How has England's ODI form improved so quickly?
We've been very clinical. In the past we, and a few other teams, have tried to mix and match, so we would have guys who batted and bowled a bit, but one of the bowlers might disappear or we might not score enough runs. Now we have five really good bowlers and the batsmen are scoring hundreds - we scored four in the series against Pakistan in the UAE - and we've pretty much carried on against Australia. So it sounds simple, but it's really just about people doing their jobs. But part of it is just about winning. It makes it look as if we know what we're doing - and I think we are going in the right direction - but you know, Australia haven't lost the series yet: they could still come back.
While most other teams utilise limited-overs specialists, the England side is increasingly similar to the Test team, isn't it?
For us the introduction of two new balls has been okay. We just get on with it and do what we do best. We just bat. And you just have to look at this series to see why: you won't get a tougher time to open the batting in an ODI than it was against Australia at Lord's the other day. But we were 74 without loss. That opening partnership was fantastic. And it wasn't so different in Southampton: the ball was nipping around early on, but we got through that and Ian Bell went on to score a magnificent century.
It will help us in the sub-continent, too. The ball will never be more than 25 overs old, so it will stay nice and hard and we'll have nice, quick outfields.
So England are ahead of the game for the 2013 Champions Trophy and the 2015 World Cup?
Maybe. These things are magnified when you're winning. We have a very determined changing room led by a very determined coaching staff. The desire for success is huge. And I'm not doubting that we have a talented squad with some potential and the future is exciting. But let's not get carried away. Things can turn around very quickly in cricket. Yes, we've won eight ODIs in a row, which is great, and we've won six successive ODI series at home, which is great, but I don't think it's a good idea to look too far ahead.
Are you still improving as a limited-overs batsman? Are you aiming to improve your strike rate?
We don't really concentrate on strike rate. Our job is more to ensure we go at the right tempo to give us the best chance of reaching the target we've been set or of the total we think is par. Sometimes we have to attack the new ball; other times we have to defend the new ball and attack at the back end. An important part of the job of the top three is weighing up what a good total is. And it's important we have players like Eoin Morgan and Craig Kieswetter who can come in and give the innings a late boost. Morgan was unbelievably good at Lord's. And, bearing in mind how much the pitch improved in the second half of the day, we did very well to win that game. Scoring 250 at The Oval was good, too: if you'd said ten years ago that England would chase down 250 to beat Australia, people would have thought you were mad.
How do you react to the accusation that you can be a selfish batsman?
Look, there's a balance between being responsible and not leaving it to the people after you to get the runs. Sometimes I might get that balance wrong. But no one thinks "I'll bat for 20 overs and leave it to the rest of the team to bat the other 30", do they? I'm aware that once you're in, the runs can come quickly - you can score 60 or 70 runs in ten overs without taking many risks - but it can be much harder for a new batsman coming in. I always want to bat through, but it's how you go about it and construct your innings.
Was it a blessing in disguise that you were dropped from England T20 side?
I'm actually okay with how it is at the moment. If I get picked for England's T20 side, then great, but I don't think I will be, as I don't get to play T20 anymore. But if there were three or four injuries and I was asked, then I'd give it a crack.
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|"I'd have a good month as a county cricket, but then I'd be thinking to myself, 'Right, I have to kick on', and I'd have a bad month. It was like I was running into a brick wall" |
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So you don't worry about not playing in the IPL? You didn't even enter the last auction.
Well, with the workload we have, why would I?
Because the money on offer is fantastic.
And that's a very valid reason. We all have to make money during the brief period we're at the top of the game. But I'm pretty relaxed about it. I think with the availability we have, it's pretty unlikely I'd have been bought, and I really needed that break.
Your reputation as a T20 player isn't as high as it might be. You set a record for the most runs in a domestic T20 season in 2009 but that seems to be forgotten.
Yeah, I knew that. Jimmy Adams of Hampshire broke it the next year, but he played 16 games. I played ten or 11.
Look, being left out of England's T20 side has worked quite well for me. Strike rate is important in T20 - of course it is - but the thing I look at is whether the team won. When I scored runs, the team tended to win. It's the same way I look at ODIs and Tests: did I help the team win or not? If you look at my career - with England or Warwickshire - the team have tended to win when I've done well.
Ashley Giles has had a huge impact on your career, hasn't he?
Massive, yes. Mainly from when he became Warwickshire coach. I had a stinker in county cricket in 2007 and we were relegated in both competitions. Gilo took over at Warwickshire, we sat down and he gave me some advice. He basically said that he had experienced success and failure in his career and he thought I was going about my cricket in the wrong way. We had a chat and came up with a new plan about how to tackle things.
Then I went on holiday to San Francisco and I got a text from Guy Jackson, who was the manager of the Lions team at the time. It said I'd been selected to go to India for six weeks. I sent a text back asking if he'd got the right person. I thought they had the wrong number. I had no idea why they'd selected me. I'd just had a horrendous season. But it was the perfect time for me. I had the chance to start again. It was brilliant. I had this new focus instilled by Gilo, and if you really want to get away from things and concentrate on cricket, there is nowhere better than India. I wasn't exactly a new person, but I was approaching my cricket and the way I saw success differently. I trained with more attention to detail and threw myself into it. That was the start of everything, really.
Is it fair to say that his advice was about being more process- than results-driven and about focusing more on team success than individual success?
Yeah. I always felt I had the talent but that I didn't know how to harness it. I'd have a good month as a county cricket, but then I'd be thinking to myself, "Right, I have to kick on" and I'd have a bad month. It was like I was running into a brick wall.
So by focusing on the processes, you take the pressure off the end results. You do everything you can to give yourself the best chance of success, but you accept that it won't always happen. Sometimes when you're in great form, you nick one, and when you're not, you can miss it and you live on. That can drive you crazy if you let it. So you train hard and do everything right and let the results look after themselves a bit.
You talk about putting the team first: I was actually putting myself under too much pressure. I was trying to take all the responsibility myself.
Do you recall a game against Northants at the start of 2008, when you finished unbeaten on 60? Giles was furious…
I remember that really well. We scored about 290 in a 50-over game and lost. They smashed us. Gilo kicked off and we had a real argument. It was a good lesson. I thought I was going about it in the right way, but looking back now, I can see I had it completely wrong. I should have kicked on much earlier. I didn't judge it right, but actually it was because I was taking on too much responsibility for the team. I thought I was the one who had to score the runs and that it would be a bit of a disaster if I was out. That game was all part of the learning curve.
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|At Newlands in 2010. "I don't think the South Africa team see me as a target any more than anyone else" © Getty Images |
When you see Eoin Morgan bat, are you tempted to emulate any of the things he does?
Not really. You can learn new tricks, but I'm a pretty orthodox player and he's a pretty unorthodox player. He plays shots than no one else can. As a team, it's important to have a mix of players, but I'm not sure I would be playing to my strengths if I tried to be something I'm not. It would be to the detriment of me and the team.
Does the prospect of a series against South Africa put you under more pressure?
I feel less pressure. It's going to be more focused on the outcome, not individual battles - there won't be so much emphasis on personal success or failure.
The way some people make play of your South African background is pretty tedious, isn't it?
Oh, yes. It's overplayed, for sure. I don't think they - the South Africa team - see me as a target any more than anyone else. I don't get any more sledging from them on the pitch than anyone else. It's fine.
Some spectators go on about it. You should hear the comments when I'm fielding. I guess they're trying to be funny, or clever. They're not either of those things. But basically it's fine. Jacques Kallis will be asked about why he didn't do well here on his last tour as much as I'll be asked about my last tour there.
Some feel they got to you at the end of the last tour of South Africa…
There was a whole lot of rubbish written about that. People tried to read more into things because I was born in South Africa. Basically I had one bad Test at the end of a long tour. But it made a more juicy story to say they had got to me or to try to link the fact that I was born in South Africa. Three batsmen had lower averages than me in that series, so how would that make sense? It was the end of a long tour and I had one poor game against a very good attack on a difficult pitch. No more and no less.
I know there was some rubbish spoken about me celebrating with the South Africa team when they were last here, but it never happened. I don't know where that came from.
This series is being billed as particularly important. But when it's finished, we'll all say the same about the India tour and then the same about the Ashes. How do you see it?
Every single series is tough. Bangladesh in Bangladesh is tough. It would be silly to prioritise anything. The thought of challenging myself against the South Africa attack is brilliant. So is the thought of playing Australia and going to India. Playing international cricket is brilliant and tough at the same time. You'd be foolish to think that any series was going to be any easier or any less important.
Leaving South Africa must have been a tough decision. You were part of the system there and seemed destined to take your place in their international side.
It just felt right to come to England. It was one of those lucky times when all sorts of different things fell into place. It wasn't really about playing county cricket; it was about trying to become the best cricketer I could be. I'd played three years of first-class cricket in South Africa and I just felt I wasn't developing the way I wanted. I didn't think I was giving myself the best chance to be the best cricketer I could be.
I was too comfortable. I was living every boy's dream - living in Cape Town and playing for Western Province - but there were lots of distractions. We'd go to the beach at the end of practice every day. Here in England there was more emphasis on cricket.
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|"I feel completely British. I went back to South Africa for my brother's wedding in April last year and I didn't enjoy it at all in Cape Town" |
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Bob Woolmer and Neil Carter played a part in bringing you to Edgbaston, didn't they?
Yes, more so Bob. He knew about my UK passport from when I was about 15 and in the early 2000s he said, "Come and play county cricket." I knew him from Cape Town because, even when he was national coach, he would come into the townships and run coaching sessions. I ran some of those alongside him. Weird, really: the coaches were Bob Woolmer, Daryll Cullinan and me. And I was 15. Kids used to be gutted when they were allocated me!
So yes, you're right: when you play South Africa Under-15 and South Africa Under-19, which I did for two years, you are seen as part of the system. You're in the line, waiting to play for the national team. But Eric Simons, who was Western Province coach at the time, said, "As your coach I have to advise you to stay, but as a father figure, I'd say go to England as you're going to develop more there."
What do you say to those people who call you a mercenary?
I'd say, "Do they see me putting my pounds in a South African bank account?" And the answer is no. And do they see me buying property outside England? Or planning on a future elsewhere? No. I'm thinking about which school my daughter is going to go to here.
It's quite evident when someone is a mercenary. People can sniff it from a mile away. Of course you get people who come here for a short time and then go back - people like Jacques Rudolph and Vaughn van Jaarsveld - who come here for a little while and then head back. And that's fine. People have to earn a living. But it's not what I've done.
English cricketers are very proud of their counties and of the county cricket they've come through. None more so than me. I'm very proud of coming through the Warwickshire system. I see myself as a Warwickshire player and I have an awful lot to thank the club for. I'm privileged and proud of the upbringing I had in South Africa, but the biggest strides I made were at Warwickshire.
Do you feel British, South African or do you feel like a dual national?
I feel completely British. I went back to South Africa for my brother's wedding in April last year and I didn't enjoy it at all in Cape Town.
Surely you prefer the climate in South Africa?
No, I don't mind the rain. You get some good days here. Let me tell you: when the sun shines, there is no better country in the world than England. You can have the mountains and the oceans, but May and June in England are perfect. There's nowhere better. Every time I've been back to Cape Town - for weddings, a holiday or whatever - I've always moved my flight so I can go home earlier. It's nothing to do with crime or political reasons. I just didn't enjoy being away from home. And home is Birmingham.
Is the length of the tours a problem for you?
Not really. You have to find a way to cope. But that is why that South African tour became so tough. Those last two Tests were extremely difficult. To go on a first tour to South Africa and peak for ten weeks - which I almost did - is pretty tough. People forget I did well in the limited-overs games or that I played well in the first couple of Tests. I reckon I peaked for about eight weeks, which isn't so bad. But then I went on the Ashes and I peaked for a lot longer, so you get used to it. Then, this winter, we went to the UAE and then to Sri Lanka. I was doing well at the back end of the tour. These things are a learning curve.
Why don't you field in the slips anymore? In your first full season in England, in 2004, you were very good there.
Yeah, I was. But I've gone the other way now. I think about hitting the stumps and catching high balls. Slip fielding is a specialist position and you become comfortable in a place. It's a question of practise.