Couch Talk 115 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Richard Pybus who has served as national coach of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and is now the director of cricket with the West Indies Cricket Board. He talks about the responsibilities of his new role in WICB, his plans to strengthen their domestic first class as well as club and schools game. He discusses his role with Pakistan during the 1999 world cup, managing the superstars, and also his short stint with Bangladesh, amongst other things. Welcome to the show, Richard!
Richard Pybus (RP)– Thanks, Subash!
SJ– It is my pleasure having you on.
I want to talk to you about your coaching stints in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere. But first, I want to know about your new job as the director of cricket with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
What does this job really entail, meaning, what is the job description and what are your duties and responsibilities?
RP– The job as it stands now is quite global from West Indian cricket perspective. It includes schools cricket at entry level, called the Kiddy’s cricket which is kids in primary school, when they get introduced to the game, all the way through the system to the West Indies international team. So, it’s a oversight position, but with a remit to get into the detail of how the different sections of the system are working to see how and efficient and effective they are with a view to improve the system that we have got.
SJ– You come from a coaching background. How did you fit into this role? What made WICB choose you for this role?
RP– My background from the coaching perspective is…I went out to coach South Africa and went out to coach one of the boys school as a professional coach. I was amongst the lot of coaches that go out from England to South Africa in the English winter and South African summer to go out and coach. It was when South Africa was coming back into the game in the post-Apartheid world. It was quite exciting in the school and my responsibilities with the school was to coach the primary school boys and the high school boys. I got a really strong sense of the cycle the young cricketer goes through from the 6 to 7 year olds to leaving the high school at 18. I did that job for 4 years. From that job, I took a post with Border Cricket, which was at that time the home of Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini. They came through the youth structures.
My next stage from doing school cricket from primary and senior school was to working for the first class Border Board of Cricket in over-seeing the cricket with slightly more global role for the Province, ensuring that the coaches had – in those days we didn’t have coaching managers – one of my role was to go on coach education, create materials for the coaches at schools to set up for the talent identification process for 13, 15, 17 and 19 year olds, and appoint professional coaches for that, so that we had a player pathway.
The next stage after that was staying at the Border Cricket Academy and taking on the first class role at Border. It was quite a long journey and it allowed me to see through each of those cycles – the primary school child entering the game to the young player in first class cricket, then understanding the player at the back end of his career when hitting the winter of their career, and their transition phase back into the next stage of their life. Then, my international career, primarily with Pakistan. It just gave me a very good understanding of that. That was key to me taking up the role.
I have managed a lot of goals that I have set for myself in coaching, that I have managed to achieve. This was a really exciting role for me, from the perspective of looking at it in a very systemic way.
SJ– West Indies cricket in the international level has been in a prolonged funk, notwithstanding their victory in World T20 in 2012, which came on the heels of a period of dominance for 15-20 years with the teams of the 1970s and the ‘80s, ending with the retirement of the greats like Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose and others. So, that sort of great West Indian side has ceased to exist. But, people assume, wrongly if I might add, that the line of great Caribbean cricketers will continue. That has not happened. in your position as the Director of Cricket, how do you go about rectifying that situation?
RP– I think there are some key things that we need to do. My staff are directly responsible for youth cricket, looking at the system of of schools cricket, evaluating the health of club cricket in the region and looking at what are the outcomes of the health check – what actions and recommendations do we need to make. There were some territorial regions that have gone very vibrant, healthy professionalized set-ups all the way through the system – Good schools, club and first class cricket. There are other regions where there are a little bit under-resourced. They are struggling, need support. We are going to need to put structures in place to help them to grow. I think that the key reason to why WI was such a dominant side for such a long time and that was a historical window. Time has moved on. That window has closed. Perhaps nobody has evaluated from the perspective of how the players were really coming through, what was creating these great players. I think there is always a tendency when there is success over a period of time, it can lead to complacency. Every sport and every team has seen that after being successful. The incredible thing is that…. Going to Garry Sobers’ time of captaincy, when he had a highly successful team pre – Clive Lloyd, that window of ascendancy was for about 30 years, which is incredible for any one team.
SJ– You had mentioned in a recent press conference after Nagico 50 Limited Over competition, and I quote “The key priority for you (WI) is to get to the starting line so that you can run an equal race.” Could you expand further on that?
RP– I have done a report for the board about the health of the game in the region. One of the things which stands out is that there is a lag with regards to the top sides in the world. The lag, in terms of professional game. There is still a lot of talent in the Caribbean, there are good players coming through in the u-19 who have done pretty well in u-19 World Cups. There is a talent base there. It is about what is happening at the professional level. What has become apparent is that there are parts of the system that has really struggle to catch up with developments in the top countries with regards to the first class game. We need to address that and we need to address it very specifically and prioritize it so that we get to a point – I used the analogy of getting to the start line where other teams are starting 5 yards ahead, in a straight 100 m race. We are just handicapped like that. We need to look at, I said that in the interview, we need to professionalise the game properly because I don’t think the game is…..it is a long way off the levels of professionalism which I would expect to produce elite cricketers.
SJ– What are the certain things that you would like to be in place that would give you confidence that “We have achieved, we are now at the same starting line with the other teams of the world”?
RP– The WI have lived off a very short domestic season for several reasons. One of them is being handicapped financially. Sources are very tough, very difficult transporting people around the region by air. It is an expensive part of the world to fly players around. That is a real limitation, getting around the various islands and territories. Other challenges have been the lengths of the first class season. The restrictions on the number of games that you can play has stymied the development, which happened in the post – county exodus of WI cricketers in County Cricket. For a very long time, you would find West Indians plying and learning their trades in better leagues in England as professionals, in County Cricket, and for social, demographic, historical, economical reasons, those doors are not as open as they used to be. Once Australia became the ascendant side, they became the players of choice to go to the counties. Kolpak players came in, which took away some of the opportunities. A lot of the cricket that the players would have got in the past, the players have not been able to get. And with a very short first class season, players are not getting the volume of games that they really need to push through.
So, I’ve made some recommendations to the board. We have a meeting coming up soon, so I can’t go too much into the details about it. I have proposed a raft of proposals on the goals and actions that we have to take to get up to the starting line. I’ve had discussions around it, and I’m hoping that these will be well received.
SJ– You mentioned that WI needs to have a very strong domestic game. that is true, that is true for any nation. But, you said there are impediments to that. However, the way I see it is that if you get more sponsorship into it, that will allow you to overcome the stumbling block cost of travel etc. You can get more sponsorship if you have stars playing in the domestic game. West Indies does not have shortage of stars. You have Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard or Sunil Narine, or Dwayne Bravo, who are all well known not only in the region, but around the world. How do you convince the Gayles and the Pollards to play in first class game? Someone sent me an email saying, Pollard has played one first class game in the last four years. How do you rectify that?
RP– The board needs to make decisions on the involvement of international players in domestic cricket and the availability of players. Historically, there have been issues with the players’ association which has created challenges from a legal perspective with regards to being able to call on players to be able to play. I wasn’t part of it, wasn’t part of that time. I need to look at the state of the game now and make recommendations based on what I believe is the best for West Indian cricket going forward. Exactly as you say, if you want to get sponsorship, you need to have your best players playing in the competition, you need that from a selection perspective as well so that you have a full complement of players fighting for spots and competing hard, including pressure for every spot in three formats.
SJ– Is that a part of your agenda too – to get all these big stars playing in the domestic game?
RP– Well, one of the key things that I believe for the region moving forward is the ideal – I have to be very careful about getting ahead of myself here because the board has had challenging relationship with the players in the past and these are the issues that have come up – in an ideal scenario for any international side that aspires to work its way back up the international table is you want to have your international players playing your best domestic players where they are competing and fighting for spots and selection to the team is performance based, so that you get a really clear reflection of the current group of [best available] players.
SJ– I believe you have signed a 3 year contract with the WICB?
SJ– What are your performance benchmarks?
RP– I think the key for me, and I have said that I have got a very broad global role. The key things for the WICB perspective is for me to really assist in turning around the game. It is getting stuck into the detail of national side and professionalization of the game. The key things going forward with regards to the professional international set up is looking at the quality of players we bring through. There are issues in the region with the wickets. We need to look at putting a strategy in place, so that we have to get as good as first class wickets as possible, and not see four day first class games get over in two and a half days, etc. That it is really about playing on good surfaces and bowlers have to work hard to get wickets. There are a whole lot of things. I won’t get into what my key performance indicators are, that might sound a little bit too human resources.
Bottom line, I have got key priorities, that is to assist in driving the game forward. We have a system that is producing cricketers particularly through first class cricket. Looking at selection process, what is apparent is that we really need to look at how we ar e developing and managing the talent in the region. We need a strong coaching education and coaching support system whereby the junior territorial coaches and senior territorial coaches have got a high level backup and got continuous education. That is a real priority. Talent and the management of the talent are two key things for the turnaround in the next 24-36 months. Having clarifying systems so that everybody knows what their responsibilities are, so that we get a clear measure of our goals, and a clear measure of what we are getting out of our actions.
SJ– But, West Indies, like a lot other places around the world including some countries where you worked as a coach can be quite resistant to people trying to cause change that are not from within. How do you intend to overcome any resistance that you are actually quite likely to face?
RP– That is very valid. People are, human condition it is, resistive to change. Even if you are no.8 team that you are now, status quo is a comfortable place to be. What I have picked up here is that there is an incredible desire to move forward. There is a real will. I think the people I speak to on both professional and the public level, there is a huge level of frustration. Frustration is interesting, because it is also a key stage of learning. When you get to that point, there is a dynamic in place – I think I mentioned the word complacency – but a lot of the people want to move forward.
SJ– I want to ask you one last question on this topic before I ask you about your coaching career. What is your stance on the decision taken by the WICB to go along with the ICC revamp proposals, as proposed by the big three nations – India, England and Australia. Did just WI look at it from the point of view of the benefits WI cricket was going to get out of it? Your president, Whycliffe “Dave” Cameron said that there is going to be a 100% increase in revenue. So, is it just the case of the bottom-line winning over principles?
RP– Subash, I can’t speak from a political perspective without sounding like I’m passing the ball here. My main priority is to get the cricket systemized. The decisions, I don’t have any historical basis of understanding the relationships between the board and other countries, and what the foundations of those relationships are. What I do know is where the cricket system is at the moment and the financial resources that are available and the board has – I know because I am in-charge of the budgets specifically for the cricket – is pretty challenging to roll out the types of programs that we like to give,and it has been getting very difficult for a long time for the board to be in a position to generate the kinds of profits to run a system that they like. So, that is a key thing, again, without any understanding the relationships, If we don’t have the funding for that, we don’t move forward. I have my own personal opinions on what has transpired on the ICC board level, but as an employee of the board, my specific and public perspective is really making sure that I am getting stuck into the system and – earlier are asking me about sponsorship – it is making sure that we are entertaining fans, we can provide sponsors with products with which they want to be involved, where we create goodwill and doing the right things for the cricket so that we engender that goodwill and people want to be involved both from putting bums on seats and committing financial resources to the game.
If I don’t have that, I can’t make one jot of difference with regards to our school, first class, clubs, academy systems, at all.
SJ– Fair enough. i understand that you can’t comment on it in a public forum, we can leave it at that.
Let’s talk a little bit about your coaching career. You served as a coach at two separate times with Pakistan and also had a short stint with Bangladesh in addition to coaching several domestic sides in England and South Africa. The Pakistan team, I want to talk about it in specific, was loaded with talent, especially the 1999 team and the 2003 team. Some of them are all time greats even though they didn’t see eye to eye at all times. How did you manage to get the best out of them as a team? What was your approach to handling these superstars who I am sure thad huge egos?
RP– It was more than two times with Pakistan. I think I hold the record with Javed Miandad for the number of times we have coached the national team. I think a couple of my tenures with Pakistan were – in English football talk they call it “ambulance jobs” – where you get a call and you are going to do a job because things have been falling apart. I loved my time in Pakistan. I wasn’t under any illusions particularly after my first full time stint as to what it was about because after working with the side in the 1999 World Cup and being offered the job for 2 years. and within 24 hours of signing my job there was a military coup and that was the end of my contract. Three weeks later I was out of the job. I was not under any illusions after that. It was an interesting time.
The 1999 group of players, going through to 2001, it was a group of players strongly shaped by Imran (Khan). They were – I don’t want to say an easy group of players to coach, because there were challenges – but they were fantastic group of players to work with both from a personality perspective and as a group of guys. They were at that stage, as a mature team, in a good space, and they hadn’t got to the point where, I think in my last tenure, going up to when I was asked to take over in 2002 till the World Cup, there were a lot of guys that really were getting to the end of their careers. A lot of the differences had been overcome by having a unified focus of facing the challenges in front. There were some pretty strong divisions in the camp. There were some issues to deal with the board as well and it became quite a challenge. They were playing very mediocre cricket in that period going up to and including the 2003 World Cup.
SJ– What do you do as a head coach? Especially in the sub continent, the players’ persona can be larger than life. Someone like Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis, or any one like that. When there are divisions within the team, what can you do as a head coach?
RP– The interesting thing is that I got along really well with both of them. They are magnificent cricketers. That is why I enjoyed working with the side. They were both very strong individuals, and they were both captains. I have had good, harmonious relationship with both of them. That was quite important because there was no personality division on my relationship with the captain and the other parties. That was always pretty healthy. They were great players, and they were big players on the world stage. They were really good guys. From that side, I didn’t have issues with any of the big names in the team. Teams go through life cycles and a changing time came at the back end when those guys were on the verge of exiting the game and we just had a very – I don’t lay all the blame on the players – it was a challenging time and it was a time where there was not a lot of clarity on the board level on what they wanted going up to the 2003 World Cup. That lack of decision making created uncertainty and that is a really poor place for a team to be in while playing a very important tournament.
SJ– There is a question from a listener, Ahmer, and he wants to hear from you some of the tactical set of plans that you dealt with especially the 1999 World Cup side.
RP– One of the key things to that is that there was incredible variety in the bowling attack. there was Saqlain (Mushtaq) at the heart of the attack. We had fantastic spin with Saqi, and we had Mushtaq Ahmed, “Mushy” in reserve, frrm a leg spin point of view. We had Wasim, left arm quick. We had right arm quicks. Waqar couldn’t get a game, he was on the bench. Shoaib (Akhtar) was absolutely phenomenal at that time, before injures started to set him back. Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq… You have got swing, seam, pace, speed, every variety that you would want and desire. I think Wasim, the captain of the side, was very aggressive. The side had wicket taking bowlers, that was the key. There were no holding bowlers there. Wasim had that option that consistently broke open the game with the quality bowlers that he had. Cricket lovers know that your average Pakistani bowler is a wicket-taker, not a holder, variety is the name of his game, he has usually got some pretty potent weapons in his arsenal.
It was a early time of the season in England. There was a bit of movement around, using the Duke ball. There was a lot more seam off the wicket and there was plenty there for the bowlers. That was borne out by the performances. From the batting perspective, because there was some early movement with the new ball and that was the reason why Razzaq went up the order. He was a little bit of a buffer. It wasn’t that Razzaq that we saw later in his career, the fantastic, power finisher. It was somebody who could play very orthodoxly against the moving ball and just suck up the early pressure with the new ball to get some overs from the Duke to allow the middle order to get in and control the game. We just didn’t want to get into a situation where we are three down at the end of the fifteen overs. Abdul did that job pretty well. he is more than just a good enough batter, he could go on and push the game on as well.
SJ– But, the way the World Cup ended in 1999, that must have been pretty disappointing for the boys, as well as you.
RP– It was horrible, really horrible. It was fascinating, you look at the tournament and you look back and look at all the things, you evaluate and review what were the mitigating factors that led to such a terrible performance in the finals. The interesting thing is, it must be one of the things that you learn as a coach – control of the environment. We had a very set routine before every game to set the players up who worked incredibly hard between games. Our batteries were fresh going in to each game and we had really good focus. Going up to the final, we lost control of the team environment, which was I think one of the reasons for the implosion at Lord’s.
In all the preceding games, all the way to the semi-final, that routine had held its way, but when we got to the final, and we were in London, I don’t want to go into the detail because it sounds like a blame game and it is a long way past it. From the management point of view, you need to have a hold on for 48 hours before the finals and immediately after. Little things like security at the hotel, fans at the hotel wanting access to players, haven’t been planned well. I always said to players that managing distraction and holding focus are two things in making sure that you are in good place before the game. 48 hours before the final were very poor from the team point of view.
SJ– I want to talk to you about your role with Bangladesh, which was very short. You had given a detail interview to Firdose Moonda at the back end of that. Was there anything more to it, was there essentially something fundamentally wrong with the way the board dealt with you, or didn’t meet your expectations or did they put limits on what you could achieve as a professional coach? Are there any lingering bad feelings?
RP– I don’t think so. As a professional coach, you need to go in with your eyes open. Bangladesh are a developing side, an evolving side. They have made a huge amount of progress. I was very clear with the board as to the terms that I could take the contract on. I’ve got a young family, I have got kids, my youngest kids are still in primary school and I made it clear to them that I couldn’t move my family to Bangladesh. Between tours, I might get back to see the family to both be a husband and be a parent. It became apparent that it wasn’t going to pan out as I wanted it to be, or thought it had been. When it became a real issue, I made it real clear to the hierarchy that what I was taking was a clear mandate for me to be able to [do the things I wanted] or otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job, that there wasn’t transparency there at the board level and it became extremely challenging. I made it very clear to them that what we originally agreed on, it was just like the goal post had been moved. Whether it was poor communication, I can’t say, I wasn’t on that side of the fence. I couldn’t continue with the job because it has actually gone against the whole reason why I had taken the job in the first place, which was actually really to serve Bangladesh cricket to the best of my ability and to helping an evolving side. but, it was not on the basis that I would never see my family. That is what actually unfolded. I think there was a bit of politics involved in it. That was all that there was from my side. the disappointment was the fact that I was very open to the terms that I could take the job on and it got to a position where I couldn’t do that. You just don’t want a relationship to end like that. I had been very up front with them. And, that was that, it got to a point where they had taken a position and started to say things in press that I wasn’t prepared for series and tours and etc etc which wasn’t true. When they did that, I found that they have made a decision on where they wanted to go.
I must say, just on the Bangladesh thing, what a fantastic group of players to work with. I know that they are in the middle of a tough series with Sri Lanka, but I think how they have evolved after I left, they have made really good progress for a while. They have got some really exciting players coming through, which has created competition for spots. They were hitting a little bit of a window where they really needed some depths to challenge some of the incumbents and full credit to the operational staff and players, and the selectors in creating that depth in the system.
SJ– I will ask you one last question and let you go, Richard. You coached for the Titans franchise in South Africa, then coached Middlesex, the Border team, and national teams. How is coaching a national team different from coaching a domestic side? How do you scale up or down?
RP– One of the challenges is that when you go on the road it can become a very insular environment. When you are coaching domestic sides, 50% of your games are at home, and that keeps it balanced and keeps you very real. A lot of the times, you are not playing in front of the crowds in domestic cricket. You start to see the crowd when you get to the semis and finals. Domestic cricket is all about players being on journey where they are playing for the team but the better players are challenging themselves to grow to get through to international cricket because they want to prove themselves. Most frequently in domestic cricket, there is a lot of good energy. A lot of the guys are trying to get somewhere. In international cricket. It is a bit different. If you look at the schedule now. It can get very insular environment and it is very challenging for players.
You’re stuck with the same group of players when you are on the road and you see them day in and day out, you see them far more than your own family. You are in a bubble where when you are playing that consistently, you are playing other international sides, you don’t know what is going on in domestic cricket. Both from a support staff point of view and players point of view, the real challenge is to keep it as real as possible, stay as grounded as possible. It is quite an illusionary world. It is very easy for young players to get caught up in the glitz of it, thinking that they have arrived at that stage, or they have got to that stage of their career where they can start to get comfortable. That is the challenge, really. That is for all the sides in international cricket. When you watch the players come through, and the great players who come through, just the ones who can stay grounded and manage that process as well as possible go on and tend to have a long and successful career.
Thanks a lot for that, Richard! I wish you the very best with your new job at the West Indies Cricket Board. Thanks a lot for coming on the show.
RP– Thanks, Subash! And, best wishes to all the listeners.
SJ– Thank you!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman