October 30, 2011

The coach who played no first-class cricket

Somerset's Andy Hurry is a notable exception in the modern game: an amateur at the helm of a top county side

Top-level coaching in sport is increasingly the preserve of the former player. Many of the most sought-after coaches in international cricket, such as Gary Kirsten, Andy Flower and John Wright, had illustrious playing careers. Even on the county scene, almost every head coach has loads of first-class playing experience.

One of the exceptions is the man at the helm of Somerset, Andy Hurry, an amateur cricketer with no first-class games under his belt. A stint with the Combined Services team during his time as a Royal Marine in the '90s is the highest level of cricket Hurry played. That hasn't stopped him from transforming Somerset from also-rans to perennial title contenders during his six seasons in charge. Nor has it prevented him from aspiring to coach international teams.

"First of all, having played international cricket would be a huge help to any coach of an international team," Hurry says. "I also accept that I haven't played cricket at that level. While it may take a coach [with playing experience] six years to achieve that, it may take me 16 years. I am happy to accept that."

That perseverance and ability to look long-term have been in evidence during his time with Somerset. "When I left the Marines in 1999, I couldn't find myself a job anywhere," he recounts. "So I went down to Somerset county cricket club, knocked on the door and asked if there are any jobs going working with the young kids at the grassroot level. They said there weren't any opportunities, so I went back a week later and said I'll work for free, and they said, 'Oh yeah, you can come round and work for free.'"

Hurry initially worked with schools cricket, and egged on by some encouraging words from Dermot Reeve, then Somerset's head coach ("You've got to stick at this. I watched you coach, there's something about you"), progressed to guiding the Under-11s. By 2001 he was in charge of the U-16s, a side that contained players like James Hildreth, now a pillar of the Somerset senior team.

The next step came as a result of Hurry's background as a physical-training instructor in the Marines. A chance meeting with Reeve's successor, Kevin Shine, resulted in Hurry being involved in some pre-season fitness training with the players. That led to a job as fitness instructor with the county, and soon after, Hurry landed the post of performance analyst, a position he held for three years and which he counts as among the most significant phases in his development as a coach.

"For three years I followed every single ball of first-class cricket. I had come from an environment where I had no idea what first-class cricket was about, and over the next three years I got to know the players, watch the game ball by ball, understand what was going on, understand what professional cricket was all about, and during that time I did my Level 3 and my Level 4 ECB coaching qualifications."

He was made coach of the second team in 2005 but left to work with the UAE side, a one-year spell that didn't work out well. In 2006, Somerset first-team coach, Mark Garaway, applied for the England assistant coach post, and Hurry returned to the county to fill the vacancy.

"I feel that those years that I worked with the first-team players helped me get that position, because they trusted me, they knew what I was about. I was all about discipline and structure. I was the round peg that fit into the round hole for that team at that time."

"I went down to Somerset county cricket club, knocked on the door and asked if there are any jobs going working with the young kids at the grassroot level. They said there weren't any opportunities, so I went back a week later and said I'll work for free, and they said, 'Oh yeah, you can come round and work for free'"

Despite that, his time as head coach began with one of the most wretched seasons in Somerset's history - finishing bottom of the second division and faring poorly in all the limited-overs competitions. A total revamp was needed, and Hurry set about the task by bringing in Australian Test opener Justin Langer as captain to provide a strong example on and off the field. Also, the experienced Marcus Trescothick was available again after finishing his England career.

"We changed the whole culture of the club," Hurry says. "It was all about fitness, it was all about lifestyle, it was all about personal discipline, it was all about working hard on your skills. We came in as a management group and senior players and drove this vision forward." It worked wonders: Somerset won the second division title in 2007, and narrowly missed out on becoming county champions in three of the next four years.

The time Hurry spent in the Marines has helped him revitalise Somerset. "It gave me one realisation - that everybody is expendable, in life and death in that situation. In professional sport you are only good and wanted while you are performing.

"Second thing, organisation and structure. People want to be led. If you organise them and you put a good structure together, they know exactly what they are doing; they follow. And the most important thing that came out of it was being honest. We got to tell players the truth and be 100% honest, so that then they can trust you."

Trust is a theme he stresses on often, whether it is when dealing with players, the board or his coaching staff. Another favourite topic is vision. "You got to know where you are looking to go. If you are climbing Mount Everest, that journey to get to Mount Everest starts two-three years out, with the planning, preparation, planning where your stops are along the climb."

While Hurry's vision for Somerset is for them to become one of the best teams in global cricket, his career goal is to get into international coaching. "In the short term I'm looking to try and get on international tours, in assistant coach roles, to understand how international cricket operates."

One of his charges, Craig Kieswetter, is among those who think a lack of international playing experience won't hold Hurry back. "From whenever he took over as coach, the club has been doing remarkably well and the club is developing," Kieswetter says. "It's not necessarily about how much cricket you played, it's about the message he tries to get across to the players, and he's doing fantastically well in that area."

Can Hurry make the step up? Though former players are the overwhelming majority among coaches in sport, Hurry will be encouraged by some high-profile exceptions - Graham Henry has just led the All Blacks to World Cup glory, and Andre Villas-Boas is now in charge of Chelsea football club after becoming the youngest manager to win a European competition earlier this year. In cricket, Hurry's role model will perhaps be John Buchanan, who despite having played only a handful of first-class games oversaw a period when Australia dominated the game like few teams in the past have.

Like Buchanan with Australia, Hurry says his best chance would be with a team with a settled core. "Potentially someone like me could work with a very experienced team but could struggle with a very inexperienced team, where the team needs more mental help and talk about experience of dealing with pressure at the Test level," he says. "I wouldn't be a good fit for that. If it was a more experienced team, it would be easier for any coach to come in, but that's maybe the angle I might have to come in at."

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo