Cricket: First steps of a Reeve believer

Iain Fletcher talks to an eager young professional learning the new lessons in Somerset
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The Independent Online
"GIMME 20 laps of the ground," has echoed across sporting fields for decades as professionals and amateurs alike prepare for the forthcoming season. "Walk 20 laps of the ground in silence and 10 yards apart and visualise batting and bowling," has been heard slightly less often but that is exactly what Dermot Reeve had Somerset's 20 professional cricketers doing last week.

Only one season in charge and Reeve has realised that Somerset like to go round in circles. In his relentless pursuit of that extra edge, Reeve as the master tactician on the pitch always turned to the unusual. As a coach he has not changed and at Taunton the old teaching manuals have been thrown out and the Reeve philosophy put into action.

Somerset's more experienced players have got used in recent years to new fads and tend to accept them publicly with the enthusiasm required by the management and privately with a quizzical raising of the eyebrows. The new players are different, more of a blank canvas, untainted by cynicism and less suspicious of all things new. After all, they use computers rather than just swear at them. A prime example of this brave new generation is Joe Tucker, an 18-year-old who signed for Somerset last October and who will now embark on his debut season as a professional. He is already a convert to the gospel according to Dermot.

"I'd been told for the last two years to think cricket and plan situations, but under Dermot it is so different. He refuses any negativity and encourages you to talk and discuss how to win matches. It doesn't matter if you're wrong, he still wants you to say it," he said.

Hindered by the rain, Somerset have struggled to practise outside but they have all developed Schwarzenegger pectorals with daily sessions on the punchbags and heavy weights. "I expected to net more, but the rain has stopped us. When we do net, it has to have a specific purpose," said Tucker. "We have sessions for one-day cricket and different nets for Championship cricket and Dermot tries to keep us thinking and working on the different games."

Tucker's confidence as a purveyor of brisk outswing and a middle-order batsman is plain to see as Alan Igglesden, the Kent and England seamer, found out to his cost on Tucker's 2nd XI debut. Igglesden was less than happy with an aspect of Tucker's play and administered a tongue-lashing to put the youngster in his place. The vociferousness of Tucker's reply was unexpected, particularly as he was only 15 years old.

Reeve has obviously been impressed by such self-belief and has looked to channel Tucker's energy into improving his game. While the other players bond together at the nearest golf course, Tucker is in the nets practising. Reeve is making sure that Tucker is kept interested. "You expect to do some different things with Dermot because that's his reputation but at least he keeps it interesting. Dermot is an inspirational person. People at the club are happy to experiment with him and we accept it." Even 20 laps in silence? "Well, it does seem a bit odd but some of the players seemed happy with it. I was at college for the day and missed it."

While nose rings and cows may leap to mind there is no doubting Reeve's influence. On the one hand he pleads for players to think for themselves constantly and yet his methods breed a form of discipleship. One hundred press-ups in a minute is impressive but hardly warrants the rapturous applause that the players gave to the "Superstar".

Reeve's policy of cheering each other on is also used by David Lloyd, the England coach, who Tucker encountered before he toured with England Under-19 to South Africa in the winter. "He told us that our next step was the A tour because they wanted to pick out the best of the 19s and put them in - and the step after was the full England side. It was great to hear that from the England coach."

Back at wet Taunton and the delights of batting against Andy Caddick and Andre Van Troost, once considered the fastest bowler in the world by Desmond Haynes, await Tucker and the two steps Lloyd spoke of suddenly look like two giant leaps.

"At 6ft 6in and 6ft 7in they are terrifying to face because they are quick and huge, but it is also a great buzz. You feel alive and the adrenalin is massive. I'd done it before but not every day."