As England's women take on New Zealand in the five-match NatWest Series, skysports.com caught up with head coach Mark Lane to find out the secrets of on-field success...
skysports.com: Fifteen months after England beat the Kiwis to win the World Cup, we're in for some more cracking matches. How are things shaping up in the camp?
ML: We beat Ireland well earlier this week so confidence is good but we are not getting carried away. As we saw in the recent Twenty20 series, the Kiwis are a powerful side with batters who can hit the ball a long way; they also have some skilful bowlers who are very adept at varying their pace. We've done our homework on them, as I'm sure they have on us, and the Series is going to come down to which team can hold their discipline for the longest period of time. It was helpful for the players to spend a longer time at the crease and bowl longer spells at Kibworth. Skipper Charlotte Edwards is playing very, very well at present and Katherine Brunt bowled very quickly, albeit with the wind up her tail.
skysports.com: How difficult is it to make the transition to 50-over cricket?
ML: It's been a while since we've played this much 50-over cricket so it's important to get into the right mind-set. We try to adopt the same principles in all formats - which means bowling as many dot balls as we can, putting the bad balls away and running well - but ultimately it doesn't count for much if you don't bat for the whole 50 overs or craft wicket-taking spells. Fifty over cricket is certainly less hectic than t20 so you have the chance to line a batter up, for example, by bowling two straight deliveries and then a slightly wider one to bring the slips into play. The batters always try to play at a high strike-rate but this format gives them a chance to build rather than blast an innings; that suits the likes of Claire Taylor and Charlotte because it gives them a chance to use their experience and guile at the crease.
skysports.com: What skills and drills have you been specifically working on?
ML: We've set up scenarios in nets focused on trying to bat for longer periods of time. We've also been working very hard on our slip catching and close fielding to get the most out of the power-play sections of the game. While it's important to focus on the basics so that players can execute them time and time again, we don't want to drill the flair out of the squad so it's important to strike a balance.
skysports.com: There's plenty of experience in this squad but also plenty of up-and-coming talent. Who should we look out for in particular?
ML: It's always exciting when new players like Heather Knight and Danielle Wyatt come in. Heather is an opening batter who has scored a lot of good runs in recent years for Berkshire and the Academy and Danni, who is from Stoke, is a fantastic cricketer too; she's a fearless little terrier who bowls good off-spin, is dynamite in the field, which makes things pretty exciting.
skysports.com: What are the main differences between coaching men and women, if any?
ML: Women tend to show a bit more emotion than men in certain situations but from a technical point of view it is very similar. What we lack in strength we gain in technique. We can't be as brutal as the men because we don't have that sheer power, which is reflected in the number of sixes that are hit, but that situation is improving as players become stronger, wiser and smarter. The team trains and works hard but you have to remember this is not a full-time job for the players, it sits alongside work or studies, they want to play in every single game they can make selection difficult! It's not a bad thing when players show their emotions in that situation because that's when you get to see the real person.
skysports.com: Should boundaries be brought in so that we see more six-hitting in the women's game?
ML: We don't want the game to become all about hitting sixes at the expense of the skill and the craft of finding gaps. There's nothing better than sitting on the balcony and seeing someone like Charlotte hit a half-volley through extra cover or Claire walk across and clip the ball through mid-wicket along the floor for four. We do have restrictions on our boundaries as things stand - the maximum is 70 yards. If it was all about who can hit the ball furthest and hardest the game would lose something; yes, we spend a lot of time in the gym and working with our strength and conditioning coach but brute force is not the be-all and end-all.
skysports.com: ECB figures showed a 27 percent rise in the number of girls playing cricket in 2009. How can we build on this?
ML: The players are very aware that they are role-models and that lots of boys and girls aspire to do what they do, namely play for their country. Clare Connor, who is Head of England Women's Cricket, has done a brilliant job over two years in getting the girls involved in the Chance to Shine initiative and they are very honoured to go out and be ambassadors for Women's Cricket, the ECB and the Cricket Foundation. I think cricket, in general, is in good shape in England; there are plenty of opportunities for girls to play games these days and a successful international side can only help attract more people to the sport.
skysports.com: So how did you get into coaching?
ML: I played as a wicketkeeper for both Hampshire and Surrey second XIs during the 1980s at a time when people like Bobby Parks and Alec Stewart were on the scene and always wanted to stay involved with cricket. I thought my personality and people skills were well-suited to coaching so I took my badges at 18. Since then I've coached at Shepperton CC, spent five years at Surrey and completed two years as Kenya's assistant coach. I've also done lots of work with the ICC's high performance programme and always been in and around women's cricket. I was offered the job of head coach two years ago and I've enjoyed every single day of it since.
skysports.com: How would you sum up your coaching ethos?
ML: My whole philosophy is to create an open, honest, no-excuse environment where people work hard but also enjoy themselves too; if you can get people relaxed and smiling their true characters come out and you discover how they like to learn.
skysports.com: What advice would you give to anyone interested in becoming a coach?
ML: I'd ask them 'do you love the game, do you have a passion for cricket and do you want to help people develop every day - not just as cricketers but as people too?' Ultimately, you have to be committed to what you do because coaching is like a journey in your life - it's not something you switch on and off from.
skysports.com: England have won the Ashes, the World Cup and the World Twenty20 under your leadership - successes that earned you an Outstanding Achievement award at last year's Sky Sports Coach of the Year awards. But what has been your highlight so far?
ML: All the trophies and accolades are great, but for me the best reward is seeing the daily improvement that players make. For example, Jack Birkenshaw (England Women's Assistant Coach) and I have been working with Laura Marsh on her batting and stressing the importance of keeping a high elbow. Earlier this week when she went out and played an exquisite cover drive it felt great because the stroke showed she's listening, learning and applying herself.
skysports.com: How do you Jack and you divide the workload?
ML: Jack has a wealth of experience and knowledge that is invaluable. He won't mind me saying he's not too hot on computers or the science of it all, but that's ok because he brings an expertise to nets and matches that money cannot buy. He's a brilliant right-hand man who is always there to offer advice. We've got a fantastic relationship and enjoy mulling things over in the evening over a glass of wine, which is important because every coach needs time to reflect on things too.