Paul Edwards chats to Micky Stewart and talks a little more about Kevin
Discussing cricket with Micky Stewart makes you keen to take up exercise and eat more fruit and veg. The former Surrey captain and England coach must be one of the best-preserved 79-year-olds in the country: his mind is sharp, his body is lean and he is worlds removed from the stereotypical old pro who is forever carping about the deficiencies of present when compared with a halcyon past, usually his own.
But old coaches are supposed to be chock-full of inflexible aphorisms, aren't they? You know the type: "Don't cut until May's out...always keep your left elbow high...never sweep a bespectacled leg-spinner when wearing a borrowed jockstrap..." and so on.
Now consider this genuine wisdom from Stewart: "Coaches should make sure they see a smile on the faces of the people they are working with. One of the easier things to do is to improve someone who has no ability or limited ability. The most difficult thing is when you have a talented lad who does something in his own way and you have to recognise what that thing is and whether it is going to be a strength or a weakness if the player is going to make the most of their ability.
"If a batsman hits a ball pitching on off stump between mid-on and midwicket and he does it in a way in which he's not going across the ball but getting in behind it - Viv Richards is the perfect example - don't change him. All very talented players do things in their own way. Coaching is about suggesting things and letting the players come along with you."
Stewart's words came to mind as I watched Kevin Pietersen bat yesterday. One or two of the England player's shots made you catch your breath in wonder, yet by no means all of them could be sourced to the MCC Coaching Book. Au contraire, really.
Cricket followers wanting to know more about Stewart's career could do no better than read Stephen Chalke's new book "Micky Stewart and the changing face of cricket," which was launched at this week's Guildford Festival. The developments in the English game over the last sixty or so years are carefully analysed against the background of a distinguished career in playing, coaching and management. The reader is given privileged access to a mind which remains open, enquiring and alert.
And Stewart was no less perceptive when I talked to him about the attributes of current batsmen when compared to those in the 1950s and 60s. "If you were going to be a consistent run-scorer in those days you had to be able to score when the ball was going sideways," he said. "By and large these days the batsmen are much more aggressive by nature but when the ball goes sideways - swing, seam or spin - they struggle. Unless they can really hit it, they struggle. I suppose in all conditions I'd have to say they were more more technically proficient in the 1950s and 60s, but overall I would have to say that the batsmen of today would be more entertaining. You can't make too many comparisons, though, because the surfaces they were batting on were so different."
Stewart's conclusions had to be carefully extracted from him, not because he was reluctant to express his views, but because he was plainly keen not to be seen as a one-way critic. He enjoys watching the current England team and relishes their success. He also enjoyed playing against Lancashire in the 1950s, though, in a decade when the Old Trafford team were frequently challenging Surrey for the title.
"They were a tremendous side and they were lovely people too," he said. "The first time I played against Lancashire at the Oval, I'd never faced Brian Statham at all. However, they were playing at Lord's just before they came to us, and so when we'd won our own game at the Oval in two days, I got on the tube, paid my entrance money at Lord's and watched Brian Statham. I wanted to see him close up. He was a top bowler and a top man. If anybody said a bad word about Brian, no one would understand it."
"Micky Stewart and the changing face of cricket" by Stephen Chalke is published by Fairfield Books (01225-335813) and costs £18.
Photo of Mickey Stewart (c) Nigel French/EMPICS Sport
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd