Matt Walker already has no regrets about deciding to call time on a first-class playing career spanning two decades in favour of the role as batting coach at Essex where he has spent his last three years.
Last November, Walker was offered and readily accepted the coaching role when Graham Gooch decided to move back into the England set-up on a permanent basis. “Opportunities such as the one I’ve been given don’t come around every day of the week and I felt very honoured and flattered to have been asked to take on the role,” he said.
Now 38, the left-hander who joined Essex in 2009 after being surprisingly released by Kent with whom he had made his debut in 1992, is adapting to his new cricketing lifestyle with typical enthusiasm. “I’m really enjoying the coaching side and putting all my energies into working with other players,” he said. “It’s exciting and a big change from having to concentrate on my own game.”
Walker played 223 first-class matches, scoring 12,197 runs at an average of 36.08, and also made 285 appearances in List A one-day matches that brought him a further 6,269 runs. So does he not have any regrets at all about his retirement decision?
“I haven’t really had time to look back and wonder whether or not I could have gone on playing for another year or two because I’ve been so involved with the coaching role,” he added.
“Maybe it might hit me when we go outside to start pre-season work or more likely when we play our first match, and it would probably be unnatural if it didn’t. I’m sure that, deep down, I’ll miss it because you always think that you can go on and on. As a player, you really get a buzz when you walk out to play in that first game of the season because your ambitions and hopes both as an individual and as a team are always so high.
“But now I look at the bigger picture. For me, the new excitement will come from seeing the players that I’ve been working hard with performing well and developing their careers and succeeding.
“I did start to have a few niggling injuries last year and, with the talent we have in the squad at Essex, I think the timing was perfect for me to change roles.”
In fact, Walker has still been registered as a player by the county although he only sees a return to playing in an extreme emergency. “I can understand the reasoning, should we have a run of injuries for example, but hopefully that situation won’t arise and we have enough talent throughout the squad to address any problems.
“I couldn’t have asked for any more from the game during the years I played. Yes, there were a few tough times but generally there were so many wonderful experiences. I was playing sport, playing professional cricket in some great teams and it was a blast.
“I loved every minute of it but all my concentration now is on the coaching role rather than playing and I see part of my job as developing that young talent to ensure they are putting pressure on the older players for a place in the team.”
Head coach Paul Grayson has said he is anxious for the team to win promotion in the County Championship and Walker accepts that he has serious work ahead as batting coach if they are to realise that ambition.
“There have been a number of good individual innings in the past two or three years but collectively we’ve not put as many runs on the board as we would have liked or needed,” he added.
“Players are judged on runs and we haven’t got enough of them as a batting unit. Hopefully next season will be different.”