New Fea­ture...

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

On Eng­land’s 1986-87 tour to Aus­tralia, as he had done dur­ing most of his time as coach, the former Sur­rey bats­man knew to leave well alone and this softly, softly ap­proach paid div­i­dends.

Af­ter a hair-rais­ing first month dur­ing which The Cricket Pa­per’s Martin John­son wrote:“There are only three things wrong with this team. They can’t bat, they can’t bowl and they can’t field.” Mike Gat­ting’s mixed bag of old hands and big per­son­al­i­ties in­clud­ing Ian Botham, David Gower, Al­lan Lamb, Chris Broad, Bill Athey and Phil Ed­monds some­how con­trived to win the Ashes and all in the gar­den was rosy.

But it was not un­til the 1989 re­match had ended in chaos that Ste­wart was paired with a cap­tain whose work ethic truly matched his own and he and Gra­ham Gooch set about rais­ing base lev­els of fit­ness far higher than those Eng­land’s in­ter­na­tional crick­eters had been used to.

He once spelled out the change of cul­ture that he be­lieved was re­quired, thus: “Ques­tion: what is the next word most peo­ple think of when you say the word ‘cricket’? An­swer:‘beer’.” With the help of Gooch, whose com­mit­ment to phys­i­cal fit­ness was ab­so­lute, the new ap­proach al­most paid rich div­i­dends straight away.

When Eng­land trav­elled to the Caribbean in 1990, they did so as walk­ing walkovers. They were without Gower and Botham and a host of oth­ers who had cho­sen to join the rebel tour to South Africa that win­ter in­stead, they had not won a Test in West Indies since 1974, nor a sin­gle Test over­seas for three years and had won only one match against any­one, home or away, in their pre­vi­ous 26 at­tempts.Vi­vian Richards, his ex­plo­sive bats­men and his fear­some pace­men were lick­ing their lips.

But Eng­land caused a fa­mous up­set when they won the first Test in Ja­maica, and they would have taken a 2-0 lead in Trinidad which would have se­cured at least a share of the se­ries had in­jury to Gooch then tor­ren­tial rain not stopped their vic­tory charge dead.

And though the tour ul­ti­mately ended in glo­ri­ous de­feat, it marked the start of a pe­riod of rel­a­tive suc­cess in which, the part­ner­ship earned wins against New Zealand (twice), In­dia and Sri Lanka, bat­tled to a 2-2 draw against West Indies in 1991 – Eng­land’s best re­sult against them for 17 years – and took their side to the

Micky Ste­wart

fi­nal of the 1992 World Cup, a run of suc­cess spoiled only by de­feat in the 1990-91 Ashes and, in his fi­nal se­ries, at home to Pak­istan, dogged by con­tro­versy over al­leged ball-tam­per­ing by the vis­it­ing fast bowlers.

Ste­wart’s em­pha­sis on fit­ness, diet and video anal­y­sis seem com­mon­place now but, for the time, were quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary. His im­pact on the fu­ture pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment of Eng­land cricket should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Eng­land cricket in the mid-Nineties was a car crash on a loop and the en­su­ing con­fu­sion ex­tended to the role of the coach, with no-one quite sure who should be driv­ing or how.

Much of the good work done by Ste­wart had been un­der­mined; Keith Fletcher was ap­pointed to suc­ceed him but found it im­pos­si­ble to bring the can­ni­ness and craft he had de­vel­oped in a bril­liant county ca­reer with Es­sex to the in­ter­na­tional stage. Ray Illing­worth came next and by the end of his con­tro­ver­sial reign had some­how been el­e­vated to the role of supremo, en­com­pass­ing coach, man­ager, chief se­lec­tor and “Ily­tol­lah”, much to the dis­com­fort of his cap­tain Mike Ather­ton whose power and in­flu­ence were steadily eroded in the process. David “Bum­ble” Lloyd took over as Eng­land at­tempted to re­dress that bal­ance, but fell out with his su­pe­ri­ors and quit.

By the time Eng­land started to cast around for a new man they were in the process of com­plet­ing their de­scent to the bot­tom of the Test rank­ings and Dun­can Fletcher must have won­dered what he had let him­self in for when, at his in­ter­view for the job in 1999, one of the panel of ECB of­fi­cials wel­comed him with the words,“Hello, Dav”, con­fus­ing the Zim­bab­wean with his fel­low can­di­date Dav What­more, a Sri-Lankan born nat­u­ralised Aus­tralian.

Un­daunted, Eng­land’s first over­seas coach proved an in­spired choice.

Fletcher was un­afraid to make in­stant calls over play­ers, good and bad, and his dis­ci­plinar­ian na­ture claimed an early vic­tim when, af­ter his first Eng­land tour to South Africa in 1999/2000, Graeme Swann was jet­ti­soned for reg­u­lar in­fringe­ments of dis­ci­pline and what was seen as an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with a cer­tain Jack Daniel.

That pos­si­ble er­ror of judg­ment was more than com­pen­sated for by the se­lec­tion and nur­tur­ing of Mar­cus Trescoth­ick, the burly Som­er­set basher whose ca­reer seemed to be go­ing nowhere un­til Fletcher saw him ham­mer his Glam­or­gan side at Taun­ton and de­ter­mined to get him into the Eng­land side as soon as pos­si­ble. Then again, Fletcher’s in­sis­tence on his pace­men be­ing able to hit 90mph con­sis­tently left lit­tle room for ma­noeu­vre and stretch­ing for ex­tra pace may have hin­dered the progress of one or two, in­clud­ing James An­der­son.

A bril­liant bat­ting coach, Fletcher in­sti­gated the “press” a tech­nique based on an ini­tial small step for­ward, which al­lowed a bats­man to make fur­ther move­ment back or for­ward from a mov­ing start. Not all play­ers were con­vinced but some swore by it.

His work, in part­ner­ships with skip­pers Nasser Hus­sain and Michael Vaughan, was helped by the in­tro­duc­tion of full-time ECB cen­tral con­tracts (Ather­ton and oth­ers had been call­ing for them for years), en­abling them to build a team to take on the world and, more im­por­tantly, win the 2005 Ashes.Vaughan was the team’s leader, but Fletcher was its tac­ti­cal guide, en­cour­ag­ing his play­ers to get in the face of the Aussies, and stay there.

Dun­can Fletcher

Up­set: Micky Ste­wart and the Eng­land team cel­e­brate af­ter vic­tory in the first Test against the West Indies in 1990

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