This month we spoke to former pro cricketer Graham Napier. Graham joined us, along with Salliann Briggs, in La Manga for a three day training camp and matches. In partnership with Smile Group Travel, the coaching camp saw 18 girls and their families from the UK travel over to the sunny Spanish resort.
Graham enjoyed a 19 year career representing Essex, and his time there saw him establish himself as one of the most destructive batters in the game! Since retiring from the game in 2016, Graham is now Master in Charge at Royal Hospital School, Suffolk where they have introduced girls cricket for the very first time this year.
Firstly, how are you finding the transition to coaching after playing First Class cricket for 19 years?!
As a player it’s very easy not to think about the role of coaches, and the thought process behind how and why things are set up at training sessions. The transition has made me realise how much work is involved in coaching, and as a pro player that’s something you never really think about. From setting up trials, to planning the sessions for the beginners, right the way through to working with the more advanced players. It has been good to get an appreciation from a coaches perspective having experienced it purely from a playing perspective for such a long time.
And how are you enjoying your new role at The Royal Hospital School in Suffolk as master in charge of cricket?
Since starting the role job at the start of the year, this is the first year at the school that cricket for girls has become part of games lessons instead of rounders. It is a hugely exciting prospect for the school, and the majority of girls hadn’t played at all! So to go from playing no cricket to an eight week programme of two times a week has been brilliant. They get to train but they also get to play fixtures which is exactly what we want. The biggest learning curve for them is playing in matches, but that’s great because they can take their learnings from the game and take it into practice in our lessons.
We were lucky enough to have you in La Manga as one of our coaches, as someone who hasn’t been involved in women and girls cricket, what were your first impressions of working with the players?
The level of talent there was very good, so as a coach I could go straight into the nitty gritty of the finer details. The basics are fundamental and hugely important for players but, as a former player that’s where I felt I could add value, working with them on more specific details, so it was good to take it a stage further with the players. I was pleasantly surprised to be talking to bowlers about using the crease to create angles for when the ball is swinging.
When it comes to training, have you got any tips on how players can get the best out of it? And what worked well for you as a player when you trained?
The most important thing for my own game was quality over quantity. For example, with my bowling in the build up to the T20 games, my focus was on yorkers and slower bowlers, thinking about field settings and making it specific to game situations. As long as my training was of good quality and high intensity it didn’t matter how long it was for.
I am also a great believer that when you are in form to really hone those skills and keep them ticking over. When things aren’t going so well it is important to keep things fun, short and sharp.
I have seen a lot of players struggle when they are out of form, there is a temptation to practice for longer on what you are struggling with but that can lead to practicing bad habits. Sometimes the best thing is to walk away from it and focus on another part of your game which is going well, try and find some sort of feel good factor which will in turn boost your confidence.
When you played, who was the best player you got to play with and against?
Playing with Sachin Tendulkar at Mumbai Indians was a fantastic expereince, it was only for one game but I’ll take that! However, in terms of consistency it would be my former team mate at Essex, James Foster, even when he had a bad day he was still better than everyone else!
As for players I played against, on his day there was one game in particular, Mike Hussey hit 300 in the 1st innings, and 120 odd in the 2nd , there was no one who could bowl to him. Matt Hayden also dominated most bowling attacks making him very hard to bowl to. From a bowling point of view Shane Warne was a tough opponent, he had so much control, and as for Mattiah Muralitharan it was always so hard picking which way the ball was going to turn!
When it comes to wanting to be the best and reach the top, what characteristics in players do you think are the most important?
The desire to drive forward regardless of if it’s a good or a bad day. Getting out of bed, turning up on time, training hard are all things which are easy to say but often hard to do, especially when things are tough. A coach one said to me when I was growing up; “for every day you don’t train, someone else will be” which was often my motivation to get out of bed in the morning. On the flip side though, being able to enjoy what you are doing and what other people are doing is so important. You and your team mates are all aiming for the same goal, and for me, enjoying your team mates success is a non negotiable. Another aspect of the are the fitness levels now required from players. When I first started to when I finished, the players fitness levels are words part. These days players are athletes so the training and strength and conditioning has to be spot on .