Cricket: Woolly or won't he take the job?

Stephen Brenkley argues that the choices to succeed are alarmingly few
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The Independent Online
WOOLLY THINKING and England cricket's upper echelons have frequently been suspected of a close association but this time it is a policy which could reap impressive dividends. Officials could not possibly comment at this stage, of course, but they are not denying either that Bob Woolmer - called Woolly, with remarkable originality, throughout his career - is likely to be on an extremely brief short-list as the national team's next coach.

As soon as David Lloyd's departure was confirmed on Tuesday, the name of Woolmer was being touted. By Wednesday lunchtime at the rumbustious launch of the World Cup song - called, with equally remarkable originality, "All Over The World" - the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tim Lamb, was insisting they would trawl far and wide to get the right man.

It is important that they alight on him first time because they must not be turned down only to be forced to find a second choice. Lamb said the search would start almost immediately, but it was by no means certain that an appointment would be made by the end of the World Cup when Lloyd departs.

This seemed to signify that neither Woolmer nor anybody else is a shoo- in for the job but if the former Kent and England batsman was offered it, such reasoning would allow him the opportunity to have a rest before taking up his duties. He sounded extremely weary during an interview in New Zealand a few days ago and made no secret of his desperate desire for time off at home in South Africa.

Woolmer's credentials as a studious and influential coach are beyond question. True, he sometimes appears to have an abundance of theories about the game which tend to supersede each other and his enthusiasm for gadgetry can be a trifle excessive but at heart he dwells on the rudiments.

"When things go wrong I think you should go back to the simple cornerstones of technique," he said. "Not everybody does that but you can work on the basics, balance, foot movement, hitting positions to get things right for a batsman, for instance. I'm very sensitive that different players take advice differently."

From his early days as a player Woolmer developed a reputation as a fastidious student of cricket's technicalities. It may not be immediately obvious that he is a great motivator but, like Lloyd, he is effusive in his love of the game and it was Woolmer, do not forget, who was the original architect of the aggressive strategy which undermined West Indies recently.

Despite Lamb's natural reiteration that the ECB would ensure they appointed the right man - when, that is, they decide how the appointment is to be made - other candidates are not obvious. It may not need be a prerequisite that the successful candidate is English but mention of Allan Border, an Australian selector, is surely fanciful.

It is also possible that there is someone out there who is a brilliant coach and has not played at international level. But it is doubtful. There may not be a fully fledged dressing-room syndrome of "show us your caps" but Test cricket is a singularly hard game and experience of it is probably essential in preparing players for it. Lloyd played only nine times for England but since many of those involved being terrorised by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their peak he knows what it takes.

This criterion may rule out Phil Neale, the present coach of Warwickshire, and James Whitaker, captain of Leicestershire and an ebullient, respected motivational force. Both Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting have the caps and plenty of adherents, but their capacity as coaches is unknown. It is a role in which you cannot lead by example to achieve results.

There is another chap with similar inexperience but who inspired most of the present England side to take up the game (and possibly, by enduring reputation, the next one, too) and is still a regular visitor to the dressing- room. But woolly thinking would surely not allow the appointment of Ian Botham.