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Burns calls for coaching upheaval

David Hopps

April 13, 2014

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The Lord's pavilion in twilight during the old ground's first floodlit match, Middlesex v Derbyshire, Pro40, Lord's, September 10, 2007
Neil Burns has called for Lord's to usher in a new dawn in cricket coaching © Getty Images
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Neil Burns, one of the England's most influential independent coaches, has called for sweeping changes in the way cricketers are developed in England.

Burns, who has acted as a mentor, among others, for Nick Compton and Monty Panesar as they have attempted to revive flagging England careers, insists that coaching is failing at the top level because of the emphasis of physical fitness above skill and the growth of a football manager mentality among leading coaches.

Burns is also scathing about the treatment of young players. Coaching is so misguided at junior levels, he insists, and opportunities overly available to more privileged areas of society, that England is not producing the number of top players of which it is capable.

He reveals his five-point plan exclusively to ESPNcricinfo as he challenges coaches at all levels to consider whether their approach is best serving English cricket's needs.

Such have been the shortcomings of coaching in England, says Burns, a former first-class cricketer who runs London County Cricket Club as a professional mentoring organisation, that England has been forced to rely on the short term solution of the "Southern Africanisation" of the team.

Burns warns that the new riches about to come into the English game because of the restructuring of financial rewards within the ICC will partially be wasted if these matters are not seriously addressed.

"Money on its own isn't the answer," he warns. " The stories of most sporting champions often reveal lives lived in humble surroundings, with limited facilities, but a peer learning group that fuels the ambition of the ones with the most hunger for success.

"Learning creative skills and how best to optimise limited resources is better than being transported to a 'perfect' training facility and a coaching session led by a qualified coach. The 'teach yourself about yourself' philosophy still speaks loudly to all who aspire to become top performers."

Burns describes a culture in which not enough British Asian cricketers have broken through and those who do not specialise in cricket at an early age, often in private schools, find themselves - or imagine themselves - as frozen out of the system.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by winstonfg on (April 13, 2014, 18:30 GMT)

I certainly think there are several points worthy of note - particularly the "football" mentality and the emphasis on fitness over skill - but I also worry that this may be a knee-jerk reaction to our drubbing down-under. English cricketers abroad (and Oz is about as 'abroad' as it gets) simply don't have the same support as many foreign Test players (many of whom are on the county circuit) have when they come here. I also seem to remember that the last whitewash Down-Under was followed by a rather enjoyable period for us. Let's see what this summer - and possibly more importantly, the next series against South Africa - produce before we start throwing out all the good stuff of the past 7 years.

Posted by hampshirehog142 on (April 13, 2014, 14:00 GMT)

Burns has some valid points. The ECB appear to be only concerned with their SKY income. They do not seem to care that a generation of 'poorer' kids are being brought up with little exposure to cricket on TV as only a limited amount of T20 cricket is shown on terrestial TV. Furthermore 'poorer' families will find it hard to afford cricket and the equipment which is now needed to play. For example, Hampshire CC is providing some 5-hour half-term courses for £72.99 plus bring your own equipment. The charge for 5 hours' holiday club cover is £12. It's hard to see how this price is going to encourage support except from those who are comfortably well off.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (April 13, 2014, 11:07 GMT)

England's 2005 home Ashes series victory saw an explosion in interest in cricket throughout the UK, across all generatiins. THAT outstanding performance by Flintoff et al against a dominating, top form Australian squad had the British excited and believing again. Since then, there has been little of note. A few series scraped home... Accusations of boring, attritional cricket... Over-reliance on a few key individuals... Something is missing in the England camp, and I'm afraid I can't put my finger on it.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (April 13, 2014, 11:00 GMT)

Burns is right on the money here. I believe that natural talent and ability are being coached out of the game, with the exception of SL who have some unorthodox but brilliant players. How many other countries would have filtered out a Malinga or a Murali long before they ever got to play first class cricket let alone represent their country? There's to many 'jobs for the boys' in English cricket. Where were Nick Compton and Graham Onions during the Ashes? Meanwhile they persisted with out of for players like Prior and Anderson whilst including players like Root and Bairstow who are hopelessly out of their depth at test level. They also sacked their best player because the ordinary players didn't like it.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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