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You could be forgiven for thinking that England assistant coach Paul Farbrace, back home and resting from the Test leg of the Bangladesh tour, would be taking this chance to tune out from cricket.
As it is, he’s been setting the alarm clock so as not to miss any of the action:
“Anyone will tell you, you don’t actually ever switch off. I’ve been getting up at quarter to five every morning and watching as much of the day’s play as I possibly can.”
If anything the experience of missing a game, let alone a series, is an alien concept, as Farbrace has only ever been absent from a single one day international at Lord’s before now; though England are now notably rotating their coaching staff as well as their players to avoid burnout.
England have a relentless schedule of international cricket stretching onto the horizon and will struggle to know what to do with all of their air miles by next Spring.
While Farbrace is set to return to coaching duties in time for the tour of India in November, it will then be Trevor Bayliss who is rested from the flying visit in March to the Caribbean for three ODIs.
When I call ‘Farby,’ as those under his tutelage tend to know him as, he’s just returned from walking his dog in the brisk Kent air and is appreciating a rare English autumn back in the UK.
Not that you’d ever find him complaining about his job, mind; he’s clearly in his element: “The best bit is you get to watch the best games being played in the best stadiums with the best players so that’s a privilege.”
The last time I interviewed Paul was back in 2012 when he was Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s second-team coach and it spoke volumes that the county could attract a coach of his calibre who had been assistant coach to Bayliss with Sri Lanka.
It coincided with the shoots of recovery for Yorkshire in which they were T20 domestic finalists and were promoted back to Division One in the County Championship.
For Farbrace, there will always be a particular affection for and affinity with Yorkshire:
“The move to Yorkshire, without a shadow of a doubt, was the best thing that’s happened to me in my coaching career because the two years I spent there were the happiest times I’ve spent in cricket and in coaching.”
He admits to be being very proud to be a part of what was started and to watch the success the players had since: “Full credit to Martyn (Moxon) for having the vision to put together the team he put together.”
In fact, he is careful to acknowledge everyone that has played their part in Yorkshire’s renaissance, from senior players to all the coaches and support staff that rallied and dragged the county from relegation to successive County Championships in a matter of years.
In Farbrace’s two years at Headingley, it was the sense of community that stood out: “Nobody wanted anyone’s job, we were very tight as a group and have become extremely good friends and that’s something that will last a lifetime.”
He was particularly struck by the passion for cricket across the county:” What I never took for granted was the support and interest that cricket has in Yorkshire…I went to watch a lot of league cricket and the support for the game, the love and knowledge of the game in Yorkshire is second to none.”
So, surely the opportunity to coach them after Jason Gillespie’s departure was tempting? Well, there was a conversation with Martyn Moxon but the timing wasn’t right with Farbrace’s family having moved back to Kent.
I wondered whether choosing not to return to county cricket was due to a sense of unfinished business with England but that was not necessarily at the heart of contemplation over his career direction.
He sees mouthwatering encounters at ever turn: “There’s a lot to look forward to (with England) but there always would be when you’re working with an international team. You’ve got the Champions Trophy next year, the Indian Test series in a few weeks…I think that’ll be fascinating from a coaching point of view.”
Yet, Farbrace acknowledges that the next phase for Yorkshire County Cricket Club will be equally fascinating and the deposed champions will need to go through a degree of rebuilding with a couple of players moving towards the autumn of their careers.
He sees the next coach as being key to bringing through a new generation: “There’s an awful lot of talented young players in Yorkshire and it’s going to be a very exciting job for whoever takes that on. I’m so pleased that the club have gone on and done what they’ve done.”
I broach the thorny subject of Jonny Bairstow’s unavailability for Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s season-defining final County Championship match at Lord’s.
Bairstow’s absence, despite the player himself wanting to play and having had relatively little cricket, brought a cacophony of condemnation from Yorkshire fans who imagined an Andrew Strauss-led Middlesex conspiracy, especially as Steven Finn ended up turning out for the home side.
Just to clarify that particular point, it is Trevor Bayliss who takes the final decision on whether an England player can represent their county or not but Andrew Strauss has copped some flak all the same – I suspect because he’s now part of the ECB establishment.
Yorkshire CCC took the unusual step of issuing a strongly-worded statement on their website publicly expressing their disappointment and reminding everyone that Bairstow had only played five days of cricket in five weeks since the Kia Oval Test match that concluded on Sunday August 14.
My own view has always been, like it or not, the ECB will look after the players’ long-term wellbeing first and foremost so viewing availability in the microcosm of a certain match is never going to follow the remit of the governing body and the national squad.
That being said, there was a compelling case to allow Bairstow to play given he’d had little cricket and also availability of England players for these crunch games is important to the stature of the County Championship as the supposed premier domestic competition.
Farbrace is diplomacy personified but doesn’t duck the question; in fact he addresses it head-on and at length.
First off, this was not a sudden flashpoint but Yorkshire and England have discussions over availability throughout the season and the county were primed that Bairstow and Root were unlikely to feature – but rightly posed the question to field their strongest XI.
Paul’s stance is:
“The decision was taken not for the good of England cricket or Yorkshire cricket but for Jonny Bairstow. We want people to be able to play for England for the next five or ten years, not the next five weeks. We’re looking at the bigger picture.”
He points out the nature of the relationship that tries to accommodate the counties while safeguarding the current – and future – conditioning of the players.
It’s a very common complaint here in Yorkshire that England players don’t come back to their counties enough but obviously priorities are entirely divergent.
The Royal London quarter-final at Canterbury that Yorkshire edged by ten runs was one such case where England players like Root, Ballance and Bairstow were all permitted to play when the ECB didn’t strictly have to release them.
Jonny also then turned out in the semi-final at Headingley with Gary Ballance but, as if to show the vagaries of what some definitely feel is a topsy-turvy relationship between club and country, Root, Plunkett, Willey and Rashid were all absent due to competing fixtures.
The gloomier Yorkshire fan might have muttered ‘bloomin typical’ at what was perceived as a weakened side for the visit of Surrey but you can’t really fight the fixture list.
However, what is considered beyond the pale is when fit and available England stars are held back.
While not wishing to get splinters from the fence, I appreciate both sides to this but can’t shake a nagging feeling that these drip-drip decisions by England, however well intentioned, are undermining the integrity of the County Championship, despite it continuing to produce scintillating cricket right to the last day of each season.
If there’s one topic guaranteed to provoke a torrent of forthright discourse here, it’s over that sense of ownership Yorkshire fans have for their England players.
Make no mistake, they are considered Yorkshire players first and foremost and supporters often feel like England are taking more than they are reciprocating despite it being the county system that produces the international talent.
You can understand, even if you happen not to agree with, the horns of the dilemma.
As Paul says himself, if England leave out Bairstow after a few matches then that would provoke its own squall of criticism. Damned if you do and all that…
We wrap things up with mention of his forthcoming talk at Wombwell Cricket Lovers Society this Thursday 27 October. It’s at 7pm at Ardsley Oaks Working Mens Club, outside Barnsley on the Doncaster Road if you want to go along and hear Paul discuss cricket.
I ask if he’s ever had any particularly troublesome questions lobbed his way in previous Q&As as a county and international coach?
Apparently, he did a talk in South Africa last winter where he was chastised repeatedly over England’s slow over rate and asked if he would pass a message from the aggrieved fan to Alastair Cook in the morning to sort it out!
I imagine the crowd at Wombwell will offer their own insight into the Yorkshire-England dynamic and it should be a really worthwhile night of entertainment with Paul on hand to give an inkling into what life is like with England.
Members and non-members alike are most welcome to attend on Thursday so it’s free to hear from Paul on the night though might I suggest you support the Society with some raffle tickets and a drink or two.
Thanks to James at Wombwell Cricket Lovers Society for helping set up the interview and to Paul for taking on a media commitment in his rare downtime from international coaching. Yorkshire’s loss is most certainly England’s gain…
**For details of Wombwell Cricket Lovers Society, visit: http://wcls.councilcricketsocieties.com/