<
>

Dominic Sibley's remodelled technique pays dividends for Warwickshire

Dominic Sibley removes his helmet on reaching three figures Getty Images

Kent 167 and 38 for 1 trail Warwickshire 380 (Sibley 119, Rhodes 110) by 175 runs
Scorecard

A few weeks ago, Dominic Sibley hardly knew where his next run was coming from. Twenty innings into the first-class season, he had reached 30 just three times and had suffered 11 single-figure dismissals. His place in the Warwickshire side was in serious jeopardy.

But then, in search of a solution, he turned to Gary Palmer. Readers of a certain age may recall Palmer as a player. A seam-bowling all-rounder, he was labelled as one of the first 'new Bothams' when he broke into the Somerset side as a 16-year-old in 1982. For various reasons, though, he did not develop as had been hoped and, by the time he was in his mid-20s, his playing career was over.

In a way, though, his on-field career was little more than foundation work ahead of his more serious contribution to cricket: as a coach. After helping Alastair Cook rediscover his form in early 2015, he has gone on to enjoy success with well-known international players from Pakistan and West Indies as well as several England cricketers.

Sadly for Palmer, most of those players prefer for his involvement to remain secret. They are keen not to offend - or annoy - their regular coaches and they know that Palmer's methods are just a touch controversial.

Why? Well, at a time when the prevalent view would appear to be that confidence is more important than technique, Palmer believes strongly to the contrary. He is adamant that it is competence that breeds confidence and argues that it is only hours of drilling technical skills against bowling machines that can deliver lasting improvement.

He also believes - and this is the more controversial bit - that some of the traditional beliefs held about batting are a nonsense. In particular, he believes - insists, really, is the apposite word - that batsmen are inhibiting themselves by standing sideways on and maintains they will perform better with an open stance, both feet pointing more towards mid-off than point, allowing them to avoid becoming trapped behind their front leg. This, he believes, allows them to hit straighter, remain better balanced and play in a more compact manner.

It may not work for everyone but the evidence is starting to mount up to suggest it does work for some. Take Sibley for example. After that horror start to the season, he spent a long session with Palmer and has now registered scores of 106, 44, 144 not out and 119 in his four most recent Championship innings. He looks better balanced at the crease - he has struggled with his head falling to the off side at previous times - and less likely to follow the ball outside off stump. In short, he looks a far better player.

And while Palmer will not confirm it - he is famously guarded over the identity of his clients - it is understood Cook turned to him for help just before his final Test at The Oval. And we all know how that went.

Not everyone resists Palmer's methods. The England management are relaxed about players visiting him (they have even encouraged a few) and he was part of the coaching team on the England Lions tour to Australia over the winter. Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of sport, is also something of an advocate of Palmer's approach and open-minded enough to know that different views and different voices can sometimes prove beneficial.

Whether many modern players are so open-minded remains to be seen. One young player on the Lions tour recounts a story of Palmer seeing a batsman - who has played international cricket - face one ball in the nets and shout "No, no, no" and march down to show him where he was going wrong. At a time when coaches are, generally, unfailingly gentle in their approach, Palmer's no-nonsense style is not always welcomed. They don't like to be told and he insists on telling them.

For Sibley and Cook and several more, however, Palmer's input has proved valuable. And, as county cricket experiences an epidemic of batting collapses, it could be their success acts as a spur to reembrace the old virtues of technique and drilling. While it may seem that flair has never been more prevalent in the game, it is surely stronger if it is built on a foundation of substance.

Technique was not the only admirable quality in Sibley's innings. He also demonstrated great hunger in resisting for 100 overs for his 119 runs. And, when he was finally out, he was clearly furious with himself. Such a desire to persist is rare among younger players and such greed bodes well. It helped Warwickshire carve out a first-innings lead of 213 - vast on a surface that is now providing a decent amount of assistance to spin bowlers - despite nobody but the openers reaching 40.

Kent fought back valiantly after a poor opening day. With Harry Podmore, one of the breakthrough players of the season, bowling a relentless spell and both spinners enjoying the conditions, batting proved hard work. Joe Denly, bowling his legbreaks at a sharp pace, was impressive in his control while Adam Riley came back well after a grim opening on the first day. Will Rhodes' fine innings ended when he left a straight one and it eventually took a ninth-wicket stand of 55 in 12 overs between the departing Chris Wright and Jeetan Patel to lift the lead above 200. With only a win allowing Kent to snatch the Division Two title, however, that is likely to be enough.

Sibley's defiance will be a reassurance to Warwickshire supporters who know they must now do without Jonathan Trott. Trott was given a guard of honour by Kent's players when he walked out to bat on Tuesday - quite possibly his final innings as a professional player - but was soon brilliantly caught by a diving Darren Stevens at midwicket. They probably don't make them like Trott anymore, but after a bit of assistance from Palmer, Sibley isn't a bad imitation.