Any team that has a good bowling attack generally wins games and we had Mushy bowling loads of overs, holding an end up, and we rotated the quicks the other end. I played in a lot of teams when we would be in the field for days so to be a part of a team that had that great bowling attack was special.
What do you think makes a successful overseas player?
Apart from the cricketing ability, firstly you’ve got to be on the park more often than not, so being relatively injury-free is important. Secondly, you’ve got to be able to get on with everybody at the club, whether that be coaches, players or members. Finally, you’ve got to be able to have fun and be seen as a guy who is not just there to play cricket but to live, breathe and eat the spirit that is in that club and that team. I think if you embrace that, you’re going to enjoy yourself. You show them that you are there to win games.
You have to have that passion and that makes a massive difference compared to some of the overseas players that I have seen who have come over and played a few games here and there and then gone. It’s not like they can get their teeth in to it. It takes a certain character to come in, even for a month, and embrace the environment and the changing room, the members of the club, and give it your all. That is what people recognise and remember. It’s not so much the runs and wickets.
You were brought up in Western Australia after moving from Rhodesia and went to the Australian Cricket Academy. How did growing up in Australia help the development of your game?
I learnt a lot at the cricket academy about how to play fast bowling and that allowed me to play well off the back foot. I was OK at it when I was a junior and I had a lot of short balls chucked at me when I was younger. Growing up on artificial wickets which were quite bouncy and then going to the WACA helped, obviously. When I was at the cricket academy, Rod Marsh was a real advocate for people playing cross-bat shots. He got Greg Chappell in and John Inverarity in, all these guys who came and talked to us about batting and helped to coach us. Sometimes you had to wear a few and it was a real good test of your character.
You played State cricket for Western Australia as well as county cricket. Can you compare the two?
I always felt the Australian stuff was tougher. That was purely because the volume of cricket in England was phenomenal. Over in Australia, you had a few days off and you had the time to rejuvenate and come back hard. The intensity was slightly higher in Australia. Talking to WA players like Adam Voges who are still playing county cricket, they are saying the intensity is better in England now, especially in Division One, and the depth of the batting in England is really good. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of difference between the six State sides here or the top six counties in England now.
You’ve spoken about how you set out to enjoy your cricket and have fun and I wonder if that was a key reason for your longevity?
I needed to have a bit of fun and a bit of humour because that took the heat off me. When you have so many bad days within your career, you have to try and enjoy it. I still play club cricket in Australia and I love it. I’ve seen the guys over the moon when they’re winning something. Their whole week is about living for the next game and when you’re like that at club cricket, you’re going to be like that at first-class or Test level. For a club cricketer to win a Premiership for their club, as opposed to winning a Championship for your county, it’s no different. It’s the same relative level and we play to have a bit of fun, for sure, but we also want to win. I loved winning games and still do.
If you had to pick out a few memories that stand out from your career, what would they be?
Winning those trophies for Sussex was probably the best feeling. Obviously making a triple hundred (335 not out) in the first Championship win, because we had never won the Championship, and to make the record highest score for Sussex at the same time, was really surprising but so special. That Championship was a dream come true.
I suppose one innings that sticks in my mind is hitting a six off the last ball at Trent Bridge to win the Sunday Pro40 League in 2008. We needed 12 an over for the last 10 overs with only two wickets in the shed and we did it. That was pretty awesome to get the guys over the line there. When you’re a youngster and you’re dreaming about hitting the last ball for six to win a game, I managed to do that. It doesn’t get any better.