Richard Browne, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, and the Sunday Leader , where a different title was used
The county of Kent in the south east of England, just 30 odd kilometers away from the continent, is a rural county with a proud history. Known as the Garden of England, the summer sees an explosion of life as fruits and vegetables come into bloom. In days gone by children from the slums of London would come down for the summer to pick fruit, the only prevention from rickets the devastating disease that comes froma lack of sunlight in the then smog ridden streets of east London, which lie just to the north of Kent.
The hops which make the famous English beer are grown in the county and Canterbury the home of the Anglican Church in England lies within the county borders. The east coast of Kent will be familiar to fans of Charles Dickens, it is where he was from and where a lot of his books are set. Things are a lot more cheerful now than in Dickens day, but Kent underneath it picture postcard exterior still has a rugged and working class edge.
It’s from Kent that Sri Lanka’s new national cricket coach Paul Farbrace hails- a familiar face to Sri Lankan cricket fans from his time working with Trevor Bayliss on the island. Farbrace grew up in the village of Ash, a short trip from Sandwich and its famous Open hosting golf course. It was cricket and football that caught the youngFarbrace’s imagination though. “I grew up with two brothers and a dad who were all sports mad. Weekends were based around playing cricket and football for Ash. I started getting games when I was 10, fielding, batting 11,scoring as you do, but that’s definitely where the passion started.
Village cricket has given me a great grounding in the game and Ashwere so supportive of me when I started at Kent juniors. We couldn’t afford all the kit when I was younger so we would borrow there’s. Given the opportunities that cricket has given me to travel the world and meet some amazing people, I will always be thankful,” said Farbrace.
Football England’s national game is generally centered in the big industrial hubs, consequently rural areas such as the home counties, East Anglia and the west country are devoid of many big football teams and have to look to cricket for their sporting pride.
Kent is no exception. Frank Wooley was the foremost stylist of his day either side of WW1 and second only to Hobbs in the first class scoring charts. ‘Tich’ freeman was a leg spinner in the inter war years, who took over 3000 first class wickets.
A trilogy of great keepers have come from Kent; Les Ames the first batsmen/keeper, Godfrey Evans an effervescent and hugely talented keeper for 93 tests forEngland and Alan Knott, in many people’s opinion the finest keeper of all.
It was as a keeper that the young Farbrace first turned up at the County Ground in Canterbury. Knott was one childhood hero, his famous partner the left arm cutter ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood, was the other.
“I went to school in Canterbury and a neighbor used to take me to matches, like a lot of boys in Kent at the time, they were my heroes. In Underwood’s last game in 1987 when I was keeping for the first XI I got a caught Farbrace bowled Underwood and then shared in a big stand with him. My career could have ended there and I would have been a happy man.
Knott was always there for me and was an absolute gent, not an enemy in the game and what a guy to learn from, definitely the best pure keeper I have seen. Bob Taylor his great contemporary was not far behind though,” said Farbrace.
Farbrace talks about keeping with a passion, delighting in the union of old keepers, who are always keen to talk about life with gloves. Describing Prasanna Jayawardena keeping to Murali and Mendis during his first stint with Sri Lanka as the best in the world, Sri Lanka’s new coach comes across as a talker, a man who enjoys company. Sunny of disposition Farbrace has an ease about him that is only granted to those who are devoid of ego.
A keen football fan, Chelsea first and his local team Gillingham second, he never gives the impression of taking things for granted and seems delighted with his lot in his life. His playing career never hit the heights of his coaching career. A fringe first team keeper at both Kent and later Middlesex, both of which were generally successful dressing rooms full of big characters. Playing in the 1980’s and early 90’s Farbrace would not change anything about his playing career, but one senses there are a few what if’s?
“I didn’t crack it with the bat as I should have done and probably focused on my keeping too much, but you have to remember these were pre Gilchrist days, when it was bonus rather than a necessity for keepers to be able to bat in the top seven. We may be played at being pro’s back then, having said that all my coaches did all they could for me. Sometimes I guess the penny doesn’t drop till it’s too late.”
Bob Woolmer another of the Kent greats was a huge influence on Farbrace during the one season he coached him at Kent. Woolmer learnt his cricket from Knott and Colin, later Sir and even later Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, where he schooled and whichis probably England’s finest cricketing school right in the heart of Kent.
“Bob Wololmer is definitely the best coach I have worked with. A real student of the game, great knowledge. He knew the basics well but was always forward thinking, way ahead of his time in terms of the keeping coaching he did with me. Loved talking cricket too and a lovely man. It was Woolmer who planted the seeds for my coaching career.”
Farbrace’s ethos on coaching appears to be as simple the man. A listener and organizer who sees his role as that of smoothing the creases for all his staff andplayers to allow them to perform at their best.
“I like to share opinions and have discussions with my team. You can’t be creating tension in cricket dressing rooms as that makes people nervous and they are nervous places anyway.
I try and talk to as many other coaches aspossible, we are all trying to improve all the time and I guess like the keepers union it’s a form of club.
Peter Moores is a man I rate very highly andhaving the chance to talk with Gary Kirsten over a few beers when we played India left a lasting impression- here was a man who had 100 caps, had done it all for South Africa, but you never heard him talking about himself,it was all about his players. That’s crucial I think.”
Farbrace also comes across as a realist, a man whose background and personality has kept him grounded. This is shown in the understanding that you will rarely have 11 players all in form at once, the way Farbrace sees it if you have more than the opposition you will probably win, which is very true.
A keen communicator seeing the players as individuals is crucial to this coaching ethos.
“As Bob (Woolmer) said if your eyes and your players eyes can meet then you have every chance of success. At this level were not making big technical adjustments, but Im looking at each guy and thinking what motivates him, what are his priorities- how I can help really. If you don’t get that personal connection with your players you can all the qualifications in the world, but you wont be a success. In some ways coaching a cricket team is like looking after your kids, you have to let them make mistakes sometimes, but itsbloody painful watching!”
Farbrace is easy company, never short of a word and a smile and appears outside of the dressing room to be a very relaxed man. The slightly ruddy face, a face of a Kentish man, a face that could sit on a yeoman farmer, gives clues to the biggest challenge Farbrace faces personally, that of keeping the emotions in check when tensions are running high.
Farbrace admits this is something he has got better at as his career has gone on, but to have the drive to become an international coach there has to be some granite behind the smile. Farbrace identifies the fight and passion of Sri Lankan teams as their strength and it seems likely that he will enhance this rather than to try and neuter the natural instincts of the islanders.
The lack of ego is evident again when he talks about his time with Kent as a coach straight after his stint in Sri Lanka with Bayliss.
“Didn’t work out and I was very disappointed the results weren’t good. Kent is my club. We had a lot of young players and in the first year I made too many mistakes in my enthusiasm to put my mark on things. It was my first crack at being head coach and I did get carried away in my desperation for Kent to do well. The key thing is I have learnt from this though.”
At Yorkshire where he was second team coach and where he had great success, he had Martin Moxon and Jason Gillespie to work with, both of whom he refers to as friends. You expect Farbrace has far more friends that enemies.
Sri Lankans like friendly faces and like most foreigners, Farbrace has warmed to the Lankan spirit and passion for all things cricket. He loves Dambulla and Sri Lankan beaches and is looking forward to having a snoop around the north which he couldn’t do last time.
A avid reader of biographies- David Jason arguably the UK’s greatest screen actor of his generation and Alan Sugar an IT tycoon, being the most recent reads. Describing himself as ‘simple soul’, Farbrace is a man you could easily imagine yourself having a natter with-a good bloke. “When my time is done here, if I can walk away saying every decision I made was for the best of Sri Lanka cricket, I will be happy.’”Clichéd words but said from the heart. Sri Lanka has a clear thinking man at its helm, utterly devoid of ego and someone who is prepared to listen- all of which bodes well for the game in Sri Lanka.
LAHORE, March 2009: farbace was there
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