#England. #CWC19.

The England Squad for #CWC19 is as follows;

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Captain

Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)

Jofra Archer (Sussex)

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)

Jos Buttler (Somerset)

Tom Curran (Surrey)

Liam Dawson (Hampshire)

Liam Plunkett ((Surrey)

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)

Joe Root (Yorkshire)

Jason Roy (Surrey)

Ben Stokes (Durham)

James Vince (Hampshire)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

Mark Wood (Durham).

Inevitably, perhaps, the omissions – in particular that of Willey – are making as much noise as the selections.

Denly, the outstanding-but-maybe-not-good-enough-at-the-spinning-thing bloke is the other to miss out, again, some will argue cruelly. Let’s start with these guys – with the ‘negatives’.

Willey, with the ball, is consistent, effective and if there is *any help at all*, around, will make that relatively turgid (white) new ball swing, a little. Given the significance of both his contribution to this squad over a period of some years and the critical accident of his birth – left-handedness – there has been a ver-ry powerful argument in his favour. And yet…

The talk had been that he would miss out. Despite his authentic international quality, the brutal facts are that Archer is sprinkled with more in the way of Star Quality, he is quicker (as is Wood) and anyway the past, however worthy, can sometimes get yaknow, bulldozed.

We can be certain that as well as following their hunches about personal chemistry etc, etc, the England coaching squad (in our minds, as big as the playing squad and similarly tooled-up with every aid, stat and projected nuance) will have looked at the *implications* around a single-angled seam attack.

Presumably, ‘on balance’ they felt that Willey was a notch down on Wood, Archer, Plunkett and Woakes and the leftiness factor, though discussable, was not key. It should be noted, too, that to think of this as a straight Willey v Archer (or A.N. Other Seamer issue) may be unhelpful or unwise. It’s all about the blend: of skills, challenges and yes, personalities. It’s mad-complex, wonderful-complex, it’s deeply human, all this; that’s why coaching at any level is such a privilege, such a responsibility, such a joy.

I hope Willey can manage to avoid breaking ranks and blurting out something understandably loaded with what passes for grief, in sporting circles – at least in the short term. There’ll be time to write the book about this ‘betrayal’ later.

Denly is different. In the sense that if he didn’t feel, on the occasions that he was hoiked or simply estranged from the list of Morgan’s bowling options, that he was scampering nowhere, Denly should have known he was an outlier.

Yes, he may have wanted (and felt he deserved) a slot as a batsman in his own right… but no. Simply too much quality around and in front. Despite the impressive combination of calm and aggression with the bat, recently, Denly, (or maybe the name Denly?) in a spectacular squad, looked a tad one-dimensional.

Both these guys will be ‘devastated’ – or that’s what their books or serials in the cricket press will say.

Weirdly, I wonder if they will both be looking at Dawson and thinking WTF? He may be the one player in the squad who – despite flying at the next level down and acquitting himself reasonably well with England before injury struck – looks like an ordinary international player as opposed to a Guy Who Could Own This Bloody Event.

Dawson is, however, a left-handed all-rounder. And he may have a perfect temperament. And other stuff we don’t know about.

As a spinner who barely spins it, he may be fortunate: the first thing I think about when I look at his name on this list is that he won’t play much. That may not have been true of Willey… and it may have been have been true of Denly. Mean anything? Who knows?

On the plus side, we could write a shimmering opus. Archer *has something*; Wood is lovable and sometimes infectiously-scarily-good – and can be wonderfully, defiantly heavetastic in the tail. There are issues around fitness for both of these two gentlemen but – if available and ready – they give the squad (any squad) a lift.

The loyalty/steady squad argument around Archer has plenty of virtue. Making late introductions is controversial and possibly divisive. But this is a matter of management. Sport is tough, it ain’t no democracy and decisions have to be made. Bayliss could have quite legitimately stood up and said “this lad Archer is a genius but his time will come later”. He didn’t, so live with it.

Amongst the other seamers, Plunkett is often consistently, intimidatingly good, ball in hand and will likely get you 20, sharpish, should he need to stride out to bat. Curran is so-o fabulous at nearly everything it feels appalling to drop in the thought that should we get a spell of High Summer, his relative lack of pace may expose him. So ignore that. Look forward instead to a series of swashbuckling or icily brilliant contributions – if and when he gets picked!

Of the remainder, only Vince remotely approaches the borderline category. But the fella has quality; even the propensity to score only 35 is not a huge negative, in this format, with Morgan, Buttler, Stokes etc next in! Plus of course he will be effectively reserve opener, one would think.

Those unquestioned above are; Root, Morgan, Moeen Ali, Rashid, Buttler, Bairstow, Roy, Stokes, Wood, Woakes. Think I’ve probably set out their names because I like the look of them… and they were Must Haves.

Will they win? Absolutely impossible to tell. Too many variables, some good opposition and plenty of individuals who may take a game away from anyone. England, however, are probably the best team in the world. They seem unlikely to freeze and they have tremendous depth – particularly batting-wise. May their faith carry them through.

Bigger than the Winning.

Winning is great. It’s gratifying and exciting and sometimes it replenishes us. Sometimes, too, it does that Stamp the Dirt Down thing where we relish the defeat of an old foe or maybe just the bunch of bastards who actually tried to start a fight, in our local league game, or wherever.

We may or may not allow ourselves to recognise the moral/ethical dimension(s) around that win: we may be too drunk, too thinly happy, or too desperate for the points to care. But mostly I think we do care about the quality of winning – the cut of the contest.

I don’t buy this stuff from footie pundits, for example, about fans ‘only caring’ about the table, or the silverware. Call me deluded but I reckon most of us are better than that. (I know there are dangers, here – chiefly the very real possibility that I’m going to sound pompous or judgemental or superior… but bugger it I can live with that. To strip out the aesthetic & emotive characteristics or attributes from sport is just pitifully stupid, surely?)

It’s true that I’m a certain age. It’s true that (despite that) I know naff all about philosophy and yet it feels absurd not to offer the observation that winning/losing/playing has inherently some qualitative richness that arises and transfers because of deepish appreciations – some of which are instinctive (arguably) – and yet also complex, profound and abstract.

Wow. What a game that was. Can hardly believe it. Danny was sensational, Sarah unbeleeeeeevable and what a joy to see the youngster do that! What was the score, again?

To strike the ball like that, to there, with that level of control; ridiculous. To fling yourself, like that – bloody ex-traor-dinary. To come back from there… fantastic.

Drama and heroics (true heroics!) and crazy-commitment and these zillion gifts to sport trump or kaleidoscopically locate mere victory. For me. Always have.

Call me old-fashioned – call me anything you like. Winning is great but to say it is everything makes Jeremy Kyles of all of us. It’s crass, it’s stupid and though it may be *popular*, it’s a simple travesty.

Why all this psycho-cobblers? Not sure. Other than I’ve been loving the cricket – the England v Pakistan One-Dayers. Went to Cardiff, listened to the others on the radio, chiefly. Happy to out myself as both a lover of 50 over cricket and of the Sound Of Things.

We might hear, we might accept that these matches have been ‘yet more proof’ that the game has turned boomtastically in the batters favour: debatable, perhaps and plainly dependent on ground and atmospheric conditions… but let’s move on. Other than that, they’ve felt roundly magnificent.

What’s not to like about the combination of fearlessness and sheer, finely-honed class of, well, most of the England line-up in this format? Buttler is an obvious, mercurial worldie-of-a-gem but Morgan and Root and Bairstow and Buttler are extraordinarily good, too, yes?

A really good Pakistan side, offering some real quality themselves with both bat and ball are being pret-ty serenely seen off. But the games have been contests. The level of entertainment has been fantastic. The level of skill – skill, not just blasting to the boundary – from Roy and the rest has been quite wonderful to watch. Pakistan have made a genuine contribution – one which I genuinely think has been appreciated by both sets of fans.

But England have won – and England have a real chance of winning the upcoming tourney. All this is fandabbydozy. But mainly, or especially, or significantly… because of the manner of all this. There’s something beautiful – yes, beautiful – about how this has been.

Okaaay there’s a smidge of partisanship in any statement of that sort but these games have been overwhelmingly fine; positive and richly enjoyable to the extent that any watcher or listener of any persuasion would surely have been captivated, captured by the quality of the action. And this could be bigger than the winning.

Pakistan are more than decent. It may be that their fielding has been too ropey and their batting a touch lacking in extravagance but these are relative: relative to a magnificently good team… who happen to be England. And that inevitable tribal-fixation-thing – supporting, being ‘of’ something – is only a part of a wonderful, winning whole.

 

 

#SophiaGardens #Cardiff. #Eng v #Pakistan.

Some reflections, morning after. Good competitive game, with both sides producing some nicely-tuned cricket, on a true but blandish pitch.

Feels like England won out because a) Pakistan were a tad too respectful (when batting) a tad too long. They needed a few more: were they hoping or expecting that England minus One Or Two Boomtastic Stars would be a significant notch down?

b) Morgan. And Root and Vince and actually Denly… were tremendously composed, even with 8/9/10 per over to shoot for.

c) Without actually having anyone Utterly On Fire with the ball in hand, England’s mix and experience shaded it. Jofra was a threat, Jordan was testing and Willey and Rashid provided very different challenges. (Having said that, Pakistan bowled well enough – the quicks nailing as many fine yorkers as Archer and Jordan did. This was a game… with not much in it).

I under-estimated Denly’s stoutness and clean-hitting pre- those final overs. And though I said nothing here below, I maybe needed a reminder of just how good Morgan is. There’s something quietly magnificent about his relentless belief; his refusal to compromise; his slapping it all over.

So the day was fine: Cardiff looked fine and the contest was sharply but agreeably joined. As so often the case, the guys and gals at Glamorgan Cricket did an excellent job – but with another relatively lukewarm response from the paying public. 

Here’s how the game *seemed*, live –

Cardiff is beautiful and bright… and then less so. Clouds. Coolish.

Noon to one-ish. The crowd ambles in, or begins to. Lowish numbers feel likely.

Two p.m. and the players at least are building, via their footie (England) and their bowling and fielding drills (Pakistan). Around the stadium, meanwhile, you can’t help but hope that the intensity of all this will rise, sharply, as the *scene* is top-quality but the *vibe* less so. Still the sun returns and Jofra is bouncy and smily in the outfield, so let’s hope.

Morgan is busy and committed under the high ball as the teams are announced. No Plunkett, for England. Duckett and Denly in, along with Jordan. Pakistan will bat – chose to bat. Salt unsprinkled.

As the moment nears the crowd approaches the ‘decent’ mark but the cloud increases as “Jerusalem” booms around; make of that what you will. Could be that Wales doesn’t do Imperialist Pomp – who knew?

Willey will open the bowling, running in towards the river. Morgan’s keks are flapping fairly violently as he discusses The Plan at the wicket.

Single steered straight off the first ball, which looked a loosener. Second called a wide; started out there and never shifted.

Some decent straightish stuff, from Willey, met with straightish bats, from Azam and Zaman. 6 from the over. Minor runout scare, fifth ball up. Over to Curry.

Each batsman collects a boundary off the Surrey man before the left-hander Zaman miscues to mid-off, where Morgan reaches high to catch. 16 for 1.

Then OOPS, pitch calamity. Willey runs in over what appears to be a drainage or watering point, and scuffs up about half of Glamorgan. In the finest tradition of Working Blokes The World Over, a crowd surround the mending operation: soon enough, the hole is filled/sorted/dealt with.

Apropos absolutely bugger all, Willey’s hair has to be a fine – if not outright exclusion from the squad. Tied and pulled back, like some Real Madrid wannabee. As if to reinforce that prejudice, Azam dismisses him to the boundary, past mid-off, for the game’s best moment so far.

Archer. In – scuttling in, rather, suggesting he’s not absolutely at full-tilt? – and/but bowling at 91.4 mph third ball.   He *inconveniences* Imam-Ul-Haq with that pace, mind, Foakes easily taking the looping catch. Good over from the new man; Pakistan are 31 for 2 off 5.

(My initial thought was that if Jofra really ran in… then WOW. And also – after a fairly duff dive out in the deep moments later – could it be that he isn’t that great an athlete? Surely not? Will be watching very closely).

Jordan, from the River End, hitting the pitch pret-ty hard. Then dropping 10 mph. Wily.

Rashid will bowl the 7th. Smooth, controlled, no dramas. 42 for 2.

Jordan again looks to be generating decent pace – all off a shortish wind-up. He is momentarily bowling a tad short; Sohail smashes him out to deep midwicket…. and it’s safe, before cutting skilfully over backward point. Pakistan still playing relatively within themselves. They reach 57 for 2 after 8 with another boundary – this time from Azam, who has 22.

First 6 hoisted off Rashid, to roars from the fans in green. Great strike, well into the crowd at long-on. Change of pace and change of venue for Archer, who will bowl the 10th from the River End.

He’s unlucky twice, maybe, conceding a streaky four through the vacant slip area, then Foakes arguably moves early to leg and denies himself a possible diving catch t’other way.

Archer’s movement is fine (doh! I’m belatedly concluding); he just has less knee-lift than some other tall guys. Better not crucify the lad for not being Michael Holding. Meanwhile Sohail and Azam are moving along nicely enough. After Rashid bowls the 11th, Pakistan are 90 for 2.

Denly comes on. Before he bowls even one, I wonder if they’ll target him. The first is an absolute pie, the second not much better: 10 to the score. Azam gets to 50. The England man does regain his composure somewhat but a statement has been made against him. 111 for 2 after 13.

Willey returns and again looks to be slapping it into the pitch. Highish risk? With only two down, the visitors can surely risk a few flailing heaves or uppish glides? A goodish score is on.

Two wides in the over – both outside off. Predictably, Curran replaces Denly, with Sohail on 49. The batsman does well to keep out a great yorker and move to his 50. Jordan saves two with a brilliant diving stop as that yorker becomes a tasty full-toss. Pakistan seem in some level of control, here – ominously, perhaps. 133 for 2 after 15, with Sohail on 50 and Azam on 64.

Archer back – and claiming an important wicket – that of Sohail. Again it could be that extra zap and bounce plays a part; slight top edge out to deep midwicket, caught comfortably enough by Willey.

Then another moment of quality from Archer – possibly an important one, with World Cup Questions in play. With the batsmen scrambling, he composes himself, utterly, sets his feet and throws down the wicket. Azam is gone for 65. Meaning two new batsmen at the crease.

Jordan will bowl the 17th from beneath us, in the Media Centre. Almost comically, he parries a return catch before realising Ali is hopelessly stranded, mid-strip. Jordan could draw on a ciggie, pick his nose and still run the fella out. Instead he nonchalantly flattens the stumps. See ya!

Archer again. What I’m really liking now, is that beautiful high hand – making an extended, powerful arc – and developing real pace. First ball is a peach of a yorker, barely dug out. 4 overs, 2 for 29, for Jofra, which may be a tad less than he’s deserved: been good.

Rashid will bowl the penultimate. He is swatted downtown for four second ball but it’s a tidy over. Pakistan will begin the last with 157 for 5 on the board. Jordan will bowl it.

Wasim smashes one back at him – and the bowler bravely sticks a mitt out for it. Uncatchable and bloody painful, you would think; saved a four. Then a yorker is dispatched, straightish. Feels fairish when Denly pouches a straightforward one in the covers – Jordan’s earned that.

He has no further luck, however, as a couple of streaky fours take the visitors to 173 for 6. Seems competitive (there’s been little in this for the bowlers) but much will depend on how Englands’ ‘returnees’, principally Duckett and Vince fare, you suspect.

Wasim (the local!) will bowl left-arm spin to Vince, to start. One. Then to Duckett. One. We proceed non-violently but a misfield allows a three to England and we reach 7 for 0, before pace in the form of Ashraf, for the second. Understandably, it’s ‘quietish’.

Not for long. Vince unleashes a short-arm on-drive thing, for six. More good running brings a further three for Duckett. 17 for 0 after 2. Shaheen Afridi – left-arm quick – will bowl the 3rd.

Duckett greets him with a lovely off-drive for four, before swishing rather, then slashing to extra-cover. Gone, lamely, for 9. Enter Root. Plenty of quality, then, for England. Guessing they might look to persist… and exploit that.

Hasnain’s half-tracker is eventually called wide, in the 4th. He over-compensates, and Root eases the ball out past extra-cover for his first boundary. Vince follows that with an elegant back-foot push for four more, taking England to 38 for 1 off 5. Vince has 23 in decent time. Root’s running is notably determined and swift.

There really doesn’t seem to be much help here for the bowlers – in the air or off the pitch. May suggest England can really launch through the ball later. If Root and Vince can take this deepish, I’m thinking a major boomathon is possible; if necessary.

Back to spin (and Wasim) for the 7th. Root deflecting, Vince calm.

Hasnain, Wasim and co are working at this, but there is very little to really trouble England, thus far. No-risk cricket is enough – for now.

*From nowhere*, Vince is given out, caught behind, off Wasim. Some of us in the Media Centre thinking that noise may have been bat on ground. Tough one, for Vince – gone for 36. Enter Morgan, with the sky brightening.

The skipper wastes no time, hoisting fearlessly to backward square leg for four. Game feels on at 75 for 2 off 9.

Ridicucute, from Root, who reverse-scoops Wasim for four over the keeper. Morgan, ever the counter-attacker, straight-hoists Faheem Ashraf for six, then hoiks him for four, then slashes-but-connects for another four over extra. Root may sit, then, whilst the left-hander blazes?

Hasnain is in for the 13th, his team-mates tapping and clapping their approval at a couple of precious dot-balls. Then a third. But Root comes back with another over-the-shoulder job; four, to fine-leg. England need 69 off 42.

Root changes his bat, then unleashes a beauty, straight, marginally to off, racing away. Not much in this but I make England favourites; only two down, conditions benign.

Class again from Root – and again deflecting rather than hitting. Glides Faheem effortlessly behind square for 4, first ball of the 15th. Good contest, mind, as the bowler absolutely nails a couple of yorkers, to limit the damage. 122 for 2, with 52 needed off the last 32.

Morgan goes big enough over square-leg. Six. Then Root, in seeking a tickle behind, gets too little and is caught, for 47. Pressure moment, for the incoming Denly. My hunch is maybe wrong bloke, but hope not.

Poor misfield gifts Morgan four. Sun rejoins us, 37 from 24 the ask. Shaheen is stretching for it but too hard – bowls a short wide. England seemingly still happy to wait… and pick the right ones.

Denly does just that, blasting a fabulous off-drive through for four. Middled. Huge, for confidence.

Morgan clubs one less elegantly over mid-off – just. The sun is at its strongest and it smiles on Denly, who French-cuts for a cruel four, leaving only 17 required from the remaining two overs.

Denly (waddooo I know?!?) delivers six of them, first up -Shaheen the unlucky bowler. Suddenly it’s 8 from 8.

Impressive, this, from England, impressive rather than gorgeous, or electrifying, or imperious – a well-executed strangle… assuming they get 7 from the last. So, Faheem Ashraf, wot you got?

Two, off the first, giving Morgan his 50: 51, in fact. Remarkably, the captain finishes it with a slightly mishit clonk, over long-off. Job done.

Good game, proper game, superbly judged by England. Entertaining and cool, with strong contributions from Archer and (I thought) Jordan in the field, before all of Vince, Root, Morgan and Denly turned up with the bat. An allegedly second-string side looking more than competent.  Now then, what’s next?

Yes but what does it all mean? (For #ECB #CoachingInsight).

A confession.

Having been asked to contribute something to ‘Coaching Insights’, I not only went back to re-read the last issuebut also re-watched ‘Wings to Fly 2018’. This, I think, something to do with that inclination to feel (and of course be perceived as) ‘kosher’, informed, ‘worth listening to’.

Setting aside the Coach/Ego phenomenon for a moment –we’ll return to that – I’m glad I did that revision-thing, for several reasons.

Firstly, both resources made me think; think about the richness and challenge that inevitably accompanies the phenomenal range of things coaches do. From being selflessly paternal or maternal guide-mentor to (for example) an autistic child, to hosting conversations-through-practise led, in fact, by athletes at a kind of intellectual as well as physical peak. (See both in Wings to Fly, 2018!)

Secondly, because I wanted to hug or buy beers for one or two of the coaches featured – such was their obvious human decency.

Thirdly, because (in the example of the England Women’s Hockey section) there was a powerfully contemporary, almost provocatively demanding feel to the coaching activity that I felt asked questions of all of us – whatever our level.

The apparent transfer of almost all responsibilities across to the players during Thinking Thursday sessions made me wonder about transfers between coaching levels generally. What, if anything is common?  What can we take and re-calibrate around ability and experience and meaningfully plant somewhere else?

(Do recommend a watch, by the way: you will see brilliant, international coaches – hockey, in this case – really challenge their players. It’s exciting. It may be uncomfortable; it’s very much in line with what we might call the Grow the Athlete, Test the Athlete principle – to enable growth and resilience through player ownership – but it’s exacting, exciting stuff).

So I read and I watched right through and thought wow. Amazing. What a responsibility. What a privilege. How can all that stuff be the same job?!?

Then I thought some more – on and through the labels.

A digression if I may. Anyone else a tad concerned about Jargonistas? Meaning folks who quite possibly being social media fiends like myself, seem to load up any post or hypothesis with impenetrable terminology? As though the need to justify/authenticate/‘establish’ is as urgent as the need to share?

I know in a sense I may be guilty of something similar. However it may be that looking to out-rank or outflank the Ordinary Coach is a rather mean-spirited thing to do –imho.

Of course specialisms and elite spheres of practice have technical terms/jargon, but I for one am slightly discomfited by the air of superiority and separation that can accompany missives from the Performance Posse. I’m not an elite-level coach but this doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the higher stratospheres: seems a shame that language can be used to exclude me/us.

Get that much of this really is a function of the times, the dangers of Social Media and yes, language… but back to labels. In particular this notion of ‘player-centred’ coaching. What does that mean, anyway?

Let’s let the ideas, the connotations tumble out.

It means or implies that ‘it’s all about the player’.
That the coach must sacrifice some part of his or her ego… because the player is key.
*That means being deeply generous…
and humble, in a sense – even when as coaches we may be likely to be extrovert or ‘vocal’ or ‘opinionated’…
even when we’re sure about a way of playing that feels utterly right – that would ‘sort the issue quickly’; we might have to ask a further, better, more generous question, as opposed to direct things a tad more sharply.
It maybe also implies a particular way of coaching?

There are so-o many things to think about, here. Player-centred coaching might mean in-cred-dibly different things at different stages or strata of the game… or it might mean the same. Or it might be more a philosophy than a practise?

We could go on. We could look for scenarios, for definitions which fit. They could be ace or awful or banale or something. Everything is interpretation.

The fact that this conundrum-fest implies a kind of openness or arguably uncertainty is best seen as a positive. It’s great that questions kinda swamp answers; that though we coaches may never lose our certainties, we learn (hopefully) to treat them as supporting material rather than gospel to be spread noisily, urgently far and wide.

This restraint is a fabulous challenge. At a time when half the universe surely wants to crowd in to Surrey CCC nets to unpick the brilliant secrets of what feels like a return to Traditional Inviolables, shouldn’t we be ditching some of the new-fangled generosity and get back to drilling in timeless, simple truths?

Good question.

Surrey are flying (at the time of writing!) and they are openly trumpeting intensive rehearsal of (and I think trust in) The Basics. Meaning playing straight; being conscious of the value of your wicket; having a ‘sound technique’: the basics, in fact, as commonly, traditionally understood.

(Appreciate that our friends from the County Champions may well argue with some of this interpretation – perhaps particularly the third of those alluring soundbites – but it seems to me a fairish translation of what many cricket people are thinking).

But does the stunning success of Surrey at county level and beyond have ramifications for coaches and Coach Education broadly? Quite possibly. And does it follow then, that a ‘return to basics’ undermines arguments for player-centred coaching – which might understandably be viewed as a kind of modernist, liberal nonsense? Hopefully not. Surely not?

It does, however, challenge us all.

It challenges the ECB because their lead coaching staff will be as conscious as the rest of us that plenty of sages-of-a-certain-age are nodding wisely and doing that ‘told you so’ thing. Saying that some things are non-negotiable – that there is such a thing as a solid defence and that everyone has to have that before the other stuff. In this way we might understand a surge, forward or back, towards what we might call the traditional.

That shift may happen: not that it’s necessarily the job of John Neal or Martyn Kiel to flinch or capitulate to this year’s model or method. They will nevertheless reflect – that’s what good coaches do, right?

On this point specifically I’m slightly fascinated to see how the language in ECB Coaching Courses and publications might respond over the next year or two. Will the philosophical generosity (player-centredness?) of the Core Principles be tweaked… or not? Does it follow at all that the imprint of Surrey’s successful regime will register beyond… and if so, how? 

Things are complex. Feelings run high. The coaching community, being a mixed tribe, will respond in myriad ways. Surrey may respond to this – by making an inviolably convincing argument that there is NOTHING traditional or ‘old-fashioned’ about their goals or their methods! It really could be that their coaches are as ‘enlightened’ and player-centred as anyone. It just feels like a drift back to demonstrations, in nets, might happen, on the back of whispers from the Oval.

I hope that not too many of us fall into a kind of smugness or vitriol around this. (Let’s face it, it’s all the rage!) To conflate/equate the perceived triumph of traditional values with the need to return to traditional coaching methods would be questionable, in my view. A) Because surely traditional skills and values can be supported by contemporary, less didactic coaching and B) because who knows, really, what’s making the difference?

I am fine with being uncertain about many things. I can see a difference between player-centred coaching as a method… and as a philosophy. I’m not sure where that gets me -other than to a place where I might (coaches might) recognise that the ‘player-centred’ coaching we are doing is so dominated by our own goals or expectations that it lacks utterly the generosity implied by that phrase. It’s so loaded with our perfectly-formed plans that despite our fine relationship with the player it cannot be truly player-centred.

This is surely an issue?

For the term ‘player-centred’ to really cut it, I reckon we’ve got to be talking about a pret-ty radical shift in the player-coach alliance. Inevitably the coach will have certain aspirations – patterns he or she hopes to share and follow. But I think the essence of contemporary coaching has rightly moved towards offering the player the opportunity to grow and to self-direct on that pathway. More or less. According to the individual. Because better learning occurs this way.

Being player-centred might mean providing the context, the activity, appropriate to the recipient individual. But it’s not superficial, ideally. In other words, asking questions and playing games might tick some progressive boxes but may not either really work… or be really player-centred.

The essence of the task is about using your human skills – social, psychological? – alongside those cricket coaching skills to truly, generously develop the player. (This I guess is why the word ‘holistic’ appears, at times like these). We’re back to the awesome, exciting, wonderful, challenging enormity of the role of the coach.

Let me leave you with another quandary – questions deliciously swamping answers, right? If we are now clear what Player-centred Coaching is, does that mean the coach or the player, during practice, chooses how things are done?

Onwards, with a top-end example of a particular approach. It’s widely noted that the mighty All Blacks coaches haven’t done match-day team-talks for aeons. Because the players have already done – and owned – the preparation. So no need for the Kiwi equivalent of Churchillian rhetoric from the coach. None.

Imagine the temptation, when the adrenalin is pumping, to bawl instruction or pour fire into the hearts of your players, immediately pre-match. None. Because the players have gotten themselves ready; you know that – you hosted those sessions.

In cricket the ground has shifted so quickly beneath us that the very idea of a common technique for this or that is somewhere between questionable and outright redundant. Format changes; revolutions in every aspect. So in that intoxicating flux, what might be constant?

Maybe nothing. Maybe the need to learn. Maybe in our case developing the player by understanding his or her needs and skills and idiosyncrasies as deeply as possible. 

We aim to get better. Or we should. That was a central message from both ‘Coaching Insights’ and ‘Wings to Fly 2018’ – appropriately, in my view. (I do read and do watch, by the way – you? Daft not to).

For many of us this might mean exposing ourselves to ideas which in truth may not make us more sure about what’s right. And yet that same exposure may still be hugely beneficial.

Being player-centred, like everything else, is a matter of understanding. Understanding them – as far as possible – understanding our role as coaches and offering a whole lot. A dialogue. A sounding-board. A springboard.

 

 

 

How much it can mean.

I, the Community Cricket Coach. Busy to exhausting period. Multiple schools per week, trying to keep the value and the intensity and the positive vibe going for the children.

A quick, true story – as always more about that universal fabness than about any ‘ownership’ by Yours F. Truly. I know sports coaches the world over have experiences like this every day; in fact something about the sheer volume of good delivered in this way feeds into my own flow of whatever it is; makes it possible.

Un-nameable school and pupil. Newish, blandish location.  Rain – so indoors. A hall, glossy-floored, with just a wee patch that evidences flattened chips, or the dust-pan-&-brushed ghost thereof. A few ‘Health & Safeties – so (ever the Pro’ 😉)  I park red cones around those dodgy perimeters.

Incoming, an assistant, gratefully received; particularly so as as she is sports-trained and it turns out she’s “been here a few months and know the kids”. I was here last year.

I get a perfectly fair warning about a lively group (whom I’d remembered) and a particular individual.

I have a  clear memory of at least two children with quite powerful issues, at this school. That’s fine and to be expected – I’m never fearful nor intimidated by that situation. I’m confident that our activity (and yes, my personality, because often that’s what it takes) can get us through.

Today’s Chance to Shine/Cricket Wales session will be about #BrilliantBatting, about getting familiar with the bat: experiencing it in the hand, using it to twiddle and control and spirit different balls to different places. I note to myself that a bat can be a weapon – so best be attentive – but then re-focus on making the lesson sharp and shiny and engaging, so that anyone and everyone will be seduced, in the healthiest of ways, into happy, busy engagement.

As always, I have a broad plan and the session is ‘set out’. As always, my antennae will be up and twitching, pre-empting flattish periods by finessing, recalibrating, changing the challenge. As always I am hoping this will be irresistibly good lols for these children and I will look to encourage each and every one of them.

Ok. Ready to go and I’m alone with my thoughts for a moment. I remember (again) thinking just what the hell is this child going through at home? To make them so, so volatile?

Then children in the corridor, bustling. Deep breath and begin the welcome. From near the back of a friendly but fairly anarchic ‘line-up’ I see ‘this child’ is breaking out towards me. He runs to where I am standing (alone, in the middle of the hall) and throws himself around my waist. He says – fascinatingly clearly and with some emotion – “I’ve been waiting for you to come back!”

The Sports Assistant is kindof beaming  through raised eyebrows. Later, I’m choked (now, I’m welling-up!) but in the moment I acknowledged his fabulous greeting before moving on. (We have to take care, with physical contact, yes? I can’t pick the lad up and hug him enthusiastically – or I enter problematic territory if I do).

However the quality of his response was extraordinary – it’s why I’m writing.

I/we get plenty of lovely welcomes, right(?) but this was different-level wonderful. I feel somewhat humbled by it – all that feeling. I am absolutely re-energised by it, but also conscious of the responsibility it projects back onto us coaches…

“Look how much it can mean. Be conscious, always, that it can be that meaningful. Aim that high.

At the risk of de-mystifying this touchy-feelyness, it seems only right and proper to note that though I had of course remembered this child from my half-dozen visits last year, I was not, frankly, aware how much of an impression our sessions had made. And there’s some learning in that – for me, for all of us. God I’m grateful but he surprised me.

The lesson is great. My long-lost pal is utterly with us, throughout, performing the bat-skills with attention and even patience – mostly. Okaay, he drifts here and there but he’s not disruptive of anyone, or anything. Wow. Sport, eh?

 

#WBBLFinal. Moments.

Let’s start with this: my conviction that the dashingly, upliftingly positive upward trend in women’s cricket – women and girls’ cricket in fact – is probably the most exciting and profound development in sport, right now. Bar none. From grassroots to the elite levels, things are getting better and that fabulous, liberating wave will continue: all over.

Meanwhile, over there (Oz – the world-leaders in this wonderful romp) we find 5,368 fans and more, luxuriant sunshine. Another huge, smiley yomp forward underway, Sydney hosting its own Sixers and the Brisbane Heat in a carnival, a festival, a cup final of a day.

Could be my West-Walian vantage-point but duw, duw, bois, it looked on the blistering side of bright; weather for being hot and bothered in. Is it or was it indiscreet of me to note that even the sublime athlete that is Perry had that beads-of-sweat-on-the-forearms thing going on, whilst batting out there? Forgive me. Heat is an issue for us Brits.

She (E.A. Perry) may even have been a tad flustered by some consistently tidy bowling from Kimmince Jonassen and co; her striking rhythm appeared off. Maybe this is merely relative, given the expectation of almost absurdly serene progress in this most flurrytastic of formats but though, inevitably, she contributed, Perry looked a bit like somebody else.

She looked, in fact, like a normal batter, for much of her 33, before being caught skying a sweep by an understandably relentlessly watchful Mooney. She wasn’t then, going to take the game beyond the Heat, going to dismiss them entirely, with the bat. For the neutral, maybe this was good?

Kimmince, for me, has something. Maybe has something special – certainly that full outswinger is a real ace, especially when it grips and leaves the right-hander a touch too. Here, this Special One removes the bewildered Healy, clipping the off-stick quietly after that killer moment in the air… and off the deck. Soo-perb. Huge Wicket. Healy – a match-winner, as we know – is gone for 18 typically prompt runs.

There follows a generally lukewarm-ish effort, from the Sixers, to be honest. Credit, of course to some goodish bowling and generally attentive fielding but given the strength and dynamism of the home team’s lineup, the scoring rate was mediocre throughout – and some of this felt like lack of ambition.

Gardner, so often powerful, was mixed. Burns, McGlashan and Kapp were relatively uninfluential. It was left to van Niekerk to raise the bar towards something challenging, with a bullish 32, from 15. 131 for 7 the total.

Despite my opening paragraph (and despite the possibility that it may be unhelpful to suggest it) there may be a sense that the women’s game still needs to take most every opportunity to obliterate negativity and prejudice. So in addition to the traditional pressures accompanying a final, that imperative towards providing a great game, in front of a brilliant crowd, lurked somewhat – was in the ether. Great in terms of quality and drama… and ideally a nail-biter, a close one. We got almost all of that.

Sixers might rightly feel they can defend almost anything, anywhere, anytime, given their bowling attack. Captain Routinely Sensational and Marvellous (Perry) and her sidekick, the spiky, relentless Kapp, queen of the send-off. Two Absolute Worldies; they alone, if necessary, will keep them ‘in the contest’.

We’re into the reply. Poor Grace Harris. Seems a chirpy, entertaining sort but she’s run out literally painfully, early doors, in the Heat innings. Backing up, slipping awkwardly and twisting her knee before failing to make her ground. Soon after, Kapp is borderline abusive in sending Johnson off, bowled – a reminder that this is serious, that the juices are pulsing passionately.

As things progress, it’s tight. The Heat skipper, Short and their powerhouse Mooney are coping okay. Sixers will call upon eight bowlers, from Aley, with her slighty laboured (slightly) one-o’clock bowling arm position, guiding them in there, to the frontline four of Perry, Kapp, van Niekerk and Burns.

When Short is caught by Burns off van Niekerk, the drama focuses on Beth Mooney – remarkably so.

Mooney’s innings was almost painful to watch, it was so traumatically, memorably tough. The Heat’s keeper and key bat could barely stand, at times, due to the broiling conditions. She merely survived it, squeezing every ounce of concentration and competitive spirit into the moment after delivery: somehow, heroically – but alarmingly rosy-cheeked – clubbing the ball instinctively around.

Mooney’s condition was a) the cause of genuine concern from medical staff and b) something of a distraction in the game – hence the lack of sympathy from Healy behind the stumps, amongst others. Sixers felt, perhaps, that some of this was a deliberate breaking-up of the contest.

This, remember, is top-level competitive sport: ultimately some will regard the powerfully-built batter as an ‘absolute heroine’ and others, as an out-of-shape chancer.

The Heat are chipping away at that total but then the game shifts. They lose 3 for 5, stirring the crowd. Tension. Scrambled minds. Nerves on both sides, in fact.

What feels like an important error by Healy – failing to gather a throw with batters a-scampering – becomes unimportant as the next ball from Burns draws a successful lbw appeal.

However the Heat look to be muddling through with 15 needed from 12 and the stylish South African Wolvaardt at the crease. Harris, her partner, has seemed nervy.

More drama as Van Niekerk – her international skipper – gifts Wolvaardt a poor full toss for four but then Kapp’s brilliant arm runs her out, charging for the second run and the strike. Zoiks. It’s the WBBL semi’s revisited, with 5 needed off 6, 7 wickets down, come the last over. Kapp to bowl it.

Kimmince charges but only gets the one. Then Harris clubs one to deep midwicket… and a miscommunication (or noncommunication) on the rope – two fielders colliding – sees the Heat home in a pile of bodies.

A scruffyish finish but Brisbane Heat don’t give a toss. There’s a pretty convincing outbreak of ecstasy (and a further, more joyful pile of bodies) as they run in to celebrate a first WBBL title. Screams and rebel yells and another outstanding day for women’s cricket is done.

 

Game of Throws.

Most of you will know that I’m a Community Coach, for Cricket Wales. This means, amongst other things, that I go into schools – I typically describe myself as “the daft bugger who throws things around, with kids, in schools”.

It’s sometimes challenging but mostly so magbloodynificent I need to ramp the language over the scoreboard to describe it. Today is one of those flowtastically energising days. Sorry.

I’ve been into a Primary School, on our Chance to Shine mission, which is so multi-faceted (in a good way) I’m going to invent some swift bullet-points, to give the sense of covering it all briefly.

Frankly don’t care if this sounds like a salespitch: what happened today was mercifully and definitively beyond mere capitalism, dear friends. Here’s some edited highlights from the err, manifesto.

We Community Coaches, we Chance to Shiners aim to;

  • offer a load of sporty fun.
  • Build co-ordination around cricket-based games.
  • Build confidence through and confidence in movement.
  • Offer new stuff – skills, ‘drills’, ways in to catching, throwing, striking etc.
  • Stimulate listening skills, teamwork &/or individual application to challenges: build numeracy (yes I do mean that!) and communication skills – oracy.
  • Get familiar, or more familiar with a bat, a ball, or different bats, different balls.
  • Specifically follow, more or less, a curriculum which Chance to Shine has assembled, drawing on masses of expertise and research… and stuff.
  • In the abstract we aim (I certainly aim) to make kids laugh a bit, whilst charging round the place with purpose. Structured bursting and giggling and launching and swiping and mostly achieving something, which may or may not be measurable but may well be actually rather profound.

Hence my sickening upbeat-ness. Cos we did all that this morning. Two brilliant sessions with children from Year 2 then Year 3. Brilliant? Them – them! – not me. They lit up the place.

In my post-euphoric foolishness, I’m wondering if there might be some merit in describing what we did. So here goes.

Last week with these children, we followed the Chance to Shine model for batting games, via Striking Star and Super Skills Circuit – you can find these here and I do recommend them.

https://www.chancetoshine.org/teaching-resources

Having done the ‘get familiar with the bats’ thing, it made sense to do something different, today. So out with hoops and spots and balls, for games again developed from that C2S curriculum.

We were inside, in an average-sized school hall. I drew out a Throwing Line, with red cones, then placed three yellow hoops and a spot, about four or five metres out, parallel to the Throwing Line, spaced evenly apart. Three or four metres beyond, two blue hoops and two blue spots, again making a line, across the hall. Finally, the distant targets – four red hoops.

I welcomed the children in, in English and inadequate Welsh, as per. Then, after asking them again how they turned their ears on and warning them in the nicest possible way that the games would change, briefly described (rather than demonstrated) what we would do. We would throw underarm at the yellow targets.

What would we throw? Cricket ball-sized sponge balls and two or three significantly bigger but still unthreatening, lightweight ‘footballs’, plus a softly-spiky pink plastic ball: all of which I said I’d like to see shared around.

The children had a couple of goes before I tried that “Ok people, imagine if I was an alien and I’d just landed on Planet Har’ford; how would you explain how this underarm throw works(?)” routine. “What’s moving?”

I might now be modelling the throw but not saying anything. Instead I ask the ‘coaches’ (kids) to talk me through “pushing my palm, stepping forward, aiming with my hand-that-isn’t-throwing”. It’s a listening event and describing event, for the children; hopefully more than a demonstration.

We move on, as soon as; we want to be throwing, more, further, harder!

I ask how many points we should give ourselves for hitting the nearest (yellow) hoops ”first bounce – on the full?” Somebody confidently shouts “Ten!” Ten it is.

”So how many for the blue?”

(Somebody else). “Thir-teee!”

”And what about the red?!?”

”FIFF-TEEEE!!!”

Suddenly we have a Proper Game. In which “for a bitta fun” we can keep score if we want.

I offer them more choices; they can now throw under or overarm and they can aim at any hoop or spot. (Incidentally, if it felt necessary, I would offer the discussion about whether a blue hoop is worth more or less points than a blue spot – which is smaller. Feels unnecessary, here. Note too, that we haven’t discussed throwing overarm yet; let them launch a few first).

Surprise surprise, everybody lashes it out there in the general direction of the distant red hoops. It’s wonderful, stretchy-wild and energetic. They love it.

Before the next round of throws – just to focus the concentration a tad – I bring in A Rule. “You have to name the colour before you throw”. We go on. It’s still fairly chaotic… but great.

Next up we revisit the scoring. “Which are the easiest targets to hit? Why? So if we really were counting our score, what colour do we think might be the one where we are most likely to get some points? Or… if we are enjoying throwing harder, further (at the red, maybe) what can we do, to give ourselves every chance of hitting?”

It’s gotten tactical. They realise that. There’s that lovely sense of liberation – through the physical act of throwing – and also the whirr of cognition and ‘getting the game’.

”I’m going yellow – no, blue!”

”I’m going red. I’m still going red, because…”

It’s gotten to a point where I think there is some real value in me demonstrating an overarm throw – despite my half-decent grasp of ECBCA initiatives towards Core Principles, as opposed to old-school ‘coaching’. So I offer three suggestions; feet wide apart and in line with the target; ‘pointing’ or aiming with the non-throwing hand; throwing hand waaaaay up and back away from the face.

In my defence, as it were, I do offer this model via a story, with questions.

”Who’s got a dog, friends?

Half the class.

”Okaaay. So have I. Picture the scene, on Newgale (beach). Me and one very waggy dog and a ball. Does my dog want me to do this… (throws with hand at his ear, feebly)… or (collects ball and notably draws elbow and hand high and loooong and back, away from the head) does your dog want you to launch one?” (Launches one, to unsolicited whhooooos and whoooorrs from the kids).

”Your dog wants you to zap it. To enjoy throwing hard and far. Powerfully. Come on, let’s get wide feet, pointy hands and get that ball awaaaay from our faces. Let’s ab-so-lute-ly lash it AT THESE TARGETS!!

Typically I shift one red hoop to the furthest, furthest point and up the ante to 500 points for that one. It’s a blast – slightly wild – but my personal mission to teach the mini-universe to be able to throw, to love throwing has bounded forward… and that’s magic.

I’ve missed some details out but this is the gist of a session that I repeated, this morning. Minimal changes for Years 2 then 3. Biggish groups – 30-odd. I guarantee you that nobody felt inadequate, or left out. The level of engagement was stratospheric.

I finished both sessions with my Moving Target challenge, for a thousand points. It offers a kind of individual moment for everyone; one in which everyone Wins Big.

I walk across in front of the children, holding a hoop up at what feels like a comfortable height for their throws. One by one, they all have to throw through the hoop, as I move. Miraculously (possibly with an occasional strategic twitch from yours truly) everybody nails it! It’s crazily, dizzily, wonderfully satisfying – maybe especially for those who weren’t throwing ‘naturally?’

“A thousand points! What a way to finish!”

About fifty minutes-worth of entertaining, challenging, sometimes mind-bending Chance to Shine/CricketWales fun. With balls. And hoops. In January, in a school hall. Some educational boxes ticked but mainly, mainly a deeply pleasurable experience for all concerned; including me.