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Globe-trotting James Foster ready to plant flag for English coaching at the Hundred

Northern Superchargers coach benefiting from eclectic experience on franchise circuit

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
James Foster has worked with England alongside numerous franchise roles  •  PA Images via Getty Images

James Foster has worked with England alongside numerous franchise roles  •  PA Images via Getty Images

It was a decision that highlighted English cricket's inferiority complex. When the ECB recruited eight coaches for the men's teams in the Hundred in 2019, they scoured the globe for the brightest and best and appointed five Australians, a New Zealander, a South African and a Sri Lankan - but no Englishmen.
When Rob Key advertised for applicants for the vacancies as England coaches, he was disheartened by the lack of homegrown options, though not surprised. "We've got more coaches in this country than anywhere else and yet we didn't have an obvious list of English candidates," he said. "When we've gone into the Hundred, they haven't been given the opportunity - which I think was a mistake."
This year, things are different. James Foster, one of the country's most promising coaches, was appointed as Darren Lehmann's successor at Northern Superchargers. "I had the interview while I was in Pakistan, leading Peshawar Zalmi," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I had a Zoom interview and was offered the role by Marcus North [Superchargers' general manager]. I'm incredibly proud to be the first English coach - it's a great opportunity."
That Foster's backdrop for his interview was a Pakistani hotel room underlines the fact he has deliberately followed a different route to most English coaches. Since his retirement in 2018 he has briefly worked at Worcestershire and Glamorgan as a consultant, but has otherwise by-passed the county system and travelled the world to gain experience.
"It was definitely a deliberate plan," Foster said. "It was just something I was keen to experience. Why wouldn't you want to try and work under some of the best foreign coaches in the world? I was fortunate enough to have a few opportunities, and then it's down to you to make the most of them.
"It's a great thing for English coaches to work under foreign coaches. Seeing how other people go about their business can add to your knowledge bank and help form and shape how you coach. There was a fair bit of bad press about it last year but you can tap into great minds."
He namechecked a swathe of leading names - Stephen Fleming, Mahela Jayawardene, Trevor Bayliss, Tom Moody, Shane Bond, Mohammad Akram, Andy Flower and Brendon McCullum. "You just pick off little things. There's so much diverse experience there. I've been very fortunate to learn off these guys."
Foster's LinkedIn page details 22 different employment contracts since his retirement, up to and including this year's PSL, including a number of short stints with England. "The thing with the franchise world is that there's no real security in the role," he said, "but it's a risk which I'm enjoying taking at the moment. I feel like it's paying dividends with the experience that I'm gaining."
Last year, his main experience of the Hundred was watching from the hotel bar during England's Test series against India. "Then, when I went back home and had a few days off, my daughters were addicted to watching it," he said. "They're now 10, 8 and 6 and they haven't been massively into cricket before, but all of a sudden there were always games on and when they got back from school they'd flick on the telly."
I'd love to coach at the very highest level, in international cricket. I'd love to coach any side, to be honest - the IPL, the county system, or any other franchise team
When they travelled to the T20 World Cup with Foster, they were star-struck at the team hotel in Dubai when they saw Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone. "They're taken by it. My understanding of what it's trying to achieve is [to be] a high-quality tournament in England and also to bring in new people watching. It's done exactly that."
Superchargers finished fifth in the first season and Foster has added signficant experience to the squad, bringing back Faf du Plessis - who was ruled out of last year's competition with a concussion - as captain, as well as Dwayne Bravo, Wahab Riaz and David Wiese as their other overseas options. They have the oldest squad in the competition. "I don't think there's any substitute for people who've been there and done that," he said.
They will be without Ben Stokes, who pulled out to rest ahead of England's series against South Africa, while Brydon Carse has withdrawn through injury and Harry Brook and Matthew Potts will miss games while they are with the Test squad. "You see that happen all the time in franchise cricket," Foster said. "You can't just be sitting back going 'what if?' You've just got to move very quickly."
It will not be an easy task to reach the knockout stages - only three teams out of eight do in the Hundred, the lowest proportion in any major league in the world - but if Foster can do it in his first season, people will take notice. He has lofty ambitions and would be a good bet to become the first English coach of an IPL franchise.
"I'd love to coach at the very highest level, in international cricket. In terms of the England set-up, maybe at some stage in the future - but I think it's probably a long way off. I'd love to coach any side, to be honest - the IPL, the county system, or any other franchise team. It's a great challenge. Coaching is what I love: I really, really enjoy it."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98