July 8, 2001

New English Women's coach promises bright future

"We'll be in the finals."

So says England Women's new Australian coach, John Harmer. "I'm confident enough to say that, given the right preparation, we can develop the girls enough to be competitive next year," the ex-Australia coach expanded. "And I don't mean just competitive. I mean winning games."

This is a big call, given that England were a disappointing fifth in the 2000/1 World Cup, and had just been whitewashed by the Australian team Harmer coached from 1993-2000.

In fact, Harmer, a likeable and thoroughly modern coach, has left the Australian team in a pretty good state. He modestly admits, "They've won the majority of their games over a number of years." This includes the 1997 World Cup and the runners-up spot in 2000. He has been described as the most successful coach in the women's game and this tempted England to approach, then appoint the 59-year-old after the tantalisingly close defeat in Christchurch last December.

But Harmer's thoughts are now all of England. "I think the team has a long way to go in lots of areas. That's for sure," the New South Walian admits laconically. However, Harmer wants to focus on the positive. "They are certainly not lacking enthusiasm or endeavour. The players have got a lot of ability. It's just a matter of them understanding what they're doing, when they're doing it, why they're doing it."

Herein lies Harmer's technical expertise. The former teacher published his first book, Biomechanics in Physical Education, back in 1971, when only one (36-year-old Clare Taylor) of the current England team had been born. He explained to CricInfo, "The knowledge of biomechanics helps any sportsperson. As time goes on and we're looking at sports from a more scientific approach, everybody is realising understanding the skill that they're doing, why they are doing it and how they can make adjustments to it if the skill's not going correctly."

He emphasises, "If they haven't got the knowledge behind them, then basically, in a biomechanics sense they can't make those adjustments. It's just a very important part of today's sports," he concludes.

The Australian Cricket Board, New Zealand Cricket Board, the Victorian Institute for Sport, and Pace Australia all have benefited from the Australian Coach of the Year 1998 finalist's skills. Now it's England's turn.

England captain, Clare Connor, is delighted with the appointment. "He's very innovative and he will have the immediate respect of the squad because of what he has achieved with the Australians, so we are looking forward to him coming."

Harmer officially started the role on July 1st this year, but Jane Powell, who captained England to the 1989 and 1991 European Cup wins, is guiding Connor's women until then. Powell will then revert to the assistant coach job.

England's World Cup coach, Paul Farbrace, was not keen to take on the new Sport England/ECB Performance Plan funded full-time position after New Zealand. Hence, "a bit of background work," in Harmer's words, and the approach by the ECB to appoint him as coach after the Christchurch competition.

Harmer will be based at Edgbaston, and as such will be able to work with his other passion. "I've got a love of coach education as well as for coaching players," he says. "People don't seem to realise that the coach needs some form of satisfaction themselves in what they're doing. My view is that I'm not only here for the players. I'm here for the players to do well, but I've got to feel that there's a challenge and I've got something to contribute."

As for the rest of the season, Harmer, who played for Victoria Second Eleven back in 1960/1, is as positive as ever. "The future's rosy. It's an exciting time for me. It's a challenge for me to come over and take over a team that's not had a lot of success in the last four or five years and that has been a little bit disappointing from lots of points of view."

Next season a home triangular tournament with India and New Zealand (remember, against the World Champions Harmer has promised victories) and a Test series with the Indians. Prior to that Harmer will be ensuring that "everyone goes in one direction. I want to see the county coaches reinforcing things I've been doing. I'm looking to get some continuity."

"To actually give them the girls some confidence in themselves to go out and play the game will be a nice reward for me," says the man who assures a World Cup final appearance by 2005. It will be an enormous task with England's current lack of results, but if anyone can Harmer can.