When a cricket side does well, it’s the star player who more often than not takes the plaudits. If it’s not the star player, it’s the captain, and if not’s the captain, it can on occasions be the coach, but rarely does that chain reach the assistant head coach!
However, in the case of this month’s interviewee, it couldn’t be further from the truth. If the name Paul Farbrace comes up in a conversation with supporters, many will lift their beer and acknowledge the significant role that he played in English cricket over the past five years. In fact, many will say it was his interim spell in charge against New Zealand, after the low of the 2015 World Cup, that put us on the path to World Cup glory.
“It was a proud moment, to take charge for those series,” remarked Farby, as he is known to many. “My approach was simple, to be honest. We just told the players that ‘you’ve been picked because of the way you play, so go out and play the way you play for your counties. So let’s go out there and give it a good go.’ Honestly, we had absolutely nothing to lose, we just had to go out and play positive cricket and always look to take the positive option.”
It’s fair to say the squad heeded Farby’s words as the ODI side racked up an outstanding 408/9 in that first game against New Zealand – the journey to World Cup success had begun! We’ll come back to this period in a lot of detail later – it’s worth the wait I promise.
But what was Farby’s journey to elite coach? We hear a lot about his spells with England and Sri Lanka, but do you know about his early spells coaching with Middlesex, Kent, Yorkshire and the England women’s team? In fact, did you know this wicketkeeper has bowled overs and was once a goalkeeper? There’s so much to cover in this piece! I promise you it’s worth making yourself a nice cup of tea for this story.
So, where did it all begin?
“That’s a pretty easy one to start with. I’ve got two older brothers and a Dad who played village cricket. I was brought up on the local recs in Kent. My dad and brothers would play both football and cricket for the village team, so for me it was just a natural progression. The whole family was into sport. My Mum even did the teas! Honestly, we spent all our time in the same pavilion as it was shared by both the cricket and football teams, and it was within a two-minute walk of our house. I reckon the first 17 years of my life was spent at that rec, and any time I go back to see my mum now, I will go and visit. They’ve actually added a rugby club to the setup, so it really is all sports!”
And what’s this talk about goalkeeping? “I have to admit football was and probably still is my absolute passion. I absolutely love it. I played men’s football when I was 14. Unfortunately, height obviously stopped me. I was at Coventry City when I was 16 but Bobby Gould told me that I lacked height to be a goalkeeper in the top flight so I went off and tried the lower leagues.”
As is so often the case, a decision was looming, football or cricket? “Kent offered me a cricket contract and so my wicket-keeping took over. I guess I’ve been fortunate as I’ve got through to 53 and I’m still involved in one of the sports that I absolutely love.”
Paul’s playing career saw him enjoy four years at his home county, Kent and six playing at Lord’s for Middlesex.
“I was very lucky to play for my home county. When I was growing up my heroes were Derek Underwood and Alan Knott because I always went and watched Kent. I used to get dropped off at the gate, and then picked up at the gate, and in between I used to just sit there, and watch cricket all day. I’d head to the nets and watch Alan Knott keep and Derek Underwood bowl. So, to get the opportunity in 1987 to play in Derek’s last game was special.”
Paul actually had the fortune to play several games alongside Derek in his debut year. “I remember one game against Scotland, Derek took 8 for 32 in a NatWest game which was just unbelievable. The wicket was wet, I’d never seen anything like it and haven’t since. I also played in a tour game against Pakistan and then the last game of the season which was Derek’s last game. I’d not had a dismissal off his bowling up to that game and then Jimmy Whitaker pushed forward to him, the ball hit his glove and I caught it. Everyone appealed and thankfully I was able to keep hold of the ball because I was so shocked, I’d got a catch off my hero! That’s still one of my greatest moments to be a 19-year-old, playing for your home county and taking a catch off of one of your heroes.”
Farby spent four years at Kent before moving on to Middlesex in search of more regular first team cricket, but it was four years that he deeply cherishes.
“Alan Knott retired at the end of 1985 and Steve Marsh took over behind the stumps and I was given the opportunity as his deputy. I stayed for four years, but I didn’t get many games as Steve was Mr Dependable. He had a sensational career at Kent, and never let them down. He also scored a lot of runs and the longer his career went on, the more important his runs became. He eventually became captain and led the club brilliantly. He was just one of those blokes who was going to play every single day. But even though I only played a few games for Kent, it was really special for me to play for the club that I supported, and Kent will always be home to me. I don’t live too far from Canterbury now and I always want Kent to do well except for when they’re playing against the county or the team I’m involved with.”
So, why Middlesex? “I had an opportunity to go to two clubs and I chose Middlesex. The initial plan was to develop my game and my batting. Paul Downton then got injured in my first summer – he had a nasty eye injury playing in a Sunday League game – so I ended up playing pretty much the rest of that summer and all of the following year.”
A period that saw Farby play an important role in helping Middlesex secure another County Championship title. “It was a fantastic experience for me. Middlesex had a very strong squad, a very opinionated one and it’s fair to say the dressing room was a punchy one, but I loved it.”
Despite Farby’s obvious talent with the gloves, his batting was to become his eventual undoing. “Paul Downton always batted at six and his runs were very important to the side. When he got injured and I came in, I started at six but finished up at about number 10! I averaged 15 or 16 in that full year and it wasn’t enough. So, the following year the club went with Keith Brown who was a good batter. I played a few games here and there, but never really got back in and rightly so. Browny did an excellent job for the club. He was a bit like Steve Marsh, the sort of bloke who would play through any injury, and was dependable day in and day out, and never let the team down. My wicket-keeping was decent, but the batting side of my game never developed and ultimately that was down to me. I had the opportunity when Paul Downton got injured and I never took it.”
It’s a lesson that Farby has taken into his coaching. “You see people that have skill, they have ability but one thing for me that I’m always looking for as a coach is people who’ve got the passion and the desire to match that skill and ability. If they’ve got that, then I’ll give them anything. If they haven’t and they don’t want to play, they don’t want to improve and get better, I find that quite hard work because I know I didn’t work as hard as I could have done and I don’t like to see people wasting opportunities they get given.”
I asked Farby, if he had any regrets from his playing days? “I had ten years of playing first-class cricket at two great clubs and met some fantastic people that inevitably I’ve learned a lot from. People who have helped me have a career in the game as a coach. So, if I’m honest I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t look back and say I wish I had, or I should have done. I actually look back and think, how lucky I was.”
Post that spell at Middlesex, Farby quit playing cricket at the age of just 28.
“I didn’t even play club cricket. I actually went back to playing football which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then five, six, seven years later, in the village where I was living at the time, I started doing a bit of coaching for the village cricket team. I played a few games, division four, batted at number 6 or 7 and then did something I’ve always wanted to do, but never been able to, which was bowl! I was a terrible off spinner!”
Any wickets? “I did get a few but mainly caught at deep square leg, or long on. The thing I found was the slower I bowled and the more you lob it up in village cricket, the more chance you had of getting a wicket. I loved it. Martin McCague lived in the same village and he became an even filthier off spin bowler than me! We had some great fun together. We played one game where this poor bloke came in to open against Martin and I’ve never seen so much padding, I think he had every bit of the sofa that the club had in their changing rooms around his trousers and he came out to bat thinking Martin was going to run in full pelt. So, Martin being Martin went right back to the fence and absolutely charged in and then delivered the ball as slow as anything. He just lobbed it down the wicket and everyone just laughed, and Martin then went back to bowling off spin! To me that’s what the game is all about. We were lucky that we had a career in cricket, but Martin and I were just thankful that we had a village club that were happy to give us a few games and have a bit of fun.”
What I liked about speaking with Farby was his absolute honesty for every subject, and particularly his reflections of his playing days.
“What I never wanted to be was one of those former players, that sit on the barstool at their local cricket club on a Saturday night saying I could have, I should have. There’s so many of those in club cricket. If you haven’t made it as a cricketer, that’s not down to anybody else, apart from you. That’s down to you not making the most of what you had. I certainly didn’t work as hard at my game as I could have done and should have done, and I certainly didn’t work at the fitness side of things. There’s a lot of people from my era who look back and say I didn’t get an opportunity, or I was badly treated by my club. It’s absolute nonsense. If you didn’t make it as a professional cricketer, then that’s down to you because there’s so many opportunities. There are 18 teams – remember there’s only six in Australia – and those 18 teams have got two sides. If you didn’t succeed you either weren’t good enough, you didn’t work hard enough, or you didn’t make the most of any opportunities that you were given.”
It’s a fair point.
And so, came Farby’s journey into coaching. “I always knew that coaching was where I wanted to be. When I was playing in the second team at Middlesex, Gunner Gould was coach and he gave me the opportunity to work for him with the under 19s. So, I would play for the seconds, and then spend two days a week coaching the under 19s. That was brilliant because at the time we had some ridiculous players in that age group – David Nash, James Hewitt, Owais Shah and David Goodchild to name just four, so it was a brilliant experience for me.”
It wasn’t long before Farby got onto the ECB’s coaching radar. “During my time at Middlesex, I worked at Hampton School in West London. I originally went there to coach football and a bit of cricket. I ended up them for five winters. As well as coaching I had a PE timetable and taught A-level Business Studies. It was a brilliant sports school with great facilities but then the ECB offered me a full-time job as a regional national coach.”
Farby quickly progressed from there to coaching the various England age group squads. “In 1998 I did the under-15s and then in 2000 we had an under-15 World Cup which included Alastair Cook who batted number three, Samit Patel and Tim Bresnan. So, we had a very, very good group and I then stayed with that group through to under 17s and under 19s. We went on tour to Australia with the under-19s, a squad that included Samit, Andrew Gale, Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett, a really good group of cricketers.”
His success with the age group sides led to an opportunity to be head coach of the England women’s squad. “I took the women’s role on and was involved for two years as their head coach but in addition to coaching the senior side, I also helped to set up all the regional women’s cricket underneath. For two years I was heavily involved in women’s cricket. One thing I am very proud of is when the then captain resigned, I was insistent that we appointed Claire Connor as captain because I thought she was the one with the best vision. I went out on a bit of a limb to make her captain as she wasn’t the most obvious choice at the time, and I pushed quite hard for her to get it. Simon Pack who was involved in the women’s international team at that time supported me and Claire became captain. So, that was my legacy! I might not have got a lot of things right at that time, but I know I definitely got that one right.”
The progress of the women’s game since, is something that gives Farby a huge amount of pride. “It’s absolutely brilliant what’s happened with women’s cricket. When I first took over in 1999, the team had only just stopped having to pay for their own tours and their own kit. To see the squad now playing in front of full houses at Lord’s, winning a World Cup final, the ECB has done so much. They’ve not just paid lip service, they’ve invested huge amounts. But it’s not just the women’s team, the ECB have done a huge amount with disability cricket, age group cricket, coach development. They’ve really walked the walk in all areas.”
After two years with the women’s team, Paul returned to Kent where he coached the side’s second eleven and academy sides, a role he confesses is the ‘best job’ in cricket. And it was during this period that he made a development trip to New South Wales – he certainly didn’t realise at the time; just how important this trip was to become.
“I spent a month with New South Wales cricket looking at everything they did. I spent a week with their under 17s, a week with their under 19s, a week with their second team and finally a week with their first team.”
A first XI that was coached by future England coach, Trevor Bayliss. “That was only the second time I’d ever met Trevor. We got on really well for the week but then I didn’t hear anything again from him for about 18 months.”
But eventually, Trevor did get back in touch as Farby received a text message completely out of the blue, saying he’d been offered the job as head coach of Sri Lanka and would Farby like to join him as his assistant.
“I received this text as our second XI game had gotten called off for rain. I said just give me 24 hours, and I’ll come back to you. I chatted to the family, and decided it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I then negotiated with the Sri Lankan board and I got the job. This was in July and I was out there with Trevor by the middle of August, and what followed was a remarkable two and a half years. We began with a brilliant time in the first ever T20 World Cup in 2007 in South Africa. But it was tricky, the board at the time was an interim one and I reckon we probably had three or four interim boards during our time there. We were always being told if we didn’t win then we’d be out of a job. But then we’d win the series. We went to the Asia Cup in 2008 in Pakistan and were told if we didn’t win it, we would be on our way. Sri Lanka had never won the Asia Cup outside of Sri Lanka before, but we went to Pakistan and won the final. We had an absolutely brilliant time with an outstanding side. We won a lot of series at home and we had a bit of success away. In 2009 we got to the T20 World Cup final in England – we won every game and then lost to Pakistan in the final. So many highlights.”
One low point though was when Paul and Trevor were on the coach that got attacked by terrorists in Lahore in March 2009.
Not long after that incident, Paul returned to England to take up the head coach role at his beloved Kent. “It was tough to leave Sri Lanka. We’d got to number two in the world in both one-day and Test cricket, but it was difficult for me to turn down the opportunity of head coach at Kent. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very well, and I was sacked two years later, which was probably the best thing to ever have happened to me! I definitely don’t regret taking the role. It was my club and if the club that you support wants you as their head coach you can’t turn it down. There was a lot of young talent coming through, the likes of Joe Denly, Alex Blake and Matt Coles that I just thought this was too good an opportunity to miss. However, the one thing I learned very quickly, was there’s that great saying in sport, bad coaches and managers lose in the dressing room. I lost in the dressing room in the first year because I cared too much. I was too passionate. I wasn’t able to control my emotions well enough. When we had a great day, I was flying high and when we had a terrible day the world had ended, and I didn’t control it very well. I didn’t maintain that calmness and there were a lot of young players who needed a bit more calmness from me at times and I didn’t show that. But when I look back and I know the mistakes I made, I made for the right reasons because I cared unbelievably for that club. When members and supporters gave me stick, it hurt even more because it was my club and still is my club. That period at Kent has motivated me in my coaching ever since.”
After leaving Kent, Paul took some time out, time out to reflect. “I had three months out of the game, which gave me the opportunity to think about how I coached, what I had to work on, how I had to change and what I had to keep doing. There were certain things I had to keep and not lose and there were other things I had to get rid of. After that period I was ready to go again and I was lucky to be given the opportunity of second team coach at Yorkshire. Getting the sack definitely knocked my confidence. But it’s funny, I used to fear getting the sack but once I got the sack, you realise actually it wasn’t that bad. People still talked to you, you’re still breathing and there’s a lot of people worse off than you in the world. So you very quickly realise actually this is all part and parcel of being a sportsman. And there’s not one person that was involved in me being sacked that I haven’t seen since and spoken to and shook their hands. I still get on well with them. I don’t hold grudges towards anybody, I never have. I’ve never held a grudge towards the people that tried to kill us in Lahore, so I’m certainly not going to bear a grudge about somebody deciding I wasn’t the right person for the job at Kent. But the role at Yorkshire was a great opportunity for me to get my confidence back.”
It was also an opportunity for Paul to work with some extremely talented Yorkshire youngsters. “I had a great time at Yorkshire. Martyn Moxon was one of the big reasons I went there as he was always someone that I looked up to as a coach. He and Peter Moores are two coaches in the county game that I always looked to as role models. Martyn offered me the job as second team coach and it was a brilliant opportunity. Jason Gillespie was also new in to the job as first team coach – I’d never met Jason before. Martyn directed the ship and we all worked really, really closely together. It was a brilliant two years.”
And after two years Farby once again had another difficult decision to make, when Sri Lanka came back calling and invited him to take on the role of head coach.
“It was a really tough decision to leave Yorkshire because the first eleven were on the verge of winning the county championship and had got to the final of the T20 Blast. We had a lot of very good young players coming through, many of whom have gone on to do brilliant things in the game. But I went back to Sri Lanka and took over after their series against Pakistan. I had a great time. We went to Bangladesh and won the Test series, the T20 series and the one-day series. We then went back to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, which we won. A tournament where we beat India and then Pakistan in the final. It was only the second time that Sri Lanka had won the Asia Cup outside of Sri Lanka and I’d been involved in both, which was brilliant. Shortly afterwards we went back to Bangladesh again where we won the T20 World Cup, beating India in the final. So everything was looking pretty good for me in Sri Lanka at the time. However, there was still a bit of an undercurrent in terms of I hadn’t necessarily been everyone’s choice to be the head coach – Jayasuria had gone out on a limb to get me the job. After that World Cup win I went back home for a week where I received a call from the ECB asking me if I would be interested in coming back and becoming the England assistant coach.”
It was yet again another tough decision that was needed to be made, but was evidence of the high regard Farby’s coaching was being held in. “It was a seriously tough few days, I promise you. Sri Lanka’s next tour was away in England. We’d spent weeks preparing. I’d had the batsmen batting at 7.30am in Colombo when there was dew to try and get them as adjusted as we could to English conditions. I’d been heavily involved in picking the squad, had done all of the analysis on the England squad but I couldn’t turn the England job down. I travelled back to Sri Lanka and met the board and all the players, the players were great, the board not quite so enthusiastic, but they came to an agreement with the ECB and I was allowed to start the job.”
Farby had obviously done thorough preparation as Sri Lanka went on to win the series 1-0! “It was a brilliant series, but we lost it 1-0. There was one great moment in the Headingley Test which I’ve not shared with too many people but I passed one of the Sri Lankan bowlers on the stairs during the second or third day and he said, “Coach, I’m not bowling well, what is it?” and I said “I can’t help you, you know I can’t help you,” and we both laughed about it. That’s how tough it was during that series. I was really close to that squad. Sri Lanka won and we lost. Obviously I was distraught that we’d lost the series but part of me was also quite pleased for Sri Lanka because I know how hard they worked to win in England.”
And Sri Lanka didn’t just win the Test series, they followed it up by triumphing in the one day series as well.
This period was an interesting one for English cricket. Andy Flower had moved on, Peter Moores was back as head coach for a second time and a second time where he took the job when England were going through a transitional period.
“Every game that England plays, there’s an expectation on the team to win and you don’t really get transitional time in international cricket because it is all about winning. That’s the tough bit. I’ve said this many times, but I think Peter was really unlucky to be taken out of the job when he was after that World Cup in 2015. I was very strong that Alastair Cook should have stayed as one-day captain through that period to the end of that World Cup. Alastair and Peter were making a real difference to the Test team. We were starting to play some good Test cricket. We turned round that Indian series, after going 1-0 down at Lord’s and we won 3-1 against a very good Indian team. The relationship between Peter and Cooky was absolutely outstanding. They complemented one another very, very well. We discussed many times whether Cooky should be the one-day captain and my view was that we should go through to the end of the World Cup with him as captain. Unfortunately we lost the series in Sri Lanka, and the decision was taken at the end of that.”
The decision was taken of course to replace Cook with Eoin Morgan on the eve of the tournament. “We went into that World Cup number 7 in the rankings, and we knew that qualification for the knock-out stages was probably the best that we could hope for. We weren’t playing good one-day cricket heading into that tournament and we certainly were not up with sides like Australia and New Zealand. We knew that we had a lot of work to do. The decision was made to change the captain. Our first two games were against Australia and New Zealand. We actually thought it was good to get those two games out of the way early, but we got blown away in both and any confidence we had was drained out of us. Obviously losing to Bangladesh in that game in Adelaide, effectively got us knocked out with a game to go. It was really tough. But again we knew we had the West Indies series after that and then we played that game against Ireland.”
The Ireland game was of those strange events. Peter Moores was still coach and a lot of changes were made to the squad, captain Eoin Morgan was playing out in the IPL and rumours were circulating about the coach’s future, following the World Cup and the recent appointment of Andrew Strauss as director of English cricket. “I think six or seven players made their debuts in that game and Rashid came back in. Pete knew that it was time to make those changes. Straussy came in, and felt that the best way forward was with a new coach and that he wanted to have more focus on white ball cricket without losing any focus on Test match cricket. He wanted a head coach who had good knowledge and good skills around the white ball game and that’s obviously where Trevor came in. But I still think Pete was unlucky. If you listen to a lot of players who played under Pete they will say how brilliantly they got on with him. It’s been one of life’s real bafflers that in two goes Pete didn’t make the success of it.”
Strauss appointed Trevor Bayliss as England’s head coach, but before he could take up his post, Farby took charge of the ODI and Test series against New Zealand, an important series in the build-up to the 2015 Ashes later on in that summer.
As we mentioned at the start of this interview, England racked up over 400 in that opening ODI and the ‘new’ England were up and away.
“We told the squad that we wanted to take the positive route with everything that we did. But what we needed was for the captain to go and play that way. And all the way through the next four years Morgs did exactly that. Every time there was a big game, every time he was needed, Morgs told the positive option. But we also had some luck in that first game. People forget that we were 200 for 6 with 20 overs to go. We could very easily have been bowled out for 230 in 34 overs and everyone would have said nothing’s changed, same old England, they’ve changed the team and they’re still not very good. But Adil Rashid scored 67 and Jos Buttler played one of the best innings to this day that I have seen in white ball cricket. Liam Plunkett then hit two of the last three balls for 6 – he blocked the last one for a not out, a proper Yorkie! I still give him stick for that now. We got 407 and everyone said wow, new England, new era, exciting white ball team, but goodness me we were lucky. We then bowled New Zealand out, Brendon McCullum who destroyed us in the World Cup, got bowled by Steven Finn. In the World Cup he hit Steven Finn to every part of Wellington but suddenly Finny bowls him out here and we get a sudden surge of confidence.”
It showed the fine lines of success. But this wasn’t a one off performance. England built momentum with this new attacking approach. “We lost a close game at The Oval and we then lost at Southampton, having got bowled out in 43 overs. But both Morgs and I came in afterwards and said that’s great, we don’t mind that, we want to be bowled out because it shows we’re showing attacking intent. The thing that actually frustrated us in that game, was that we dropped three or four catches, otherwise we would have won the game. In Nottingham, we chased down 350, with seven overs to spare, and only three wickets down. It was one of the best run chases I’ve ever seen. Root and Morgan played brilliantly. I’ll never forget looking out of the window that night at Trent Bridge and seeing England supporters leaving the ground shaking their heads saying ‘that was unbelieveable, what a game’. It was one of the great nights I’d been involved in. We then went to Durham for the last game, Buttler got injured, Bairstow came in came in and got 70-odd not out, and steered us to victory and we won the game and the series. The amazing thing was, before that final game so many said to me that it doesn’t matter if you lose, you’ve played brilliant cricket. I just kept saying it does matter, we’ve got to win this series, we’ve got to learn how to win close matches to get that belief in the team.”
The side did win, and were on a roll. The next ODI series saw England lose 3-2 to World Champions Australia, but confidence was growing. “We played both series with such intent. Morgs was key to it, but so were others. Take Jason Roy. He was out first ball in that opening game againts New Zealand. He didn’t score that many runs in the series, but he kept doing the job we needed him to do. He stayed in the side and got his runs in that Australia series. His attitude was to puff his chest out and take the opposition on, we needed that aggression.”
I asked Farby if he and others had always seen the leadership qualities of Eoin Morgan. “When I came back from Ireland the day Peter lost his job I met Andrew Strauss at Birmingham Airport. We talked through the captaincy of both teams and we talked about the ideal coach, and the sort of person the team needed. He asked me the question, is Morgs the best person to be one-day captain? I said he absolutely was. He took the team to the World Cup, but it wasn’t his squad. You knew he was an out and out leader. He’s a man of few words but when he speaks, everyone listens. He’s a dynamic leader, he has the trust of all the players and the way that he captains he gets the best out of people. He’s got the best out of Liam Plunkett, he got the best out of Adil Rashid, he’s got the best out of David Willey. And we all know the stories of how he was talking to Jofra Archer in the final.”
And how big an appointment was Trevor Bayliss as England’s head coach?
“Massive. The great thing about Trevor is that he doesn’t have an ego in international cricket. He’s a very simple, down to earth bloke and there’s no frills about him. He doesn’t want to hog the limelight and he was very happy for me and others to get on and do our jobs. He also brought the right coaches in. He did it with Sri Lanka and he did it in England. He knew that he and I hadn’t played international cricket, so we needed to have people around us who had so if players want to talk to people about what’s it like to be under pressure in the 48th over, what’s it like to bowl the last over out, that those people were around and available. He, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were massive on bringing former players into the dressing room. We had people like Bob Willis, Ian Botham, David Lloyd, Mike Atherton etc come into the dressing room to talk to the players. Trevor loved that and thought it was the right thing to do. And if a player wanted to talk to someone outside of our set-up he had no issue with it. He was happy for players to talk to who they wanted to. His calm and steady influence was brilliant and we complemented one another quite well. I remember when I was with him in Sri Lanka and we’d been together for about six months, we were having breakfast and I said to him just out of interest, ‘why did you give me the job, why did you bring me to Sri Lanka?’ He said, ‘well, I’m in a country I’ve never been to in my life before, I just think its wise to have someone I knew I could get on and have a beer with!’ nothing to do with my coaching! But it worked for over seven years. We never sat down and planned who was going to say what and who was going to do what. We just knew what each other’s strengths and weaknesses were and we knew what the other one preferred doing and what the other one didn’t prefer doing. We worked well together.”
Trevor’s first Test series in charge was the 2015 Ashes series, just days after taking the job. I asked Farby, how in those few days did they prepare the squad for such a huge series against a side, who with Mitchell Johnson at his peak, blew England away a couple of years before?
“When Trevor took over, we took the squad to a camp in Spain. We didn’t want the first time the players to meet Trevor to be in Cardiff where the first Test was to be played. So, the weekend before we took the players away and Trevor won’t mind me saying this but in that first meeting he stood up and spoke to the group, there was a group of about twenty players and a few coaches. Andrew Strauss was there who is brilliant in terms of communicating. He stood up and spoke brilliantly. I said a few words and then it went to Trevor. And Trevor, in his first ever speech, forgot one of his words, he stumbled a bit and then he forgot another word. Anyway we came out and he said he needed to be better for his next chat, which was going to be about the Aussie team. I said he’d be fine. Ans he absolutely was fine. He spoke about them as human beings and as people and not as these fantastic world cricketers. He talked about Warner and Smith and other players and how we’d get them out. He talked about their weaknesses and their frailties. And then during that first game at Cardiff, a lot of the things he spoke about, like how to get them out and how they would react to certain situations, started happening. We won that first game with a really, really good win. Then we went to Lord’s for the second game and we got beaten by about 400 runs but he came in that night at the end of the game and he just said ‘lads, that’s not how we wanted to play, that’s not what we wanted to do, we know we’re disappointed, but at the end of the day you’ll wake up tomorrow, you’ll still be breathing, the sun will come up and we’ll get another go’. He just said to ‘forget this, walk out with our heads up, walk out there looking forward to the next game, let’s go again and bat stronger and be better next time. We know we’ve got to do better, let’s not waste time over-thinking things.’ The ‘you’ll still be breathing line’ actually stuck over the years. Stokes would often shout across the dressing room in an Aussie accent “Still breathing, Trev” and it became a bit of fun. In the next Test at Edgbaston we did come back strong. We bowled brilliantly, we caught brilliantly, and won the Test. Trevor displayed calm management throughout that series, so there was no magic to Trevor there was no secret recipes that really made a difference, it was just calmness, common-sense thinking and very good organisation and planning on how to get players out. To win the Ashes was a great start, sensational really. So a lot of things came together for us that summer and it was just a brilliant time for him to start his time as the head coach.”
Farby and Trevor were together for four years with England. I was intrigued to hear whats Farbs’ most memorable moments were?
“There were so many of them. But as an England cricket fan, being at Trent Bridge to not only see England win the Ashes but being involved is up there. Trevor and I didn’t go down onto the field on that final day at the Oval, we never really enjoyed that. You could see how reluctant he was being in the outfield when they won the World Cup. When we won the Ashes we just stood up on the balcony and watched Cooky lift the urn. I remember seeing my brother afterwards who I didn’t know was at the game, and he just said ‘mate, think back to our cricket club and playing on the village green, you’ve been involved in the team that’s won the Ashes, it doesn’t get better than this!’ I’ll never forget at Trent Bridge, when Broady had bowled that spell and Trev and I were sitting in the corner of the balcony, some days you could look at Trevor and you’d never know if we were winning or losing. He lent across which was unusual, and pinched my thigh really hard, I said what are you doing, and he said I just wanted to make sure that you’re not dreaming! It was one of the funniest things ever for Trev because it was so out of character for him. He never liked to say well done, or pat you on the back and say ‘we’re going great’, it was always, ‘keep it in check, always a better day round the corner, keep going, keep working hard’, he was that sort of bloke, so it was brilliant when he did that. I’m also very proud of Ben Stokes and seeing how hard he has worked to turn his life and game around. That doesn’t just happen because he’s an unbelievably talented cricketer, that’s come because he worked so hard, he’s made so many sacrifices and he’s put himself in the position to do that. It’s similar to Broad and Anderson. I’ve seen up close how hard those blokes work, how fit they are, how much gym time, how much running they do and all the other things that they do away from the spotlight to be the best that they can be. I didn’t have a dry eye when Alastair Cook scored that final hundred. I’ve known Cooky since he 13, he was in my under-15 side, so for me to be there with him at the start of his time – and I don’t claim any credit for Alastair Cook but I watched him as a kid develop and you say to kids now go copy that guy. He’s got a mentality and a drive and a passion to be the best he can be and day in day out. There were times when the media or certain people in the media were hammering him for his captaincy and his runs and whatever, so to see him then go out on his terms with a 150 or whatever it was at the Oval, was emotional. That’s one of the great things about being a coach, you’re in a privileged position to see how hard some of those people work. And you get close to the players. Even those that get left out, they go back to county cricket but I always follow their scores even to this day and keep in touch. You build up a relationship with people and you care about them and you don’t just suddenly switch it off.”
At times during Trevor and Farby’s reign, England’s Test performances were inconsistent and I asked Farby if schedules, parrticularly playing away from home these days doesn’t help teams and coaches in terms of the build up to Test series?
“I think when people blame schedules, it deflects away from your team’s failings. In that last Ashes series down under, I don’t think we could have had any better preparation going into it. We were there for five weeks before the first game in Brisbane and we played three first-class games. We had a lot of preparation and we had a lot of practice time. We did have the cloud hanging over us as a team of the Ben Stokes issue. That didn’t help and then there was the Bairstow incident. The players felt under a lot more pressure. It certainly wasn’t as fun off the field as it could have been and I don’t mean socially, it just felt that from day one you were under the microscope with everything that you did. I don’t think the squad felt they could really relax. Australia is a tough place to tour anyway. You get every Aussie telling you that you’re not going to win and when the first bloke tells you that you laugh but by the time the five hundreth person’s tells you that you’re useless and you’re rubbish and you’re wasting your time, it’s quite hard to take. But listen, we didn’t play well in that series. We started poorly and we didn’t play well. Winning away from home is tough, there’s no doubt about that but it is doable. I think it’s easy sometimes just to blame lack of preparation and to blame the conditions and all sorts of other things. It’s possible to win away from home and the good teams do win away from home. They win Test matches in tricky situations and tricky conditions, so I think all teams have to be better at producing players who can adapt their games to play across the world. I think England have done okay overseas in recent years but on that Ashes tour we didn’t play well enough. The frustration was that we were in games for two and a half days and then they got away from us and we couldn’t get them back. We didn’t have the skill level to fight back. We tried very hard but we just weren’t good enough and I think you just have to accept that there are times when you’ve been beaten by a better team.”
You can’t argue with that summary. The key for Farby is the importance of learning from those kinds of series, and uses Australia and India as examples.
“When Australia were here in 2015, the ball moved a bit and they found it difficult. Last year the ball moved a bit and they played a lot better and they thoroughly deserved to retain the Ashes. It was a brilliant series but Australia had improved from 2015. The year before India showed how much they’d improved in English conditions from when they were last here. They couldn’t cope with the extra bounce and the seaming ball in 2014. Kohli went away and worked extremely hard and came back the two years ago and played brilliantly. England have already got clear thoughts and ideas on how they need to play to win in Australia next year and I know the planning has already started.”
An important point however that Farby did make is that while it’s important to be planning for the Ashes, it’s important we don’t take any focus away from the various series in between. “Every series is important, and you have got to win them as well. International cricket is about winning in the here and now, and that’s why I think this England team winning these series this summer was absolutely brilliant.”
I was keen to learn from Farby how the preparation and planning for series work? “Well, there’s a lot of analysis that goes on. England are lucky that they have got a group of people that love to spend a lot of time analysing every game. Every game these days is televised around the world, so there’s so much footage available of players techniques etc. Every team does it slightly differently and every player learns in different ways, so you don’t just sit everyone down and show them video after video after video. Some players like videos. Some like to have a look at some notes. Some might just watch some footage themselves and build their own plan of how they are going to bat or bowl. But it’s not just about building plans of how to get players out in their first 20 balls, you also have to have plans for when they’re 40 not out, for when they’re 100 not out. It’s also important as a coach not to be too scripted. You have to remember cricket is not a game played by machines, it’s a game played by humans. You’re going to make mistakes; bowlers aren’t always going to bowl the right lengths and people are going to drop catches. But what you can always do is look at the conditions, look at the pitches you play at, look at the recent scores played there, who’s got wickets, who’s got runs, who batted first, who bowled first. There’s so much knowledge available. You will know in your planning that the Indians now under Kohli have improved their fielding and their fitness beyond anything we’ve ever seen from the Indians previously. You know that the Aussies are always going to play with three big heavy seamers who hit the pitch hard. You know how Lyon likes to bowl. Before that last Ashes down under we had a bowling machine set up for left arm seam, swinging back in to replicate Mitchell Starc. We had it set up bowling round the wicket for Nathan Lyon who bowls back of a length into the pitch. You set up specific practices and drills in the lead up to all series. There is a lot of preparation and the players work unbelievably hard in terms of their preparation. As I say everybody does learn differently so as coaches, we have to understand how different players want to learn. You have to talk to each player differently and share information with them differently. Ben Stokes isn’t someone that you sit down in front of the computer, you just leave him with an iPad, he looks at it himself and he’s one of those blokes who takes in a lot of information and he’s got a very, very good cricket brain. Others are different. As coaches we have everything at our fingertips and it’s just going to get better and better.”
Since leaving his role in the England set-up Paul is now Director of Cricket at Warwickshire in a role that he is thoroughly enjoying.
“It’s a great challenge and I got to the stage where I needed a new challenge. I didn’t want to leave England going into a World Cup and an Ashes series, that was a really difficult thing to do, but I knew I wasn’t the right person to take the England job on after Trevor left. Had there been the opportunity to be involved in one-day cricket only, I think I might have been quite excited by it, but Ashley wanted one guy in charge of everything and I didn’t think that I was the right bloke. I felt the Test team needed some fresh thoughts and new ideas and I wasn’t the person for it. The Warwickshire role came up and I had some really good conversations. I thought it was an opportunity that could really develop me, and I needed that. It’s very different to what I have been doing and it look me a while last year to work out the role, how I needed to do it and how much interaction I needed to have with the players and the coaches and I think towards the end of the season I got a better balance and I’d like to think I’ve started better this year, even though we have started the season late. I oversee everything. Yesterday, I was out meeting the coaches of the under-13s and I’m now involved in hotels, coaches, travel planning. All the Covid protocols have made things interesting this year but we’re very lucky that we’ve got a good team of people. I’m involved in a lot of things and I’m really, really enjoying that. I do miss the day-to-day coaching, and I do miss being with the team – I did a little bit of fielding with the first team this week and thoroughly enjoyed that. Warwickshire is a huge club who hasn’t played as well as it could have in the last couple of years, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to get ourselves back to a county that is challenging for trophies. We feel that we’ve got some very good young players coming through and I’ve always been about bringing young players in and developing them. We have the opportunity to have the core of the team that is home grown local players. I want to develop something here for the long term. Our goals are simple. I want us to develop our own players through our own academy and age-group pathway. And I want us to develop players to play for England. At the moment we have Sibley and Woakes but we’ve a lot more talent coming through our system.”
Farby also stressed the importance of bringing more Asian and black players through into the first team. “We haven’t got enough Asian and black players coming into our team. That’s something that we are working very hard at. We want to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for every kid, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
With Fabry overseeing all affairs at Edgbaston you have a sense that it won’t be long until Warwickshire will be back competing for titles and trophies.
Warwickshire’s gain is definitely England’s loss. Farby – as England supporters, we thank you for everything you’ve done for us and for the many memories you’ve given us here in England and on the numerous tours around the world.