The hunt for India's coach June 5, 2007

A surprise choice

A jovial John Emburey during his time in the England coaching set-up © Getty Images
The announcement that John Emburey is to be interviewed in connection with the vacant job as India's coach will have raised more than a few eyebrows among the Middlesex faithful, given his moderate record at county level.

As a player, Emburey was extremely popular at Lord's, a London boy with no pretences who was a stalwart of the side for almost two decades. He was solid rather than spectacular - much like the Ashley Giles of his generation - a rather negative offspinner and effective lower-order batsman. He was good enough to play 64 Tests for England - two as captain - and nobody ever questioned his commitment.

At the end of his playing career he was keen to go into coaching and so left Middlesex, where it was clear that Mike Gatting was being groomed as Don Bennett's successor. He joined Northamptonshire as player-coach in 1995 - he had offers from six counties, had been appointed as England A manager that winter, and Ray Illingworth had made public his view that Emburey was his choice as a future chairman of selectors. The future looked bright, all the more so when the ECB approached him in the spring of 1996 to ask he wanted to throw his hat into the ring for the vacant post as England coach.

But Northamptonshire was a county in crisis, and in three years Emburey was unable to lift the side out of the bottom four of the Championship, although in fairness it would have taken someone exceptional to turn things round. It later emerged that shortly before he was sacked with a year of his contract to run he had been moved from coach to director of cricket.

"Emburey's indecision has only added to the confusion," wrote David Hopps in The Guardian. "In first-class matches, 32 players have been used during his three seasons in charge, and last season responsibility for team selection switched between himself and the captain."

Whereas in 1996 he had been in demand, after his spell at Wantage Road the offers did not flood in. In 2001 he accepted a role as coach of Berkshire, a Minor County, with an intention of moving to Australia at the end of the season. But those plans were shelved when Middlesex appointed him as their third coach in as many years before he had even started with Berkshire.

He secured promotion to the top flight of the Championship in his second season, but Middlesex never built on that and after the narrowest of escapes in 2005, they were relegated after what many considered the county's worst season of all time. They finished bottom of the table in both the Championship and the one-day National League.

In an echo of what happened at Northamptonshire, Emburey had by then become director of cricket, and at the start of 2007 Richard Pybus was brought in as first-team coach with Emburey taking charge of cricket development at all levels.

His lack of success at two counties, and the rather similar manner in which both roles ended, suggested that his future contribution will be away from direct day-to-day first-team coaching. All that makes India's interest surprising, unless all they were merely seeking to add substance to a one-horse race.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo