Cricket: Neale displays ability to apply unlikely lessons: Phil Neale has proved to be a considerable success as England A manager. Glenn Moore reports from Durban on the man with a plan for international prosperity

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM TAYLOR'S vegetarian experiences as the England football manager may have put off several potential successors but one of his former pupils remains unperturbed.

It is nearly 20 years since Taylor signed Phil Neale from Scunthorpe reserves to play for Lincoln City but he still remembers Taylor's lessons. And, despite his former teacher's public hounding, Neale also harbours an ambition to manage his country, albeit in a different sport.

Neale, 39, has made a good start. Appointed to manage the England A cricket team in South Africa after just one season as Northamptonshire's director of cricket, he has steered them to eight successive victories.

For the moment, though, he is quick to emphasise it is only a start, that he is working in partnership with Keith Fletcher, who is one year into his five-year contract as team manager for the senior side.

'It has to be an ambition to manage the Test side,' Neale said. 'I want to get as far in cricket as I can and that is something to aim for. But it is a long way off. At the moment I see myself as trying to help Fletch and instil in the A team the standards he would want when people go up to the first team.'

On tour, Neale's role is as support to Hugh Morris, the captain. 'We have a similar philosophy but he is in charge on the field. I learned at Northampton it is impossible to run the show while they are on the field,' Neale said. 'I began by sending messages out to Allan Lamb but we soon found that was impossible. My role is to take the weight off the captain's shoulders off the field, be another pair of eyes and ears and someone to bounce ideas off at intervals.

'With players I am here to help, not just with technique, but more on their state of mind to make sure they are confident and to give them every opportunity to perform to the best of their ability.'

It is in this area that Neale learned most from Taylor. 'Under Graham I learned a lot about man management: he was very astute. He understood how to keep a group of players happy. He had a high set of standards that he expected everyone to adhere to and seemed to know just how to get each one to do so.'

Taylor also helped Neale, newly graduated from Leeds University, to merge into the environment of a football dressing-room. 'On one away game I read War and Peace on the bus. I didn't on the way back - it was nearly out of the window. I watched TV programmes I had not seen before, otherwise I would be left out of the conversation.'

Neale played football for Lincoln, as an attacking, perceptive defender, and cricket for Worcestershire for 11 years, finally giving up football in early 1986.

'I stopped a bit early but the clash was getting difficult. I enjoyed it but was getting disillusioned and I think I got out at the right time. People have said I might have played cricket for England if I had stopped earlier but I had a wife and two kids to support and at the time I stopped I was earning more playing Fourth Division football than for captaining a county side.'

Under Neale's captaincy Worcestershire, with such luminaries as Ian Botham, Graham Dilley, Tom Moody and Graeme Hick, then won five trophies in five years but after the last, in 1991, the captaincy was handed to Tim Curtis. Neale, having barely featured in the first team in 1992, moved to Northampton at the end of the year.

'It has been a rapid transformation from player to this,' Neale said, 'and I think having recently finished as a player is an advantage. Some say there is a danger of being too close but I think the players accept me as someone who recently played.'

Like Taylor, Neale never played for his country, but he does not see that as a disadvantage.

'I was labelled - perhaps accused of being - a hard captain at county level and I take that as a compliment because I see myself as a tough professional who did my utmost to make the best out of what ability I had. I expect everybody else to do the same. It is not my fault I did not play Test cricket but I believe the way I played is suited to it.

'I try not to be a hard manager; I try to coax and encourage. If hard words need to be said they will be but I look upon it as a failing if you have to shout and scream.'

Because captains and selectors share the responsibility, a cricket manager is unlikely to be pilloried like Taylor, but he is not entirely safe from the media.

'I am learning very quickly about that side of things,' Neale said. 'I have never been frightened of the press. I have always tried to do what I think is right rather than what people want me to do.'

(Photograph omitted)