ZIMBABWE cricket team coach Heath Streak has engaged the services of respected South African mental strength coach, motivational speaker and trainer Christo Spies in a bid to boost the team’s mental toughness ahead of next month’s One-Day International (ODI) series against Afghanistan.
Spies, who has worked with South Africa’s top companies and sportspersons, spent most this week with both the national ‘A’ team who are in camp for the Afghanistan ‘A’ tour which begins today and the senior national squad who are also in camp ahead of their return to action early next month.
Streak said he was happy with Spies’ sessions with his charges, who have in the past exhibited a distinct lack of mental toughness and big-match temperament at crucial periods in important matches.
“It’s been really enjoyable and I believe the guys have benefitted a lot out of it,” Streak told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday. “Obviously in Zimbabwean sport it’s something new but hopefully the guys will be able to put some of the things they learnt into practice in game situations going forward,” he said.
The former Zimbabwe captain believes mental strength and focus is as important as technique in international cricket just as it is in modern professional sport in general.
“I don’t think people understand the pressure of performing at the highest level when you’re playing for your country and the expectations surrounding that. Cricket is also a career for these guys and they have a lot of things that they need to deal with which have a bearing on how they perform.
“I think the guys have grasped an aspect of the game they never really experienced before. It involves so many aspects such as how to manage their routines or how to handle situations when they are under pressure as well as technics on how to relax, refocus amongst other issues, so generally it has been very helpful,” Streak said.
Streak’s decision to engage a mental strength coach comes after former national team seam bowler Gary Brent suggested recently the need for Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) to engage a sports psychologist in an interview with our sister paper The Standard.
Brent, who runs the renowned Howzat Academy together with national team fitness coach Sean Bell, said: “I truly believe that we [ZC] need a sports psychologist. A lot of people think it’s hogwash but it has been proven that sport psychologists, mental toughness and training are a massive part of sport. That’s one area we have neglected for a long time and we could improve since we have big crossroads ahead of us; because if we fail to qualify for the 2019 World Cup we are in serious trouble.”
Zimbabwe, who last played international cricket in November—a 50-over tri-series with the West Indies and Sri Lanka—will play five ODIs against Afghanistan next month.
Afghanistan are scheduled to arrive in Harare on February 13 before the first game on February 16 at Harare Sports Club.
However, before that Zimbabwe and Afghanistan’s ‘A’ teams will also play a five-match one-day series in the capital from today to February 5, where the hosts are expected to give opportunities to some of the young and up-and-coming players.
“It’s a pretty young side (for the ‘A’ series) because we’ve also a few youngsters who have come from the Under-19 set-up and other players who are returning from injuries so we’re really looking forward to that. We also have a few guys who were part of the national team like PJ Moor and Tarisai Musakanda, Carl Mumba, Neville Madziva and Tendai Chatara and it’s a good opportunity for them to get into good form,” Streak said.
Zimbabwe last played Afghanistan in a bilateral series in January last year in the United Arab Emirates with the latter winning the five ODI series 3-2 before another 2-0 series win in the Twenty20 International (T20I) series.
The Asians, who are yet to lose a series against Zimbabwe, last toured the country in October 2015 where they humiliated the then Dav Whatmore-coached side by clinching the ODI and T20I series 3-2 and 2-0 respectively.