A sodden Trevor Bayliss dishes up some catching practice

"Coaches don't win a thing. It's all about the players"

© Getty Images


'I'm a player, really. I think I understand how players think'

At the end of his England tenure, Trevor Bayliss looks back at his four years in charge, and Eoin Morgan weighs in on a coach who did more than he seemed to

George Dobell  |  

Picture the scene. It's November 2017. We're in the England dressing room in Brisbane. The team are about to take the pitch as Australia resume their second innings at the start of day five, victory in their sights. Tensions are running high. And Trevor Bayliss has asked the players to gather round.

"Today all comes down to one word," Bayliss tells them. "Just one word. And it's a word I want you to remember all the time you're out there. One word. And that word…"

There's a pause.

"I can't remember what the bloody word is."

The team dissolve into laughter.

"Paul Collingwood thought he was a genius," Paul Farbrace, England's assistant coach at the time, recalls. "He thought it was a brilliant way of releasing tension."

The truth? "I forgot the bloody word," Bayliss says sheepishly. "I often forget words. I'm a pretty shy bloke. I don't much like talking in front of big groups of people. And I'm so nervous about it, I'm always thinking of the sentence ahead, to make sure I remember where I'm going. And then I forget where I am."

Now, it's easy to laugh at Bayliss in some ways. He's not especially eloquent. He dresses the same way pretty much every day. He makes no effort to impress. When his car was broken into in Manchester recently, it was speculated homeless people had taken pity on him and left him some new clothes. As it happens, his clothes were the only things stolen. "Apparently police are looking for the worst-dressed thieves in the city," he says with a smile.

But Bayliss' record is extraordinary. His coaching CV now includes a World Cup victory. He has won the IPL twice. The Sheffield Shield twice. He has won the Big Bash, the Champions League, and as England's Test coach, has seen South Africa beaten home and away, defeated Sri Lanka away, won an Ashes series in England, and never lost a home series. Oh, and he has coached teams - Sri Lanka and England - to three other global tournament finals. When it became clear he was in the market for another job, it seems he had a choice of three IPL teams. He could easily move into another international role, but says the only one he would consider is Australia. "That's not going to happen now," he says. "And that's fine."

Eoin Morgan on Bayliss:

Eoin Morgan on Bayliss: "He asks good, relevant questions, and that sparks great conversations. That creates a really good learning environment" © Getty Images

What is the secret of his success?

"I've been lucky," he says, with a shrug. "Any success is down to the quality of players. I think it's ridiculous when people tell you what coaches have won. Coaches don't win a thing. It's all about the players."

This modesty is typical. When his spell as Sri Lanka coach ended - he felt then, as he feels now, that four or five years is the maximum period of effectiveness for a coach, saying "the lads need to hear a new voice" - the anticipated roles in Australia didn't come. Well, not for six months or so. In the interim, he took a job as an estate agent.

"I wasn't much good at it," he says. "But I needed a job. I probably sold five houses, but I'm no salesman." Asked how he'd grade himself out of 10 in his role as England coach, he answers "five."

C'mon, Trevor. There must be more to it than that.

"Well, I played for a quite a long time," he says. "And I played under a few coaches and picked up what worked from the best of them, and what not to do from some others. Bob Simpson was good. Steve Rixon, too.

"There aren't many occasions when the dressing room needs extra pressure. I've seen the damage that can do. I was never a bat thrower as a player, and in essence I think it's a simple game some people try to make as complicated as possible."

It's about keeping calm and shutting up?

"Pretty much, yes. I haven't changed the way I do things from the days I worked with age-group teams. I think I'm a naturally calm person and I've never pretended to be anything I'm not. That would be my advice to whoever does the job next: be true to yourself; do things the way you always have."

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

There's a revealing anecdote about the moment that Andrew Strauss supposedly decided Bayliss was the man for the England job. He was watching an IPL match on TV, and when it went to a Super Over, he saw the stadium descend into pandemonium. The TV crossed from anxious faces in the stands to animated conversations on the outfield and excitable voices in the studio. Bayliss? He never left the bench in the dugout. Strauss knew he had his man.

If that sounds odd, it's important to remember the context. Strauss had just sacked Peter Moores as England coach after a disastrous 2015 World Cup. There was a perception that Moores' intensity, his attention to detail, his passion to see the team improve, were actually holding the side back, breeding doubt and uncertainty in his team. Strauss wanted someone who did the opposite: who spread calm and positivity. Coaching, like batting, is as much about what you don't do as what you do.

"Yes, I recommended him for the job," Eoin Morgan, England's limited-overs captain, says. "I'd played two seasons under him for KKR in the IPL and I was a big admirer.

"One of Trev's biggest attributes is that he takes pressure away from players. There's always so much pressure, anyway: from your own internal hopes, from your friends, your family, and from the media. You don't need more. He is a very calm, very personable man. He keeps things simple.

"In the first year he just observed, really. I think maybe one or two players were a bit shocked as he came in with this big reputation and they expected him to stamp his authority on the team. But that's not his way. He was taking in everything he saw and formulating a plan to improve everyone. It was an incredibly smart way to go about things."

"I turned it down the first time they called," Bayliss said. "Andrew Strauss phoned while I was in a hotel room in India and we had a good chat. I liked him and I liked what he had to say. But I had done an international job with Sri Lanka and I wasn't looking for another one. I was very happy doing what I was doing. He asked if I wanted to go on their shortlist and I said, 'No, thanks.'

"But after I put down the phone I did wonder if I'd made the right call. It was nagging away a bit. And then the headhunter called back a couple of weeks later and said, 'How would you feel talking about it again, if it was a job offer?' And I realised they'd just offered me the job.

Bayliss has largely been content to not be an agent of change.

Bayliss has largely been content to not be an agent of change. "In essence I think it's a simple game some people try to make as complicated as possible" © Getty Images

"I'd watched England in that 2015 World Cup and had a bit of a laugh at them, to be honest. That Wellington game… [ rolls eyes]. So when Strauss started talking about winning the 2019 World Cup - well, I wasn't sure we could do it. But there was only one way to go and it gave us a target to aim at."

So the World Cup was the target from the very start?

"It was, but it wasn't the only target," Bayliss says. "I know people think I was brought in to improve limited-overs cricket, but that's not the whole story. Test cricket was seen as just as important. It was a fifty-fifty split between Test and limited-overs cricket. I see myself as a traditionalist. I prefer Test cricket."

England's struggle to progress in Test cricket is a frustration to Bayliss. So if the success of the limited-overs team is due to the skill of the players, is the lack of success of the Test team their fault? He pauses in response.

"I think we've seen in our white-ball cricket that we could select 16 or 17 players and still field a very strong side," he says. "But in Test cricket, we're still looking for two or three - even four - players to complete that side. I can't fault the effort of those who have played."

So what's the problem?

"Well, you have to ask whether the county game is producing the players we need," he says. "Is the competition underneath doing the job it should be?"

Here Bayliss becomes a little reticent. He is a man steeped in cricket, with experience around the world and a deep passion for the game. His observations have value. But he is not looking to lecture anyone.

"I have been reluctant to speak about these things," he says. "No one wants some Australian coming over here and giving them a lecture about the way they run their cricket. These conversations have been going on for 25 years and nothing changes.

Andrew Strauss brought Bayliss in as coach following the 2015 World Cup and the tensions of the Peter Moores era

Andrew Strauss brought Bayliss in as coach following the 2015 World Cup and the tensions of the Peter Moores era © Getty Images

"But I do have some observations and opinions. I think there's a huge gap between county and international cricket. Huge.

"Again and again, we've picked the best players in the county game. And again and again, they've found the gap too large to bridge. Our top players come back from county cricket and they're not complimentary about the standard. They don't think it helps prepare them for international cricket.

"The pitches are soft and damp. So bowlers get far too much assistance and batsmen don't get into the habit of building long innings. Those same bowlers then come into Test cricket and they find the pitches do almost nothing and the ball won't swing round corners. And the batsmen find the pace of the Test bowlers a shock.

"If you had better pitches you might start to see some fast bowlers developing. You might see more spinners developing. You might even see some better slip catchers because I think the big problem in English cricket is concentration. Players have forgotten how to concentrate for long periods of time. They just don't have to do it at county level.

"I'm not criticising groundsmen. They have a tough job, because there's too much cricket and the Championship starts in early April.

"But no one seems to want to get their head down and guts out a score. The attitude seems to be, 'I'd best get on with it before an impossible ball comes along.' But maybe that's partly because society has changed. Everything is quicker now."

The solution?

"The ECB and the counties have to pull in the same direction. There has to be a collaborative approach, ensuring that England is at the heart of it. Ultimately, a successful England team across all formats will naturally benefit the game at county level and even have a positive impact on grass roots.

"I think there are too many teams. If you had fewer - maybe ten - the best players would be in competition against each other more often and the standard would rise. I think you'd see tougher cricketers develop. Cricketers who are better prepared for the Test game."

Does he think English cricketers are soft?

"I think the big problem in English cricket is concentration. Players have forgotten how to concentrate for long periods of time" © Getty Images

"I'm not letting you put those words in my mouth," he says. "I'd look at it this way: Australian cricketers are tough and robust. They come up through a system which prepares them for Test cricket. From age-group cricket into club and grade cricket, they play semi-finals and finals. So they get used to playing knockout cricket. They get used to playing under pressure. I think England could do with more of that.

"But they could be going the same way in Australia. When I was playing, you used to have the best Shield and even Test players appearing in grade cricket quite often. That meant the standard was high and you learned what was required to play at a higher level. But that happens less often now, so they will probably go the same way as England."

Bayliss had never seen a county game when he was appointed to the England job. As a result, he didn't have much knowledge of up-and-coming players, or the contacts with coaches or umpires to help him reach informed decisions. It has meant some players - Rory Burns, for example - have been called into the Test squad without him ever having watched them live.

"I haven't pushed especially hard on selection, no," he says. "I haven't seen enough county cricket. I couldn't have done the job in the early days without Farby - his knowledge and contacts - and I'll always back the captain if he has a strong view.

"Up until the last couple of years, we had been going the way of having more red- and white-ball specialists. And in general I think that's probably the way to go. I know there's a perception that I've been pushing for the inclusion of more players from the one-day side, but that's not right. I'd like to see Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley come into the side sooner rather than later. But we've never had a vote or anything over a selection. We talk and we agree a squad together."

That consensual approach is a key part of the Bayliss method.

"He doesn't necessarily challenge you," Morgan explains. "It's more that he asks good, relevant questions, and that sparks great conversations. That creates a really good learning environment.

"I remember a game in Dunedin where we were on to score 380-390 [England were 267 for 1 in the 38th over], but ended up getting bowled out [they finished on 335 for 9]. Afterwards Trevor asked whether we might have been better playing a bit more cautiously and settling for a total of around 350. It started a really good debate.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

"We were never playing thoughtless cricket. So, yes, we had to explore the limits of what we could achieve, but we were always talking and thinking about ways to do it."

"The feedback from the senior players - the likes of [Jos] Buttler and [Ben] Stokes - after that game in Dunedin was that the approach was right," Farbrace recalls. "But that their shot selection could have been better. I remember that because I did something you should never do, really, and agreed with them and disagreed with Trevor. But later he made a point of telling me he wanted me to be honest and express my views."

"You can't force ideas down players' throats," Bayliss says. "They just stop listening if you try and do that. I'm a player, really. And I think I understand how players think.

"But what I thought I could do is maybe implant an idea in their minds. I thought we needed to be a little bit more smart about the way we batted sometimes. Yes, we needed to be bold but we also needed to have the skills to adapt when necessary. And, after the 20th or 30th time of suggesting something, those ideas started to sink in."

They certainly did. While England's ODI resurgence was built upon their ability to achieve vast totals, the World Cup this year was played on pitches that forced them into a more sophisticated approach. It was testament to how far they had progressed that they managed to win playing relatively old-school ODI cricket.

"He's very good on bad days," Farbrace says. "After a really tough day in the field, or a day when they've been bowled out in a session, the dressing room might be very down. He'll know that's not the time to question or criticise the players. On those days he'll say, 'When you wake up tomorrow, you'll still be breathing and the sun will still be shining. We'll have another go.' And over time Stokesy used to say it, too. 'We'll still be breathing in the morning, won't we, coach?' 'We will, Stokesy. We will.'"

"Sometimes, on the bad days, if you keep digging at the mistakes, the cracks get bigger," Morgan says. "You can go backwards if you do that. It doesn't mean he didn't ever have stern words, but he knew that the more talking done by the players in that situation, the better. He knew that, as a team in development, there were bound to be days when we made mistakes. And the fact that he was rarely angry made it more effective when he was."

"Don't let that calm exterior fool you into thinking he doesn't care," Farbrace says. "There have been times on the balcony he's been furious. And at least once - after a defeat in Hobart - he went back to his room and punched his wardrobe. But he controls that passion in front of the players."

Assistant coach Paul Farbrace on Bayliss:

Assistant coach Paul Farbrace on Bayliss: "He's very good on bad days" Gareth Copley / © Getty Images

How often has that happened? "Maybe half a dozen," Bayliss reckons. "The worst was probably in Perth on the Ashes tour. There had been a series of silly incidents. None of them amounted to very much in isolation, but they kept happening. It was bringing a lot of unwanted attention upon us. Yeah, I was pretty angry with them that day."

He's pretty angry, too - maybe "incredulous" is a better term - about how hospitable English cricket can be to its tourists. In particular, he noted that Marnus Labuschagne prepared for the Ashes by representing Glamorgan, adapting to the conditions so well that he finished the series as Australia's second-highest run scorer.

"There's no way Australia would allow England players to acclimatise in the Shield ahead of an Ashes series. And quite right too. I think the ECB should have a look at that.

"And you boys in the media - I was warned about you before I came. You've actually been pretty good, but it took some getting used to."

In what way?

"Well, the Australia press never criticise their own side. You wrote a piece about Rory Burns' century recently, and after a couple of nice paragraphs at the start, it was all about how often he was beaten and dropped."

But he was, Trevor.

"Doesn't matter. Wouldn't happen in Australia. They support their team. And if the opposition drop a few catches, they don't blame their own players, they turn it round to say, 'Look how rubbish the opposition were: they couldn't even catch.'

"Listen, I've actually come to have some respect for the way you guys do it. But it takes some getting used to. And I've not actually read a UK newspaper. I read ESPNcricinfo and the Aussie papers. And sometimes I read a few things from the Aussie papers out in the dressing room to gee the players up a bit. Sort of 'this is what the Aussies think of you'."

This tactic was used most effectively after the World Cup semi-final. Victories over Australia are always celebrated by England. Partly because they are so hard-earned and partly because of the history between the nations. Results against Australia continue to be a barometer of the state of English cricket.

Morgan remembers the Dunedin ODI of 2018 illustrating Bayliss' consensual coaching style.

Morgan remembers the Dunedin ODI of 2018 illustrating Bayliss' consensual coaching style. "Trevor asked whether we might have been better playing a bit more cautiously and settling for a total of around 350. It started a really good debate" © Getty Images

Bayliss recognised this. As the England side regrouped in the dressing room at Edgbaston following their win, he delivered a sobering team talk that reminded them they hadn't won anything yet.

"On days like that, being Australian was quite useful," he says. "I could tell them how they were seen by their old rivals."

"Victories against Australia always feel extra special," Morgan says. "They're always celebrated. But we had beaten Australia in the Champions Trophy and then, next game, lost to Pakistan in the semi-final. He wanted to make sure there was no repetition of that. He was always very good at making sure we didn't get too high or too low."

"He was never exactly Churchillian," Farbrace says. "And he never craved the spotlight. But he has such integrity, such authenticity, that everyone listens when he speaks."

Does Bayliss have any regrets?

"My biggest regret is, I wish I had explained what I meant by being positive better," he says. "I knew then that it wasn't about hitting fours and sixes, but I didn't explain it very well, and I spent the next couple of years answering questions about it. There's a difference between being positive and being aggressive."

It's probably worth reflecting on what Bayliss actually said at the time, in a press conference in South Africa in early 2016: "Ultimately, I'd like to see two of the top three guys as attacking-style batters. I just think if you have a couple of attacking guys up the top, it puts pressure on the opposition a lot easier. If you've got three who don't necessarily get on with it, you can be half an hour before lunch at 0 for 30, you happen to lose two and it's 2 for 30 two hours in. If you've got guys who can play their strokes and get on with the game, if you lose a couple before lunch, you're 80, 90 or 100."

It sounds, at least, as if the confusion were understandable. If you talk to Nick Compton, who might even now be playing the role of top-order innings builder, he will say that such talk left him feeling as if he had to depart from his natural, safety-first method and take a more aggressive approach. It remains a significant moment - and not a positive one - in the development of this England side.

And what about Bayliss' reputation for non-intervention? The idea that he didn't have a huge voice in selection, wasn't a natural orator, and wasn't an especially technical coach?

"The scented-candle thing?" he says with a bit of a rueful smile.

"'We'll still be breathing in the morning, won't we, coach?' 'We will, Stokesy, we will'" © Getty Images

The reference is to an article in July 2017 that suggested that, if Bayliss was only creating a relaxed environment, he could be replaced by "a couple of scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises."

Bayliss' reaction to the episode was telling. He laughed and took the time to explain his method over a couple of beers. He also made a cameo appearance on ESPNcricinfo's Polite Enquiries video show, where he good-naturedly made fun of his reputation for encouraging aggressive batting. At his final press conference, ahead of the Test at The Oval, the England media presented him with an engraved hip flask (on which was written, on one side, "With thanks and best wishes from his friends in the English media" and on the other, "Drink positively!") a bottle of whiskey, a scented candle, and a CD of ambient whale noises.

Was there an element of truth in the original observation? Probably. But did it also fail to acknowledge the importance of maintaining a calm environment; the importance of restraint and of empowering players; the importance of encouraging positivity and belief in a limited-overs side that had previously been stifled by doubt? Yes, it probably did.

"I consciously took a step away from technical coaching with England," Bayliss, who was probably more manager than coach, says. "You have lots of people offering that in England already. We have a batting coach, we have a bowling coach. You don't necessarily need someone in my role treading on their toes. I wasn't just about empowering the players; it was important to empower the coaches too."

"He gave himself five out of ten?" Morgan says. "Ridiculous! He's one of the best coaches and mentors I've ever worked with. I'd give him ten.

"How will I remember him? I've lots of memories. But that night after the World Cup... He doesn't smile that much, so when he does, you really notice it. That night after the World Cup he smiled a lot. That's a great memory."

"I only had a couple of drinks," Bayliss recalls. "I wanted to make sure I remembered everything."

How about that word in Brisbane: what was it going to be?

"I still can't remember," he says with a smile. "It must have been bloody amazing."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo