After a playing career as a wicketkeeper with Kent and Middlesex, Paul Farbrace coached both Kent and Yorkshire. At international level he worked with the England Under-19 and women’s teams as well as taking Sri Lanka to the World T20 title in 2012.
Farbrace was an assistant to England coaches Peter Moores and, more recently, Trevor Bayliss. He played a key role in creating a new, more dynamic and daring approach to England’s white-ball game.
He left shortly before England’s 50-over World Cup triumph, choosing to join Warwickshire last spring as Sports Director.
At the end of his first nine months in his new job at Edgbaston, Paul spoke to Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright.
England’s World Cup Win – Morgan and Buttler were the two key people who drove England forward
Having left the England set-up just months before the team’s sensational World Cup win, how does Paul feel about missing that magic moment?
“The day of the final was strange,” he said. “I was with Warwickshire at Chelmsford. I found it hard to watch both their game and the TV.
“I left part-way through and went round the M25 to go to my home in Kent. I listened to the last hour on the radio. I pulled up on my drive just as Woody (Mark Wood) was run out.
“So I rushed in and watched the two super overs.
“I was lucky because earlier in the tournament, I did some commentary work. So I was involved with the tournament without being part of the team.
“I was so pleased with the result because of all the effort that the team put in.
“Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler played such a key role in winning the World Cup, not just in terms of their performances but in the drive and desire to take the team to the level they achieved. They were the key people that drove the team forward.
“Morgs (Eoin Morgan) was so successful in shaping the team because he lived his words.
“Back in the Champions Trophy in 2017 against Australia, when England had lost early wickets down and he ran down the pitch to Pat Cummins and hit him through extra cover for four – that takes some guts.
“And in 2015, when he was caught at deep mid-wicket first ball against Mitchell Santner, he said: ‘That’s how we play and we’re going to keep on.’
“So seeing him lift the trophy was brilliant.”
Leaving England and a key lesson learnt from Trevor Bayliss
It would be natural if Farbrace had some regrets about leaving the England set-up.
“No, not really,” he said. “I would have loved to be there for the final. But one of the things I learnt from Trevor Bayliss is that it’s not about the coaches, it’s all about the players.
“We did an interview with Sky the day before the T20 World Cup Final in India. Trevor said ‘It’s nothing to do with us. We’re just lucky enough to throw a few cones out in the morning and hit a few balls. It’s the players that win games’.
“And that has stuck with me.
“Trevor was always quick to give the players credit when things went well and to defend them when they didn’t. He’s very down to earth. That’s why he and Morgs worked so well together – Morgs is a brilliant front man and Trevor sat in behind him and nudged him in the right direction.”
Why Farbrace is no longer cynical about The Hundred
Now that he has had recent experience of both the international and domestic scenes, Farbrace is well placed to express a judgment on the state of county cricket.
“I think that county cricket is in a good place. The standard of a lot of the games I watched was high,” he added.
“There are plenty of good players banging on the door for England selection, particularly in white-ball cricket. I’ve never seen so many exciting young batsmen in English cricket.
“Also, there are several young players capable of playing Test cricket. I’m excited at what we’ve got to come in the next few years.”
And what about The Hundred, the new competition due to start next year?
“When it was first mentioned, I was cynical. I didn’t think we needed another competition. Why not make an existing competition better? But what was explained to me was that we needed a new audience.
“While we can talk about kids and families, we also can’t afford to lose anyone from the game. We want to attract, for example, blokes of my age who have never watched cricket.
“With games due to be shown on BBC television, it’s an opportunity for people to watch for just five minutes or so and to capture their attention – a chance to sell the game.
“Sky have done the best job. Everywhere you go in the world and watch other companies’ coverage, you realise that there is no-one to touch Sky. But the BBC coverage opens up the possibility of a wider audience.
“We can’t afford for the game not to be watched and supported. You go to India and no-one goes to watch Test and first-class cricket but 1.7 billion watch on TV. But what we want is for people to come and watch county cricket.
“The T20 Blast numbers here at Edgbaston were magnificent. The Sunday after the World Cup win there were 9,000 here, which was absolutely brilliant. That World Cup win inspired so many and we can’t afford to lose them. And then there was Stokes and his Ashes innings. It was a unique summer.
“So many people were talking to me who’d never mentioned cricket before. If The Hundred brings in different people of all ages, fantastic! I think we have to be open-minded and give it a go.”
Women’s cricket and why Paul’s daughters gave up playing
Enough of the men’s game for the moment. What about women’s cricket?
“There has never been a better time to be a young girl or woman playing cricket. I was involved with the England Women’s team back in 1999-2001,” Farbrace added.
“They were a pretty good team then, but now the England women have won the World Cup in front of a full house at Lord’s. They’ve created heroes and established a professional path. And here at Warwickshire, we’ve got 30 girls in both the under-11s and under 13s squads. The county team winning the T20 competition was fantastic.
“The key thing is that there is now a route to a professional career. I have two daughters who loved playing cricket up to age 14 or 15 but they stopped playing because there was no clear path beyond that. Now there is a path to becoming a full-time professional athlete travelling the world.
“My role with women’s cricket here at Edgbaston is to make sure that we win the county championship and the T20 competition and feed into West Midlands Regional cricket. I must ensure that we have the right structure in place to keep the girls coming forward and wanting to play the game.
“At the moment, it’s easy because we are on the crest of a wave.”
A new role and a difficult introduction. What caused all those Bears’ injuries?
Back to the men’s team at Edgbaston.
In 2019, the Bears suffered multiple injury problems, only just avoided relegation in the Championship and had no success in the white-ball competitions. What reflections does Farbrace have on such a difficult season?
“The key has been working out what my role looks like,” he explained.
“I’ve been used to being in the changing room. So being more detached from the playing side made it frustrating for me. It probably didn’t help the coaches at times that I wanted to get involved. That was especially true during the T20 Blast because we started well and then played some pretty poor cricket.
“Being around during this winter gives me a better chance of approaching next summer in a more logical and well-planned way. We have a chance to shape what we need to improve on.
“With all those injuries, it was a tough time. We had to be constantly changing the team. But as a result, we’ve seen every player play and we’ve learnt a lot.
“There were some good performances. Liam Norwell, in the four games that he played, probably was responsible for turning our season around. He had an impact on us not being where Notts ended up. He showed what he’s capable of and his personality and his skill level came across brilliantly.”
All of those injuries may just have been extreme bad luck. Having taken part in a post-season medical review, Paul believes that this was only part of the story.
“We had a lot of players who were gym fit but not necessarily bowling fit. So this winter, the players are doing more fitness on their feet. Bowlers are going to start bowling sooner.
“Things go in cycles. There was a time no-one wanted bowlers to bowl indoors on hard surfaces. Now we’ve come to the conclusion that they need to bowl more overs and be more robust, so that’s what we’ve put in place.
“Having said that, there were some freak injuries. Ryan Sidebottom’s stress fracture in his shoulder blade was pretty unusual, as was Liam Norwell slipping at York and completely rupturing his hamstring.
“Also, because of the number of injuries, we had such a short supply of quality bowlers that we probably over-bowled others and when you do that, you are heading for a muscle injury.
“On top of that, you have to consider the mental strain some of the young players were under. When you are under pressure and uptight, it’s easier to get injured.”
Looking forward – which young batsman is as good as Alastair Cook at the same age?
Now that the spate of injuries is (hopefully) behind the team, Farbrace is able to reflect on his and the club’s priorities.
“There are several strands to our goals.
“We want to challenge for trophies, we must entertain our members and supporters and we should be producing players for England. In addition, we want more players capped who have come through our youth system.
“It was fantastic that last year, four academy lads – Ethan Brookes, George Garrett, Rob Yates and Dan Mousley – all played. We want more, and for them to go on to play 150-200 games and to play for England.”
Having set out these long-term goals, Paul is realistic about shorter term prospects.
“Have we got a team to win the County Championship? Probably not,” he admitted.
“We have to accept that we’re not going to go from second bottom to top in the space of one season. If we can finish in the top five, it will be a good effort, though if we get off to a good start, there’s no reason why we can’t finish in the top three.
“It will take a year or two to get the experience into our group and get into the good habits of winning. If we can keep this group of players together, I’d like to think that within three years, we’ll be challenging for the Championship.
“As for white-ball cricket, T20 is about the here and now, not about planning for two or three years’ time.
“That’s part of the reasoning behind appointing Chris Green as T20 captain. He’s someone who has a fresh approach, is young, with good experience of T20 competitions around the world and who will come to us with a flair and enthusiasm that the players will enjoy. It’s easy to talk about playing without fear and with freedom but it’s not such an easy thing to do.”
Farbrace obviously has plenty of confidence in his young players. So does the signing of Green complete the squad for 2020?
“Yes, we now have 24 full-time squad members plus Chris. This is a good group of players to take the team forward.
“I’m excited by the potential. If we can keep Liam Norwell and Henry Brookes fit and see more of Olly Stone, we’ve also got Ollie Hannon-Dalby and Ryan Sidebottom plus Craig Miles who has 200 first-class wickets. He didn’t have a great time last season but we hope he can settle a bit more in 2020.”
And what about the batting?
“Well, hopefully we can add Ian Bell back in.
“Most exciting for me last season was the development of Rob Yates who has the potential to be an England cricketer. He’s one of the best young players I’ve seen. I tracked the progress of Alastair Cook from age 13 or 14 and I think that Rob has everything that Cooky had at Rob’s age. I know Cooky himself was excited by what he saw of Rob.
“In addition to the youngsters, we’ve got guys in their early to mid-twenties who are talented. So overall, it’s a really good group of players. It’s right for us to give them the opportunity to grow and go forward.
“It’s a credit to our academy system that we have those four talented kids coming through. You could make that five, because we have Issy Wong in the women’s squad.”
Overall, then, it would be fair to say that Farbrace is optimistic about the future for the Bears.
“Yes, if we stick with the players we’ve got, keep developing them and look after them properly, over the next two or three years we could have a very good team that can challenge consistently for trophies,” he added.
“It would be brilliant to think that the majority of them were home grown and nurtured through our own set-up.
“That makes it even more exciting!”