Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane
Joe Dawes was announced yesterday as India's new bowling coach. I've already read a few blog comments on various cricket websites and online newspapers, and some Indian fans are understandably a bit nervous about who they are getting to fill Eric Simons' shoes. I'm here to put your minds at ease - worry not folks, this is one appointment that will reap rich dividends soon.
Let me state my bias upfront so there's no question of me offering a neutral opinion. I've known Joey since we first started playing cricket together at Valleys CC in Brisbane back in 1995. We've been good mates ever since and we've even worked together. So the opinions I offer suffer from undoubted bias but they also benefit from an intimate knowledge of the man himself. It cuts both ways.
I won't even begin to address his technical competence because, frankly, I don't understand what it takes to coach bowling at this level. Suffice to say that he has all the qualifications and experience but it's how he imparts that knowledge and then gets players to execute those skills under pressure that will impress you. Just wait and see.
I rate Joey's coaching skills highly because he was a cricketer who had to fight his way through the system to get to where he is right now. He was one of the last players to come through the old-fashioned way of playing grade cricket, having to take lots of wickets and forcing his way into first-class cricket on the back of sheer weight of performance.
He was almost the last of that generation of club cricketer who found his way into the Sheffield Shield squad through consistent club performances. Many of today's contracted players come through the academies and junior talent ID programs, making Under-19 representative teams along the way and migrating onto the contract list via that path. It's almost like we've invested so much in them that it's a waste of money to not migrate them into the senior squad. Some modern cricketers have hardly played senior club cricket; their talent was spotted early, they were coached from the age of 13 or so, and they just kept making representative teams as they fulfilled their own prophecies.
Not so Joey Dawes. He was never really in the mix until the selectors simply could not ignore his consistent haul of club wickets, at a time when Queensland's bowling stocks were rich indeed. They didn't really need to go looking for another fast bowler but Joey forced them to pick him. He did it on the back of a sudden spurt of self-improvement, increased fitness and an amazing discovery of a few extra yards of pace. At the height of his career, he was as quick as anyone going around in Shield cricket (at a time when Australia had fast bowling depth to burn) and he bowled a "heavy ball". I've faced him often enough in the nets to now understand what that term means. My bruised ribs testify to that. It is this life experience that will benefit the Indian bowling unit - Joey understands how to bring on a latent talent that for whatever reason has been unfulfilled.
His past career as a policeman will also be an asset to him. He has that curious mix of empathy and caring, which police officers often have in their character make-up, aligned with a no-nonsense, no bullshit mentality that has probably been honed by what he experienced on the beat. He is brutally honest in the way he gets his point across but that honesty always carries with it a ready willingness to fix the problem. He once had to call me and tell me I was dropped from an A Grade final and it was a fairly simple phone call. No waffling around the edges, just the simple truth that I was going to be 12th man because my performance the previous week wasn't good enough. As miffed as I was to miss out on selection, I appreciated the fact that there weren't any other limp excuses trotted out to cushion the blow. "Not good enough" was a clear message. What struck me later, though, was that the next time I was in the nets with him he actually came up with strategies to help me improve.
That's the sort of straight-talking honesty that the Indian squad can expect from their new bowling coach. Honest, direct, straight to the point with no frills around the truth. Equally, his life experience on and off the field allows him to communicate effectively with players who aren't necessarily born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Mark my words - he will bring on a couple of young quicks who have latent talent but have been languishing on the periphery. He has walked a mile in their shoes.
Joey was instrumental in helping me to design a "lifeskills" programme for elite athletes that I now run across the country. His input at design and execution stage was invaluable because he was able to cut through political correctness and identify issues that were relevant to young athletes from all sports. When confronted by young men with oversized egos, Joey had no problem with cutting them down to size. Equally, I've seen him counsel young female athletes who needed a sympathetic ear and empathy (not necessarily sympathy) and his gentleness surprised me on more than one occasion. As someone who is almost the polar opposite of him in every respect, my friendship with him is a curious one. He's never played cricket the way I did (he didn't have to - he bowled fast!) but the fact that we're both MCC members hinted at a shared philosophy for cricket that we still have in common.
What to expect from India's new bowling coach? Discipline and honesty. He will hold players accountable for their results and work ethic. He will see through lame excuses and lazy habits. He will be open to helping anybody but I suspect he won't pander to spoiled young men looking for the easy way in and out of the Indian team. Biased though I am, I think Indian cricket will be better for his input, not just as a bowling coach but as a bloke who has lived a life outside the game too. Hard but fair. India have got themselves a good 'un this time. Just don't let him anywhere near your batsmen or they'll all be trying to bash the ball over midwicket!