‘My job as head coach is to inspire’ – John Lewis

John Lewis –

Last season’s mid-tablers, UP Warriors, have reunited ahead of the 2024 edition of the Women’s Premier League in the hope of finding more stability.

The core remains largely intact for them, and head coach John Lewis is hoping all the pre-season preparation and planning will come to fruition in their bid to win the title this year. The UP Warriors head coach, in a conversation with Cricbuzz, opened up about his coaching mantra, the reason why the team is weak in the pace department, how he plans to manage his six overseas options and more.

‘My job as head coach is to inspire’ – John Lewis

There are good days and bad days in every profession. How are there good days and bad days in coaching?

For me, a good day is when you see the players growing, you see them getting better and applying the learnings from the training ground to a match situation and achieving what they achieved individually. Trying to do. Similarly, as a team, you talk to the players about how you want them to play, and they go out on the field and implement it. Its a nice day. Also when the environment is inclusive and stress-free, everyone is moving towards the same goal. I look forward to positive things like this.

I would not say that there are bad days and difficult days in coaching. Some days are trickier, and I think those are the challenges that work brings. For example, a player is really frustrated, and is not performing the way he wants to, those days may be difficult. You really have to think seriously about how you can motivate. My job as head coach is to motivate. If the team can’t implement what you say on the field, then you’re not being inspirational as a coach. Your job is to go back and think about how to become inspirational again.

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After the training camp in August last year, you had a long conversation with the UP Warriors players. How much of what you said then, do you see applying now?

What I’m really pleased about, especially from the local players who were in the camp, is that they have taken a lot of what was said and tried to improve. Did they get it all right? No, many of them are very young. Do they fully understand what I said? Some of this is yes, some of this is no, some of this is a little bit of this. I can already see in the camp before the tournament that our young players are improving in performance. So for me, it’s really enjoyable. Will this translate into victory or defeat? I don’t know, this is the future.

The meeting room has a sort of vision board with team values written on the wall. This has become a new trend. To what extent does this idea of ‘team culture’ need to be defined? Have you also grown up with such thoughts written on paper and board?

Did I grow up with it? Yes. I played for Gloucestershire and England in a very successful team in domestic cricket. We had an inspirational coach, John Bracewell. He was able to bring us very close. He was an excellent coach. In his own way, he was able to inspire the group to do great things that were never done again in English domestic cricket.

One thing I learned from him was ways to bring people together and move toward a vision. My take on what’s in this team room is that individuals have their own values. That kind of stuff is great in the team room but you have to bring it to life, you have to live it. My job as a coach is to connect the group with the franchise’s vision.

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Who were the coaches and captains who had the greatest influence on your way of working?

Coaching was something I wanted to do, I started thinking about it a lot. I started to see trainers doing some things that are really good, but also some things that are really bad and some things that sit in the middle. The coach I really admire is Andy Flower. I have worked a lot under him in many roles. He has got a job in RCB. If I need to discuss something, I pick up the phone and ask him. His advice is measured. He is someone I really enjoyed working with.

I worked with Justin Langer for three weeks. There are a few things I love about him, especially how much he cares about his players. I’ve talked about John Bracewell before. He had a big influence on me as a young cricketer. A lot of the things he talked about are things I see in my team and would like to see in my teams. So he had a big influence on me as a cricketer and coach, I wasn’t even aware of it. So those are three people I’ve worked closely with and been a part of great teams.

Is team bonding really important in a small tournament like the WPL, which is very result-oriented and has players from different cultures? Every two years new players keep coming and going.

Again, a great question…probably something I don’t have a perfect answer to. My view is that the role that players individually

First of all, Shabnim was very good in our environment, she was really good. This was the first time he was left out of a team in 16 years. That’s a tough thing to do for a player of that level. There were some good logic and good reasons behind it. And we gave him an opportunity to play. But when she played, she didn’t play particularly well. I respect Shabnim, she is a quality fast bowler. Unfortunately, we tried to integrate him into the team and it didn’t work.

So how do you manage this situation? Because even now, there will be two high quality players who will sit out.

I am considering all our options. Obviously, our captain (Alyssa Healy) is a foreign player, so she will not be left out. And we have the best spin bowler (Sophie Ecclestone), so it is unlikely that she will be left out. However, after that we have four high quality batsmen, three of whom are all-rounders. So, we’ve got some big decisions to make, but also the flexibility to change our side and get some real quality from the bench, which other teams don’t have.

The four guys selected in the first game will look over their shoulders and think, ‘I’ve got to make sure I perform here or I’ll be sitting on the bench.’ Competition drives the team forward. I can already see the impact that Danny and Chamari are making on the team by sharing their knowledge and understanding. I don’t know Chamari at all, but I know Danny very well. I know she will come into this environment and fit in seamlessly.

I know when she gets a chance to play, she will be ready. Chamari came into practice yesterday and showed us that he is incredibly determined to play and will show the Australians when they come that this is a high quality competition. This is what WPL is all about, there is always high quality and there will always be difficult decisions. Managing these players and explaining decisions is extremely important. That’s exactly what I did with Shabnim.

During your England playing days as a player, you were the twelfth man.

laughs I was, friend. Was probably pretty good at it, cared about everyone else. I’ve brought some drinks. All over the world.

As a coach, what do you say to the players who are waiting on the bench now?

be ready. The opportunity will come when you least expect it. This can happen 20 minutes before the toss. If you are not mentally prepared, if you are off and you do not perform well and do not get the opportunity next time, it is your own fault. This is what I have learned from my experience. I set out to play for England and I wasn’t as well prepared as I could have been. There were late changes in the team, I didn’t play very well and it took me a long time to get back into the team.

What was the logic behind bringing in Chamari Athapaththu? I mean he is a top player, but why did you pick him even though there were already four opening options in the team?

All our batsmen can bat at all positions. Will this be a priority for them or will it be something they have done before? No, but are they capable of batting at all positions? of course they are. Chamari batted at number 3 yesterday, he demolished it everywhere. If she bats at number four or five, she will do the same. Danny can do the same. He has batted everywhere throughout his career.

Just because this is where they bat for their international team, doesn’t mean that this will be the definition of what they do. In terms of Chamari’s selection, we looked around, and she was an exceptional player. I couldn’t believe that no one bought it in the auction. Why wouldn’t you want him in your squad instead of anyone else?

I asked about Chamari selection because you are weak in the fast bowling department. While half the games are to be played at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, why did you choose reinforcements instead of strengthening your pace department in a position where you are already covered?

Mainly because we believe that winning matches is the best thing in women’s cricket. I think batting depth is really important. It is really important to put runs on the board in tournaments like this. International cricket is also the same. If you look at the best quality bowlers in women’s cricket, most of them are spin bowlers. There are very few exceptional fast bowlers. Spin bowling dominates the women’s game. We feel we have the right balance in our team to go far in the competition.

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Does this make Tahlia McGrath’s role on the team even more important?

It makes the selection interesting, in terms of the combination of depth in batting and where we give the young fast bowlers a chance to play. We have to decide how much responsibility we give to Tahlia or someone like Tahlia. It depends on how much importance we give to our bowling compared to what someone else wants to do.

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