England’s cricketers won’t be the only ones adapting to life under a new regime over the next few months. Surrey’s players will return from their winter to face an array of new coaches and no fewer than 5 other counties have undergone what, in management speak, might be termed ‘high-end structural realignment’.
Sussex lost it’s head coach four years ago (his name was Peter Moores – you might remember him) and everyone associated with the club worried the results would suffer as players adapted to the new ideas and style of the replacement. In our case however, Moores was substituted by the then second team coach, Mark Robinson.
Being familiar with the structure that Moores had set up so successfully, Robinson was intelligent enough not to alter too much. Instead, subtle changes were made. We were given more autonomy during training sessions. Team meetings were shorter, sharper but more frequent. Practice sessions were more relevant to the upcoming match (if we were to face Steve Harmison, for example, everyone would have to face the bowling machine cranked up to 90 mph and aimed at our throats).
The fundamentals, however, stayed the same. We were reminded of the code of conduct, pride and passion required to represent our county. The bowlers were to concentrate on the basics of line and length with a bit of aggression thrown into the mix. The batsmen should continue to concentrate on watching the ball and nothing else. And, perhaps most crucially, we were to wrap cotton wool around our match-winner, Mushtaq Ahmed. All these things had helped the team win the championship in 2003 and it would have been a foolish man who altered the status quo just for the sake of it.
The strategy bore fruit immediately. Sussex won the championship in 2006 and 2007, Robinson’s first two seasons, and added the C&G and Pro40 Trophies in 2006 and 2008.
Sussex’s change in coach was forced on them somewhat by Moores’s elevation to the England ranks. Most of the changes to the county set-ups in 2009, however, have occurred as a result of disappointing team performances and the new coaches might have to be somewhat less subtle in their modifications.
How Chris Adams copes with the multi-egoed Surrey team will be interesting to follow. Surrey have a number of very talented cricketers on their books who have underperformed considerably over the past few years (Mark Ramprakash aside) and, being an uncompromising leader, Adams will want to rock the boat a little. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a marked upturn in their performances early next season. When football teams change manager it often spurs the players on as they try to impress the new Gaffer. But the Surrey players need to fully embrace any changes Adams makes and whether they do will be key to their future success.
The role of the head coach and his minions during a long county season should not be underestimated. Some people might be of the opinion that county cricket is a comfortable world full of cosseted, precious egos but, for the most part that is unfair. It is hard graft much of the time and all players need the security that strong, stable leadership can deliver.
Stable is not a word I’d use to describe England’s leadership of recent times and it will be intriguing to see how they cope in the West Indies. Andrew Strauss might think he can organise training sessions, team meetings and on-field tactics without a head coach to share the burden but it will this extra responsibility affect his form? If he can maintain his form, or perhaps more importantly his confidence, his players will respond positively. If there is any sense amongst the ranks that the captain is not in total control of the situation the whispers and dreaded ‘cliques’ that clearly destabilised the team will quickly reappear.
Robin Martin-Jenkins is an allrounder with Sussex