Cricket interview

Hugh Morris, former Managing Director, England cricket

In recent months we have spoken to a number of former players who played their part in the rebuilding of the England side in the 1990s and early 2000s; this month we speak to a man who became managing director of England cricket following the 2006/07 Ashes whitewash and under whose tenure, we became the world’s number one ranked Test nation, won three successive Ashes series, and in 2010 our first global ICC tournament. It is of course Hugh Morris.

“Do you know what, when I took on the role I was always hopeful we could achieve something like that,” remarked Hugh. “I honestly thought that after that Ashes defeat, we could get back playing good cricket. And, as in all sport, when you get on a roll, it’s amazing how success begins to snowball.”

But before we concentrate on Hugh’s time at the ECB, we mustn’t forget his own playing days. Throughout the 80s and 90s Hugh was one of the most consistent and successful batsmen in county cricket. Yet as a youngster it was actually a close call between rugby and cricket for the young Welshman. “I come from a sports family. My Dad, brother and sister all played different sports. For me, I always had a rugby ball in my hands in the winter and a cricket ball in the summer. My dream, from a young age, was to play for Wales at rugby, at the Cardiff Arms Park against England, and in the summer to play cricket for England at Lords!”

Hugh chose cricket. “I was inspired by a number of players at that time, most notably Viv Richards. I remember Viv came over to England with the West Indies in 1976 and scored over 800 runs in that series, scoring two double hundreds. It was at that stage that my focus switched more towards cricket.”

It was a good decision, as the left hander was not only soon making his debut for Glamorgan (while still at school) but he was appointed first team captain at just 22 years of age, such was the high regard the county had for him. “I played for Glamorgan while at school. I then went to university for three years and halfway through my first full season, I was asked if I would like to captain the club, which was a huge honour.”

Hugh took on the role on the back of successfully captaining his school and various England representative sides. “I captained my school side for three or four years and I captained the England schoolboys and the under 19s; so I had a lot of experience of junior cricket and managing and leading my peers, but it’s a different kettle of fish when you’re starting to manage professional cricketers and international cricketers. It was a significant step up.”

A significant step up it was. “I was young and ambitious and I’d always wanted to captain the club but looking back, I probably should not have taken the captaincy at that age. It started to affect my form. I didn’t really know my own game, let alone be experienced enough to manage a group of seasoned pros in the side.”

After three years at the helm, Hugh stood down from the captaincy in 1989, to concentrate on his batting. “My coach at the time, Tom Cartwright, told me I was just not achieving what I should be achieving as a batsmen and I should seriously consider whether it’s the right thing to do to carry on. It’s never an easy decision, but it was the absolute right one at the time to stand down.”

It was a move which reaped its rewards, as 12 months later Hugh hit a club record 10 centuries and 2,276 runs, in the summer of 1990.

“I spent a long hard winter with Tom Cartwright working on my technique. 1990 was a pretty nice summer. The weather was good, we spent a lot of the time playing on good pitches, and the season just went my way.”

The form shown by Hugh caught the attention of the selectors, who called him up as batting cover, on the 1990/91 Ashes tour to Australia following an injury to Graham Gooch. “Graham Gooch got a very bad hand injury and I went down to join the tour party as cover for about seven weeks. It was a good experience that got me introduced to the England set-up.”

Hugh remained in the selectors thoughts the following summer. First he was first called up as cover for the injured Robin Smith for the third Test of the series against the West Indies at Trent Bridge and he was finally given his much deserved Test debut in the fourth Test at Edgbaston.

“We’d been playing a game at Liverpool and I was driving back down the motorway when I heard of my inclusion on the radio.”

As an opening batsman there were probably few greater challenges at the time than facing the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson. “It was probably one of the biggest challenges any international cricketer could have had. They were a fantastic quartet of fast bowlers, arguably the greatest fast bowlers to have ever played the game. It was a daunting challenge. Although I’d played against them all a lot in county cricket, handling all four at the same time was at a completely different level. You knew that in county cricket you’d be playing against one of them, maybe have five, six or seven overs, see him off and then life became a bit easier, but at Test level you know you’re just going to get a battering from all four of them, all day.”

Hugh scored 115 runs in three Test matches during that series at an average of 19.16. He never played Test cricket again. “Obviously I would have liked to have played more Test cricket, but it was era where we had some very good top order batsmen. Graham Gooch is one of the most successful batters that England have produced and as captain he was always going to play as an opener. Michael Atherton was coming through the ranks, along with Alec Stewart, so I was up against some pretty formidable opposition in terms of getting into the side.”

Hugh did go on to captain the England A side on tours of South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka, but despite his form on those tours he remained on the fringe of further Test selection for a number of years, without ever being selected.

In 1993, Hugh returned to the captaincy at Glamorgan (following an injury to Alan Butcher) and in his first season back in charge led Glamorgan to the Sunday League title. “It was a much more appropriate time for me to captain. I was in my late 20s, I’d played for England and I knew my game a lot better. I felt I was better equipped to lead the side. We’d not won anything for 24 years, but we felt that we had the ingredients needed to become a successful team. We had a lot of players who had matured together and the Sunday League was a real target for us. Winning that trophy was a watershed moment.”

A key member of that side was Hugh’s boyhood hero Viv Richards. “Viv was a fantastic player. He threw himself into Glamorgan cricket. He’s a proud man and a very proud Antiguan. With Antigua being a small island and Glamorgan a small county, there was a real connection. He was incredibly popular with our members and supporters and was a hugely influential member of the dressing room.”

Under Hugh’s captaincy second time around, Glamorgan became one of the strongest counties in domestic cricket. With their team built around the likes of Hugh, Steve James, Steve Watkin, Matthew Maynard and Robert Croft they went on to lift their first county championship for 28 years in 1997.

And that championship victory brought the curtain down on Hugh’s excellent playing career. “In the summer of 1997 I saw a job advert from the ECB, for the position of technical director. Micky Stewart was retiring and I looked at the job description and it really appealed to me, so I sent me CV in. Towards the end of that summer, I was contacted by Micky, who sat me down and talked through the role. I actually had two ambitions at the start of that season, one was to try and get back into the England side, which was always going to be a long shot and then secondly to win the championship with Glamorgan. We won the championship on the last week of the season down at Taunton and the following week I had the formal interview at Lords and was offered the technical director role. It was almost as if one door was closing and another was opening. I was fortunate the interview went my way, I accepted the position and started the role in November of that year.”

The role meant Hugh was looking after all of the junior England men’s teams through to the under 19s, coach education, coaching coaches, the ECB science and medical programme and he was tasked with looking at the feasibility of setting up a national cricket academy.

It was the start of a long career with the ECB. “I spent the initial few months shadowing Micky, which was invaluable as he was an extremely experienced cricket coach. I always thought Micky was 20 years ahead of others in his thinking. It was really useful to be able to learn from him.”

Hugh spent a lot of his early years at the ECB looking to take the best from other sports into cricket. “I tried to pick up different ideas from different sporting organisations who had been successful over a long period of time. I spent time at Liverpool football club with their academy director Steve Heighway. I spent time with the RFU; with my rugby background I was always interested in what they did. I worked very closely with the guys there in setting up our academy and our general structure for England cricket. I also went down under to Australia and spent time with Rod Marsh to look at the Australian cricket academy.”

The fruits of Hugh’s hard work and research came in 2003 when Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the ECB’s national academy at Loughborough University. The inauguration of this state-of-the-art facility marked a major step forward for cricket in England and Wales.

In December 2005, Hugh was promoted to deputy chief executive of the ECB, and then, following England's Ashes whitewash in 2006-07 and the subsequent Schofield Report, was named as the first managing director of the England cricket team. The Schofield Report recommended 19 changes to improve the state of English cricket, one of which was to have the selectors and coach report up into a Managing Director.

“It was a huge honour. I was very privileged and honoured to be appointed. But it was also a bit of a nervous time for me as well because at the time I was deputy chief executive of the ECB and that job as part of the re-structure of the ECB was made redundant so there was no guarantee I was going to get that role. Thankfully I did, and it was a role I really enjoyed and I look back at it with very fond memories, particularly the times spent with Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.”

Hugh presided over arguably one of England’s most successful periods as a Test side, but it came with its challenges. Two of which, using Hugh’s own words, were the most ‘challenging of his professional career’. And both came within a dark six week period.

This dark period began on the 26th November 2008 when terrorists carried out a series of 12 coordinated shootings and bombing lasting four days across Mumbai. One of the locations targeted was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where six explosions were reported, over 30 people killed and over 200 people were taken hostage.

England at the time were touring India and news of the attacks spread while England were on the bus back to their hotel, after a one day international in Cuttack. “We jumped on the bus at the end of that game and everyone’s mobile phones were going off. We got back to our hotel about an hour later and just sat in front of the television, just seeing the whole thing unfold. It was absolutely horrendous. We’d spent the first 10 days at the beginning of the tour staying at the Taj hotel. We knew the staff very, very well and they’d looked after us absolutely fantastically. We’d left a whole pile of our gear there as we were due to return later in the tour. We obviously then had to assess the situation and at times like that you have to have really good people around you and England’s security manager Reg Dickinson was absolutely fantastic.”

England immediately flew back home, while Reg Dickinson and his team assessed the situation.

“There was a lot of nervousness among the players and support staff, which was absolutely understandable. We knew we had to get the best possible intelligence. It was a very uncertain situation. We spent a lot of time with the foreign office and our security advisors. Once everything had settled down in India and we had the right levels of intelligence, we flew the players to a holding camp in Abu Dhabi and then myself and Sean Morris, who was the chief executive of the professional cricketers association, flew to India and we spent time with our security guys, the local authorities and the police and then we returned to Abu Dhabi and presented our findings to the players. Everyone was then in agreement that the right and proper thing to do was to go back to India.”

And so the team returned to India for a 2 match Test series, which India won 1-0. But it wasn’t about the result, it was about giving some joy back to the people of India.

“I take my hat off to the players. They were in a very difficult position, but they were absolutely persuaded by Reg and his team that it was safe to go back. If it wasn’t safe there was no way we would have gone back. The local authorities in India did everything they could to get the tour back on track.”

Weeks after the tour, England were scheduled to travel to the West Indies for the team’s second Test series of the winter. But in the lead up to that tour, Hugh had to endure the second most challenging time of his career, when coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen were removed from their positions. But those changes brought together Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, two figures who were to become the spearheads of England’s revival. “The incident with Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen, on the back of India was extremely difficult to deal with. But the decisions were made and we moved forward with Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Those two guys are two of the most impressive individuals I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with in 35 years of professional cricket and working with them was among the highlights of my time at the ECB.”

I asked Hugh, what he saw in Andrew Strauss when he appointed him as captain, over other potential candidates for the role. “He had a very calm demeanour which I think is very important as a leader. He’s not up and down as a situation is up and down; he’s very calm about things. He was someone who had a very clear vision of what he wanted, and would keep things as simple as he could, plus he’s just a bloody good bloke and he takes people with him.”

Flower and Strauss took charge of the team for that tour to the West Indies, a tour which couldn’t have got off to a worse start when England were bowled out for 51 in the 1st Test in Jamaica. “We had a nightmare start, losing that first Test in Jamaica, but it actually gave the two Andy’s the opportunity to really set their stall out on what they wanted to achieve over a period of time. They were very impressive and it became clear pretty quickly that, that partnership would help England become successful.”

Clear goals for the team were set: To become the number one ranked country in Test cricket and to win a global ICC tournament. Both came quickly.

“Those goals were a real driver for Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. To be ranked number one in the world inspired the players and having that goal galvanised them as a team. They had a clear vision of what they wanted to do. For me that was the most important thing, that the players really, really got excited by those goals and truly believed they could do it.”

And the success certainly did follow. Three successive Ashes series were won (including a win down under for the first time since 1986/87) and a 4-0 home series win over India secured the coveted number one Test ranking. While in limited overs cricket the side lifted the ICC World T20 tournament in Barbados. “Six months after Mumbai and all the issues with Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen we won the Ashes in the summer of 2009 and then that winter we went on to win our first global tournament in Barbados in the T20 World Cup. Those two wins gave confidence to the management team that they were doing the right things and it gave confidence to the ECB that investing in the England team was important because success would raise the profile of cricket in the country.”

I asked Hugh with all of the success that, that England team went on to achieve, what was his personal highlight. “It has to be beating Australia for the first time in 24 years in Australia. And plucking one day out of that tour, it would be Boxing Day, December 2010 in Melbourne. We bowled the Aussies out for 98 and then to be 150 for no wicket at the close was right up there with the best days I’ve seen in professional cricket. I remember when we arrived at the ground that morning the pitch looked decent, but Straussy had a look and wanted to bowl. David Saker was around at the time and knew the MCG strip well and said it was a bowl first wicket. It was a ballsy decision on their part, but it really paid off in spades. After Melbourne, I’d say winning away in India. That win was really important. Also the T20 win in Barbados was very satisfying. We’d never won a global tournament and we really wanted to break that mould.”

We’ll come to that India victory later. But, at the end of the South Africa series in 2012, Andrew Strauss stood down as Test captain and was replaced by his vice-captain Alastair Cook. It was a sad day after everything Strauss had achieved as captain. And Strauss’ decision came as a surprise to Hugh, but he’s been delighted in how Cook has since grown into the role. “I was a little bit surprised when Straussy called me. It’d been a really tough time off the field for him in particular that summer, but he was pretty adamant he’d done what he wanted to do in the game and could do for the England team. Alastair was always the obvious choice. I’m really glad we made that appointment. For any England captain whose there for any length of time, will come under the spotlight. He had some challenges but it shows how resilient Alastair Cook is and I think he’s been fantastic. When you think he’s the first man to ten thousand runs, at an earlier age than Sachin Tendulkar, he’s just remarkable and shows what a cricketer he is, to have scored that many runs in all parts of the world, in completing different conditions. Remarkable. We knew when we appointed Alastair that we had someone who is passionate about the England cricket team, who is passionate about taking us in the right direction and who is resilient to handle the pressure.”

Cook’s first tour in charge was the tour to India, that Hugh eluded to earlier. “When Cooky looks back, he will treasure that series win for a long time. We lost the first Test over there and usually if you lose the first Test you get rolled over. Whilst the Ashes win down under was memorable this series really was right up there alongside it. In my view it was our best performance to come back from one nil down on tracks that turned so much, it was an unbelievable achievement to win there.”

After losing the first Test in Ahmedabad, England headed to Mumbai knowing a win was vital to remain in the four match series. After India scored 327 batting first, Alastair Cook’s 122 and Kevin Pietersen’s outstanding 186 took England up to a total of 413. Then with spin twins Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann combining to take all ten second innings wickets, India were bowled out for just 142, leaving Cook and Compton to take to the crease to knock off the 56 runs needed for victory. It was one of England’s finest wins in recent years away from home. The side followed that win up by winning again in Kolkata and a draw in the fourth and final Test in Nagpur, secured a famous 2-1 Test victory, in Cook’s first tour following his appointment.

“Kevin Pietersen’s knock in Mumbai was just extraordinary. By day three there just wasn’t a top on the pitch and the ball was spinning around corners. Even the Indian greats like Sachin Tendulkar really struggled against our spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. KP just played a remarkable innings. We levelled the series, then went on to win the next match. It was a great achievement for Cooky.”

The following summer England won their third successive Ashes series, with a 3-0 victory at home. It was to be the final series under Hugh’s stewardship. “We won the Ashes three times in a row, for the first time in 60 odd years, which was a very satisfying moment, but I’d been thinking earlier in the year that, that would be a bit of a watershed moment for me and the time would be right to move on.”

What a period of time it had been for Hugh at the ECB. England cricket had been transformed.

I asked Hugh what he was most proud of during his many years at the ECB. There were the obvious highs with all of the successes of the men’s sides but right up there also was the growth in women’s cricket.

“One of the things I was most proud of was definitely the growth in the women’s game. They won a women’s World Cup, the World T20 and a number of Ashes wins. The growth of the women’s game in England and Wales has been remarkable. The profile is now so much more than it was 10/15 years ago, which is great. We were very keen at the ECB to get as many people playing the game as possible. Women’s cricket is now professional, they have the Super League this summer it’s fantastic. Clare Connor and Charlotte Edwards have been great ambassadors and it’s great to see the girls doing so well.”

Following the Ashes wins for the men’s and women’s sides in 2013, Hugh’s cricket career went full circle when he accepted the offer to return to his beloved Glamorgan as the county’s new chief executive.

“Towards the end of that summer I got a call from Glamorgan completely out of the blue, saying that there was an opportunity to come back and I jumped at it. It’s been really enjoyable to be back. It’s where my roots are. I’ve supported the club for over 50 years. We have a vision to make Wales proud, both on and off the pitch. It’s been lots of hard work, stabilising the finances, increasing commercial income, improving success on the field and producing international quality players. It’s been fun.”

With the county hosting the first Ashes Test of last year’s Ashes series, it also gave Hugh an insight into what it was like being on the other side of the fence. “I got to see first-hand, what goes into hosting an Ashes Test, rather than preparing a side to play in it. It was pretty much the perfect Test for us. It was the first Test of the series, we had a full house, England won and the feedback we got from people attending was great. It all turned out very well.”

I asked Hugh, being back in county cricket, how he saw the strength of the domestic game in England. “The counties are producing some very good cricketers, as has been shown by how England is playing. On the field, it’s very strong. It’s very different though to back to in my day. With so much international cricket played in our season and the competing T20 tournaments around the world, getting the best overseas players is the one real challenge. Obviously we’d all like to produce more fast bowlers and spinners and that’s something we’re all trying to do.”

And looking at the England side now, Hugh sees no reason why our success can’t continue. “I think the team has shown over the last 6-9 months that they have stepped up to the plate, especially in white ball cricket where we got to the World T20 final. We came so close to winning. We have a lot of talented cricketers and the style of the play in Test and limited overs cricket is really engaging with the public. It’s a very exciting time. There are some great opportunities for us over the coming years with the Champions Trophy next summer and the World Cup in 2019. We’re a difficult team to beat on our own soil, so it’s going to be exciting.”

It really is. And should we continue our recent success we should all raise a glass to remember the fine work Hugh and his team did over many years, which laid the foundations for team England to be thriving now.

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