After years of underachievement in T20 cricket, Middlesex became only the second county to employ a specialist T20 coach, signing Daniel Vettori on a three-year deal. Ahead of the NatWest T20 Blast campaign we spoke to the former New Zealand captain – who has more recently coached at the IPL and Big Bash – about the scope of his new role, the ever-growing Kiwi contingent at Lord’s and why specialist short-format coaches could be the future.
What particularly appealed to you about this new coaching role at Middlesex?
There were a number of things. The opportunity to be involved in a competition which had moved towards being played in a consolidated block was the initial part of it, because it meant the window for the tournament was a lot easier than it has been in previous years. Then Middlesex, the history of the team, playing at Lord’s, and also that half the team is from New Zealand! So that made it a really easy decision.
Is it helpful to have some familiar faces in the dressing room?
I think so. I’ve known James Franklin for a long old time and he was probably my main point of contact in finding out about the club and the direction they were heading with Scotty [Richard Scott, Middlesex coach]. And then Brendon [McCullum] being here last year was helpful too. We’ve worked together with Brisbane at the Big Bash, and obviously played together for a long time. We’re pretty excited about the squad that we have. It’s an exceptionally talented squad. It’s been there for a while and now with a consolidated block of T20 cricket it’s an opportunity to put our full focus into that.
Given that you’re with the players for a relatively brief period of time, how challenging will it be to make an impact and get your thinking across to them?
It’s an interesting one. The key with all these things is for me to learn as I go along. I have an understanding of a lot of the players but I don’t have an understanding of systems or the way things have worked in the past, or even T20 cricket over here, so it’s a real chance for me to sit back and take it all in, and then once I’ve done that hopefully have the ability to install the things that I’ve learnt as a player and a coach over the last little while. It’s going to be a real learning curve for me coming over here and getting a feel for how things are done, but hopefully because of the talent within the squad we’ll still perform and then as time goes on I can instill an ethos within the team and keep trying to create that identity around our T20 game.
Your experience of coaching at the IPL and Big Bash should stand you in good stead?
Particularly coaching at Brisbane, because I’m signing players so I get to spend some time trying to recruit them, whereas at the IPL it’s an auction so you’re not really sure what you’re going to get. The ability to find out about players as quickly as possible is going to be the most important bit because everyone knows the Brendons, the Malans, the Morgans of this world. It’s the other guys that people are not so familiar with that are hopefully going to contribute the most.
T20 seems to be increasingly stats driven. How much do you lean on stats?
It’s a big part of my brief as a coach but it doesn’t necessarily all have to go towards the players. They don’t have to know all those numbers but it’s important that the coaching staff has a really good understanding of them. It’s just being mindful as well that we play at a number of different grounds, we play against some players who haven’t played that much, so the stats tend to help you more sort out your own game. Within our group of guys I think the most important thing is they have a complete understanding of how they can be successful and how they can implement that into a gameplan, rather being too immersed in what the opposition are doing.
You and John Wright at Derbyshire are the first specialist T20 coaches in county cricket. Is this the future?
I think it’s dependent on the schedule. The schedule has been the catalyst for this to happen. If you are switching between formats then that could be slightly trickier to have two different coaches. I think the fact that Scotty has done so well with the team and he was so open to me coming over, and the fact that there is period of time in a consolidated block where we can actually train and practise T20 cricket, makes it relevant. If that continues then I think it’s very likely that it can be done.
What are the benefits of having a specialist T20 coach as opposed to having one coach for all formats?
I was speaking to Dawid [Malan] about this and I think it’s the ability to train purely T20 cricket, so you walk into a net with a T20 mindset and there’s no thoughts of a four-day game coming up, or a one-day game, or switching between the formats. It’s all about trying to make people better T20 players. I think that’s what the Middlesex guys are ready for, and the schedule and bringing in a specialist coach allows that to happen.
Are you wary of becoming pigeonholed as a T20 coach? Do you think that could happen?
I hope so! I’m a lover of Test matches and I grew up playing that format so I wouldn’t say that I would want to pigeonhole myself, but I think for the stage I’m at in my life, with a young family, being able to work in these roles really appeals to me – because of the lifestyle but also the quality of the players and the clubs that I’ve been involved with.
Do you set yourself targets as a coach? What represents success for you at Middlesex?
No, I’ve never been caught up in that. There is of course always the outcome that you want to win but I think coaching is so fluid and there are so many different permeations day-to-day, irrespective of a whole season, that it’s more about how we’re actually improving as a team. I don’t think it’s a cop out to say that. It’s just the way I like to do things.
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