Not too many years ago, the job of a county cricket coach was reasonably predictable: Organise a practice each morning before the game, give some sage advice to the captain about tactics, offer praise, sympathy or a bit of tough love to players based on their performances, enjoy the wins, endure the losses, rinse and repeat.
These days, it is rather different.
Let us take the case of Mark Robinson, First Team Coach at Warwickshire.
His team, using their pseudonym of the Birmingham Bears, are about to play a crucial quarter final against Kent at Canterbury in the T20 Vitality Blast. Then, three days later, they start the second half of their four day County Championship campaign against Lancashire at Old Trafford.
So far so good. In his first year as coach, Mark Robinson is having some success. When he spoke at a press conference this week, he was relentlessly upbeat. Even so, it became apparent that his job is full of complexities and uncertainties.
For a start, how do you re-assemble a squad of players into a team when they have been fragmented for the last month? There are those, like left arm spinners Jake Lintott and Danny Briggs who have had a successful time in The Hundred, though for Southern Brave rather than for the local Birmingham Phoenix side.
But in the present complex world of cricket, success can bring its own problems. Lintott has been snapped up by Barbados Royals and, as soon as the quarter final is over, will jet off to the Caribbean Premier League, returning in the nick of time (hopefully) for the Blast finals – if the Bears qualify.
And what of those who did little in the Hundred? Sam Hain is an outstanding white ball batsman who was a member of the Manchester Originals squad. What should have been a great opportunity for him to show his skills became a frustrating experience, as he was selected for only one game.
A month spent on the sidelines sporting the Originals kit and acting as a walking advertisement for McCoys’ crisps is surely no preparation for a key T20 quarter final. Robinson could only ask, as others have done: “What’s going on?”
Of course, there is always Chris Woakes, Mr. Reliable, a Bear through and through. Except that he is contracted to the England squad and, not helped by a couple of injuries, has hardly bowled a ball in anger this year. Will he feature in the key games that the Bears are due to play during the next month? “That depends where England are,” says Robinson.
Then there are the injuries. It seems as if all Warwickshire quick bowlers have a clause in their contract giving them at least half of each season off injured. Two years ago, before Robinson’s time, Warwickshire were forced to bring in bowlers on loan for the odd game just to put out an eleven. The slogan of “once a Bear, always a Bear” became “Bear today, gone tomorrow.”
This year, Olly Stone and Henry Brookes are out for the season. Oliver Hannon-Dalby has been injured for a month or so and is not yet fit. Ryan Sidebottom broke down part way through the Royal London campaign and is still out. Liam Norwell is present and correct for now but his fitness record, too, is decidedly sketchy.
That is the reason, as Robinson explains, why West Indian pace bowler Chemar Holder will be joining the Bears for the rest of the County Championship campaign. He flies in on Friday. Robinson picks him up on Sunday to take him to Old Trafford, so that he can take the field as a fully fledged Bear on Monday.
At least the batting line-up is more settled, with Dom Sibley returning. His brief from the England management is that he must go back to county cricket and score some runs. That may work well both for him and Warwickshire, though it is rather like entering a rehab clinic to get rid of some unfortunate habits.
And now, Robinson has to deal with the fact that shining young batting prospect Dan Mousley has badly injured a hand in practice. He probably won’t play again this season.
Of course, there are some real positives. Barbados born Jacob Bethell has, at age 17, shown great potential as an all-rounder (left handed bat, left arm spinner). And Chris Benjamin burst onto the scene with 60 off 34 balls on his Bears debut, following it up with good efforts for Birmingham Phoenix. In addition, those gaps in the bowling line-up have given opportunities for Craig Miles to shine and for others such as Rob Yates and Matt Lamb, previously unconsidered as bowlers, to show what they can do.
Not surprisingly, Mark Robinson ends on a high note. On Friday, his team will perform at Canterbury in front of a full house of 6500 partisan fans. It will be a challenge. But, says Robinson, “we always fancy ourselves.”
Win or lose at Canterbury and Old Trafford, it seems clear that the Bears have a Coach resilient enough to deal with what a well-known Warwickshire professional from long ago called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Whilst Kent and Lancashire supporters will be hoping that the Bears are in line for a couple of defeats, neutrals may well feel that Robinson deserves at least a little bit of luck in the face of adversity.