8 August 1998

The Saturday Interview with Peter Sleep

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph

Andy Neild meets Lancashire's Second XI captain and coach, PETER SLEEP.

A NEW broom sweeps clean - or so the saying goes.

Now 41, and starting to thin on top, South Australian Peter Sleep no longer fits the description 'new'.

But the man with the Midas touch still has that ability and sheer presence to turn a cricket club's fortunes upside down in one clean sweep.

It's hardly surprising if you consider his grounding, straight from the Donald Bradman textbook on cricket.

He was barely out of nappies when his dad introduced him to the game via a golf ball and a hand brush. The rest is history.

"I used to spend hours and hours throwing a golf ball against a wall and playing it with a brush or sometimes a broom handle.

"It got you to watch the ball more closely, I think the idea came from Sir Donald Bradman.

"But I was so keen on the game I tried anything to make myself better."

However humble his beginnings, it certainly did the trick.

Sleep went on to play 14 Tests for his country and collected over 300 first class wickets in a distinguished career.

Now, in his role as Lancashire's Second XI captain and coach, it's his turn to pass on the tips and help the future stars of first class cricket brush up on their skills.

Last year the Red Rose county's second string lifted the Second XI County Championship.

And in his four years at Old Trafford, a steady stream of talent has forced it's way on to the first team scene under Sleep's watchful eye. "Over the last few years my success rate has been pretty good," said Sleep. "I think eight players have gone on to the first team during my time.

"But it's very difficult for them to get a chance because we've got a lot of good players at first team level."

The jewel in his crown has been the exciting emergence of 20-year-old Andrew Flintoff, who burst onto the international scene in the last Test at Trent Bridge.

His former coach and captain knew within 'Freddie's' first few games that he was grooming someone with special quality.

But his star pupil almost quit the game just two years ago.

"He wasn't making any runs and his back wasn't right. He had started to become a bit disillusioned.

"I just told him he was too good a player to give up the game.

"He hung in there and look where he is now.

"Andrew Flintoff is one of the most talented cricketers I've ever worked with.

"He just takes people on and doesn't care who they are.

"I hope we don't expect too much of him, but he could be anything he wants to be."

Another Sleep cadet announced his potential this week with a thrilling performance in the County Championship match against Gloucestershire.

England under 19 spinner Chris Schofield picked up nine wickets in a match-winning display to underline his coach's view that 'he will be something special as well'. But, for the conveyor belt to continue, dramatic changes in the English game's structure must take place.

That means a radical shake-up of the current county championship system.

"We've got to make it into two zones," said Sleep.

"It needs the top eight in each division to be playing for a lot more.

"They should bring in promotion and relegation - you have that in football, so why not in cricket?

"You would always have competitiveness then.

"At second team level, the set up has got to go back to 17 games in a season and we've got to get youngsters playing four-day cricket instead of three." Sleep first got his taste of English cricket back in 1979 as a professional in the Lancashire League with East Lancs.

It was around that time he also forced his way into the Australian Test team as a fresh faced 22-year-old all-rounder.

In the 10 years that followed he played for his country 14 times, picking up 30-odd wickets at 39 apiece and averaging 24 with the bat in a Test career he describes as 'mediocre'.

But it was his spell at Rishton at the beginning of the 90s which really established him in Lancashire folklore.

In 1991, he smashed the Lancashire league batting record, held for 40 years by West Indian legend Everton Weekes, with 1,621 runs. Then, in 1995, he returned to Blackburn Road to help Rishton win the league for the first time since the 1950s along with substitute pro Phil Simmons.

"When I first played in the league in 1979 the standard of cricket was very good.

"There were a lot of good bowlers around then.

"But when I came back in 1990 the game had changed so much. There weren't as many good bowlers about.

"It was a great thing to beat the record.

"I had always been an all-rounder in my career but perhaps I hadn't taken enough pride in my batting.

"I suddenly took a lot more interest in it and it obviously paid off."

The latest side to be rejuvenated by a dose of Sleep is Northern League outfit Darwen.

When Indian all-rounder Nikhil Chopra was called up for international duty midway through this season, the Birch Hall club were left without a pro.

Sleep answered the alarm call and immediately turned around their season. The club had just two victories to their name on his arrival in June.

But thanks to three unbeaten tons and two half centuries in just eight innings they now occupy a mid-table place and a spot in the Vaux Bitter Cup semi finals. Birch Hall is bouncing.

"Things are going pretty well at the moment.

"People are buzzing and the crowds are starting to come in through the gate. I'm enjoying my cricket probably more now than I did 10 years ago.

"I'm not sure what will happen next year.

"But two or three clubs have been after me but it all depends on whether I'll be free to play league cricket because of my commitments with Lancashire.

"The desire's still there. It just depends on how I'm feeling and whether I need to play or not."

Source :: Lancashire Evening Telegraph (http://www.reednews.co.uk/let/)