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Paul Farbrace on how England went from struggling in white-ball cricket to owning the format


Paul Farbrace, Director of Cricket at Warwickshire County Cricket Club, has been one of the architects of Englandโ€™s remarkable transformation in limited-overs cricket. Farbrace stepped down as England assistant coach ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Having won the World Twenty20 as head coach of Sri Lanka in 2014, Farbrace moved back to England to work as deputy to Peter Moores.

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Appointed interim head coach, before the arrival of Trevor Bayliss in July 2015, Farbrace and Eoin Morgan came together in the aftermath of the 2015 50-over World Cup campaign and began the work to revamp the white-ball team.

In an interview withย Sportstar, Farbrace talks about coaching, England’s white-ball transformation and the philosophy behind it.

How much has cricket coaching evolved in the last 10 years according to you?

The biggest difference in cricket coaching has been the move away from being heavily technique-oriented to being people-centred. There was a quote: “Good coaches coach technique, great coaches coach people…” I think this has never been more true than now .. understanding people, understanding the differences and allowing them to be different and not ostracising those who are unique is the major shift.

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England in that 2015 World Cup…and the way they struggled. Was that the tipping point for a need for change in white-ball cricket?

Definitely, it was. We knew going into that World Cup, we were seventh in the world and had no chance of winning the title. Reaching the knockouts was the best we could hope for, and we didn’t achieve that. That acted as a catalyst for change – a lot of people didn’t play white-ball cricket for England after that World Cup. It allowed Stuart Broad and James Anderson to focus more on Test cricket – a lot of good came out of it as well. Jimmy not playing white-ball cricket since 2015 has enabled him to enhance his Test match career. He might disagree with that. But I think it has gone a long way in allowing him to play the Tests with his body in better condition.

Bangladesh vs England

Bangladesh’s players celebrate their win over England at the 2015 World Cup. The loss saw England exit the tournament. ย  – ย REUTERS

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I think it has allowed for longevity, the same for Broad. Look, they weren’t the reason England weren’t winning often in white-ball cricket. It was the mindset. It was stuck in the old days of keeping wickets in hand and being cautious in the way we played. After the 2015 World Cup, a lot of people came in who had no scars of international cricket, no scars of continually losing ICC tournaments — it was an absolute groundbreaker. And then Andrew Strauss and his vision got involved with English cricket and helped drive the team forward. The combination of Strauss’ vision and Eoin Morgan’s leadership was the real catalyst for the change.

England’s campaign at the 2016 T20 World Cup and that night at Eden Gardens. What’s your abiding memory? England came close to winning that title.

In that 2016 World Cup, we lost the first game to West Indies. Halfway through the second game against South Africa, we were struggling, chasing 230, and we thought our tournament was over. To then, not only win that match but also get to the final and come within an over of winning the tournament… I think we came a long way. But for Carlos Brathwaite’s four-ball onslaught on Stokesy (Ben Stokes), we could have won.

We used that experience, and we used the 2017 Champions Trophy to progress. We realised we lost to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy semifinal in Cardiff because we were back to playing old fashioned careful cricket. We spent an hour that night in the change room talking about the need to be No. 1 or 2 coming into the 2019 World Cup, the need to be able to embrace the pressure of winning a World Cup at home and not be scared of it – openly talk about being favourites…openly talk about wanting to come into World Cup as No. 1 or No.2. So, we learnt a lot from the 2016 T20 World Cup and 2017 Champions Trophy and used that to propel the team towards the 2019 World Cup. The preparations paid off brilliantly in the end.

Do you feel England have underused Moeen Ali? There’s a perception that T20 franchises use him better than England.

Moeen Ali has been the scapegoat many times for England. In that 2019 World Cup, in a game against Sri Lanka (which England lost), he got out trying to hit a second consecutive six at Headingley and then got left out. When Stokesy (Ben Stokes) did that, everyone said that’s great cricket. I am not blaming Trevor (Bayliss), Morgs (Morgan) and I include myself in this – I don’t think we ever really used Moeen properly.

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Moeen is such a great team man – one of the greatest team men the game has had. His help and support of Adil Rashid, sometimes at his own expense, has had a role in making Adil one of the best spinners in the world. So Moeen’s support of players in the team is so great that at times, it has cost him. He is such a utility cricketer…he is batting anywhere from 1-9 in all formats. He has bowled at various stages. But he never complains.

It is very easy to take him for granted and not accord him the respect he deserves. I do think he has been unfortunate in that he has been an easy bloke to leave out of the team. It is great to see him open the bowling at this World Cup.. it is great to see him get long spells and bat higher up because his stats will show you he is one of the better players of spin bowling in T20 cricket…England has got it right…Morgs (Morgan) backs Mo (Moeen) as much as anyone and Rooty (Joe Root) and Cooky (Alastair Cook) have done the same. They all love him.

Everyone talks about how England went from struggling in the shorter formats to owning it. How challenging was this process because it takes more than just the players…the coaching staff, the methods…the approach all have to be tweaked?

There was a lot of hard work. It reminds me of New Zealand’s tour of England in 2015. The first ODI at Edgbaston, we were 202/6 and ended up getting 407. We could have been bowled out for 230, and nothing would have changed. That day, the new England was born. We went on to win that ODI series, and it was a massive confidence boost – In Eoin (Morgan), we had a skipper who played the way he talked. He said, “go play the way you play for your counties” and he surely did it that way.

I was lucky enough to start the process off as a coach, and we kept building on that process. We made some great selections like Jason Roy and Rashid.

We all believed in the philosophy but when you saw the skipper living the philosophy in the pressures of white-ball international cricket, that was to me, the biggest reason for our success. We were 35 for 3, chasing 278 against Australia in a Champions Trophy game at Edgbaston in 2017, Morgan ran down the wicket and hit the ball for four. And everyone in the change room said, “it is ok to play that way”. He and Stokes, who got a 100, won us that game…When people believe their words, it is easier to make changes.

One more man – Jos Buttler was unbelievably strong in his views about how we should play the game and then he lived the views – he broke the myth of hitting a six and then taking a single next ball…he said “what’s wrong with hitting another six and then getting a single – that is good cricket”…and we used to joke about it…That’s what he did and that broke the way we thought. Like that, a lot of people made contributions towards this success.

Trevor Bayliss started talking a lot about smart cricket. It is about no selfishness, no playing for yourself…Some players could have been ditched at the end of a series in which they didn’t perform but we didn’t because they played the way we wanted the team to play and that was important. Roy is a great example. He struggled for runs during that white-ball series against New Zealand at home in 2015 but we persisted with him because he was playing the way the team needed him to. And look today, he is one of the best white-ball openers in world cricket.

Lastly, your thoughts on Morgan and his leadership.ย 

Morgan lives the philosophy every single day. He doesn’t talk about it, he lives it. I remember during that ODI series against New Zealand in 2015, in the last match in Durham, he was out the first ball trying to play a slog-sweep. But that’s okay because that was the need of the hour.

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As players when you see your captain playing the way he talks, you do the same knowing well that you won’t be dropped. Morgan never shouts at anyone. He never criticises his teammates. Also, form is a ridiculous word to use with Morgan because of the way he plays. He is never in or out of form. It’s about trusting himself each time he steps out on the field. And once he does that, players will respond to his leadership.

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