April 15, 2013

Galey Lad, why can't we have a Third Man?

Dave Morton
Andrew Gale, Yorkshire's captain, not as wedded to a third man as some observers in the North-East Stand  © PA Photos
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Grumbling: that's something we old codgers do well. We climb the battleship-grey metal stairs to the top of the North-East Stand, which costs us more effort than a stroll up Pen-y-ghent used to, and then - having recovered, eventually - we have a right good old moan.

Our favourite topic is No Third Man. You must admit we have a point. The opposition are (typically) 93-0 at lunch and 17 fours have already been scored down there. We also like to get stuck into the coaches from time to time. Young Moin Ashraf has bowled a no ball. Why aren't they doing their job?

Heaven forbid that our team should ever lose a game!

Flippancy apart, I do believe there's a topic worthy of discussion here, not specifically a Yorkshire problem, though I will use mainly Yorkshire examples. I am questioning the role of the coach in cricket which is, uniquely, both an individual and a team game.

In his 1949 autobiography Cricket Is My Life, Len Hutton remembers his 14-year-old self, trudging though February snow to the Headingley indoor nets. There, he is watched by the great, the legendary, George Hirst.

"Well played. Try to improve on that."

Some of us think that should be the template for coaches everywhere. Observe, encourage, otherwise say nowt!

However, they do get paid, and such a philosophy might set the faceless, heartless accountants to wonder whether the county really needs this man. George Who? Nor is every young hopeful who turns up to county nets Len Hutton. Not even in Yorkshire.

The result is that coaches 'fiddle' with players' techniques and actions. It is a generally accepted story that Jimmy Anderson, who had gone quickly from club to international cricket, suffered at the hands of well-meaning coaches. Only when he reverted to his natural action did he recover his pace and rhythm.

Now he is a top performer, chasing FST's 307 Test victims, albeit at an average that Fred would have disdained. Others have never recovered.

It seems to me axiomatic that players under a coach's tutelage should improve; they should be better performers at 22 than they were at 19. Yes, there are other factors, such as the player's attitude and lifestyle, but in general that should be the case.

If too many players don't improve or, even worse, fall in standard of performance, we are entitled to ask questions.

Remember Richard Dawson, a promising offspinner who was chosen as back-up to Ashley Giles for the 2002/03 Ashes tour? He found himself thrust into the firing line when Giles was injured, and did passably well in a slaughtered England team. However, his bowling seemed to go rapidly downhill from that high point in his life.

At some stage he started waving his arms about during his run-up. Purity and simplicity had been lost. Was this down to his coaches, England or Yorkshire, or just something that had crept into the lad's game? Whatever, a thoughtful young man who had been widely touted as future county captain gradually lost effectiveness and disappeared from the scene.

In recent times we have seen two more spinners return from England involvement, apparently unable to bowl as they had previously. David Wainwright, crowd favourite and hero of many a rearguard battle, seemed to have 'lost' his action at the start of the 2010 season. The previous September, he had saved us from relegation with a wonderful all-round performance at Hove; now he was out of the side and drifting towards Derbyshire.

Adil Rashid is having problems recapturing the spin and accuracy that made him a teenage sensation. Is this the fault of Mushtaq Ahmed or Ottis Gibson? Or the various Yorkshire coaches? Or must the player himself take responsibility?

Oliver Hannon-Dalby is an immensely tall bowler of pace. I remember him terrorising 2nd XI batsmen, especially the top-order of Lancashire in the 2009 40-over final on a spicy Scarborough track. Good high action and quite nippy, just needed to 'fill out' a bit…..then watch out at first-class level, too.

Given his chance the following season, he started well. But gradually his action changed. To my amateur eyes it went in two seasons from the pleasing to the downright ugly. Like Dawson before him he started doing strange things with his hands and arms. And then he was out of the team.

We shall follow his progress at Edgbaston with interest. If he succeeds there, as Wainwright has at Derbyshire so far, is that an indictment of the Yorkshire coaching? Or are we exaggerating the importance of coaches?

The proliferation of the coach species would suggest not. They have reached almost plague proportions at international level. Someone important must think they make a difference.

For sure, the international coach will know the game, but can he know the new player, and what makes him tick? Andy Flower was reported never to have seen Joe Root bat, and Ashley Giles expressed surprise at how good he was.

"A good batsman from Yorkshire? Who ever heard of such a thing?"

Lee Westwood might roll up for the Ryder Cup with his personal coach in tow. What would happen if a young batsman turned up for England nets with a trusted advisor, the guy who had taken him from talented teen to potential star? The man who actually knew the boy's game inside out, if not the nuances of playing at the higher level.

"I'm not listening to you, Andy Flower, I'm listening to my dad" - might not be a great career move, do you think?

All I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure the game of cricket has quite come to terms with the role of coach. I've given a few examples where things have gone wrong. There are possibly as many where a coach has put a struggling player back on track, or inspired a team to success, but how do you evaluate the worth of a particular coach? Committee men think they can. They hire and fire coaches, after all.

Only one thing I am sure of. We need a third man, Galey.

[Postscript: I wrote the above piece before the dismal defeat against Sussex. As you can imagine, there has been much gnashing of teeth in the Broad Acres, and our coaches have come in for their share of the flak. Well, it goes with the territory, especially when 'their' coach is a former player of ours, and a man renowned for rehabilitation of failing cricketers. But let's just stay calm, lads. One down, fifteen to go. Wilfred wouldn't have panicked, would he? Nor Herbert, or Hedley or Len.]

Dave Morton, now retired, grew up worshipping the great Yorkshire team of the 1950s

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Posted by albertcordingley on (April 16, 2013, 21:26 GMT)

Oh one more thing, I admire your calmness. Those great men you mention may not have panicked but I do! Do you think Yorkshire should try for Rudolph or would that be a panic/ knee-jerk reaction? ? Ive posted that idea on the Corridor of Uncertainty but have been met with a lukewarm reception. Why dont you write a piece about Yorkshire's dalliances with overseas cricketers? Who was your favourite? Yuvraj, Blewett or Naved? Do you think Yorkshire should stick to county born or bred men only? Would you try and include cricketers from 'lost' Yorkshire areas such as Saddleworth, West Craven and Dentdale not to mention upper Teesdale!! I see you live in Manchester, you could 'scout' in Saddleworth and West Craven.

Posted by Kenny_Shovel on (April 16, 2013, 10:37 GMT)

What makes things worse is Yorkshire performed so poorly on the first three days there wasn't enough of the game left to make it worth the trip on Saturday when supporters like myself were able to attend.

Still, nice to read your thoughts again, Dave. Keep the articles coming.

Posted by TripleCenturian on (April 15, 2013, 21:14 GMT)

The thing is, Yorkshire had a decent coach who churned out a battery of decent seamers, most of whom went on to play for England. Whilst never a test player himself, Steve Oldham was responsible for the progression to Enland ranks of Hoggard, Gough, Silverwood and then for some reason Yorkshire involved John Blain in the coaching set up and the supply line has stalled to the extent we have to borrow Harmison and sign Brooks and Olunkett. It's not just the England coaches who can muck up a bowler. The wrong coaches at a county can also make a pigs purse out of a silk ear. Yet, Robbo is probably the modern equivalent of Esso. Not quite good enough to be a county regular but a reliable trundlers on his day. However, a damn good coach and you wonder if Jordan and Anyons improvement is due to Robbo having a better idea of seam bowling than Adams.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Morton
Dave Morton grew up watching and worshipping the powerful Yorkshire team of the 1950s. However, he left Yorkshire in his early teens and subsequently played nearly all his club cricket in the Manchester area. Now retired, from work and (sadly) from cricket, he spends his summers following Yorkshire in the County Championship, and his winters invariably include an England tour. Favourite ground in the world: Scarborough.

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