Paul Farbrace: ‘My love affair with the county game’

Paul Farbrace

For a man who has coached at the height of the international game with England and won the Twenty20 World Cup with Sri Lanka, it’s a surprise to hear which job Paul Farbrace puts before all others.

It’s the not the role of head coach, nor that of the assistant role he filled so adroitly alongside Trevor Bayliss until leaving the national team set-up back in February. Instead, for Warwickshire’s Sport Director, it’s the Second XI role he carried out with Kent and Yorkshire that he puts at the top of the pile.

“To be fair, they’re the best jobs I’ve ever had in cricket,” he tells The CC. “Working at Kent when Graham Ford was our coach, and then my two years at Headingley alongside Martyn Moxon and Jason Gillespie were without doubt the happiest two years I’ve had in the game.”

That assertion might cause more than a few raised eyebrows throughout the domestic game but Farbrace is no stranger to that. After all, this is a man who decided to return to county cricket on the eve of perhaps the biggest year in English cricket’s modern history, forsaking the chance to be involved in a World Cup and Ashes campaign in 2019.

It’s Farbrace’s continued love affair with the county game, though, that drew him back to Warwickshire and memories of his time at Canterbury and Headingley comfortably compete with those he enjoyed on the international circuit with England and Sri Lanka. The only blot on his otherwise impeccable coaching CV, was his two-year spell as head coach of Kent, the county he represented as a player between 1987 and 1989.

“Things hadn’t gone very well at all and I got moved on with a year to go,” he says.

“Kent is my club, that’s where I grew up and where I still live. I’ll always be a supporter of the club because growing up that was all I wanted to do – I wanted to play cricket for Kent.

“To have it go wrong, when it was my first head coaching job, was tough. It was my club. That made the pain and the suffering all the greater.

“I went to Yorkshire, got my coaching confidence back and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. If the Sri Lanka job hadn’t come up I might still be there now, who knows? I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it. I had always admired Martyn Moxon and that was part of the attraction of going up there. I had never met Jason Gillespie either but now we’re friends for life.

“With Andrew Gale as captain and Martyn as director of cricket we had a really good set-up. None of us wanted each other’s jobs, we were all happy with the jobs we had. We all came out of it as great mates.”

The work he did with the county can’t be underestimated and it’s a measure of the esteem in which he was held that when Gillespie left his role at Leeds in 2016, his was one of the first names to be mentioned in connection with the newly vacant post.

“Shortly after I left, they went on to win the Championship two years running with a lot of very good young players. It was a brilliant, brilliant time. I really think that that second team job is the best job in cricket. Every day is a brilliant challenge for any coach. I find it a fascinating job to work in. It’s the most intriguing there is from a coaching perspective.“

“Warwickshire is a big club, that’s what attracted me to them in the first place. It’s a big club with world-class facilities and a team that is definitely in transition.”

The task facing him at Warwickshire is as big as any in modern cricket. A dismal run of injuries last season contributed to a hugely disappointing campaign in 2019. It did, however, provide Farbrace with an opportunity to get a firm handle on his role. Which will please not only Warwickshire’s huge following, but also the England rugby union coach, Eddie Jones.

“Straussy (Andrew Strauss) had introduced me and Trevor (Bayliss) to Eddie Jones a few years ago and we had had a couple of lunches and a couple of dinners with him chatting about preparation for the World Cup,” says Farbrace.

“I got to know him reasonably well, so when England played Australia at Edgbaston, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get together and spend a day at the Test match. He’s great company, he absolutely loves his cricket and he said to me at one point: “So mate, what you doing now?” I told him the job and he replied: “It sounds like you’re turning into administrator…..and I’m not sure you’re that well-qualified to do it either!”

The director of sport or director of cricket role has been one in consistent need of defining. Farbrace tells The CC that a chairman he knows at a well-known football club once told him that every director of football he had ever appointed really had designs on the manager’s role. And the man himself admits that it has taken him some time to really iron out what is expected of him at Edgbaston moving forward.

“For me, last year, I think there was always some uncertainty about how much you’re involved, how much you’re not involved on a day-to-day basis,” he says.

“Over the course of last summer, I came to the conclusion that being involved in selection wasn’t the right thing to do. My job as much as anything was to help coaches as much as possible. Personally, I was building a relationship with four people I didn’t know that well. Tony Frost had been involved with England whenever we played at Edgbaston, Graeme Welch, I probably knew the best of the lot, but Troughts (Jim Troughton) and Ian Westwood, I didn’t know that well at all.

It was a case of getting to know them, seeing how they work and equally trying to fit in with a team who, by the time I joined on March 14, had done their pre-season preparation and were ready to go. It was my job to fit into what they were doing while at the same time make some subtle changes to allow us to keep improving.”

The current crisis means that any changes implemented by Farbrace and the Warwickshire coaching staff in the intervening period may take some time to bear fruit. Given his undoubted influence with England and Sri Lanka, coupled with the experiences with Yorkshire and Kent’s second string, it would be a surprise if his arrival in Birmingham didn’t herald an improvement in fortunes if and when the 2020 season finally gets underway. Providing the team’s misfortunes with injuries doesn’t persist.

“Warwickshire is a big club, that’s what attracted me to them in the first place,” he says. “It’s a big club with world-class facilities and a team that is definitely in transition.

“Ashley (Giles) had started the transition by moving on some senior players and last year, through a horrific run of injuries we were forced to play a lot of our young players. Probably, from my point of view, things fast forwarded when it came to me getting to know the playing staff. Every member of that staff, except Ian Bell, played in the first team last year.

“I learnt about a lot of people very quickly. I’ve watched a lot of second team cricket since I’ve been here, specifically to find out about the young players. I said when I joined that the key was having a spine to the team that were homegrown. I think that’s really important to any team in any sport. You need a spine that’s homegrown and if you have that, and you have the quality, then you have a great chance.

“That other thing in county cricket is that you’re only as good as your senior players; they make or break your set-up.

“We’ve got four senior players of which Tim Ambrose is a very solid, down-to-earth bloke who has been a great servant to the club, Jeetan Patel is the same. Then we have Belly, who didn’t play at all last season, and Woakesy (Chris Woakes) who is away for pretty much 95% of the time playing for England.

“They’re four really senior players, the rest are mid-range, age-wise, to inexperienced county cricketers. We lack experience and when that happens you either go out and sign experience or you give players a chance to develop. Last year we were able to play all of our players. We learned a lot about them.

“Over the course of this winter we were very specific and well organised in terms of our practice, our training, our physical preparation. We spent a lot of time reviewing our previous 12 months and a lot of time planning what our next 12 months looked like.

“Now, this situation has crept up on us and slowed our momentum and our planning down. We’ll have to react to this as and when we get the green light to start playing again.”

Farbrace, like the rest of us, will hope that’s sooner rather than later.