Fountain throws up new ideas

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The Independent Online
Cricketers around the country are throwing in their lot with a baseball coach in order to improve their fielding techniques. Throwing is something that cricketers have all been getting wrong from the stone age. Cricket squares around the shires will be the stage for moves which are more familiar around baseball's diamond.

Julien Fountain is the man charged with the task of holding remedial throwing lessons. Half a dozen counties have already obliged themselves of his services and he is currently the England Under-19 official fielding and throwing coach.

But how have so many got something so wrong for so long? Fountain, a long-time convert to baseball, explains: "Cricketers use their arms to throw, whereas baseball players use their bodies. That probably sounds silly, but there is a whole lot more power in one's entire body than there is in one's arm.

"At the moment, cricketers are throwing simply using the muscles in their arm, which accounts for the number of injuries among professional players. I have never seen so many shoulder and elbow injuries in my life."

Micky Stewart, the former England manager and now Director of Coaching and Excellence at the National Cricket Association, is certainly convinced that Fountain can offer a dimension at the grass-roots level that could be of long-term benefit. He wants Fountain, who plays for Enfield Spartans baseball team in north London, to be appointed as official fielding and throwing coach at every representative level from Under 13 to the Test squad.

Apart from avoiding injuries, the 25-year-old, who was on Somerset's books as a youngster, maintains there is an improvement in speed and accuracy when players follow the baseball precepts.

"When they are throwing, a lot of cricketers lift their back leg, which results in an immediate reduction in power," he says. "They promptly compensate for this loss of power by putting more stress on the throwing arm, and that is where all the problems start."

The throwing has to be taken in tandem with fielding and Fountain has a surprising statistic. "There is a general rule covering fielding in this country," he explains, "which is: 'Whatever happens, get the ball in the air.' This is ostensibly to prevent the batsmen taking a second or third run. The reality is that fielders are turning to throw and launching themselves into the movement, throwing themselves completely off-balance - often they have both feet off or partially off the ground. The result is that most batsmen will take that second or third run because they know there is nothing in the throw. It is not going to be accurate and there is no power in it.

"If players use baseball techniques they get to the ball quickly and then they slow down to pick it up and use their feet and body to throw. It may appear slower, but we have actually timed it in trials up at Lilleshall and the ball gets there a good second before it would have under the conventional method of throwing."

Fountain, who has attended baseball coaching courses in the United States and who was a member of Great Britain's Olympic baseball squad which just failed to qualify for the 1992 Games, insists that all that is needed in order to get English cricketers up to the standards of the South Africans and Australians is a little fine tuning.

Fountain said: "The Australians and South Africans grow up playing cricket and baseball side by side. So the skills they learn in baseball they take to cricket, and in baseball you are taught how to throw. It is such an important part of the game. You learn from the beginning where your feet should be, the position of your head, where you should be looking, what your arm and your body should be doing. Then they get the kids to throw and throw and throw.''

That much throwing can be hard on the hands, but Fountain says whenever he visits a county he encourages cricketers to add a baseball glove to their array of specialist equipment.

Fountain has paid Surrey a couple of visits. The Taunton-based coach said: "It took a few minor tweaks and they were away. But like any skill it needs to be worked on regularly. Nottinghamshire are talking of taking him on for the season, and he is also working on a coaching manual.

"Their manual on throwing and fielding needs to be ripped up and thrown away," he said. "It is the first thing kids see when they take up the game and the way I do things is far superior to the way the NCA manual tells things."

Confident he may be, but Fountain admits he is not cheap, not at the moment anyway while his clientele remains limited; but when he can promise: "I will get good throwers throwing amazingly, and poor throwers throwing well," he has to be listened to. English cricket could well have unearthed a coaching diamond.