Moores moulds the Flintoffs of the future

The country's emerging élite are under new management today. Nick Townsend reports

After more than two decades here as a wicket-keeper who snared over 500 victims, captain, coach, cricket manager and director of cricket, this is his final day overseeing competitive county action. Tomorrow he moves to Loughborough to become head of the National Cricket Academy, as the successor to Rod Marsh.

It represents a considerable transition. Even in times of more moderate achievement by England, the assumption would be that this highly personable 42-year-old, who originally hails from Macclesfield, would need not his old wicketkeeping gloves but asbestos ones to handle the egos of élite aspirants. But now the challenge appears more profound in the immediate aftermath of England's Ashes series triumph.

Every young player exuding potential desires to become a part of New England, while all those with the nation's cricket at heart seek confirmation that success does not begin and end with Michael Vaughan's current squad. Moores is the man charged with working in harmony with the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, to produce the next Flintoff or Pietersen.

"Cricket's a bit more in the eye just now, which is great for the game, but it doesn't alter the responsibilities of the job," he says. "We've got a pretty strong England team at the moment, but that will remain the case only if we have good players coming up to put pressure on those in there and ensure there's no complacency, keep people working hard."

The England and Wales Cricket Board have elected to promote a character who is blessed with a deep insight into the county scene, a man who they believe can detect potential as unfailingly as a diviner in his quest for water. He is also a proven winner, having inspired Sussex's 2003 Championship, their first in 114 years, and is acknowledged as a progressive thinker who is always receptive to new ideas, including those gleaned from outside cricket.

"Other sports are fantastic to look at. I always like to see if there's anything you can pinch, both physically and on the mental side," he says. "American sports are very advanced on feedback systems. They love their stats. Basketball has got some very interesting ideas and baseball, too. We've had a baseball coach, Craig Savage, here for three years. He comes down and does throwing work with the boys."

How it has all changed since Moores joined Sussex in 1985. "When I played county cricket, it all seemed, well, a bit asleep, if you know what I mean. That wasn't due to any lack of effort. The game just rolled on and it was great fun. Over the years, the basis of the game and the traditions haven't changed. But there is now much more emphasis on winning, and trying to find ways of moving the game forward.

"Today, because of technological innovations, the awareness is heightened of a player's performance. Now, with technology, you can give players a much better feedback. There's not as many places to hide. You can say to a bowler that he put 65 per cent of balls in this or that area, and he can't dispute that."

Six of England's regular Ashes 12 were graduates of the first academy intake in 2001-02 - Andrew Flintoff, Ian Bell, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Andrew Strauss, and Chris Tremlett - although the irony is that because the academy was still being built, much of the winter was spent using Australia's facility in Adelaide. That shouldn't detract from the potential effectiveness of the academy system, whose "undergraduates" this year will include the Essex opener Alastair Cook, Middlesex's Ed Joyce and the Durham seam bowler Liam Plunkett, who should all be involved in the A tour to the West Indies next February. Another, Warwickshire's Alex Loudon, the demon of the doosra delivery, who may have thought he would be accompanying them, has instead found himself in the senior touring party.

"It'll be a great opportunity for lads knocking on the door of the senior team," says Moores. "What we want to ensure is that those below [the senior squad] have got an individual programme that can make them better; to fill the gaps of skill within their game and make that bridge from county cricket to international cricket, and ultimately up to the Test team.

"You're trying to give them the tools and insight you think they're going to need to step up. That doesn't mean just getting in the team, but making a difference."

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