May 9, 2012

What makes Moores tick

The Championship-winning Lancashire coach is always upbeat, full of ideas, forever analysing, in love with the nitty gritty of his job

It is May Day, and a bitterly cold wind chases through the Old Trafford building site. Peter Moores waits politely - zipped and fleeced from chin to ankle. He smiles, and for a moment looks disarmingly like Dolph Lundgren. He offers tea or coffee, and a choice of toast - white or brown - then disappears off to make them.

Moores is entering his fourth season as Lancashire coach. Last year was the golden one - the long-cherished Championship-winning dream. This season has been more morose, after three defeats in four games Lancashire wallow around the bottom of the table: the archetypal difficult second novel.

And things could be about to become even more interesting. Lancashire have just announced the signing of Ajmal Shahzad from over the Pennines. Shahzad is a maverick who has resisted Yorkshire's straitjacket of bowling discipline. He is undeniably talented but believes he is at his best when allowed to become a freer thinker, to act on impulse and to innovate more. That he has chosen to come to Lancashire suggests that Moores has offered him more freedom. And that, in turn, suggests that Moores is not as two-dimensional and inflexible a coach as his detractors have claimed. What an irresistible challenge it must be to get Shahzad bowling back up to international standard.

Moores know about challenges. He has filled up a tankard full of pressure in the 14 years since he swapped playing for coaching at Sussex. He coached them to their first Championship in 2003. He was put in charge of the England Academy after Rod Marsh left. And in April 2007, with Duncan Fletcher gone, he was appointed England coach, the pinnacle of his professional life. The results were mixed, and less than two years after being appointed he and captain Kevin Pietersen lost their jobs over an soap-opera of claims and leaks and an "irretrievable breakdown" in their relationship. Five weeks later, he was Lancashire's new head coach.

Coaching is what he loves: the nitty-gritty analysis, the planning, the constant thinking, the scritch scratch scritch of winkling out what makes people tick. You can see the cogs whirring as he gets going. "There are times when I have to get up at night and get something really important down," he says, "though that doesn't happen as much now. I'm not some kind of nutty professor with pieces of paper everywhere, but I do write down a lot.

"It is often drivel but when I think something is really important, I write that in a journal. If you're watching a Test and then you see a player who has played brilliantly in practice fail in the middle, you might write down, 'The most important thing is being able to handle the pressure in the main arena, and the focus has to be to help players do that.' The fact of writing down helps you remember.

"I have always liked talking about the game. I came through during the old-fashioned era, when you went to the pub. Norman Gifford, my coach at Sussex, was great to talk cricket to. I learnt a great deal from Phil Carrick. I went on an MCC tour with him and we did laps of the boundary together. I'm an avid reader… if I'm asking players to grow and develop, it would be pretty hypocritical if I'm not doing it myself."

There must be a terrible temptation to process the family. Do the kids - Natalie and Thomas - object? "All the time. They say, 'Dad, don't say anything, I know.'"

"It probably helped that I got this job so soon afterwards. When something happens quick like that, you're in and then you're out. You look back and think, 'Where's that come from?'"
Moores on losing the England coach's job in 2009

Yet who lies beneath the coaching talk and the tracksuit? Moores is kind and courteous and far too clever to give much away. But every now and then the curtain lifts and there is a glimpse of the private man, the one singing along to U2 songs in his hotel room as he strums his acoustic guitar.

Moores is the seventh of eight children, a scrapper fighting his corner with a brother just above and a brother just below, all brought up in a house near the big Catholic church on Chester Road in Macclesfield.

"The whole big family thing definitely influenced me a lot, in that you have to learn to share," he says. "The values that were in our family, I've carried through. My mum is absolutely straight and was always saying, 'Be honest, be fair', and that was how she operated. Those things help you a lot, because, are sports teams like families? Yeah, they are to a degree. They're different because in a team you have a collective goal of winning something and in families, sometimes, the collective goal is to get through. But there are definitely times when you have to give a bit for the collective - that could be giving up the front room because your sister has got exams coming, or you want to go this way but the team wants to go the other."

Little Peter was always competitive - at primary school he was frog-marched into the debating society and at senior school he was a good rugby player as well as an outstanding cricketer. He was made of stern stuff - he was the first team wicketkeeper as an Under-14, and to the great amusement of the older boys, used to appeal in a squeaky voice that hadn't broken yet. By the lower sixth, he was a leader of men.

The family lives in a village outside Loughborough. When Moores got the Lancashire job, he and his wife, Karen, decided that they didn't want to move the kids again, so they bought a place in Knutsford, where he stays when based at Old Trafford.

In what little he has of spare time, he is teaching himself the guitar, "inspired by the legend that is Mark Chilton". He takes it on away trips as a bit of a distraction, but never, ever, plays to the dressing room.

"I was originally going to learn the year Natalie was born. I had a bit of a strum. She was born a month later, I put it in the corner and that was that. Last February Karen bought me another one. I sing along badly, quietly, in a dark room. Natalie loves singing, and if she hears me she slaughters me."

There is only one blot on his career - the England thing. But Moores is sanguine about the experience. "It has never consumed me - it probably helped that I got this job so soon afterwards. When something happens quick like that, you're in and then you're out. You look back and think, 'Where's that come from?'"

He has had the satisfaction of seeing the men he brought in, Andy Flower, Mushtaq Ahmed, amongst others, succeed. "To see all that fit together has been nice. The changes we made have come through and have worked. We turned the academy into a performance centre.

"You look back and think you'd have done that a bit different, but the intentions were right. Would you have jiggled things to maybe change how you got the message across? A bit, yeah, you probably would. I was trying to drive things on, but like most things, you need time. I'm disappointed, but you crack on. And in many ways I'm a bit of a fatalist. I've really loved my coaching here; it has been some of the most enjoyable I've had in all my time."

And then he is off, ideas charging wildly around his head. He's determinedly upbeat, even as Lancashire falter. Never criticising, always analysing, fronting up for the press conferences that no one else wants to do.

Moores was one of many men to find the England job a poisoned chalice, but he was the first to coach two different teams to the County Championship. If there is a lesson in that, he'll have found it.

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian