Some county coaches can tell their young charges what it is like to play in a hundred Test matches or represent their country in famous Ashes series. Alan Richardson can talk about working night shifts in a warehouse or screwing studs into golf shoes. There is a good argument that Worcestershire’s cricketers have got the better deal.
Which is not to disparage either international sport or the status of those who reach its mountain tops. Worcestershire’s new Head Coach will be chuffed rotten if any of his players get to wear the crown and three lions. But he knows it can take a long time before a cricketer achieves his potential and he is particularly well-placed to chat about the diversions and setbacks that can befall someone before they crack our infuriating game, if, indeed, anyone ever does. Listening to Richardson talk about his career will not be the least of the benefits gained by Worcestershire’s apprentices.
They will, though, do well to detect any trace of vanity in the coach’s words and we have a wise witness to tell us about that… “From Richo’s “conduct” in the dressing room after a game you could never tell whether he’d taken five-fer or none-fer,” said Jack Shantry, who played alongside Richardson for four seasons. “And as a young pro at the time that was very reassuring. He was also very generous with his time. He was confident but not ego-driven. He made you feel a better person for being in his company.”
That idea of improving people’s lives was also evident this week when the new coach talked about his new responsibilities. He knows he is in a results business but, in partnership with the county’s yet-to-be-appointed director of cricket, he is also responsible for the welfare of the players and coaches on his staff. It is a duty of care that goes beyond simple duty.
“The goal for everyone is to win matches, although we’re obviously not so naïve as to believe we’ll win every game,” he said. “But it’s also about developing a real purpose among the group. That’s bigger and deeper than winning. I’m really passionate and competitive but I hope I show a bit of compassion. I also hope that everyone will enjoy it as much as possible and I’ll aim to create the sort of environment where they can do so.
“On one level everyone knows how a player’s day has gone because they can see it on a scorecard but we also need to look after each other as much as possible. That makes us a stronger team but also a stronger club. That was one of the lessons I learned early in my coaching career at Warwickshire.”
The pace bowlers at New Road already know how generous Richardson can be with his time and encouragement. They have been his particular responsibility since he returned to Worcestershire in 2018 and he has played a vital role in the development of an exceptional cadre of seamers in both red- and white-ball cricket.
“My own skill set is in bowling; anybody who saw me bat knows that,” he said. “But I also have a passion for helping the whole team and it’s the sort of work that’s held an increasing appeal for me over the past couple of years. I’ll still have a hold on the bowling in my new role but we’ll need another coach and I think all coaches should be able to run sides. I ask the players to push themselves and to enjoy it as much as possible, so it would be hypocritical of me not to demand the same thing of the coaches. It’ll be about mucking in and helping out as much as possible.”
One of the most obvious aims of all this work will be to help every player at New Road become the best cricketer they can be. You might argue that’s a pretty woolly objective, too, but it carries particular resonance for the new coach, who had to wait until he was 34 before he achieved that goal. It’s a fairly well-known tale at New Road how Richardson began his career at Derbyshire before being released and had to do all manner of part-time jobs in order to sustain his hopes of being a county professional. He joined Warwickshire but eventually found himself surplus to Nick Knight’s requirements. A move to Middlesex followed and some good years were interspersed with injuries.
He arrived at New Road in 2010 and discovered how to bowl in a way that challenged both edges of the bat. In his four seasons with Worcestershire before his retirement in 2013 he took 254 first-class wickets at an average of 22.07. “He was the best seamer I played with over a consistent period,” said Shantry, then a youngster bowler on the staff. “He landed it on a sixpence every single time, he could nip it both ways and he could even swing it if he wanted to. He never gave the batsman anything. He was head and shoulders above almost everyone else and you would have to put him alongside Glen Chapple as one of the best bowlers not to play for England.”
There were glorious years but Richardson has never forgotten the tough years. When he was chosen as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 2012, he spoke about them to George Dobell.
“No one would voluntarily do things the way I have,” he said. “I’ve had some dark days and I’ve had to take on some shocking jobs to finance my cricket career…Doing things that way – the hard way – does make you appreciate them more…It maybe wouldn’t do some young players any harm to have some of those experiences.”
And now Alan Richardson – ‘Richo’ to everyone in the game – is Head Coach of Worcestershire County Cricket Club. He stresses enjoyment but does not trouble to parrot the whiskery line about enjoyment coming with success. He prefers to think about helping his players but there may be times when the best assistance he can give is to talk about working as a gardener or a warehouseman simply to keep his dream alive.
“I’ve got two young children and they want everything straightaway,” he said. “I don’t blame them but I think it’s important to show them they have to have that patience, discipline and work ethic to earn those things. We will give young players as many opportunities as possible while bearing in mind that we are trying to win as many games as possible. I want all the players to be excited about the journey ahead of them.”