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Liam Plunkett & The Contrasting Styles of England Head Coaches

We’re coming up to two years since Trevor Bayliss was the surprise appointment for the England head coach role after the second departure of Peter Moores. This week the Daily Mail has run a piece about Liam Plunkett’s role in the England setup and how he has developed as a bowler since Bayliss’ arrival.

It started me thinking about the contrasting styles of England head coaches since Duncan Fletcher began the revolution in our national side’s fortunes so many years ago. For a start, it’s worth bearing in mind how competitive we now expect our team to be, in fact, how dominant we expect them to be, in all three international formats.

Liam Plunkett is a player whose fortunes it is interesting to track because having made his debut late in 2005, it is only this week that he should reach his 50th ODI cap.

The rest of what follows is entirely my own interpretation of how Fletcher, Flower, Moores and Bayliss have managed England’s finest cricketers and I’d be very interested to hear contrasting views, especially better informed ones!

Duncan Fletcher was the man England needed at the time, but his steely, even icy style didn’t suit everyone. Players like Graeme Swann were effectively dismissed, with Fletcher seeming to rely heavily on his own personality preferences and rarely-changed judgements of often very young cricketers. True, he effected a huge change in England’s performances and fortunes, but a number of players have written about the exclusivity he instilled in his centrally contracted team. The England bubble, so questioned by Matt Prior, seems to have been, if not invented, then certainly gold-plated by Fletcher. Back in 2006, Angus Fraser explained that Fletcher was a batsmen’s coach, though, leaving the bowling to Troy Cooley. Fletcher is also the man who advised cricketers to ask ‘why’ three times before considering any technical change suggested by coaching staff. More of the potentially negative effect of that later.

Moores took the helm for the first time from 2007 to 2009 and the era of ‘paralysis by analysis’ began. I don’t think anyone has ever doubted Peter Moores’ skill in his areas of strength, but I think we all know that delicate man-management wasn’t an area he would sing about in a job interview. In 2007 Plunkett was sent home from the England squad to re-find his rhythm with Durham: perhaps a smart move, but not one that was common at that time so one that surely appeared to single Plunkett out. Crucially, Moores wasn’t keen to replace Cooley and Plunkett (and Harmison and others) floundered without dedicated specialist coaching.

By 2008 Plunkett was out of favour with Moores, with his absence from the Test side more easily explainable than his omission from the white ball team, especially after his pride-restoring performances following the Ashes whitewash of 2006-7 in the ODI triangular series with Australia and New Zealand. Seriously: being there as we won the series in Melbourne, courtesy of some smashing Paul Nixon batting, really did give us something to shout about after that 5-0 test drubbing.

From 2009 to 2014 Andy Flower led England, reaching the pinnacle as number one ranked test team in the world before sliding to another humiliating defeat Down Under. Following the injuries in the winter of 2009-10 that saw Anderson, Broad, Onions and Sidebottom’s places in question, Flower was forced to defend the England training regime against criticism that it put general physical fitness ahead of bowling fitness. At that point, with just 9 test caps (and none for three years), Plunkett was the senior bowler in England’s arsenal.

Plunkett didn’t end up playing in the tests that winter, but almost miraculously was recalled a full seven years later to face Sri Lanka and then India at home during Moores’ second coming. Pretty much only Gareth Batty has gone further, with 11 years in the Test wildness between caps. Unsurprisingly, it was under the tutelage of fellow fast bowler Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, which began in 2012, that Plunkett flourished again as a key part of a winning pace attack. But Plunkett still didn’t thrive: In 2014 Scyld Berry bemoaned the rigid England plan that saw Plunkett instructed to bowl round the wicket Bodyline style for 48 overs, despite his two wickets coming from pitched up deliveries.

When Bayliss took charge, the buzzwords were ‘freedom’, ‘expression’, ‘responsibility’, and all of these seem to be precisely what Plunkett was missing earlier in his international career, and certainly the Moores days. Since 2015 Plunkett has been a regular name on the ODI team sheet and he has credited Bayliss’ honesty as a coach with spurring him on to work on his technical skills.

This is an area that seems to have been missing from earlier head coaches’ styles: Fletcher left the bowlers to Troy Cooley, even after he’d left the ECB; Moores was so much about the stats and the plans for opposing batsmen that such fundamentals as our own bowlers’ skill-set were seemingly ignored; Flower did great things for the England team, but once again, individual bowlers being given the freedom and motivation to improve their own game was by no means a key building block of the coaching setup. It seems that no one had replaced Fletcher’s ‘ask ‘why’ three times’ with a seemingly much more sensible question: ‘how?’

It is possible to read between the lines Paul Farbrace’s positive impact on Plunkett, too. He’s been there, behind the scenes to greater and lesser degrees, through the highs of Plunkett’s career. Clearly it’s a coaching relationship that works.

I know we’re all hoping Liam reaches his 50th ODI against Ireland this week and carries on leading the white ball side to bigger and greater successes.


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