England national spin bowling coach Peter Such talks to me about his career, coaching, and the torture of batting!
What exactly does your new job entail?
In many ways it's not a new role for me. I have been doing it on a part time basis for the last two and a half years. There are a number of strands to it. Part of the role is about putting a program and strategy in place that's going to develop spin bowling talent across the whole spectrum. I also work with the more elite bowlers in the older age groups: Under 19s up to England Lions. It gives me the opportunity to get some hands on coaching done with those bowlers that I feel have the potential to move forward. Another large piece is coaching education, getting the appropriate message out there to the different age groups, and how we go about coaching spin so that bowlers come out at the other end well rounded and in a good place.
Did you have to apply for the full time post?
No, obviously I impressed the right people in terms of what I was already doing and the way that I was going about it, so they decided to award me with a full time contract. The role expanded and I was offered the opportunity to continue with the work that I had already been doing.
Who do you report to?
I report in to David Parsons, the Performance Director. It's his responsibility to pull it all together, so he works with myself and the other skill set leads over different disciplines, and then he reports in to Hugh Morris.
What will be the measure of success in this new job?
I think there will be a number of different factors, but ultimately what we want to see is an increased amount of spin being bowled, an increased number of wickets being taken by spin bowlers, and more and better spin bowlers coming through in the years to come.
What are you most looking forward to in this role?
I'm looking forward to seeing the profile of spin bowling rise in the English game because I think it is something that has slipped over a number of years. I'm looking forward to young spin bowlers coming through and going to play county and international cricket, and improving and fulfilling their ambitions.
Why do you think it has slipped in recent years?
For a number of reasons. I think we've not paid it as much attention as we perhaps ought to have done. There has been a move away from it in terms of the culture of the way we play our cricket. Conditions have been unfavourable towards spin bowling in the domestic game with the pitches that we play on and the way that we play our cricket, that hasn't helped. We've also lost a lot of spin bowling knowledge out of the game over a long period of time. So it's a matter of working with the aspects that you have an opportunity to influence, and trying to nudge people who have an influence over other areas to create a better environment for spin to flourish.
Do you think there was a time when that knowledge was being passed down but then it phased out and so it skipped a generation?
Absolutely. There was a period of time when a lot of experienced practitioners left the game and with them went their knowledge and we were left without experienced spin bowlers. We also still go down the pathway of signing an overseas practitioner to come in and do the job for us instead of investing the time that it requires to develop our own. Time is vital to spin bowling because you don't become good at it unless you do lots of it. So you need opportunities to play, to bowl, to learn your skills and learn how to apply those skills. It's not always the case in a culture that demands instant success from the bowler, as well as the captain and the coach, so they get caught in the middle. They are under pressure to produce results and they want to produce results, but they try and do it too quickly when they haven't grasped everything they need in terms of the basics of their role.
Is that something you are keen to do: make sure everyone has enough time to develop as a spinner before they are forced into trying to perform at a certain level?
Yes. They've got to be ready for it. Statistically we know now that fast bowlers and batsmen tend to mature and reach their peak somewhere around aged 23, but spin bowlers don't tend to reach their peak until about 26. Yet there will be times when we judge spin bowlers by the same criteria: "why hasn't this 23 year old performed?" It's because he hasn't reached his peak yet, he needs another couple of years to develop before he's ready for it.
How do you plan to protect them in that gap?
There is an educational aspect in terms of making people aware of it, and showing that they are developing but perhaps not at the same rate as those with other skills. And you can look for opportunities, whether that's at home or abroad, to get the required amount of bowling and match time for them to make sure they are ready a bit quicker. So I will be trying to bring that age down on the inside, but also trying to educate on the outside. You don't want to force them or rush them into a position where you are exposing them before they can cope with it.
How would you describe your coaching style?
I like to be as positive as I can, offering the encouragement and creating the appropriate environment for people to work in. I believe in volume, you need to bowl a lot to become good at it, so volume plays a part in any sessions that we do, as well as over a period of time. It's similar to any other sort of coaching role, you've got to take people on that journey and offer them whatever is appropriate at the right time, and make sure the environment is right for them to take it on board, learn from it, and develop. I've been exposed to a lot of quality coaching over the years; you take information from those people and mould it into your own style and your own way of doing it.
Who was the best coach that you ever had in your career?
There's been a number. I've got an enormous amount of respect for a fella called Terry Jenner who's sadly not with us anymore, I thought he was a very fine coach and he had a huge knowledge of bowling, in particular spin bowling. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him; I liked him as a person and I thought he had a lot of good messages. I've always enjoyed working with Jack Birkenshaw, he's got bounds of enthusiasm for it and he's ultra positive in everything he does. I've enjoyed working with Norman Gifford, 'Giff'. When he was coaching me he had a very simple straightforward message, and again he was supportive. Fred Titmus was another good guy to work with; he had great knowledge of the game. He wasn't overtly technical; he just talked to you about bowling. Another one was Eddie Hemmings. They all had differing attributes, and from a coaching perspective you try and pick off bits from each and put it together as your own package.
Have you learnt things from business coaching that you can take into cricket coaching?
Yes. There are a lot of coaching and people skills that I've picked up. It was all about coaching the mind. Cricket is a blend of coaching a movement, an activity, a physical skill, so you are coaching the body as well as the mind.
Are you going to carry on with your business coaching?
No I don't have time for that. I've been winding it down for a while now. I am looking forward to throwing myself into the cricketing side of things and hopefully seeing the results down the line. Some of the things that we've been doing have started to work. One of the best programmes that we've got is the partnership with the Brian Johnston Memorial Trust. Through their support we've helped install a specialist spin bowling coach in just about every County Academy in the Elite Wrist Spin Programme, and also within the MCC Universities, so we're actually supporting young bowlers that are out there looking to develop. It's one of the most important things we do because we need to get these messages out there. One of the biggest blocks to spin bowling development is the lack of quality coaching that people have received in the past. If you can get those messages over to youngsters and teenagers, you've got the opportunity to establish that base and then you can build on it as they develop.
How do you spot new players?
There is a talent id side of my role. I look for someone who's got a passion for it, combined with ability and the potential to develop a solid repetitive action that will make the most of spinning the ball. The role is to try and refine some of these, and educate coaches on our messages so that people know what they are looking for and know how to develop it.
Which young players are exciting you at the moment?
I'm not going to name names, I don't think it's appropriate and I'll probably forget someone. But there are quite a number of talented spin bowlers out there. The pinch point is getting them experience and overs in first-class cricket in the long form of the game. That's where you learn skills and establish bases, and then you can adapt them and apply them to one-day cricket.
Who have you got your eye on as potential successors to Swann?
I don't think that specifically. You don't want Graeme Swann number two, you just want to development an international spin bowler who can bowl well for England, who can offer control and take wickets. If you can do that then you've got the right person for that position to take over.
I am not going to pick out one person as the next England spinner. I just know that it's my job to find them, and hopefully several of them. That's one of the goals. We want a lot of choice available, when the time comes. I want the selectors picking from four or five rather than scratching their heads and picking one option because there is nobody else.
Are you keen to develop a mystery spinner?
All comers are welcome if they've got the talent and ability to pull it off.
Do you think that club cricket in England smothers spinners?
I think it can, yes. If you've got the right captain who's prepared to believe in and back their spin bowlers then they'll produce the results for you. But too often what you see is four seam bowlers who all have to bowl their spell before the spin bowler gets a go. Sometimes you'd be better off chucking the ball to the spinner first change and saying get on with it. I'm not sure that there are people innovative and brave enough to do that. It harks back to that loss of knowledge, the loss of cricketing nous around developing spin bowlers and handling them out in the middle.
Do you think it's your job to educate captains about how to handle spinners?
We have to try and do something along those lines yes. Spin bowlers take a bit more nurturing; you need to have a bit more faith and belief in them. You've also got to think a bit more about the fields that you put in place for them. For a quick bowler it's fairly standard, you have two slips, third man, fine leg, gully and off you go. No matter what you bowl, that's what you bowl to. But spin bowling is different. You have to be a little bit more innovative and listen to the bowler more.
Can you give an example of how a spinner has been handled badly at club/county/international level?
You see it all the time. Sometimes they are handled very well, but other times they are not treated particularly well. We've got to get better at those aspects and that will create a better environment and better situation for spin bowlers to flourish in. This year, there are three spin bowlers that have taken lots of wickets: Simon Kerrigan at Lancashire, David Wainwright at Derby and George Dockrell down at Somerset. They've been afforded the opportunity to bowl lots of overs, and if you bowl lots of overs you'll get the wickets. They're rewarding their captains and coaches with wickets and match winning performances.
What difference, if any, has the 15-degree arm straightening law made to spin bowlers? Do you agree with it?
It's a difficult one: how do you police it in the recreational game? There are measures and processes and protocols in place at the professional level: you send a player away for biomechanical tests and you get the results back, but you don't have that opportunity at recreational and junior level. It could be a big issue moving forward because what is 15 degrees to the naked eye? And how do you go about managing it and encouraging it? I don't see how we can drill down further. We have to be very cautious, a duty of care element if you like, when it comes to encouraging the use of it if that's what you do as a coach. Talented young bowlers are coming under more scrutiny the better they get. Then all of a sudden they get into the professional game and they get whisked off for a test, which they fail, and they've got to remodel their action. It's a difficult thing to do.
Do you think the DRS has made a difference to spinners?
Yes, Hawk-Eye technology is fantastic for spin bowlers pure and simple. In years gone by, pad playing was an art: people thrust the pad out at you; they'd mask the bat behind it and pretend they were playing a shot. Umpires would be reluctant to give people out lbw. Now more often than not the ball has been shown through technology to go on and hit the stumps, so umpires are now feeling more obliged to apply the lbw rule correctly. As a consequence of that, batters now have to play directly at the ball with the bat and that brings in other modes of dismissal. So I think it has helped batters play differently, and it rewards bowlers for bowling deliveries that hit the stumps.
Do you wish DRS had been in use when you were playing?
I'm sure it would have made a difference, but I don't like to talk along those lines. I'm happy to have played in the era that I played in, I loved it. Coaching provides me with a buzz close to the one that I got from playing. So I wouldn't like to say that I'd love to have played now because of DRS, I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I played. I'm sure it would have made a difference to me, how much of one I don't know, but it would have made a difference.
Would you have liked to play under a central contract? Would that have given you a longer England career?
I don't know whether I would have got a central contract. Maybe when I started I would've got one. I think central contracts are a really good thing. You can see the impact that they have had, particularly when it comes to fast bowlers. We can now get our best attack on the field more often, and that can only be a good thing because you've got to take 20 wickets to win a Test match. We are doing that regularly because we get our best bowlers on the park more often and we've developed a depth in the fast bowling department.
Do you think England are in a stronger position than they were 10 years ago in terms of depth of talent?
Definitely. You just have to look at the results that have been achieved by England over the past seven or eight years. We've seen an incremental increase in terms of our rankings. We've also had the opportunity during the winter on the England Performance Programme, the England Lions Programme and the England Development Programme to get access to players and the opportunity to influence their development over the winter, rather than just dismissing them at the end of a season until the following April.
Do you take into account batting ability of the bowlers that you are working with?
Without doubt you've got to encourage the all round development of cricketers. If you can bat, field and bowl then you're more of an asset to your side. It would be great if England had a top order batter who could bowl spin like a Dilshan. It adds that extra option to the captain in the field. Obviously they have to be good enough to play with the bat in the first instance, but if they can also add value by bowling then that's fantastic.
Did you enjoy batting?
I didn't, no. I wasn't a very good player with the bat, and I didn't look forward to it. Had I been coming through the system now it's an area that I feel I would've had to address and become more competent in.
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