Cricket: Haynes the innovator

While one county look to a legend of the game to put back the smile on faces and bring back a sense of achievement; Simon O'Hagan meets the high-profile West Indian warming to a Sussex challenge
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The trouble with Sussex, one local observed last week, is that the members care more about such matters as the cost of deck-chair hire than they do about winning anything. Which probably won't make Desmond Haynes's job any easier.

Haynes is the new Sussex coach. At 40, one of the finest West Indian batsmen of his or any other generation has all but come to the end of a glittering playing career, and now he has set himself the task of putting life back into one of English cricket's sleepier environments.

Sussex are lucky to have him. Not since Imran Khan was bringing his swagger to the south coast a decade ago has the county been able to boast such a glamorous name, and he comes with the warmest of recommendations from his former colleagues at Middlesex, where he played for five seasons between 1989 and 1994.

But the arrival of Haynes does suggest that the county is serious about adding to a trophy cabinet which has not been disturbed since victory in the NatWest Trophy in 1986. Matters came to a head last year when the high hopes with which Sussex had gone into the season disappeared during a disastrous July. Norman Gifford, the cricket manager, then resigned, and the county decided a new approach was needed.

"Various names were being talked about," Nigel Bett, the Sussex secretary, said. "But we were delighted that nobody outside realised we had made contact with Desmond. We went for him because he was high profile and he was a proven winner. If you look at his record, he's achieved everything any player could ever achieve in cricket."

For Haynes, the chance came at the right time. He had played his last season for Middlesex the previous year in the expectation that he would figure in the West Indies side that was to tour England in 1995. Haynes's non- selection turned into a legal dispute - as yet unresolved - between him and the West Indies Board, but it meant that when offers started coming in he was able to give them his full attention.

"Durham were interested in me playing for them for a season," Haynes said. "And Derbyshire sounded me out about becoming their captain. But when I got the Sussex offer, it was a good one for me because my playing days were limited and coaching was my future. I've always enjoyed passing on my knowledge and helping younger players."

Haynes stands by the West Indian philosophy of playing positively and enjoying your cricket - neither of which attitudes had been much in evidence at Sussex when he took over. "What I'm mainly trying to do is create a better atmosphere than I gather was the case last season," Haynes said. "My understanding is it wasn't very good at all. There was a lot of bickering, and no togetherness.

"I want to create more of a family atmosphere. For example, I'm making sure the guys remember each other's birthdays and wedding anniversaries. We're having a few dinners together, showing we care for each other. I've also brought in a fines system if people are late for practice or if we're leaving to go anywhere. Nothing too serious, but just to get people to think about each other. We did it at Middlesex and it worked very well there.

"I think you've got to look at how other counties do things. Warwickshire, for example. They're always chirpy on the field. Not just at the start of the season but all the way through. I'm not saying you should smile when you get out, but I think you must accept that there are going to be times when you don't do so well and not let it disrupt the unity of the side."

Haynes's innovations have also been technical, as Sussex have caught on to the trend, led by Warwickshire, towards a much more open-minded approach to training methods. Fielding is an area Haynes has concentrated on. "We're doing a lot of work practising throwing with the wrong arm." The Sussex physiotherapist is making a study of the workings of the shoulder when a ball is thrown. He has even been to America to study how baseball players throw the ball, which is apparently very different from the way English cricketers do it and results in far fewer instances of arms being "thrown out".

As Haynes spoke, standing on the boundary at Hove last Thursday, there were already indications that he was having some effect. Out in the middle, Sussex were playing a one-day friendly match against Surrey and stroking their way to an astonishing 405 for five off 50 overs, admittedly helped by having a 30-yard boundary on one side of the wicket. But Surrey never looked like threatening such a score.

Although Haynes will be returning to play for Western Province in South Africa for one last season next winter, he will not, unfortunately, be turning out for Sussex this summer. "I'm not interested in playing here," he said. "I think I've got the guys who can do it for me. I'm also a great believer that anyone playing for their county should have their eye on playing for their country."

Producing Test players is one of Haynes's aims - along with winning something - and certainly Sussex have justifiable aspirations in this respect. Three Sussex men are involved in the match between England A and the Rest that is taking place at Chelmsford at the moment - the previously capped leg- spinner Ian Salisbury and two promising pace bowlers, Ed Giddins and the left-armer Jason Lewry. Then there is Martin Speight, returning after a year's absence through illness, and, as he showed with 57 against Surrey, capable of explosive batting. "If you look at the England one-day team it would be difficult to put Martin out of your mind," Haynes said. Alan Wells could be a contender again, and Haynes cannot see why, if he has a good season, even the veteran Bill Athey should not be considered for international cricket.

"The problem with England is you've got so many players it's difficult to get the combination right," Haynes said. "You've got people saying you should go for youth, and others who want experience. But anyone who's playing well should be in a position to play." From unlikely surrounds, Haynes looks poised to exert considerable influence on that process.