When John Bracewell arrived in Gloucestershire the greeting in some quarters was less than all-embracing. He had been there about five minutes as the county were bowled out for 89 in his first match, which did not make for glowing initial judgements.
Most of the kinder appraisals suggested that it was ridiculous to expect that a New Zealander, of all cricketing folk, had anything to teach in the place where W G Grace strutted his stuff, and any opinions he might have on the direction or state of the England team were unlikely to be sought. Not now.
Since he also had a Test batting average of 20 and a bowling average of 35 rather than the other way round, said the wags, the implication was obvious. Not for the first time where Glorious Gloster were concerned, the Doctor was probably turning in his grave. Boy, were they wrong.
Three years and five one-day trophies later, including a treble in 2000, Bracewell has kept W G perfectly still while moving mountains. He stewarded to glory a squad who could never be accused of underachieving. Nobody, least of all themselves, expected any. Tomorrow, the team he has helped to transform contest their fifth consecutive one-day cup semi-final, the previous four all having led to eventual victory in the final. From being a no-track-record Kiwi, Bracewell has now been elevated to the status of guru.
If both are misguided extr-emes, it still seemed a sensible place to go for meaningful reflections on how to play one-day. Bracewell is not a man given to snap, headline-grabbing analysis, but he is detached and cool.
"England have been playing two of the best sides in the world in this tournament, probably the two best," he said. "But it is a disappointing facet of their play that they do not appear to have learnt much from their three defeats in Sri Lanka. And Sri Lanka at the moment are not one of the really top sides. England have gone for some new faces but picked many of the old ones, which seemed a little strange."
Bracewell may have a vested interest in selection, because England's one-day side have found it impossible to find room for any members of the most successful one-day club side. Not one. Bracewell is more miffed than he lets on, professing no more than terse disappointment. But he had plenty of observations.
"I'd actually have picked a group of 20 players now to go all the way through to the 2003 World Cup, the basis of the squad. Maybe they have players in mind to do that. There is more to it than just identifying the players, they can then have some control over not just when they play but how.
"Say Marcus Trescothick, for example. He might field where he wants for Somerset, because he's a big name there, and in a different place from where he fields for England. Maybe Somerset should be asked to ensure he fields only in certain positions. That goes for others as well."
He thinks county coaches ought to be involved in the planning of individual players for the World Cup, to ensure that they are doing with their counties what they do for England. Different standards maybe, but still practice in the middle at a particular skill.
"If England are doing this, then it's pretty obvious that no Gloucestershire players are involved because I haven't been approached at all." His clinical observations hid his deeply aggrieved feelings at a slight to his players and, by association, to the man who took them beyond their limits.
He paid due regard to England's absentees, but they had hardly helped themselves. "They still haven't addressed the Alec Stewart issue. He is not an attacking wicketkeeper, and you need that in this form of cricket. Bowlers of medium pace like Mark Ealham need big support out on the field from everybody, and the wicketkeeper is a key element in that." Look no further than Jack Russell.
Nor, says Bracewell, have England got it right in other places. They picked Paul Collingwood and then found he could not bowl at international level (the way he said this, it is an open secret). They discarded Graeme Hick when he still had a one-day record and could hurl the ball like a javelin thrower (though Hick, it should be restated, divides the nation).
When Bracewell took over at Gloucestershire they were more or less reliant on Courtney Walsh's fast bowling, had been for years. If the rest of them emerged from the dressing room with their kit in the right places except for the brilliant, eccentric Russell it was considered a result.
What Bracewell managed in tandem with captain Mark Alleyne is a small miracle. Nor are they finished yet. They still talk of their hunger and a mission to leave a legacy.
Bracewell suspects that the country and the ex-playing media have it in for them. "At first they didn't think we were any good and now they think enough is enough. Back in our box. We honed our skills towards one-day cricket deliberately but that's because our players were physically equipped for that game small, energetic. Before that they hadn't taken one-day cricket seriously enough." He did not say it, but the way things have gone, he might have had England in mind.Reuse content