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England's unsung heroes

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Sam Sheringham | 22:29 UK time, Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The rags to riches story of England’s rise from the bottom to the top of the world rankings features plenty of big-name stars but the roles of several supporting actors should not be overlooked.

Captain Andrew Strauss, his team-mates and coach Andy Flower have received most of the plaudits, while many have noted the importance of former coach Duncan Fletcher and ex-skipper Michael Vaughan in steering England towards the summit.

But over the past decade or so, several other figures have played fundamental roles in helping transform England into an ultra-professional winning machine.

Here are five of English cricket’s many unsung heroes.

Lord Maclaurin

Lord MacLaurin set about running the ECB as a lean, mean business. Photo: Getty

Lord MacLaurin

Position: ECB Chairman 1997-2002

A former chairman of Vodafone and Tesco, MacLaurin set about turning English cricket into a successful business on and off the pitch. He introduced central contracts to give the England management more control over the country’s finest players, and set up a National Academy, which was based in Adelaide in 2001 and 2002 before moving to its current home at Loughborough University.

He invested heavily in grassroots cricket and formulated a National Strategy for Cricket, with the stated aim of seeing England ranked number one in the world by 2007. We’ll forgive him the four-year wait.

“When I was captain and David Lloyd was coach, we talked about wanting central contracts but Ian MacLaurin was a very successful business man who came in and made that happen,” says former skipper Alec Stewart.

“Now the coach has total control over the England team. He can pull them out of county games or send them back in to regain form. You can have training camps, fitness camps, and it is no coincidence that since central contracts came in England have made massive progress.

 Nasser Hussain

Fiercely critical of himself and others, Nasser Hussain was a combative England captain. Photo: Getty

Nasser Hussain

England Test captain 1999-2003

Alongside Fletcher, Hussain oversaw a sea change in the mentality of the England cricket team. A fierce competitor, he demanded that his players gave everything on the field and made the side much tougher to beat. 

Often hamstrung by limited bowling resources, he was always on his toes, sometimes making as many as four field changes in a single over in an effort to break a partnership.

After an inauspicious start – he was famously booed on the balcony at the Oval after a home defeat by New Zealand - Hussain led England to series victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka as he became the first captain since Mike Brearley to win four Test series in a row.

Aided by central contracts and Fletcher’s no-nonsense approach, he ensured Michael Vaughan’s inheritance was a team in the truest sense of the word.

But one frontier remained to be crossed: regaining the Ashes.

Troy Cooley

Cooley (left) is credited with overseeing the early development of several top English bowlers. Photo: Getty

Troy Cooley

England bowling coach 2003-2006

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, England had plenty of talented bowlers, but rarely did they boast a true attack, a collection of talents each offering different but complimentary skills.

Cooley, a Tasmanian who never played international cricket, was lured to England by his compatriot Rod Marsh and, after initially working with the ECB Academy, he soon became involved with the senior bowlers.

In 2005, he helped mould Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones into a formidable unit, using a blend of raw pace, seam movement and reverse swing to repeatedly dismantle Australia’s much-vaunted batting line-up.

So fundamental was his role in helping England win the Ashes back that Australia promptly snatched him back the following year.

“Troy Cooley was a tremendous bowling coach who helped fine-tune the actions of Harmison, Flintoff and Jones,” says Stewart. “They already had the talent but he provided that extra pair of eyes off the field and just kept pointing them in the right direction.”

Graham Gooch

A terrific batsman in his day, Gooch continues to pass on his considerable expertise. Photo: Getty

Graham Gooch

England batting coach Nov 2009-present

When Ishant Sharma was blowing a hole in the England batting order on the fourth day at Lord’s, one man on the home balcony looked particularly distressed.

It was Graham Gooch, whose sterling work has helped ensure that such middle-order collapses are largely a thing of the past.

Gooch is a father figure to many of the England batsmen, who look to meet his demand for the “daddy” hundreds that really alter the course of matches.

Anyone doubting Gooch’s influence should contemplate the following statistic. In the past 15 months, England’s batsmen have scored six double-centuries in Test cricket, the same number they managed in the previous 15 years. 

“Even when I played under his captaincy he always used to say you never had enough runs,” says Stewart. “If you got to 100, go and get 150. When he got to 300, that wasn’t enough so he went and got 333. They are the standards you have to set if you want to be the best team in the world.”

Huw Bevan

Huw Bevan (left) must take credit for an incredibly athletic England side. Photo: Getty

Huw Bevan

England fitness coach 2009-present

Even to the untrained eye, the difference in the fitness levels and athleticism between the England team and their Indian counterparts is striking.

Fielding coach Richard Halsall takes much of the credit for their agility and skill, but the role of Huw Bevan in turning them into true athletes should not be overlooked.

A former rugby union hooker, Bevan was a conditioning coach at Ospreys before joining the England cricket set-up via Glamorgan.

He structures the indoor and outdoor fitness sessions that are such a big part of a modern sportsman’s training, and also oversaw Stuart Broad and Steven Finn when they took time out of the game for “strength and conditioning” training.

Many an eye-brow was raised at the decision among the ex-cricketer fraternity but few were complaining when both bowlers emerged leaner, stronger and with deliveries regularly touching the 90 mile-per-hour mark.

“You only have to stand alongside one of the England players to see that they are athletes not cricketers now,” says BBC Cricket Correspondent Jonathan Agnew.

“They are incredibly fit and lean human beings and they work astonishingly hard.”


  • Comment number 1.

    Thank goodness credit has been paid to Nasser - he was the one, in my view, who stopped the losing mentality. Thanks Nas!

  • Comment number 2.

    I think that Hugh Morris, Steve Bull and Nigel Stockill deserve a mention too. Hugh has been responsible for ensuring that a high performance culture has been a priority for many years now. Nigel Stockill did a huge amount of work in laying the foundation for fitness to become an integral part of the England set up and Steve Bull's work with captains, coaches and players on the psychological side of the game had a very big influence on the development of winning thinking.

  • Comment number 3.

    I dont care if England are number 1 (okay I am lying) but I do care that England seem to be playing as a real team nowadays. I have been watching England for nearly 40 years and though there were times when talented individuals performed, too often the team never backed him up. Now we seem to have a team that would die for there team mates something similar to the great units of the past Bradmans Invincibles, Lloyds Windies, Aussie teams of the late 90s early 00s.
    If this team continue to play for each other they can do something special and maybe just maybe end up being considered one of the greats.

  • Comment number 4.

    Troy Cooley deserves credit for getting England's bowlers to bowl as a unit, but it's interesting to see him pictured with Jimmy Anderson. Pre-Cooley, Anderson was an effective if occasionally wayward bowler. Cooley remodelled his action and for ages he was awful. Only long after Cooley departed and he redeveloped his bowling action again did he become the world-class bowler he is now.

  • Comment number 5.

    Duncan Lingard, you're quite right. Naz was the man who started it all off. We owe him a much bigger debt than we will ever know. Vaughan 'merely' took all the work Nasser Hussein had done to its next logical step.

    What is interesting now is that Strauss is a competent captain, but no more, he certainly doesn't have the flair (almost genius) of either Vaughan or Hussein, but he's reaping the rewards. It is testament to this current set-up that the team almost doesn't need captaining!

    I also have to agree with fastmongrel that the most heartening thing about the current England side is that we play for each other and for the team, not for themselves as individuals.

    The one thing that seems to be sliding very slightly this summer has been the fielding. Obviously, we will be a worse fielding unit without Colly, but the team as a whole doesn't seem to be fielding as well as it did in the Ashes. Is this because of the removal of Colly's influence?

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not really true that Australia "promptly snatched [Troy Cooley] back", though, is it? The ECB failed to offer him a contract so he left in December 2005 and joined Australia in May 2006. It was a monumental piece of incompetence by the ECB, rather than sharp work by Australia that saw him leave.

    Still, it is good to see an article that highlights the people that built this current side that aren't being lauded at the moment, particularly Nasser Hussain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Goochy a "supporting actor"? More like a "guiding star"...

  • Comment number 8.

    Ime happy the fitness coach was mentioned, has there ever been two pace bowlers as good in the field as Broad and Anderson? Neither would look out of place fielding at cover or backward point. The other great thing i like although its the players, they all want to improve there weak spots Anderson for instance obviously takes pride in his batting. Also KP may be the big name superstar type but never at the expense of the team and its impressive how much playing for England means to him as it should for every player, i dont think that was always the case with some players in the past.

  • Comment number 9.

    One of the key things that strikes me about this England side is the strength of the batting line up. You look at all the other sides in world cricket, they may genuinly bat to no. 6 if they are lucky. However, Prior (7), Bresnan (8), Broad (9), Swann (10) and Jimmy (11) is probably the best 'tail' I have ever seen... The days of being skittled out appear to be long gone, and even if we are 100-6, I still feel confident, and almost expect us, to get above 250! Goochy must take the credit for this?

    Obviously, the bowlers do the business with the ball probably better than anyone in the world now, but its that ability to add the extra 100-200 runs to take a game away from the opposition that we possess. I would be interested to see, in 20 years time when we look back at this current side and they have all retired, will that batting line up have the highest cumulative average in test match history? I would like to say, yes they will.

  • Comment number 10.

    #6 - hardly 'monumental incompetence'. As has already been noted, Anderson regressed under Cooley's coaching whilst his record since leaving for Australia has been unimpressive.

  • Comment number 11.

    #8 bluenose
    In the days of 'revolving doors', when a couple of poor performance might lead to being dropped, many players sought first and foremost to retain their place in the team. We should perhaps not be overly critical of such behaviour. These days with central contracts, and players offered ample opportunity to establish themselves, it is much easier to play for the team. Regardless of that, as you say, it's great to see.
    I'd like to add my voice to those praising Nasser Hussain. My memory is that he was the first England captain in my lifetime to say and do the tough things necessary to get the best out of both the players and the setup. If you listen to his television commentary, he is relentless in his search for perfection and attention to detail. Not an easy man to like, but by golly he has earned huge admiration and respect.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am blown away that I haven't seen one article which highlights the impact Rod Marsh had in the rise of the English/SA team as a selector, bringing on hoard Cooley and setting up and directing the academy so he could see the Ashes as a contest again.
    Also the ECB replicated the Australian system with central contracts and basically the entire structure, yet in this article a Lord is credited with doing so.
    Short memories the Uk press.


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