Monday 6 August 2007

Houghton — time for reflection

Itayi Viriri

April 30, 2000

AFTER serving Zimbabwean cricket for over two decades, Dave Houghton has stepped down as national team coach. The Standard sought him out to gain some insight into his views, memories and plans for the future. In a wide ranging interview, Houghton explained why he has opted to quit the national team before the expiry of his contract.

"Having had such a torrid last few months during which we lost most of our matches, especially after the highs of the World Cup, I felt I was not getting through to them.The potential is certainly there, but there was the need for someone else to motivate the players," said Houghton

He is confident that the cricket team, which is touring England at the moment, will improve on its showing in the West Indies. "We really deserved better luck, especially in the first Test where we only needed 99 runs from a whole day's play to win or in the second Test where we were on top for the first two days but lost the match at the end," he said. He said his team had lacked the positive mind frame to win the two Tests but he wished them all the best in the England tour. "They deserve a little bit of luck every now and then," he said.

As to his life after the national team, Houghton says he will now focus his energies on nurturing young talent in the schools and at the CFX Cricket Academy, a brainchild of his. "But before I do that, I will be abroad doing commentary work during Zimbabwe's England tour and spending time with my daughter, Kirsty, who will be off to university in the United States where she will study journalism."

Houghton says he is looking forward to spending more time with other members of his family--his wife, Shelly, and two other daughters, Carly, a prospective medical student, and Jamie, who is in her last year of junior school.

Such is his dedication to his family that he once returned home from the World Series Cup in Australia to be with his family for Christmas.

Looking back, Houghton says the most memorable highlights of his career included the team's win of the Test series in Pakistan at the end of 1998 and of course, the team's great achievement in reaching the Super Six stage at last year's World Cup. Said Houghton: "My time as coach at Worcestershire was also very good for we reached two finals at Lord's, and won all of them."

During his four years at the helm of the English county side, Houghton steered them from 14th in 1994, to third position in the national county league, at the time of his departure in 1997.

However, he will never forget the sport in which he has for long been involved. "Cricket has been fantastic to me, with all that travel all over the world. It's one of the best careers in the world and I am glad that I have been part of Zimbabwe's transition to Test status. Mike Procter once said playing cricket was like being on holiday all your life."

Surprisingly, Houghton admits that though he has travelled the world over, he has not had the chance to really travel across Zimbabwe and he now intends to rectify that anomaly.

One of the ringing calls during his tenure as coach was for the inclusion of young players to the side, especially during the times when some of the established players were performing badly.

Houghton says whilst the future of Zimbabwean cricket lies in the hands of the young and talented prospects, the old players still have a very important role to play.

"The older players have been around since our Test induction and they are like the pioneers. They are needed to steer these young players through the rigours of international cricket as the margins of error at that level are very little."

Houghton believes Tatenda Taibu is an outstanding talent with the potential to be one of Zimbabwe's leading batsmen and wicket keepers.

He also feels that Mluleki Nkala is a young player with the potential to become a very reliable all rounder. The two players are currently with the tour party in England and should get a chance to play in some of the matches especially those in the triangular series.

Having always advocated for a strong first class cricket base for the national team, Houghton says it is encouraging to see that his dreams are gaining fruition.

"In fact, the ideal situation would be to have all the national team players playing for their respective domestic teams when they are not involved in international cricket."

This, he says, would go a long towards raising the standards of the country's domestic cricket and providing a larger pool of players from which to select the Test players.

Houghton says there is a great need to build more cricket clubs across the country other tan merely in the urban areas.

Zimbabwe Cricket Union chief, Dave Ellman Brown summed up Houghton's role in Zimbabwean cricket in these words: "His has been an outstanding contributor to the sport and we have seen him as a leading batsman/wicket keeper, captain and coach and of course, there his role in the setting up of the cricket academy."

He added: "He has served the country for more than two decades and is an internationally respected figure, who was in fact recently made an International Cricket Council ambassador along with the likes of Graeme Pollock and Mike Procter."

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