Lancashire's cricketers are well advanced with their preparations for the 2012 season and Paul Edwards has caught up with Peter Moores at the Old Trafford nets
You would probably need to go back to the heydays of General Galtieri and Yazoo to find an era when county cricket clubs virtually shut up shop for the winter. All the same, the air of activity around Old Trafford a week last Monday was impressive, especially since it was not confined to the areas where hard hats are currently mandatory wear.
The pavilion is a building site and will remain so for the summer, so reception has been moved to the already busy Old Trafford Lodge. Opposite the pavilion the skeleton of the mighty players' centre and media facility is taking shape, but it will be at least a couple of months before Lancashire's home fully reacquires the look of a cricket ground. Both teams and spectators will need to pack a little tolerance when they come to matches this spring.
None of this will prevent the business in the middle taking place of course. Lancashire have a title to defend, and while that campaign will begin at Liverpool, Old Trafford will host its first LV= County Championship match for nearly 20 months when Nottinghamshire visit in May. Chris Read's team were the last to play a first-class match in Manchester, winning the 2010 title in dramatic fashion when third slip Samit Patel caught Shivnarine Chanderpaul off Andre Adams to secure the bonus point that settled matters. Lancastrians will remember that Andrew Flintoff announced his retirement the same day. Somehow it seems so long ago. Since then, there has been Taunton.....
There was an air of busyness and purpose in the Indoor Cricket Centre. In one net Peter Moores was using a sidearm - no, not a lethal weapon, but that gadget that looks like a dog-walker's toy but which enables a coach to deliver balls at high speed with little effort. Oliver Newby failed to get over a short one and thick-edged it to an imaginary gully. Moores turned, his arms aloft in triumph. When the coaches celebrate such successes in the nets, who can be surprised that the players' competitive juices run keen and swift?
Soon the players and coaches were tucking into a lunch of pasta and salad, followed by fresh fruit. Then, Lancashire's coach reviewed his squad's progress over the winter.
"We had a really good pre-Christmas, we worked very hard," Moores began. "We've been back for a few weeks since Christmas and we''ll have a break from skill work for half-term. We'll come back about the 20th and then we know it's a month before we go to Abu Dhabi and we'll also know it's all getting a bit closer and a bit more real.
"The winter is an opportunity for players to develop themselves and move their games forward. That's different for every player of course, and although we train as a squad, there's individual work going on within that squad. We try and identify the areas that will make the biggest difference for a particular player - it could be a slower ball, it could be a batting shot, it could be fitness. There has to be a resonable amount of fitness work but we mix the fitness with the skill."
So far, so expected perhaps, but what are the specific areas each player has been working on? Here, Moores offered the deadest of bats. He's not going to disclose the skills individual cricketers have been improving. Going into the new season as champions has already made Lancashire's players big targets for their opponents. Anyone wanting to observe changes in their cricket could always go to the matches and watch hard.
"I wouldn't speak individually about players but we - the players and support staff - become better at identifying the key areas that a player needs to work on that make the biggest difference," he said. "It's a shared thing, but the aim is that the player comes out with something that will make him a better performer, and examples of this go across the whole spectrum - physical, mental, technical."
Moores did, however, talk about the changes in Karl Brown's cricket after he had spent a good portion of last winter working at "going too hard" at the ball and, by contrast, leaving it alone. Brown, himself, had admitted they were aspects of his cricket which had needed attention, so there was little harm done.
"Karl had a couple of things that were hurting him and he worked really hard at repairing those bits of his technique and he then maintained it," said Moores. "But what Karl's very good at - and he showed this through the winter as well - is playing under pressure. He was fighting very hard to get in the side, he got a hundred at Oxford and he's barely looked back since.
"He's a good example of someone who identified something he needed to do and improved that. It's a never ender. There'll be other things he needs to do: it might be his throw, it might be his catching. You work away at improving - that's part of the fun. The big hundreds'll come for him because he's got good powers of concentration and a good simple technique. He just needs to play well, to play straight and play late, which are key on English wickets."
And as for the impact of winning the title? That was discussed early in the close season and Moores believes his players have adjusted to the thrill and responsibility that come with being champions.
"The danger was that it'd make players complacent," he said "Well it hasn't done that. We've worked very hard. It hasn't made us work harder because we worked very hard before. The nice thing about winning the Championship is that people have made the link between working hard in the winter and success on the field. Kyle Hogg came out of the winter and showed he'd learned things. It's nice to get reward for hard work and it encourages you to carry on doing it. Because last winter went well the lads have stayed here this winter."
Lancashire travel to Abu Dhabi in March where they will play a number of games including the Champion County Match v MCC on 27-30 March. We will be covering the tour live on lccc.co.uk before returning to the UK for the start of Lancashire's title defence on 12-15 April against Sussex at Liverpool C.C.
Article (c) Lancashire County Cricket Club Ltd