Somerset learning to Reeve

The winds of change sweep through the West Country as a young contender hopes for an early breakthrough
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"It Won't bother me in the slightest if Somerset don't win a trophy this year." Strange words indeed from a newly appointed coach of a club, but then Dermot Reeve has always been different.

Forced into retirement as a player with Warwickshire mid-way through last season, suffering from a hip complaint, Reeve chose Somerset to start his coaching career because he felt they really wanted and valued him.

The feeling of being wanted is a constant theme for Reeve, alongside pride and self-esteem. Surprisingly for someone who has won numerous trophies - Warwickshire won three in 1994 alone under his leadership - he does not think that success is the be-all and end-all. "Winning matches isn't the target," he said. "Hopefully it will happen, but to set out with success as the only goal creates pressure, and pressure creates a fear of failure.

"Players should have pride in themselves, and their feeling of self-esteem should come from having given their best to the team. If all 11 players do that, then with the necessary dose of luck and fortune, the results will follow."

To this end, Reeve has banned criticism in the dressing-room of other players' cricketing abilities. "Players are insecure and little digs can undermine their confidence," he said.

So how does he see his role at Somerset?

"My role is to create an environment where players can get the best out of themselves," he replies. "Also I have to help players develop. Graham Rose is a big strong, straight hitter, but what if the wind is against him? Or the bowlers bowl at his ribs? He needs options to counter that and that is the kind of thing I work on. I give them ideas to broaden their options and try to develop an atmosphere where players aren't scared of failure."

This does not mean, though, that Reeve is some sort of free-spirited bohemian. He is constantly analysing performances to gain an added edge over the opposition. The players are encouraged to experiment and to learn new skills. Reeve is not a traditionalist. He likes innovation, believing that it both upsets the opposition and breeds confidence within one's own team.

For example, the sweep shot annoys fielding captains and their bowlers who are trying to contain. Last week Reeve spent an entire day teaching all the Somerset players different variations of the sweep, both orthodox and reverse. This was followed by a session on pushing the ball into the gaps that are made by the opposition having to change their field to counter the sweep.

Here lies Reeve's real skill. He strives to keep one step ahead of the others and is not afraid of making mistakes. Even his use of statistics accentuates the positive. He proudly states that in 1994 Warwickshire scored at six runs per over against spin in one-day cricket, while the opposition scored at only 3.6 runs per over against Warwickshire. "That is why we won the trophies in 1994. I studied the yearbooks and realised that the key was to attack the spinners," he said. And who can argue with his record?

Training sessions are now structured to specific practices: slower balls, sweep shots, running between the wickets and many more.

Reeve has encouraged the players to think for themselves, and most of all to support and believe in each other. Hours are spent thinking and talking about the game, and Reeve has added purpose to the sessions.

Nets are not done for the sake of it. Reeve's creed is that all work must be sharp if it is to achieve anything, and this has removed the boredom that often filters into endless practice sessions.

Reeve's restless eye for detail means that Somerset now have a fitness coach, a nutritionist and a masseur. Players who deservedly earned nicknames like Troughie (Mark Lathwell) and Banger (Marcus Trescothick because of his love of sausages), are now eating structured diets. Carbohydrate-loaded lunches and hard fitness sessions are all the rage in Taunton nowadays.

Fitness is all part of preparation to Reeve, and his first task on taking the job in the winter was to write to or personally see every player and inform them of what physical condition was required of them. To ensure their co-operation, financial incentives were announced. Proving that nothing concentrates the mind quite like money, the Somerset players are looking leaner and fitter than ever before.

There is a simple explanation for the innovations, Reeve said. "There are so many variables in cricket that can affect the result. All I and the players can do is work on what is in our control. Fitness, attitude and skills.

"Cricket is a complex game and so much of it is played in the mind. That is where pressure is detrimental. I try to remove the pressure, to take away targets and to get the players concentrating and enjoying each moment."

Certainly the Somerset players are responding to Reeve. Pre-season is always a honeymoon period, but there is definitely an added vibrancy to the club, and a real sense of enjoyment.

Do not be fooled by Reeve's words on winning, however. Success is very important to him, it is just that he has a different route towards it. A route that accentuates fun, enjoyment and positivity and ignores targets, stars and pressure.

Although Warwickshire enjoyed Brian Lara in record- breaking form, Gladstone Small and Tim Munton, Reeve believes that the brilliant fielding of Trevor Penney and the wicketkeeping of Keith Piper were just as important to the club's success. This demonstrates his belief in the importance of contributions being more important than personal milestones. "A quickfire 20 can change a game," he said.

And how is he enjoying Somerset and its challenge?

"It's good," he says. "When Richard Harden, a 31-year-old seasoned professional, stands up and says these are exciting times, I feel that I'm making progress."