Reeve revels in new leading role

Adam Szreter meets the master of the unconventional as he settles to the task of guiding Somerset's cricket fortunes
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As another cricket season wanders warily back to its mark, rubbing the new ball on old flannels immersed in faster-acting Reverse Swingo, there are distinct signs of life in the most unexpected places. Lord's, for example. And Taunton.

If Dermot Reeve had his way, cricket in England would not just be dragged into the 21st century, it would be kicking, screaming and whatever else was necessary to produce results. As captain of Warwickshire, his style - often controversial, always innovative - brought unparalleled success. Now, having been forced out of the game as a player by an arthritic hip condition, he has a chance to take his ideas a stage further as the new coach of Somerset.

Reeve, the youngest of four brothers, lived abroad until the age of 18 and it is perhaps not surprising that he approaches the wicket from a slightly different angle. It makes him very difficult to pigeon-hole. He has as many enemies in the game as admirers, applauded one minute for turning probable defeat into unlikely victory, castigated the next for daring to break with tradition. Few, however, would bet against him changing Somerset's fortunes for the better.

"Peter Anderson, Somerset's chief executive, was actually my first captain when I was a 16-year-old making my debut for Hong Kong," Reeve said, explaining his appointment. "Their approach was first class, I've always liked playing down here and I've always found it a nice part of the world. In my Hong Kong days I used to come back in the summer and I started to follow Somerset because of Richards, Garner and Botham.

"I wasn't certain how I would take to being a first-class coach straight after being a player, but I've come to terms with it very quickly and I must say, so far, I've enjoyed the coaching more than I did playing. The hardest thing is constantly analysing whether you should talk to a player about a flaw in his technique, for example, whether that's going to be good for his confidence. I want to create what I feel is the right cricketing environment for the players to be able to relax and play good, positive and confident cricket."

The contrast between Edgbaston and Taunton is something Reeve is having to adapt to. "The pace of life here's a bit slower, people are a bit more laid back generally. But it's difficult to compare the clubs at this stage, and I don't want to. You have to talk to the players about experiences but you don't want to harp on about 'this is what we used to do at Warwickshire.' "

One of those players, Mushtaq Ahmed, will be expected to play a leading role as a wicket-taker, and Reeve will be only too happy to have the Pakistani on his side at last. He remembers being dismissed by Mushtaq in the 1992 World Cup final in Melbourne, as well as in the last World Cup.

"We had a team meeting and Ray Illingworth said, 'Can anybody pick him?' from his leg-break to his googly. I just put my hand up straight away because the previous year I'd read him in a county game. I didn't pick all his deliveries immediately, but after a few I managed to pick him for the rest of the innings. The next day in the group match at Karachi I tried to drive his googly down to long-off, left a gate and it turned back and clean bowled me. The England boys found it highly amusing."

For the forseeable future Reeve's views will be confined largely to Taunton, where he has already introduced financial incentives for players to achieve certain fitness levels and where - at the request of his captain, Peter Bowler - Reeve will be in charge of selecting the side. But he also has clear ideas about the direction the game in general should be going in this country.

"If you take Somerset as an example, down here it's a big, retirement area and most of our membership are elderly. I feel it's very important that cricket competes with other summer sports, to catch youngsters' imaginations. In Australia their imagination was captured by Kerry Packer with coloured clothing, night cricket, music at grounds, electronic scoreboards. Youngsters are attracted by music and colour.

"We want to get promising young athletes and sports people to think, 'Well I might fancy being a cricketer'. If you take the Neville brothers at Manchester United, both young cricketers on the Lancashire books; but if you've got the choice of playing for Manchester United or Lancashire, well, Manchester United at the minute is going to win.

"It's important that we make the game appealing to young people, and if it means that a few of the elderly members at clubs are in disagreement or don't like it, well as long as we get the youngsters in maybe that's something that we just have to accept.

"In Australia all the youngsters want to be cricketers. Everyone over there knows who Shane Warne is and who Mark Taylor is. Would youngsters here know who Alec Stewart is? At the moment most of them are turning towards football, or rugby now that it's become professional. Look at Liam Botham, he's gone for rugby instead of cricket."

As a captain, Reeve had few peers in the county game, so due note should be taken of his opinions on that particular subject. Of Mike Atherton's reappointment as England captain for the season, Reeve said: "I wish Michael all the best for the summer. I hope England win every single match, and I hope that Michael improves his own performances in one-day cricket.

"I think he's a wonderful Test batsman, but in the last three one-day internationals, he has only averaged 18 and his strike rate per 100 balls is only 54. If the whole side scored at that rate you'd only make 162 in 50 overs. But there are only three one-day games before the Ashes contest, therefore it probably is the sensible decision."

Alternatives? "Nasser Hussain's a very fine cricketer but I've never sat down and talked tactically with Nasser or had him in my side. He may have the best cricket brain in the country, I don't know. For the future I would say Adam Hollioake of Surrey is a leader, and without a shadow of a doubt Nick Knight. He'll be a very competent captain, and if he was to cement his place as an England batsman I would see him in a few years' time competing with Hollioake for the job."

The opening chapter of Reeve's recently published autobiography deals with one of the trickiest periods of his professional life. When Brian Lara was setting records right, left and centre under Reeve's captaincy at Warwickshire, the two did not always see eye to eye and Reeve was unhappy not to have got more support from the club.

"It's difficult to look back at the Lara thing. I try not to look back in the past. It's very important not to become too introverted, but in cricket it's quite a natural thing to do at times. You have to focus on your own job and make sure that your self-esteem is in tact. If Somerset win things, there will be a lot of negatives that the players get from the public. You will get jealousies, problems will arise through success.

"But all we do is chase a red ball around a field to entertain people. We chase it, we hit it, we run. We don't save lives. We're not doctors or missionaries. Those are your real heroes. People will try to make you feel very important, but we're no more important than the lady who serves the tea, the man who goes out to open the gate. I want the players to realise that. I want them to be good people. I want them to be a nice team."