It’s huge.

New Year. Darkness, with a soundtrack of ghoulish gales. Red wine territory, or maybe Guinness – Guinness in a low-slung, fire-lit pub. Waiting and (I think subconsciously) gathering.

At home: flick through the blogs. Another year of wild fauvism, with the usual daft daubing about the Miracle of Sport or the colour of a Cricket Moment… or rain. Or stuff even more indulgent than that.

Maybe another post about work might be appropriate?

For those just joining, work is Cricket Wales, is mainly a gift, a privilege; coaching kids. As Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire – yup PEMBROKESHIRE, as if the blessings weren’t sufficient before that geographical cherry-on-top! – in dreamy West Wales.

Currently, I’m waiting on a wee bit more training before delivering Chance2Shine/All Stars Cricket sessions into schools. Then full-on to the summer. You’re welcome.

In this real world, then, my annually-surging effort will be yet more closely linked to the All Stars project, as it charges in for its second season. Feels good to be storing up some hoipla to energise a zillion kids because I know I will properly use it. We surely do things differently but my way is generally to enthuse through infectiousnesss and energy: I’m getting mildly pumped even thinking about it.

Dunno about you but I’m somewhere between fascinated and mortally offended at the debate around All Stars. Faaar too many folks appear to view it as ‘another money-making scheme’ by the ECB, when this is plainly absurd. The ECB is not making money out of All Stars – how could it, when the kit and the admin/promotion costs are so massive?

On the contrary, once-in-a-generation style wedges are going out on this because the ECB now knows radical, sustained, innovative action is needed to really change where cricket’s at in terms of profile, relevance, access. Those of us who have happily assumed for thirty years that the ECB is endlessly snobby and soporific have to stir ourselves from our own idle prejudice because (get this!) a bonfire has been burning underneath the Old Farts and maan they are jumping. Having to.

Cricket Unleashed is a slogan, for sure. We’re historically within our rights to be cynical about a) this b) the cycle of ‘innovation’ bu-ut the administration leading the game has never been so D.Y.N.A.M.I.C. so the unleashed thing isn’t entirely preposterous. Honest. It’s not just another tweak – or even just another re-brand. It’s huge.

All Stars actively seeks to re-positon the game in the consciousness of the public by welcoming in thousands of new families – people who just never got cricket before – by entertaining their youngsters imaginatively, appropriately and with some style. (Actively seeks? Sorry, sounds like a brochure. I mean really really really. Like I believe it really, really does. That help?)

The idea that cricket (i.e. the ECB) accepts the need to *actually address* issues around accessibility/class/opportunity is strikingly, stormingly, break-down-the-doorsingly encouraging. Whatever the reasons, the thinking is radically healthy and it does represent the unleashing of something. Something which is meant to add a new dimension to the truly precious, traditional club & family stuff.

All Stars is MASSIVE and bright and extremely cute in almost every sense: it’s here to COMPETE, to challenge footie in the playgrounds, to capture kids from waaaaay beyond the range of our previously rather narrow range of influence. We can and should argue about the finer points of how and where and at what cost the show goes out but the fact that it’s designed to be genuinely popular, almost universally available and respected in schools is excitingly, emphatically, rightly beyond dispute.

I have two days training coming up, to fine-tune my knowledge of the All Stars curriculum and inhale expectations around delivery into schools. Having no problems either with the change of emphasis (towards a six week course for each class) or with that whole notion that the branding and jargon may change again next year – I look forward to it. I’m neither faking my commitment to the wider Cricket Wales cause nor faking my support for the intention to burst cricket’s middle-class bubble. Both feel bloody good.

All of us in cricket have strong views on everything from The Way Ahead to future of Test Cricket – of course we do. So inevitably there are moans about All Stars ‘not addressing the real issue(s)’. But by powerfully confronting the problem of too few young people getting or knowing cricket, or having it in their vocabulary of thinkable, do-able things, a key barrier is surely being tackled? And the feeling from (almost) the inside is that the barrier is really being tackled, not merely faffed about with. I’ve written before about the perils of another weedy intervention: this, my friends, is not that.

Effectively, a parallel Chance2Shine/All Stars is being taken in to the classroom, or schoolyard, before the clubs roll out their own programme (again with ECB support) in May or beyond. Obviously those of us leading sessions in schools will be signposting children to their local clubs – and not exclusively those clubs offering eight weeks of All Stars Cricket. The whole game should benefit.

The six lessons I will be delivering per year group or class will be heavily supported by online material for the schools. This is a rather skilful extension of our existing mentoring of teachers: until now this has been good but maybe too informal, maybe less impactful than it might have been. Consider how much more influential limited Cricket Wales resources (like me) might be if teachers themselves took on the role of cricket advocate, year on year? This is the very clear intention of the brilliant Chance2Shine resources being offered into schools and  it’s also indicative of the good-quality thinking and support around the whole All Stars phenomenon.

I’m pretty sure the people who have designed and built All Stars know it ain’t a panacea. I reckon they’ve noticed teenagers leaving the game and drawn games or long games being a major turn-off for many clubbies. Because this is 20018, the challenges, like the cultural context, change all the time. We need to get on top of stuff: make bold decisions.

The ECB and their partners may (shock horror) be flawed. But I am spookily clear that the general thrust of the developments they are leading in grassroots cricket are really worth getting behind.

More kids will play. More kids will know who Joe Root and Heather Knight are.

Beyond the 5-8s in All Stars, more kids will be active, will feel they are in the game when they play their cricket, as formats change, pitches shorten, opportunities at younger age-groups widen. If we develop a fabulous Big Happy Pool of young cricketers and offer them more of what they want and value the stuff that’s great about our existing club cricket, then that’s a decent start, right?

 

Resting, before acting.

I’m not much of an actor but I have been resting; between performances, or bundles of performances.

Pretentious? Moi? Well, that’s kindof what our sessions in schools are; more-or-less theatrical projections or expressions of strategy, policy, faith in our sport. And I have been waiting for the next launch, the next tour of our Community Cricket show to begin, so it’s felt like a rather welcome lay-off as well as a time to gather, before going again.

As I guess there must be for the average thesp, so there’s a weirdly seductive tension around my own downtime. Part of this arises from the fever going on in the background, as a discreet fury of discussion over strategy rises or rages to its conclusions. It feels as threatening as it does exciting. It feels big.

I mean of course the ECB/Chance to Shine/All Stars/Player Pathway stuff that has occupied the lives of most Cricket Development people over the last two years or more. The Seminally (Semenally?) Sexy Questions about how cricket needs to be, to be bubble-burstingly present for the next generation.

Hard to imagine? The sweeptastic revolutions on the pitch being mirrored by off-the-fullest-run-imaginable stylee pow-wows for admin staff and cricket people at all levels?

It’s been happening. It’s been spicy – and probably, I’m guessing still is – but given the preciousness of the raw material and the (honestly!) radical nature of some of the ECB proposals, no surprises that opinions might veer towards the antagonistic.

I’m at arms length from most of this, admittedly, being Coach rather than Development Officer. But I’m close enough to know that massive calls are being or have been made on everything from player pathways to All Stars to Coach Education. Big Stuff around the recreational game. Big Stuff around re-inforcing the rationale and execution of All Stars. Big Investments in change; a) because the belief is change is right and b) because the confident expectation is that there will be money. All this llus arguably Even Bigger Stuff in relation to the professional game, which I will all but ignore, here.

Year 2 All Stars is almost upon us. If you’re not clear what this is or means, here’s a view, or review, of some of the whats and whys.

All Stars Cricket is the ECB headline project for young children, begun this year, enacted through clubs. For 5-8 year-olds, very much aimed at boys and girls, very often via their mums, after shedloads of research showed this was the way to attract new families into the cricket universe.

All Stars is bold and welcoming and new: it represents a break away and forward (arguably – your choice) because Matt Dwyer, the Australian guru/driver/leader-in-possession of The Rationale has a) done this successfully before (in Aus) and b) believes only this level of ambition and dynamism can keep pace with or make sense with the kaleidoscope of change around the pro game. All Stars is defiantly in your face: not just an extraordinary investment but also a considered (and therefore philosophical) commitment to breaking out from the narrow heartland of the status quo towards something simply but strikingly more popular.

I have no doubt that there are one or two key words in that last paragraph that put the beejeeebers up some good cricket folks. But there’s no going back on this. All Stars is populist, yet the powers that be (or enough of them to back it, ultimately) plainly view it as essential to delivering new blood, new impetus. Resources are flowing that way again.

However, Roadshows to support the project and answer questions were delayed: I can’t honestly tell you whether this was due to alarm bells ringing or logistical stuff re kit or accessories or what. I can tell you that in a striking departure for us Community Coaches, our work in schools (as of any minute now) will be aimed primarily at a kind of parallel All Stars course, heavily linked to the general Primary curriculum and that we will be coaching the younger age-groups – Years 1 &  2. This is significant.

In previous years, the objective was more about enthusing 7-11 year-olds for the game and ‘signposting’ them into clubs ready to receive and support a new Under 11 side. The switch of focus to All Stars at 5-8 was initially to gather a new audience earlier, compete earlier with other sports and plant the cricket flag more visibly into school playgrounds: Dwyer (not entirely wisely, in my view) openly talks about ‘winning the battle of the playgrounds’.

All Stars has always been more sophisticated than might appear at first glance – probably as a result of the huge lump of research that preceded it. Year 2 will build on this by being ver-ry savvy in relation to what Dwyer & co. have understood to be the aspirations of the broader curriculum. In other words, the crossovers between mere cricket and all manner of learning skills (over and above the obvious developments in physical literacy) are being strongly emphasised.

Cynics might fear this is driven by box-ticking rather than the joy or brilliance or undeniable value of ‘games’ in itself: it certainly appears to cosy up to contemporary notions of what’s good educationally, as opposed to what makes wonderful and enriching sport. The All Stars proponents – and I am largely though not uncritically in this camp – would say that the project can deliver Big on the physical and the educational side.

You may not believe me when I tell you that I/we Community Coaches probably do need a rest between tours: I think we do. I know I’m pouring most of the bestest, truest, most generous-personal energy I can muster into trying to light up kids (mainly) through cricket-based games. Honestly, at the end – not during, not for me anyway – you do find the battery has run a tad flat.

Right now, then, I’m waiting, before doing some re-training or further training specific to the All Stars delivery. Then I’m on it.

In fact I may start with some work with Secondary School Girls, as we’ve run a really successful Lady Taverners competition here in Pembs, for some years. If logistics allow – and there can be issues around travelling for matches or clashes with other sports – all eight of our Secondary Schools try to enter teams. I try to get round the schools to lead some sessions and encourage, as well as attending the matches themselves.

Always sounds a bit corny when some bloke says something like ‘I really do want to make girls feel like they can and should be playing cricket’ but… that’s the way I feel. Indoor, festival-type cricket can be a great way in.

Two new teams were set up last season in the Pembs Ladies League. Having led pre-2017 season training sessions, I was struck by the proper keenness and quality and pride (actually) amongst the cricketing women. I am really hopeful and optimistic that more girls will step up as the opportunities feel more real – and as the role-models become yet more visible. In all the turmoil and change, the profound development of women and girls’ cricket will surely be a constant; undeniable and undeniably good?

Over to you, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver…

 

 

Measuring the Moment.

Finals Day. For some, an exemplar of the modern, dynamic game we’re searching for – what with heaving, happy crowds and boomtastically lusty action. For others, including (weirdly counter-intuitively?) the ECB, a still slightly undercooked version of the spectacularly box-ticking ideal. For other others a kind of Nightmare on Lowest Common Denominator Street.

Muggins here was at Edgbaston, having received wider ECB Media Accreditation for the first time. I was both swanning around and working but did make the occasional effort to tear myself away from the outstanding hospitality/catering/Media Bubble to get down and dirty with you plebs.

Of course I didn’t do anything quite so undignified as to break out into song, or drink from a shoe, or do that bungee-rocket-jump thing but I did, yaknow, contemplate stuff.

Mainly I watched the cricket, enjoying the following in no particular order;

Pollock – for finding a zone of near-obscene brilliance (see previous blog) which separated the Bears from Glamorgan. My memory, which I admit may not coincide entirely with the stats, suggesting his hitting was simply more devastating than anybody else’s all day.

At the other end of a long, intermittently intense day I quietly hailed another triumph – and somehow they all feel personal? – for Peter Moore, the Real Good Bloke Who Rode Disappointment. The Notts coach again might be tempted to fistpump the mirror and tell Ingerland Crickit to go eff itself. (He won’t… because apparently he really is a RGB and he just doesn’t need to: he just keeps working to a fine, fine level).

Sodhi, who span the ball as well as splatting it swiftly down, also caught my eye. Having watched from directly behind his arm, I can tell you that yes he did mix things up – T20 needs must – but also he really did succeed in spinning/turning the ball. Entirely get that the spin-bowler’s short-format repertoire cannot afford to focus more than about 12% on that sideways movement but yup – enjoyed that.

Enjoyed Taylor’s knock in the final, too. Despite having aired my concerns on twitter re- his steady progress towards thirty-odd, it was a pleasure to see his craft cut against the expectation for relentless violence. Taylor played a lot of proper cricket shots, only unleashing the beast later on in proceedings, when the situation (finally) did demand it. I rated his measurement of the moment – it was (as they say) class.

Lots of fuss over Samit so I won’t go there. Clearly the guy’s a player but have previously gone on record to say I’m cool with an international coach, or international coaches as a breed demanding high standards of athleticism, in the modern era.

On the fast bowling front I admired much of what Stone did, plus Ball and Gurney with their spidery strafing-from-Mars thing. Woakes, though, was a thing of beauty, when fired-up.

But the story should maybe about Edgbaston… and about the future. Which is where (I don’t mind telling you) I come over all conflicted.

Plainly Finals Day was a striking, all-singing, most boozing success in the modern way. Clearly Edgbaston does an ace job of this. It was colourful, it hosted, it showed-off, it surfed the excess most excellently. The job was absolutely done in terms of an orgasmic, short-format Big Day Out. (Oh, and lots of the cricket was great too – I mean that). So… that other competition; what’s it for, again?

T20 Blast has got better every year and seems on an upward curve in every respect. Accept there are those who claim it’s a significant notch down from the IPL and  Big Bash in terms of playing quality but that gap has closed. Besides, nobody at Edgbaston was complaining. There is a ver-ry strong argument that building, year by year on the Blast’s positives rather than introducing a rival competition makes perfect sense. As we know, that ain’t gonna happen.

I’m slightly fascinated by the ECB’s moves, here. The chosen option, to create an ultimately higher-class, city-based tournament which more successfully bursts or expands the bubble of traditional cricket supporters is a strikingingly ambitious choice, given what we have – what Blast has become.

Based around masses of research, driven in some meaningful part by Australian experiences and expertise, aimed at transforming levels of visibility of the game and joined up with the huge All Stars and Cricket Unleashed projects this is an epic call. Radical; romantically bold; risky.

The ECB are backing it, though, unless something extraordinary happens(?) They’ve found, as All Stars has recently demonstrated, an unlikely bundle of courage and commitment to change the scenery drastically. This is on the one hand rather exciting.

However the general experience of Edgbaston – my experience, the deliriously fabulous experience of many in the crowd, Saturday – challenges the notion of whether another 20-20 is at all necessary. Blast is becoming that good… and seems likely to tick many of the required boxes in good time… and offers no threat to County Cricket. It offers or can offer the gateway to wider exposure and new customer bases that the ECB understandably craves. So why tinker?

It’s a huge call.

It wasn’t just the Hollies Stand that was rocking on Saturday. As I enjoyed my luxury miniature dessert, the whole of Edgbaston was giving it some.

Word on’ tinternet and beyond has been of a longterm agreement to tie #T20Blast to Brum and good luck to them. Most of what we saw would escape funding from the Arts Council but it was great, relatively inoffensive fun. Easy to be cynical about the attention-seeking antics of a certain former England all-rounder in particular but people laughed and joined in and participated in the cricket. Bumble and Freddie were part of the rockin’ whole.

Blast has become a popular success and therein lies a problem, of sorts, for the ECB. We all know really that two UK 20-20s is one too many – the market’s getting crowded, increasingly so. When withdrawing your hottest, sexiest, bravest plan ever ever feels unthinkable and the expendable prototype turns out better than you thought…. what, exactly, do you do? Glad it’s not my shout.

 

 

Vaulting forward.

The ebbs and flows of cricket admin. Presumed soppy or soapy or almost ludicrous in their becalmed niche-markethood, but sometimes challenging, dynamic – stormy even.

We’ve got big waves at the moment. In the case of the #AllStarsCricket/CricketUnleashed Projects, maybe it’s once-in-a-generation stuff, a time for courageous plunges. Or not?

Meanwhile, around the boomathon – the #T20Blast or City Franchise (or both) – there is similarly a gathering of conflicting surges. For or against the fierce carnival? Anti the lurid populism thing in principle and/or protective of the counties, or wet-suited and booted and charging teeth-bared with the contemporary tide – surfing into the cities?!?

Rarely, surely, can the knitting together of cricket in Ingerland and Wales have been so stacked with tumult? It’s almost exciting.

I go to an #AllStarsCricket Roadshow this week, committed not just out of loyalty to my employers, Cricket Wales but more because my sense is the central notion around which the campaign is constructed (that we cricketpeeps have to ‘break out of the bubble’) is undeniably valid.

There are always a zillion micro-reasons why things stall or fail or are superceded by cultural mores but the blunt truth of this is that too few people get cricket, know cricket, understand what cricket means. And the ECB are (it would seem) absolutely backing a programme designed to genuinely transform levels of contact with, familiarity with and appreciation for the game. #AllStarsCricket is absolutely about making cricket known at a different level.

This talk of ‘presence’ and ‘visibility’ inevitably leads to cynicism – if nothing else because it means we’re in the hands of Market Researchers, Salespeople and career Sports Development Officers. True that it is them who have largely built and/or co-opted the strategy. Untrue – or too simplistic – to make the assumption that there’s something un-cricket and therefore unconvincing or even suspicious about that, although there is no question that some in the game fear that research is no match for time spent in clubs or on pitches.

Dwyer’s Posse have obviously been challenged and no doubt guided by Proper Cricket People at the ECB (and yes I do think there are some. To be fair there are unquestionably cricket people from within that posse, too.)

The framework they’ve come up with hangs upon that idea that cricket functions (or malfunctions) in too small a sector of the population; the bubble is simply too feeble and too small. By implication it is also probably too similar (and too conservative?) to be viable, to be healthy, to feel right, to be attractive in 2017 and beyond. So #AllStarsCricket is about vaulting forward, about increasing numbers simply by exposing more 5-8 year-old youngsters to the game.

The jargonistas talk rather dangerously of ‘winning the battle for the playground’, something I – as a lover of many sports – feel (as we tend to say these days) conflicted about.  I hear the message but think it unnecessarily provocative. I’m in playgrounds alongside rugby coaches or tennis coaches and whilst I am motivated to be the fabbest sportingest bloke my particular dollop of kids have ever come across, this is non-adversarial; I’m neither looking to oust nor undermine any other sport.

In fact, what happens at clubs is more key to the success of #AllStarsCricket than the gathering of the new gang through Primary Schools. I don’t, aim to get into the methodology of all this right now, more the frisson or the philosophy; this may change after I hear more from the ECB in midweek.

Questions, of course, remain. About how clubs will cope, how activators will work, about the quality of coaching and how ASC sits with existing coaches. Most crucially the issue (pointedly felt here in rural West Wales) around how many families will fork out the proposed wedge needed to sign up. But because I totally get that loads of kids need to know who the England captain is (and want to be him or her) I’m in – well in.

We all know that ideally a raft of things should be in place, from free-to-air cricket on telly to fabulous, appealing kit. We have also clocked that this is not Australia. However, having slung the pros and cons (and ill-disciplined metaphors) around the room, around my head for some months, the weight of water behind #AllStarsCricket – investment from ECB, doubling up of Chance2Shine resources – suggest this will be really powerful. That once-in-a-generation monster-wave thing is sounding convincingly BIG: it needs to be irresistible.

Over the weekend a couple of stories have emerged, coincidentally, I imagine, which may suggest that the relentless flow towards city-based cricket may yet be held up.

Firstly Freddie Flintoff – a man who does have a meaningful hinterland and still an active role in the game – came out very forcefully in favour of an admittedly improved, counties-based T20. He made an argument that does have some support and some credence: essentially that #T20Blast wasn’t a million miles off the tournament we need and that fans (Proper Fans?) are (or would be) loyal to their county in a more profound way than they would be to cities across their cultural boundaries. Scousers won’t support a Manchester Marauders – but they would get behind Lancs.  Most of Yorkshire (like the rest of the universe) ‘all ‘ate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds.’

Freddie is right with some of this. Tribal is beautiful.

Then we learn (admittedly via The Mail, which o-kaaay, hardly counts) that an allegedly significant majority of current pro players want to retain that link with the 18 counties into the new era of T20. (Previously it had seemed that the noise was more in favour of the BBL-style city thrash). This is news.  This is heartening to those of us who accept that white ball cricket is going to be key but not that an entirely new audience must overwhelmingly benefit from our attention, to the detriment (or worse) of County Cricket.

I’m sketching again. But what feels true is that dizzyingly crazy waves are slapping around us. It would be easy to pitch in – either through carelessness, or over-ambition, or lack of that steady hand. Who would have thought that so many defining moments could be piled up so high, so tightly?

Being a do-er, not an organiser, I confess to a(n) habitual lack of sympathy for them stuck in the office. Right now I don’t envy the pen-pushers their choices. Let them be bold and also sagacious.

This is what we want.

  • for the cricket to be good
  • for girls to play – like shedloads of them
  • for the sun to shine – really
  • for (somebody like?) Mark Wood to stay fit then take International Test Cricket by storm, or signal it’s ok, for Anderson then Broad to slip into the past
  • …or, maybe just have competitive equals.
  • Also for Cummins and Starc to stay fit, bowl incredibly fast, entertain the universe but be tamed by Hameed, Jennings & Rooooot, when *that time comes*.
  • In a slightly greedy-personal way, I want the whole #AllStarsCricket/#CricketUnleashed thing to really, really transform the profile of cricket in the next two years, so that more people simply get it
  • because it’s worth getting, right, but currently there IS a smallish, arguably fairly narrow range of people who are kinda culturally-familiar with the game, so we do have to commit to something bubble-breakingly ambitious. I think that revolutionary moment is nearly upon us and I hope our commitment is kosher. Tweaking rules or formats is all very well but we have to get to more people in AS WELL.
  • So that mission. I’m proud and excited to be part of all that but c’mon, let’s all get on it?
  • On the T20 thing let’s resolve the City v Counties issue in such a way that County Cricket really benefits. Not good to have a spectacular, ‘world-class’ City T20 that further closes the door on the traditional form (which is maybe dead in the water without T20blast money?) Can’t see how two UK boomathons can co-exist, myself, so this feels like MAJOR. Major comprises, major, generous, philosophically-informed as well as commercially-driven conversations. Let’s be avvin um.
  • I would also like to play cricket… but there’s no realistic chance of that. So maybe contribute elsewhere. Coaching, social media-ing, writing. Try not to think about the pleasure of running in or fluking the occasional cover drive. In fact stop thinking about that RIGHT NOW. Work to do.
  • On the tribal front, I want a better year for Glamorgan. The fella Croft will know he needs to feed more successfully off the goodwill and bourgeoning welshnesses in and around his developing squad, because the times conspire against patience. Great that he’s actively promoting and supporting homegrown players – and I’m told that Huw Morris should also take a lot of credit for this – but clearly results must improve. Lots of us are heartened by (for example) the offer of a 3 year contract (and the security that offers) to young off-spinner Andrew Salter and by Van der Gugten’s emergence but as somebody said re another, similarly competitive industry, ‘goals pay the rent’. On the short-format front, I personally enjoyed Dai Steyn’s run-outs at The SSE Swalec and the form of his compatriot Colin Ingram and of Aneurin Donald. I think I have starts in the night, mind, around the first of those two batsmen being tempted away by a large, hairy cheque. The local lad we imagine will stay and build a wonderful welsh story…
  • Back at England level I think we are actually half-decent. We just can’t compete with India on their patch. Of course this isn’t acceptable… and we have to look at ways to get better.
  • With my Elderish Statesman wiv Worldview head on, I still wonder if there isn’t something frankly unintelligent about the drive for ‘positive cricket’ (in Tests, in particular) or at least the relentlessness of the pursuit of it. It feels ridiculous not to have real game awareness ahead of the need to fight back aggressively or ‘express yourself/back yourself’ at all times. Been mentioned before but there’s a significant clue in the label here: Test Cricket. It’s not about swapping macho gestures – although we accept absolutely that bravado or boldness will play a part. Often it’s about patience, playing within yourself, seeing things out, as opposed to needing to express some weird domination throughout every moment. This is a contest over time and that’s beautiful, unique, crafty, cerebral, tense-in-a-different way. We all get that young athletes wanna be sexy and strong – stronger than their oppo’s – but sometimes it’s dumb and counter-productive to fall for that as An Approach. It may be tempting, in a bullish cohort of Fit Young Things, to go the easy way of expressing superiority through spunkiness but hello-o you don’t have to be a reactionary retard to make the argument that this may be simplistic nonsense unworthy of high-grade sport… which demands intelligence as well as testosterone.
  • There, I did it. Got struck off David Warner’s Christmas Card list. And Michael Vaughan’s. And everyone under thirty.
  • Final word on that Culture Of thing. Get absolutely that dynamism is central to impact/saleability/maybe growth. But drama is not always poptastic and colorifically-enhanced: sometimes it’s symphonic, ma’an.
  • So I want the Wider Game to be looked after. I’m bit suspicious of the race to funkier kit – essential though that may be. I want County and Test Cricket to dig in or be propped up until we’ve kappowed that bubble of limitations and shown everybody what an extraordinary, diverse, exciting game we have. The range of possibilities, of intrigues are maybe a language that must be learned – and therefore they may demand unfashionable levels of attention – but draw folks in and make them welcome and hallelujah! Something great happens. Longer forms are worth supporting not just for sentimental reasons but because they are essential to the romance on the one hand and the learning or skill-acquisition on the other. Tests and County Cricket must be sympathetically nuanced til crowds are meaningful and/or income from the ECB or telly or T20 action means there is a secure place for the next Baby Boycs as well as the next Ben Stokes.
  • That’s all I ask
  • except, naturally, for an absurdly fit-again Dai Steyn to come steaming in from the Cathedral Rd End / an absolute production-line of great welsh cricketers / a regular & successful & appreciated slot for Andrew Salter / a mindblowing series of tons from Nye Donald…

Unleash for real.

Things need to be authentic. Or they do if they’re placed in front of fans and connoisseurs. People in the know judge levels of realness and commitment brutally – because they understand. They know when something is ‘wheeled out’; when it’s a token, a faff, a sop or ‘something dreamed up’ to in some way appease.

If you happen to be a governing body, with the popularity of the average Chancellor, mid second term, there will be suspicion around pretty much whatever you do. Throw in some fabulous, fanatical disproportion amongst your opposition – in this case the average County Cricket fan, obsessed perhaps with protecting the game as he or she understands it – and the last thing you can afford to do is project equivocation. Folks will know you for a fraud.

In this context, the ECB, rightly or wrongly bitterly criticised or characterised as myopic, dubiously-motivated and alienated from us Great Unwashed, need to be conscious of the dangers of rolling out allegedly earth-moving programmes, unless they are clear-eyed, legitimate, committed ventures that people buy into.

So now is a Big Moment. My understanding (as a Community Coach for Cricket Wales) is that we are moving into the #CricketUnleashed era, which includes;

a) the doubling of funding for @Chance2Shine in Oct 2017 and

b) the All Stars Cricket project, taking this traditional, middle-class summer game onto an Entirely New Level in terms of its profile in society at large, via masses of activity in the 5-8 years age-group.

c) loads more in the way of strategy for the recreational… and the professional game.

Ok.  I am personally involved in bigging up the step-change; hoping to deliver some tiddly portion of it(!)  There are naturally certain pressures towards being loyal to both Cricket Wales and the paternal behemoth, the ECB.  Let me eyeball you whilst I repeat that I’m aware of those factors but not driven by them.  I may not be the most reliable of sources on this but… bear with, bear with. Things to say and they aren’t all straight out of the corporation’s sales pitch.

My strong impression is that the ECB, having recruited Matt Dwyer, the dynamic Aussie changer-of-where-we’re-ats, have fully got the need for ambition and for transforming energy.  Have no idea how the conversations have sounded – would love to have been involved – but I believe we’ve gotten to the point where the talking is done and the action really, really starts.  Because (even?) the ECB knows that it must.

There is an acknowledgement that cricket must break through the bubble in which it exists. Rather than just welcoming in (or allowing in?) the current maximum of 30% of the universe that *might possibly* experience cricket, these new measures seek to emphatically burst through to children (and then therefore ideally their families) previously simply beyond our reach. The central ambition of All Stars Cricket is to place the game in playgrounds and clubs and conversations on a different level.  Meaning simply making the game more popular – facilitating that through resources, imagination and a hopefully irresistible bundle of energy.

I get that there may be fears and suspicions around this heady populism. Might it be the natural bedfellow or precursor to gaudy, dumbed-down cricket experiences?  I’m thinking no.  I’m thinking it’s just a way to get folks – more children, new children, actually – hooked into the game. What happens beyond that regarding formats/culture etc etc is powerfully important but maybe powerfully irrelevant to this capturing new kids (#AllStarsCricket) moment.

A brief conclusion.  Reckon this site has proved I am up for debating competitive tests, Day/Night Tests/the meaning of all of this/everything. Hope you can trust me to avoid complete capitulation to the corporate message – despite my obvious allegiances. Really want you to hear again that I am pumped and re-energised, because I think the Cricket Unleashed thing is for real.  But we’ll see.  It’ll have to be.

Ready or not.

I’m both well-placed and dangerously poised on the @Chance2Shine @ECB story. Being a part of the Cricket Wales Community Team – being one of the coaches who actually go do stuff.

My interest is (as Blackadder might say) more vested than a very vested thing. My job as a Community Coach may be more secure as a result of the hike in investment. My hours may go up. But best not say too much, eh? Best not pre-empt anything or count too many chance2shiny eggs?

If you missed it/them, here are some factoids. The ECB, that fascinatingly soft target/that suddenly inspired and dynamic force for good/that bunch of Old Farts (delete according to prejudice or experience) has stumped up a significantly bigger wedge of moolah for schools cricket. More specifically, it has committed to a doubling of the funds invested in Chance2Shine, whose principal mission is to get professional cricket coaches into state schools.

I’m not party to the detail on this; for example I simply do not know, at this point, how much dosh Cricket Wales might get (if any) or how much of that money will go into an increase in coaching. Could be that the CEO of Cricket Wales doesn’t yet know this – partly because this additional money doesn’t come in until October 2017 and partly because (I imagine) high-level discussions around percentages of this and that are still going on. However (and despite acknowledging it’s kindof eeeeeasy and maybe tempting to be cynical about cycles or changing notions of what’s mega, or essential, or how the brand must be) I’m buzzing.

Buzzing because it does feel like there’s a will to really change something. Because (again, accepting that I am neither independent nor proportionate on any of this) I know what we’re offering kids in schools is pret-ty damn good on a zillion levels. It’s loaded with giggles; it’s profoundly developmental; it’s a gateway. All that but maybe more importantly now, it may well be there, for most children.

Cricket in the playground, in the hall, in yer face. Daft, friendly, skilled and yes, often inspiritational people building cricket games, with you, Danny… and Sarah… and everybody! Cricket exposed – #unleashed on all of you – ready or not.

Great and possibly revealing that we may have an Aussie to thank for this, the ECB having poached the bloke who led Cricket Australia’s own transformation. Encouragingly, despite his radical ideas around shamelessly large-ing up the presence, the boomtastic child-relevance of sleepy ole cricket, blow me if the ECB haven’t actually listened to the man. And then they’ve backed him.

Consequently Matt Dwyer, new ECB Director of Participation and Growth finds himself driving something real and weighty and meaningful – and maybe even thrilling- rather than faffing about in some simulator. It appears there is actually a thing, quite possibly a revolutionary thing. Let’s hope.

There are arguments about what cricket needs to do, of course. Whether upping the profile in Primary Schools and supporting and readying clubs for an influx of bouncy kids is really the Golden Bullet. Whether recognition of stars and role-models is gonna happen without free-to-air telly. Whether the ECB should be quadrupling this money to truly transform levels of closeness to the game and its elite protagonists. There are arguments.

But – as with Climate Change – there is a consensus which recognises a need for action. Unlike that other seminal issue for the day, our Powers That Be appear to have processed the understanding that there is a need to act into (yaknow) taking action… which is almost shocking.

Maybe some of the suspicion around the ECB/Chance2Shine plans is a function of deep, existential surprise – or maybe some residual entanglement with the necessary but debilitatingly polarising T20 debate? Could simply be that folks just can’t get their heads around the fact that the ECB may be on an inspirational charge here, boldly re-inventing themselves, as well as our sport. This is not, traditionally, what old white blokes in blazers do.

Apparently one of the game-changers was the revelation, via research, that many more children knew who John Cena was (WWE wrestler, c’mon, catch up!) than knew the Test skipper of England cricket.

I can see this might or arguably should resonate powerfully with those looking to critically assess the state of the game, so will only mention in passing that Alistair Cook’s almost complete absence of charisma might be a factor in this. I accept the view that cricket needs to get brutally frank with itself but tentatively maybe dangle out the concern that research may be flawed, or open to interpretation, or a weirdly self-validating end in itself, on occasion. Whatever, the case for cricket being a minor sport in the minds of young british children, is proven: meaning action.

I hope there is close to a doubling in the number of sessions us coaches get to hold in Primary Schools. I hope this is the crux of it – increased cash, increased cricket. I have no doubt at all that masses of kapow and run in the playground will result in masses of converts to the game.

The target group appears to be five to eight year-old boys and girls, presumably to migrate them, eyes sparkling and hearts a-thrum, to either festival activity or lovely, lively, rewarding action at a local club. The headline intention is (amongst other things) to ‘win the battle of the playgrounds’.

This is bold. This is so bold it’s kinda controversial. Adversarial. The ECB implying (saying?) it’s gunning for other sport’s territory. The ECB frothing rather dangerously and magnificently with belief. The ECB strutting.

I’m nearly too old to be pumped – but I’m pumped for this. The idea that cricket can play a central part in the consciousness of the next generation. That brilliant cricket coaches – of whom I know many – can influence profoundly not just the recreational lives but also (honestly) the levels of engagement and achievement of hundreds of thousands of young people at their place of learning.

Madly ambitious? ‘ Course. But if a further shedload of us are unleashed into schools you better look out.

People, I’m pro-sport rather than tribal-adversarial. I know rugby or football or tennis guys or gals can do important, inspiring work the way that we cricketpeeps can.

Forgive me though, if I’m not hoopla-ing their thing right now. This is cricket’s moment. We deserve it; we’ve been equipping ourselves for years to deliver something liberating, challenging, growing, exciting. It’s outright fabulous that thanks to the ECB – and to Chance2Shine – we might now really get to hit out. Freely.

Remember that?

 

 

The Brilliance of Games.

It’s not just the prompt that is #MHAW16 that makes me think of the link between sport and wellbeing. At the risk of sounding like some faker or fanatic, I never really divert from that #caseforsport thing.

In my daily life I’m completely in the business of getting kids moving and smiling. My head continually swims with responses to sport – and for those in the London Borough of Brent, nope I’m not necessarily talking competitive sport here. I’m talking activity. I’m talking freedom, movement – the finding of skills, the building of rhythms and confidences. For me the brilliance of games are an obvious and essential way in to both social and academic skills as well as a rich but direct route to joy and achievement.

Let’s put something daft and challenging out there. I believe that we could radically improve the health, wellbeing and academic development of children if we put the much-vaunted Physical Literacy Framework right at the centre of Primary School life. Or more exactly – because I don’t want to get bogged down in This Year’s Ideological Re-structure – if we expanded our understanding of the role of physical education.

Decent coaches and/or teachers know PE can be used broadly (but phenomenally successfully) to gather unwilling or disaffected or ‘non-academic’ children in to the curriculum, as well as boosting levels of engagement and achievement in bright kids. It provides a way in – even with those who initially lack co-ordination.

Good coaches re-calibrate the challenge of the game and feed encouragement into the faces of children. They hear them and guide them and praise them towards some tiny- gargantuan triumph… like making a catch or swatting a ball off a tee crisply, with a deeply satisfying clump. In these moments lives can (honestly) be changed.

If I tell you I know that during every session I run something pret-ty damn profound happens that isn’t about me. It’s about the fact of that transformation through the game. A boy or girl *getting it*.

Maybe that getting it is the execution of a single (or probably more likely) a compound skill; or maybe it’s the moment when a lifetime of healthy activity kickstarts, because the child felt something magic… and they were seen… and they were heard; their skill or value was noted in the handbook of the world; their mark – maybe so often ignored, erased or simply un-made – was made, recognised, appreciated.

These are revelatory  moments and they can and should herald wonderful leaps forward.

Children can and often are welcomed in to curriculum work, to academic development via progress in games. (And yes, I am placing the games before the Proper School Work here. If we worked this way round more often rather than bundled on into SATS or some other ‘measurement’ then we might develop more confident, capable and sophisticated young thinkers. And that’s what we want, right?)

Through games children can learn co-operation, awareness, that sense of place – both in terms of belonging and in terms of hierarchy. Whilst the former tends to be powerfully helpful, the latter may turn out a real-world scramble that often needs supporting but must be negotiated.

Beyond the ‘obvious’ skill development comes the progress re- a child’s ability to make intelligent (tactical) decisions. Sport implies and needs the hot-wiring of judgements – often adrenalin-fuelled, often exhilirating. Such moments are surely growth spurts for the mind?

All this over and above the mere movement; the mere propping up of the universe and the NHS *because we got fittish kids*. PE dictates an increasingly alarmingly sedentary generation move something other than their texting or snapchatting fingers.

So mentally and physically we win and we win. I say we celebrate that and prioritise that by making it genuinely central to Primary Education (as opposed to merely re-branding it Physical Literacy and continuing that tendency to significantly underachieve.)

I hear the arguments from those who had a ‘bad experience’ of PE at school and who fear that insensitive blokes with scary beards or gruff manners might revisit all that in the playgrounds of their own children. But coaches or PE Teachers are way better than this now. Things are simply waaay more sophisticated and child-centred.

Coaches bring new levels of understanding and yes sensitivity to games these days. The kids who ‘would never get picked’ are involved now – they share in the activity. Far from being by-passed or damaged, children are more often found/released/directed.

Personally, after a couple of sessions I frequently invite children to build their own game – having prepared the ground with questions about fairness, structure, the sharing of the bat. It’s massively challenging.

There’s no hiding from deepish, philosophical issues because we’ve established that abstracted groundrule that ‘we’re looking for a way to make this work’. We’ve dug into the difficulties about the primeval urge to be the batter; we’ve asked ourselves what a good number might be for the bowler to bowl and those two(!) batters to bat. We’ve considered the shape of things; grappled with social, existential, practical stuff – stuff about time and number and patience and feeling and nerve. We’ve put the Education into the Physical.

Then we go play. And the children choose and negotiate and muscle through that barrier towards sharing.

I don’t think I’m overplaying the levels of mental/academic consideration we’re looking towards here. This is meant to support engagement on a zillion levels but it may (on a purely intellectual stratum) be a separate phenomenon to wellbeing. So let’s briefly look at that.

Young humans generally love to move – despite the aforementioned epidemic in sedentary behaviour – I maintain they/we are stimulated by and enjoy movement. Not because some coach or teacher tells us that games are good or important or healthy but because (when we are guided or supported well) something positive floods through our bodies.

That may be a profoundly individual sensation or it may be something communally-felt. There may be a process that folks in labs could unpick for us: it may be adrenalin/endorphins or some other biological/chemical surge that frankly I am hugely underinformed about. I’m not that interested in the mechanics – that’s not real to me.

What is real is the smiling and the running and the delight. The development. The newness and achievement and growth. Children (in this case) freed and uplifted or unshackled because someone got them moving. That’s real – even if it may not be measured.

#MHAW16 may have pointed some of us towards greater awareness of issues. I applaud that. I also get that my subject matter here typically rests in the non-acute area of interventions into wellbeing. However, as a positive bloke I’m happy to bundle through the politesse around all this and daub a simple, positive message: about sport being a way in.

I have seen Physical Education or Activity support those feeling or struggling with isolation, non-engagement, misunderstanding, chronic lack of confidence, furious anger. I have watched as ‘difficult kids’ are seduced into the struggle or the joyful search; as their minds flash with genius and pain and learning. I have seen teeny, gargantuan worlds light up – often.

 

 

It’s got to feel like you.

There are no constants. Everything is mitigated by circumstance or context. For all our efforts to gather in meaning or truth, glorious, nose-thumbing reality intervenes. On the one hand to remind us we’re only human – only individual – and on the other to deflate our pomp. In life and in sport.

So (for example!) we’ve recalibrated our cricket coaching; we speak of Core Principles rather than Technical Models. We question and we question to unfurl answers, decisions, ownership from within the player. We throttle back our opinion, our ego, our instinct to contradict, in order to facilitate. We’ve become model humans; wise, generous, liberal, humble. In theory.

In practice we moan and bitch and pull our hair out at the sheer incompetence just like always. But we keep a lid on the bollockings – mostly, probably. We rant about the ECB coming over all generic and politically correct and ‘forgetting’ that cricket IS unique. Its complexities. Its predication upon repeatable skills, skills which must deny the encroaching possibilities, the errors which will be punished. We coaches battle with or against this need to prescribe for excellence and the higher impulses towards player-centredness.

It’s not easy but it’s fabulous. In the sense that a) it’s magnificently challenging b) it’s fun c) it’s perversely right to shoot for individual brilliance over theoretical alignment. Coaching cricket is absolutely wonderful because… it makes you wonder about stuff. Not least this balancing of how much freedom to offer, when you may know that discipline (possibly of the technical variety) will, pound for pound, probably enable greater success than (say) allowing Player X to continue to ‘play by instinct’. Maybe.

An example of this gorgeous conundrum might be as follows: young(?) Player Z has an extraordinary eye and a capacity to take the game away from the opposition with the bat. Because he or she swings freely and quite simply generally connects – beautifully. However, you have observed both in practice and in matches the tendency for the front foot ‘clearing’ to (either) draw the head inside the line of the ball early and/or affect balance. Meaning mistimed strokes or miscues and trouble.

The issue is compound. Coach should probably say something (but is this re philosophy or technique?)

Wrong to be the style-cramping miserablist but also wrong to leave innocence un-warned, unadvised. Few would now row entirely against the tide for dynamic/counter-attacking batting but in my experience few coaches would be content to keep schtumm when they can see that some of the risk might be mitigated by a few words around form or base or head.

One model might be to ask the player questions about the implications of being less than balanced (even) when playing aggressively. Then bring out the sub-Churchillian stuff. Make clear that it’s the player’s moment; they choose, they act. We can theorise all day about agility, belief and commitment but in the moment the player must be the expressor of all that. Which brings me back to my title.

Another, more personal example. I was a decent bowler; like the rest of the universe I was told aged twelve I should look to be playing First Class Cricket but a zillion things intervened, including my lack of that kind of ability. But I could bowl quickish and I could also bowl quickish leg-cutters by doing something weirdly akin to the back-of-the-hand thing even when bowling swiftly. Nobody taught me; I found this weapon. I loved finding things, especially on those very rare occasions when I had a proper cricket ball in my hands – a brand new cherry, incidentally, was completely unheard of.

I grew up on the fringes of the game rather than right in it so this may mean I had less exposure to coaching. But the facts that I went to a relatively humongous state school and that coaching barely existed back then also weigh in here. However they do not alter the feeling that my love of bowling results mainly from faffing about; running in and trying things with my mates. Bowling, in fact; in our case at a block of wood in a disheveled net on the British Legion field down the road.

I labour these points because it strikes me there is no substitute for at least some ‘free practice’ and because more importantly I’m clear that only I knew how this particular delivery really felt. It was my process. This is not to say that it couldn’t later be broken down and ‘understood’ by others skilled in coaching or analysis; it surely could. But inevitably it remains unique. Which is surely part of the magic? Stay with me.

I have a concern that pace bowlers (maybe in particular?) are sometimes ill-served by coaches who want to direct them towards their understanding of best practice. (In other words, change their action). This may be the result of over-zealousness or quite frequently because these coaches feel the breath of other, more senior voices around them. You legitimise yourself, you puff out your chest and say something you imagine sounds powerful – authoritative.

God it’s tempting at my amateur level to tell a bowler all you know about bowling when his dad (who played for Glamorgan) or another coach is edging into earshot. Instead all parties might be better served if a few friendly questions are asked, leading the player towards two or three (not 42 or 43!) checkpoints for when they’re bowling. Two or three things to return to before clearing the mind, concentrating on the stumps and running in freely – like a kid on the field with his mates.

There’s no wider agenda here. I’m not alluding to alleged failings at Loughborough or revisiting Finngate. I don’t know the circumstances or the relevant individuals. However I am chipping into the debate because I’m a bowler and a coach and I recognise acutely some of the issues. To plunge again into the general, I would be very loath to change the action of a bowler significantly unless it was absolutely nailed on that injury had been the direct result of that action. Instead, mostly, I would be saying this to the seamer(s) in my charge –

Hey mate you know what things keep you in order – what your checks are. So focus on them. Then calm yourself, run in with energy, follow through.

I’m happy enough with that. I have on board the (compound) idea that yes we should be offering Core Principles and – reference those batting skills – yes we can rightly encourage positivity whilst (also) playing the match situation. But ultimately, ultimately…

It’s got to feel like you.

Skilled work.

On coaches and crowds…

The Rugby World Cup has been/is a triumph for sport, yes? Not just for rugby but for sport. Superbly dramatic and almost entirely free from ‘simulation’ or disrespect between players or teams. Genuinely uplifting, in fact, in terms of the world showing us that brother/sisterhood thing we might be fearing subsumed in the age of diving and conniving footballers, £6 Cornish pasties and an intimidating multitude of *revealing* camera angles.

Folks have loved other folks’ teams – Japan-lurv being the most obvious example. So, shedding the baggage of our postmodernist awarenesses, we can simply agree (can’t we?) that it’s been bloody great?

But what can we learn?

In sport atmosphere is BIG. Athletes feed off energies from the crowd (and clearly vice-versa) in a way that really can inspire brilliant execution. It may be that truly elite-level athletes get to be that way because they harness, or are comfortable with or yes, inspired by the heat or hoopla of the big, big challenge. Magic players, far from being undermined by the pressures of the environment (noise/distraction/nerves?) blossom, find their truest finest selves in those moments – hence the overuse of the word ‘expression’. Almost without exception, from Brighton to Geordieland, #RWCup2015 crowds were buzzing… and the players got busy expressing.

Cast your mind back a week or two and something very different was occurring; the first Test Match in Abu Dhabi.

Here England and Pakistan ultimately served up some proper drama, after wading through a weirdly debilitating silence for four days. The players in fact emerged with an almost surreal level of credit but for an age a good deal of what happened felt emasculated, or short of sport. Cook flourished and important *statements* may have been made but with nobody there the event of it felt more like a drawn corpse than a live contest. What fascinates me – or rather one of the many things that fascinated me about this test – was what effect if any the utter lack of atmosphere had on what went on.

Let me swiftly add the rider that I speak as an advocate of Test Match cricket who (whilst getting the current impatience with it) would defend the capacity of the sport to bear the occasional slow burner ‘midst the contemporary carve-tastic norm. Consequently I was almost as unflustered as the England skipper when every pundit and former player in the universe was wailing on about dullness.

This daft thing in the desert was a small percentage part of the dynamically evolving Test Universe; it was entitled to its loopy-scratchy, defiantly anti-dynamic dawdle.

Like the Big Lebowski I chilled – abided – watching and waiting, wondering what might happen if an almighty clamour were to accompany a key wicket or a lush spell of bowling. Wondering how demotivating that yawning quiet might be – how seductive, how soporific to the fast-twitch fibres. The minor revelation came that things might have been different.

As I write #TMS is on again, for the second test; apparently (if my ears are to be believed) there is again no crowd. A challenge for bowlers – maybe particularly seam bowlers? – to get on a roll, on a flat pitch, in the sun, with no crowd.

The atmosphere(s) when Japan beat the Boks or when Ireland turned the Millenium green were both remarkable and essential to the sport occurring on that day. It could be that Japan might never have beaten South Africa in a near-empty stadium. Their fabulous momentum was predicated on quick ball and some irresistible spirit mexican-waving its way round the stands and from the stands into the bloodstream of the game. It was of course wonderful – dare I say it? – literally wonderful.

Crowds, then – mere gatherings of bystanders – play their part in the sporting cowabunga. Let’s note that… and if we happen to have some influence over where Big Games are actually played… remember. As we remember (alongside our friends from Bayern) the cost factor, eh?

Something else about the Rugby World Cup has really registered with the media (who’ve been all over it) and with those of us who either coach or bawl from the touchlines; the Skills Divide.

The domination of the tournament by southern hemisphere sides has been accompanied by significant rumination from the northern press – as though there’s been some uniformly powerful lightbulb moment. It’s clearly dawned that the key difference is in skills, by which I think folks mean the freedom and excellence of successful execution.  Most of us will imagine what we might call expressive skills; stuff we called natural ability until that became an area overloaded with difficulties.

Everyone from Brian Moore to Paul Hayward to well, everyone has been banging on about the skills that get you tries or opportunities (even) when things are tight. Skills that separate. Skills which may range from soft, intuitive hands to mind-blowing composure and decision-making.

It may be kinda funny that in the Everything Accounted For age, with typically more coaches and trainers and ‘support staff’ in place than can possibly be justified, we have such a universally recognised DOH!! How did we miss that one?!? moment.

Everybody’s leapt upon the essential ‘truth’ of it; Wales were great but couldn’t finish, Ireland were outclassed by The Pumas(!), Scotland have transformed and may have been robbed, England and France were embarrassing. But mostly, The North lacked brilliance.

Somebody soon enough will make a counter-argument to the current rash of theories aligned around Northern Bash undone by Southern Flash. In fact, because it’s plainly a tad simplistic I may even do it myself. But if we accept that there is a case to answer, here – i.e that we in the North are producing less gifted or less ingenious/expressive rugby players – why would that be? Does this transfer across into other team sports? How come our talent is less talented (or less able to perform) than (say) Kiwi talent?

The theses are already underway, right?

I can speak of but not for the ECB Coaching set-up on the ideas around the facilitation of talent. Here there is an acceptance that diverse opportunities for sport and broad development – towards being a better human, actually – fit with the pathway towards brilliance. Coaching is (or aims to be) more generous than previously; less prescriptive. Core Principles are offered to players as a support, through which those same players should find a way that works – that feels like them. This counts for a pretty radical shift when compared to decades of technical models and acutely fine-tuned ‘demonstration’.

Plenty of coaches are concerned that the growth of a globalised, t’internetted Sports Development Corporation necessarily means things get genericised, flawed by soundbites, or compromised as we all seek to do the Right Thing. We all finish up saying the same thing in order to sound credible – or we all seek to sound ‘left-field’ enough to stand out. We’re all too painfully aware.

I have seen enough to acknowledge both shortcomings in what the ECB call their ‘player-centred’ approach and in the creep towards multiskills BUT have no doubt that this loosening of the technical shackles is helpful in terms of unleashing or freeing talent. Of course this talent might be guided by what we might call technical specialists but let them not clutter up the mind of the athlete. Let them offer up their gift.

It may be foolish to meander between sports but I make no apology. I remain alive to the possibility of wonder through daft stuff like rugby and cricket, as well as through cerebral revelation via culture. I make no qualitative distinctions between them. They both still make me smile – as does the following wee notion.

Graham Henry (who has written so outstandingly on #RugbyWorldCup2015 and matters beyond, recently) has coached at the elitest of elite levels, yes? Known for his intelligence, thoroughness, experience, success(!) etc etc. Whilst All Blacks coach he was approached by key players, after a significant disappointment, as he no doubt planned his next Churchillian, team-gathering riposte. They asked him who the speechifying was for – them or him? They asked him – Graham Henry, aged 50-odd, at the height of his powers – if maybe he should say a bit less and trust a bit more. Graham Henry now doesn’t do team talks. He builds teams… from individuals.