Ford's healing touch

What type of coach can India expect? Andrew Hudson has known Graham Ford for over two decades and has played under him at Natal. Here, he provides a personal insight into the man in charge of turning around India's fortunes.

Occasionally the best decisions are taken in haste. Ultimately, Graham Ford, the new Indian coach, might prove to be the best healer for a country that has suffered much since the World Cup bubble burst.

As I see the Indian team at the moment they don't need a schoolmaster coach, they need someone to bring the best out of players. India have many guys who have played a lot of cricket and the coach needs to get the best out of them. That is where Graham's strengths lie: he is not autocratic, he is not confrontational, or a strict disciplinarian, but he relates well with people.

He understands people, and is more likely to say, "Listen guys, we're all adults, we're all in this together, we all want to be successful, and we know what we have to do in order to be that. If you don't do that you're letting the country down." His interpersonal skills are brilliant and he treats each individual differently, which is what the Indian team needs at the moment - someone to pull it together.

I have known of Graham for over two decades. It was the mid-1980s when I heard of him for the first time, and it had nothing to do with cricket. Instead it was on the tennis circuit, when he was exceptionally talented tennis player in the province. He had court craft, was a wonderful tactician and he loved the game. A lot of people said he would've been an incredibly good player if he had applied full time. Before I even played for Natal I had seen him during my University days at Durban, when he was the sports officer at neighbouring Pietermartizburg University. It was a big game between both universities in Natal cricket back then.

Graham took over as Natal coach at a very important time in the mid-1990s. The late Malcolm Marshall had just arrived after his retirement. Young players like Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock were coming up and there were older guys like Jonty Rhodes and myself around. Those early years were wonderful for him as he worked very closely with Marshall and struck a relationship that helped him settle very easily into the role. I'm sure that has definately played a big role in him rising to the international level.

At Natal, Graham was an exceptionally good coach. He has become better since. He has a feel for the game and understands it well, even if he is not particularly technical like the late Bob Woolmer. More importantly, he understands people and that has been his underlying strength - he is a good people person. He gets on well with players, and they want to win not so much because of themselves or Natal but because of the coach.

His interpersonal skills are brilliant and he treats each individual differently, which is what the Indian team needs at the moment - someone to pull it together

Many coaches are aloof. They think they are a level above the players in many respects, but the nice thing with Graham was, and is, is that he is one of the guys: he used to win with us, lose with us, celebrate with us, commiserate with us. He was right there with us, almost like a player. I admired this quality and approach, of almost being like a servant to the player.

As a batsman for Natal B he wasn't particularly flamboyant. Instead he was gritty, but as a coach he has grown into a very good one. His work ethic is great: he'll throw balls to batsmen all day and is right in there. That is where he gets his respect because he is prepared to put in the work. He is not scared to do so.

I understand Indian cricket behaves in a fashion that is different from the rest of the world. Here you don't have just stars, you have superstars. Graham is a better coach of established cricketers, as he does very well in that environment. If the Indian team were very young, full of unknown guys who needed a disciplinarian to tell them how it's done, then he might not have been the right guy.

But the present Indian team would respond well to the way he coaches. He will be fine with the superstars because he will come in and say 'What is it that I can assist with in terms of enhancing your performance?'

When it comes to managing matters with the cricket board he is very apolitical. First and foremost he loves cricket and wants cricket to improve and benefit. I would be very surprised if he reacts differently while he is with India.

It is not going to be an easy job for him to move to India and he will have to handle a lot of pressures which he's not used to. One of the challenges today is staying away from your family and that is one challenge I foresee for him, as he'll be spending a lot of time in a different country, in a different culture, away from his folks. His kids are at an impressionable age. Both are very good sportsmen, so it's not going to be easy but his wife is a tennis coach too, so they will handle matters in a balanced fashion.

His on-field challenges are going to be of a different nature, but I don't see him making any radical changes, as he works within the ranks. His way of driving home a point is very simple. At Natal, he gave me my space, gave me room and always used to ask me 'What is it you need from me in order for you to be successful?' That never changed. I was a very unusual guy in that mentally, the more I practiced the worse I got. I became more and more anxious and I think he knew that. Then, often, I would say "I don't want to practice today." He would leave it at that and say as long as I was happy and as long as I performed he was happy with that arrangement.

He can get philosophical about the game but one of the sayings he holds very dear goes, "After the Lord Mayor's show come the s***guard (the guys who clean the streets)." This was a quote by Dennis Calstein, former Natal manager during Graham's time as coach. What it means is that when you stand up there, thinking that you've achieved everything, there is still more to do. Graham always reminded us to keep our feet on the ground at Natal whenever we started to think that we were bigger than the game.

In these unsettled times for Indian cricket, Graham Ford could very well pull it together.