Morris has measure of cricket's grand plan
'Our younger players are not as streetwise as younger Australians or South Africans. Jacques Kallis, at 21, seemed much more mature'
Wednesday 26 July 2000
Three years or so ago, anadvertisement in
The Times caught the eye of Glamorgan's left-handed opening batsman, Hugh Morris. The England and Wales Cricket Board was looking for a new technical director to succeed Micky Stewart. Morris duly hung up his boots, got the job, and was promptly given the mother of all briefs - to raise the standard of playing and coaching cricket from the playground to the Test arena. While they were at it they should have asked him to shift Ben Nevis a few hundred yards to the south.
Three years or so ago, anadvertisement in The Times caught the eye of Glamorgan's left-handed opening batsman, Hugh Morris. The England and Wales Cricket Board was looking for a new technical director to succeed Micky Stewart. Morris duly hung up his boots, got the job, and was promptly given the mother of all briefs - to raise the standard of playing and coaching cricket from the playground to the Test arena. While they were at it they should have asked him to shift Ben Nevis a few hundred yards to the south.
Yet Morris - an amiable but ferociously single-minded chap, still only 36 - is making impressive progress. He has had the mother of all briefs printed on his business cards, less he or anyone else should lose sight of his objective. And he is busily refurbishing the National Coaching Scheme, which had been essentially unchanged since 1952.
We meet in his roomy office at Lord's. He informs me that there will eventually be five levels of coaching, of which three are already firmly in place. Level one is mainly about giving youngsters a bit of fun. By level three it gets much more technical, but also embraces psychology and "visualisation". In the world of sport, visualisation is currently the buzzword. Impudently, I asked Morris how on earth Jack Hobbs and Denis Compton managed without it.
"Oh, I think it's always been there, we've just never had a word for it before," he said. "It's just trying to get into your mind previous occasions when you've been successful, for instance, if you're about to face Allan Donald then you visualise the time you scored 150 against him three years ago." Ah yes, I remember every detail of that particular dream, and how disappointing it was to wake up. Still, I take the point. And, as Morris says, there is a widespread tendency in this country to look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. He whips mine off, metaphorically speaking, and stamps on them.
"You know, from 1959 to 1971 we didn't hold the Ashes. We often had very talented individuals but didn't get results. Did you know that Australia has about a 42 per cent win record in all its history of playing Test cricket? That's phenomenal. Nobody else is even close to that."
But in the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, we at least have the man to steer us in the right direction, Morris believes. He played for a year under Fletcher at Glamorgan, and was impressed by his temperament.
"He remained the same, outwardly, whether we were 500 for 2 or 32 all out, as we once were against Middlesex. That's important because if the coach is up and down, the players are too. Also, he taught old dogs new tricks, and his attention to detail was remarkable. For instance, our first game that season was against Warwickshire at Cardiff. It was our first outing on grass, and we were up against Allan Donald. So Steve James and I got on the bowling machine the day before, and popped it up to 90mph, but then Duncan came along and reminded us that Donald bowls from a much wider position. It wasn't just about pace. So we moved the bowling machine wider. That's visualisation, too."
And did it pay off? A huge laugh. "I got... a couple."
And so to level four of the new coaching scheme, due to be implemented in the late autumn. "That will move us beyond the standard of cricket education anywhere else in the world," Morris asserts. "Level three is roughly where the Australians are, but level four will deal with inter-personal skills, how to deal with awkward players, and some of the nitty-gritty technical stuff."
All of which will be conveyed by seven national coaches, spread across four regions and covering several age groups, from under-13 upwards. There are, Morris informed me, about two million boys and girls under the age of 15 playing cricket. "Many other sports are envious of that base and we have to build on it. One thing we have to look at is that our younger players are not as streetwise as the younger Australians and South Africans. Towards the end of my time in county cricket, people like Jacques Kallis came along and, at 21, seemed much more mature as cricketers than their English counterparts."
Still, among the graduates of the Under-19 side visibly growing in maturity are Andrew Flintoff, Alex Tudor and Marcus Trescothick. And there are several exciting prospects in the present Under-19s, who on Friday play a one-day international against Sri Lanka. Moreover, Morris is working hard to introduce a new generation to the mystical art of wrist spin.
"Since Shane Warne came on the scene we have tried to start a programme of developing wrist spinners," he says. "In fact, for youngsters it is in many ways a more natural action than trying to bowl off-spin. Our view is that we should treat them as risk spinners rather than wrist spinners, and stick with them even if they go for five or six an over. And for the past couple of years we have sent a couple of youngsters to Adelaide, where they spend two weeks with Terry Jenner, who is Warney's guru. They stay with TJ and for two weeks live and breathe wrist-spin bowling." It is an irresistible image, Jenner curtly instructing the lads to pass the marmalade out of the back of the hand, wrist turned towards the floor, fingers across the label. But then Morris knows full well the importance of catching them young. Give me a child before he is 15 and I will give you the wrist-spinner, as the Jesuits might have said.
He was himself something of a prodigy, making his county debut while still in the lower sixth. Then, in his first full year at Glamorgan, aged only 22, he was made captain. "But if I had my time again I wouldn't have accepted that job," he says. "I didn't even know my own game, let alone other people's." By 25, he was averaging only 29 or 30, not too startling for an opening batsman. But then he gave up the captaincy and consulted his old coach, Tom Cartwright. "He took me back to absolute basics. When things go wrong in batting, 90 per cent of it can be attributed to grip, the stance or the back swing, so that's what we looked at." And sure enough, his form improved to the extent that England called on him to open against West Indies.
"Unfortunately, Glamorgan then played West Indies at Swansea where I got the first and only pair of my career, so I wasn't exactly brimming with confidence." Unsurprisingly, he scored three in the first innings of his maiden Test match. And how did he fare in the second innings? "Not quite as well as that."
But he kept his place and then came the fifth Test match at The Oval, with England 2-1 down in the series. "I remember there being fantastic sunshine, and getting an absolute battering from Ambrose, Walsh, Patrick Patterson and Malcolm Marshall, But I was lucky enough to put on 100-odd with Goochy for the first wicket, and we went on to win. When we got back into the changing room I recall Ian Botham saying (expletives presumably deleted): "I've been trying for 15 years to do that'. Beefy had never beaten West Indies before that."
Morris played only one more Test but ended his career with a first-class average of 41, frequently getting the better of some memorably hostile fast-bowling. I asked which bowlers troubled him most? "Well, Walsh hit me on the head more than anyone, and Sylvester Clarke used to bowl horrible deliveries at the speed of light, but Patrick Patterson probably bowled the quickest ball of my career, in that fifth Test at The Oval." Did he lay a bat on it? "No. I got a glove on it and then Jeff Dujon got his gloves on that." Again, Morris roars with laughter. He can afford to, knowing that he will never again have to deal with a 90mph bouncer. On the other hand, his greatest challenge is yet to come.
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