May 25, 2015

Does international experience make or break a coach?

There are plenty who have enjoyed enormous success without playing at the top level, and England are missing a trick if they summarily rule out these candidates

Are England going to write off a generation of students just because the golden child could not pass his final exams? © Getty Images

"To be a credible international coach, they need to have international experience. If they haven't played international cricket, then you get that situation where they can only get international experience by coaching but they need it in order to coach. That's the situation we're in at the moment."

- Andrew Strauss, director of England cricket, May 12

Peter Moores was fired as England coach for the second time on May 9. But such has been the chaos since that little has been made of it. We have been talking about trust, triple-centuries and trouble-makers instead. Briefly there seemed consensus that while Moores, in his second stint, might well have been the wrong appointment, he was also the latest in an ever-extending line of folk treated poorly by the suits at Lord's.

Beyond the rights and wrongs of Moores' dismissal, what does it mean? He was, after all, dubbed the "outstanding coach of his generation". He was the only man to coach two different counties to the Championship, and achieved that eight years apart. He also enjoyed a successful stint as ECB academy director. Peter Moores was the chosen one, twice.

Twice, the outstanding coach of his generation was not good enough for England. However much some current players, Joe Root prominent among them, pump up Moores' tyres in public and in private, Strauss said he had "limitations in the international arena around strategy and tactics". It became a question of credibility, of respect, among the players, media and supporters.

Those tipped to replace Moores - Jason Gillespie, Tom Moody, perhaps Gary Kirsten - are different. They are former international cricketers and they are foreign. They come with status. We may have seen the last England coach without experience - be it coaching or playing - in the international game.

So what does Moores' failure, Strauss' comments and the candidates in the frame to replace Moores say about the system in which he shone so brightly? After all, if the county system is expected to produce players to play for England, surely it should produce coaches too?

For every Gillespie, Atherton, Hussain and Reiffel, there is a Hesson, Haigh, Martin-Jenkins or Taufel, who soared without professional experience

There are those who argue that Moores' second coming was a corporate decision, with the ECB desperate to prove the brilliance of its system: Trevor Bayliss, one candidate, was told at the time that Moores was appointed that not being English was a disadvantage.

Is this now an admission that Loughborough has failed, and isn't producing coaches of the necessary quality? And if Moores can't cut it, which county-reared, uncapped coach can? Where, coincidentally, are all England's internationals going, if they're not on Strauss' radar?

If coaches are simply barred from working for England for not having international experience, then what do quality operators such as Mick Newell or Mark Robinson - who have both won the Championship as many times as Moores - have to aspire to? Is it fair that an individual's first cricketing life - the playing bit - should define the second?

After Moores' second-innings dismissal, Robinson - whose first steps in coaching came as Moores' assistant at Sussex - was quick to pick up on the changing landscape telling the Argus: "The goalposts seem to have moved… at the moment it seems that if you have not played international cricket then you've got no chance."

His conclusion, regretfully not explored in any depth, was that the media was to blame. "Myself and others will think their CVs stack up pretty well but the media play a part in governing public opinion, so it depends whether the ECB are influenced by the media."

Yorkshire director of cricket - and former England international - Martyn Moxon was on the shortlist for the role of managing director of England cricket, which finally went to Paul Downton, with Moxon withdrawing late in the process.

He believes Strauss has set a "dangerous precedent" with his comments. Moxon understands why his colleague Gillespie is so sought after: an outstanding international career in one of the great teams, followed by hard yards coaching, make him a rare gem. Those who enjoy illustrious playing careers do have a unique vantage point and a head start when starting their second cricketing life, be that coaching, writing, commentating or umpiring. But not all take advantage of it.

What do Strauss' comments about Moores say about the England cricket system? © Getty Images

See, for every Gillespie, Atherton, Hussain and Reiffel, there is a Hesson, Haigh, Martin-Jenkins or Taufel, who soared without professional experience, and many more who succeeded at the playing bit but had not the empathy, personality or flexibility for the second leg. A stellar international career doesn't guarantee you success in your cricketing afterlife, just as a lack of experience doesn't mean you don't know the game and can't succeed as a coach.

This is true across sport; Maradona wasn't much cop as Argentina coach, while England rugby fans won't remember World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson's spell as manager fondly. On the other side, there is Jose Mourinho, who was not the "special one" on the pitch but has been one of the most successful club coaches of all time. Stuart Lancaster has gained respect as England rugby coach, while Strauss need look no further than the two coaches in charge of his first series as director: Paul Farbrace won the World T20 with Sri Lanka without international experience, while Mike Hesson didn't even play first-class cricket. Instead, he was coaching Otago before he was 30.

"International experience is helpful for a coach," says Moxon, "but it's not 100% necessary. Farbrace earned the respect of the Sri Lanka players. There could be some players saying, 'What's he going to bring, he hasn't played international cricket.' If you haven't played international cricket you need to have some really good qualities that offset it, like being a good communicator, building relationships, getting the players to understand where you're coming from. It's a balance of what you know about cricket and your management.

"I don't think this is a fair thing for Strauss to say. Without speaking to the guys who haven't played international cricket, they might be missing out on the best men for the job. To just think that unless you've played international cricket you're going to be useless is wrong and a dangerous precedent to set.

"Talented guys like Robinson, Newell and Graeme Welch are going to wonder what the point is. It's not like those guys have no experience whatsoever with the increased media and pressure, or have never coached international players."

Indeed, Welch told ESPNcricinfo that Strauss' comments were "a kick in the teeth". He's leading a quiet rebuild at Derbyshire and said, "I don't think the people who are saying these things have actually gone round the country and looked at what coaches are doing. My experiences as a player have made me a better coach because I didn't play at the top level, and I've had to do it the hard way and fight battles. It gives you resilience and understanding. The job of the coach is to prepare the players to go on the field, not to go on the field for them."

"You get them to the level where they can play for us, then we'll get somebody else to coach them because you're not good enough, you haven't played"
Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon

Moxon expands his point: "England take counties' players. They're good enough to play for England but the guys who've worked with them are not good enough to coach them? You get them to the level where they can play for us, then we'll get somebody else to coach them because you're not good enough, you haven't played. How does that work then?"

Hampshire coach Dale Benkenstein believes England need to be less prescriptive in what they look for in a coach. "The best coaches I worked with - [Duncan] Fletcher, [Bob] Woolmer, [Graham] Ford - hadn't all played at the top level but were completely themselves. If you haven't played, you just take a different method. For instance, Ford hadn't played for South Africa, so he made sure he didn't come across like he knew everything. That's important when you haven't played at the top level and you're coaching guys who have.

"There's no exact recipe for being a good coach. Some people play a lot of international cricket and are terrible coaches. The other way round, some guys have played no international cricket and are fantastic coaches. Sometimes the ECB tends to say a coach must be like this or must have done that."

This is in part an issue of perception. A player of Darren Lehmann or Allan Donald's stature demands the attention of their charges - even if they happen to be talking nonsense - while those who haven't played at the top level may take longer. But, as Benkenstein says, there is more than one way to skin the coaching cat. Equally, a high-profile, glamorous coach is good for baying press and public perception, as they have a record with which they can identify.

Grant Elliott identified some of England's problems at the launch of the Test summer as he said: "You guys are pretty intense over here. I asked Belly, 'Is it always like this?' He said, 'Yeah, pretty much.'" Perhaps a coach deemed unqualified by the masses just doesn't stand a chance anyway.

Either way, ambitions are being quashed and a ceiling has emerged for coaches who haven't played at the top level. Indeed, how much cricket qualifies you to coach? Are Richard Dawson's seven Tests enough, or Moxon's ten nearly three decades ago? And where does this leave Farbrace, who is different, having learned the international ropes on the job with Sri Lanka?

Mike Hesson has not done too badly with New Zealand, has he? © Getty Images

Of recent top England internationals, only Ashley Giles (who appears already to be deemed damaged goods), Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick have shown interest in coaching. The rest are in the commentary box, and indeed Strauss only became frontrunner for his job when Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan ruled themselves out because they'd have to sacrifice so much to take it. Sharp minds are picking holes in England's game, not shaping it and sewing those holes up.

That the framed names are foreign is no problem for many, but it doesn't say much for Loughborough, which is fast approaching white-elephant status, not just among fans wondering where their fast bowlers are, but evidently administrators too. Indeed, if this is the attitude of top brass, losses might as well be cut on Loughborough's coaching arm, because any quality graduating to the county system will be ignored.

Strauss followed the above quote by saying: "It's not my remit to produce England coaches - what I have to do is appoint the best possible person for the job. Regardless of where he comes from."

Except, of course, if it's your own system. The job of coach, surely, is as much about empathy and communication as experience and qualifications. Playing ability may help but it doesn't define coaching ability, and the ECB, as Moxon says, have set a dangerous precedent if they are going to write off a generation of students just because the golden child could not pass his final exams. Cricket below the international game is rarely glamorous, but that doesn't make it worthless.

Four directors of cricket declined to speak to ESPNcricinfo for this article.

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