Cricket: Kent's Strang medicine

The art of wrist spin in good hands as a star turn from overseas contends with a legend; Stephen Brenkley talks to the new boy following a famous Canterbury tale
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The Independent Online
Since Paul Strang arrived in the garden of England he has heard much about the deeds of Alfred Percy Freeman. This is largely because Freeman, universally known as Tich, took 3,151 Championship wickets for Kent with his leg-spin and so far Strang, who bears the sobriquet of Stump, has taken none.

Of course, the gap between Tich and Stump will narrow as the summer wears on but the young Zimbabwean will forever be bowling in the footholes of a legend. If he takes between 50 and 60 first-class wickets this season he and Kent will consider his signing a success. Freeman used to have that many by the end of May; in eight consecutive seasons he had a total of more than 200 and in 1928 captured a staggering 304.

"He's been mentioned more than once, quite a lot actually by players and spectators," Strang said with perfect affability, though without quite managing to dispel the notion that he would not mind if the word Tich were to apply in future to the number and length of Freeman's mentions in his company.

Strang is the latest exponent to climb on to the the welcome Nineties bandwagon of wrist spin. Propelled initially by Shane Warne - after some fancy groundwork on the vehicle by the Pakistani Abdul Qadir, in the Eighties - it is now well-stocked.

Strang came to the attention of English audiences and to Kent last winter when his 10 wickets in the two-match Test series between Zimbabwe and England made him the leading bowler on either side. Only in the second-innings runs chase in the first match in Bulawayo was he the victim of anything like a sustained assault and crucially even then he took two important wickets. He stands up well to a bludgeoning.

"It's always been an ambition of mine to play county cricket but it was still surprising to get the call when we were down in South Africa for a one-day tournament after the England series," he said at Canterbury last week. "I don't know what it's like over here except that there's a lot of cricket and that it's important people always pick up their game to 100 per cent."

Full-time professional cricket is new to him. Zimbabwe might be a Test nation and worthy opponents but cricket is still a minority sport. There are only two first-class sides so a circuit is impossible. Strang was a senior marketing manager whose employers obliged him by allowing time for the odd Test.

"They were tremendous but the trouble was I'd get back after the match and there'd be a pile of paperwork just waiting for me on my desk. You just had to get on with it."

Although he has an admirably wide repertoire - the conventional leg-spinner, the googly, the top-spinner are all at his disposal - he will never have played cricket at such a concentrated level as awaits him this summer. He has made a confident start without yet imposing himself on opposition batsmen.

He went wicketless in the opening Championship match against Derbyshire (which is not, though one hesitates to mention it, a feat Freeman managed often) in completely unhelpful conditions, but he has been productive and economical in the one-day games he has played. If he is concerned about the number of overs he is likely to have to bowl over the next five months, his obvious excitement conceals it.

"It's just experience and the more experience I get the better bowler I should be. I played league cricket in Birmingham last year but that's a bit different. I had arranged to go and play for Wallasey in the Liverpool Combination this summer but then the Kent offer came so my brother Bryan [the Zimbabwean Test left-arm swing bowler] has gone there instead."

Strang, whose father was born in Devon, is 26 and though he is 5ft 9in tall he looks slight of build. He is a menacing fielder anywhere and a thoroughly handy batsman with a Test hundred to his name, and whose first innings for Kent was 69. "I've always considered myself a bowler who bats, not an all-rounder," he said.

With the left-arm spin of Min Patel, briefly of England, also in Kent's attack this summer the pitches at Canterbury should provide turn and bounce late in matches. Strang looks extremely capable of extending, at last, a wonderful leg-spinning tradition.

So far, he has been apprised only of Freeman's contribution to the cause. But soon, when he has settled in at Canterbury, he can expect to be told of C S "Father" Marriott, the schoolmaster leg-spinner who played only in the month of August but still managed to take 711 wickets at 20.11 runs each including 11 in his solitary Test, and Doug Wright whose seven hat-tricks still stand as a world record.