November 2005

Sparing the Rod

The outspoken disciplinarian Rod Marsh has stepped down as head of the ECB Academy. John Stern meets his more understated successor Peter Moores

The outspoken disciplinarian Rod Marsh has stepped down as head of the ECB Academy. John Stern meets his more understated successor Peter Moores

Peter Moores is ready for the challenge as director of the ECB Academy © Getty Images

Peter Moores is nothing if not organised. More than a month before he started work as director of the ECB Academy, his wife Karen and their two children were already settled in the East Midlands while Moores fulfilled his final duties on the south coast as coach of Sussex.

"We love Sussex," he says. "But I thought that if I was going to do this job then we would do it as a family. So we've moved lock, stock and barrel." The Moores family have set up home in Quorn near the Academy in Loughborough. So there should be no shortage of meat-free comestibles for the health-conscious academicians.

His decision is not just an example of forward planning but also commitment, something he will demand from his players. He is not a ranter and raver like his predecessor Rod Marsh was alleged to be but players will learn, in a quiet, reasoned way, that this is their career and their responsibility. The Academy is no longer a boot camp, more of a university and a player's job prospects are vastly improved if he invests time in his studies rather than the student union bar.

One of Moores' first utterances during our interview is an educational analogy. "Any advanced learning used to be term-based but now it's modular," he says. "Developing cricketers is no different. It's not like you go on the programme for one year and you've done it. Year on year, there are individual programmes tailor-made to make that player better." The Academy has changed in the four years since its inception when the first intake of players was packed off to find a temporary home in the Australian academy buildings in Adelaide. It is now less of a finishing school for the stars of tomorrow and more of a winter retreat for the next tier of England Test players. And it is common for players to return for a second or third helping.

The Academy now finds itself in a unique position, one unimaginable when the idea was being conceived in the late 1990s. England are the best, or at least the second best, Test side in the world, with a side that virtually picks itself. What is the role of the Academy in these heady times?

"A strong England side needs a strong England second team to put pressure on them," says Moores, who was appointed in April ahead of the likes of the Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody, Mike Gatting and the England team analyst Tim Boon. "Take an England player who has come down from the senior side. He's close but he's not quite there. We need to identify reasons why he's not in the side. It might be his fielding. If he's a bowler it might be that his batting's not quite good enough. If he needs to improve playing against spin we might send him to the subcontinent. I will get input from Duncan Fletcher about areas he thinks certain players could improve on, and areas he wants all his players to be good at."

Moores' relationship with Fletcher will be pivotal. It is no secret that Fletcher and Marsh disagreed over who should keep wicket for England, an issue that seemed symptomatic of a wider clash of philosophies or personalities. "Duncan was on the panel that interviewed me and we were both clear that it's a two-way street," says Moores. "I don't know him well yet but we have to build a relationship. I will need info from him about things he considers important. By the same token I need to communicate up to him about players that we have, what they can do and what they can't."

The only similarity, it seems, between Marsh and Moores is that they are both wicketkeepers. Moores was a solid county pro for Worcestershire and Sussex but he has neither the star quality nor the brash charisma of Marsh. He is the epitome of the contemporary coach: youthful, articulate and compassionate rather than cynical, bolshy and dictatorial.

When we meet at Hove during Sussex's last Championship match of the season against Kent, he looks trim enough to be out there on the field. He is in classic coach apparel: a navy Sussex training shirt, shorts and trainers. One can imagine him as a modern football manager, one of the young thrusters who stands on the touchline in training kit and boots with his notes or clipboard, but then scrubs up into a sharp but understated suit for the post-match press conference to offer polite, guarded soundbites.

Everything about Moores seems measured and dedicated. Born in Macclesfield he is the seventh of eight children. He kept wicket for his school 1st XI at 13, turned down Durham University for the MCC groundstaff and then had two years at Worcestershire understudying David Humphries before ending up at Sussex in 1985.

Twenty years on, his association with Hove is over. He has left an indelible mark on a county who won their first Championship under his stewardship in 2003. In The Longest Journey, the story of Sussex's title triumph, three personalities are afforded the honour of a chapter to themselves: Chris Adams, Mushtaq Ahmed and Moores.

As a Sussex player, Moores worked under five coaches, four captains and three chief executives. He was appointed to the captaincy for the 1997 season and then relieved of it after one season when Adams was brought in and Moores was appointed coach to replace Desmond Haynes.

Coaching has always been an ambition. "I always knew I could coach. I always knew I could motivate people," he says earnestly but with no hint of arrogance. He is honest enough to admit that Fletcher's job would be "fantastic, if in time it felt right and somebody offered it". But he qualifies that comment with: "The day you start looking ahead of where you are is when you make mistakes."

He continues: "Coaching is something I always wanted to do and I've done a lot of it. While I was playing I did a lot of coaching abroad. Coaching in county cricket is a good grounding in dealing with people because you play a lot and there are lots of highs and lows, lots of emotion.

"The era I played in was still one of going to the bar afterwards and talking cricket. When we played Yorkshire, for instance, I would sit next to Phil Carrick and he'd talk all night. It's important that people talk about the game - that's part of the fun of it."

But surely you're not suggesting that cricketers spend more time in the pub? "I believe in creating specialist environments, rather than specialist coaches sometimes. You video every ball then people watch it and they talk about it. Not just their game but others' too. I don't think those conversations happen so much in the pub these days but they do happen. That's how people learn."

Moores was "disappointed" at the outgoing Surrey coach Steve Rixon's comments on county cricket being "a cesspool of mediocrity". "It isn't like that," says Moores. "It's become more intense since two divisions. It takes time for the skill to come through but with increased intensity will come improved skills. There are better players. Whether you like the Kolpaks or not, the standard is getting better. I'm pretty buoyant about county cricket. The players who have come from county cricket into the England side - like Strauss, Pietersen and Bell - have all adapted to the international game. We've seen good sides get relegated. It's not an easy ride. When I played, county cricket was asleep a bit. It wasn't challenging itself to raise standards but it does that now and has been doing for quite some time."

The challenge for Moores now is to move from a team-focused environment to one where individual development is the priority. The two are not mutually exclusive. "The player is at the centre of the programme but you have to build a team and that's part of the fun. In the mornings we will do things together which will be fun even though they might not be specifically designed to improve your individual skills. I'm all for putting in the hard yards but you have to enjoy it."

The Academy is no longer about digging for gold, it is about polishing the gems that have already been unearthed. Nasser Hussain said England's Ashes win was down to percentages and Moores seems to agree. "I will look at a player's stats with him. How does he score in the first innings versus the second innings? Does he get out to seam or spin? Can he dive to his right and his left? Can he throw the stumps down right-handed and left-handed?"

It's clear that Moores is in his element but then he breaks off. "It isn't complicated. It shouldn't be complicated." And that's something that even Duncan and Rod might agree on.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer