“I love playing cricket,” said Kadeer Ali, “I still have the passion for it.”
Young cricketers who have worked with Worcestershire’s Assistant Head Coach might not regard this as news. Kadeer will celebrate his fortieth birthday next March, but his enthusiasm for the game shines as brightly as it did when he made his first-class debut for the county nearly 22 years ago. It is evident in the energy he expends when organising the pre-season schedule, the pleasure he shows when Worcestershire win a game and even in his desire to play Birmingham League cricket at an age when some other coaches probably welcome a Saturday or two away from anything that reminds them of work.
Worcestershire’s players might also be well aware that not all cricket folk possess Kadeer’s keenness. A few coaches believe the game has little new to offer them and have become immured in their own cynicism. They are hard-bitten and still bear the teeth-marks. So the recent appointment of Kadeer as assistant to Alan Richardson will have been widely welcomed by the New Road playing staff, the vast majority of whom first encountered the new No2 when he worked with the second team. But they also know he gained playing experience at three first-class counties – Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Leicestershire – before spending nearly a decade with Staffordshire. They know he still plays league cricket, latterly at Smethwick after nearly a decade at West Bromwich Dartmouth. Above all, perhaps, they are reassured that he “gets” Worcestershire, that he understands it is not just a business or even a county cricket club, but that it is also a family.
“I played 13 years of pro cricket at three counties, but Worcestershire was an amazing place because of the family feel around the club,” he said.
“And when I came back, it was exactly the same as it was in 1999 when I first travelled from Birmingham to New Road. The last three years haven’t been great, but folk still try and stick together and get through things together. People at Worcestershire have always been concerned about how others might think and feel; that caring aspect has always been there.”
There have been changes, though. Kadeer’s first contract gave him work for six months every year. In the English winter, he had to find employment elsewhere and often chose to play abroad. Current professionals also travel in the close season, but overseas engagements now take account of their full-time commitments in this country. The prospects of making a good living from the game are far brighter for a talented young cricketer in 2022 than they were when Kadeer started out, and he does not begrudge his young charges any of it.
“I think the life is better because of the opportunities that might arise from having a good county season,” he said. “If you do well in the Vitality Blast, you might get chances in the Big Bash or something else. When I started, you’d come back in March and train with people you hadn’t seen for six months. These days the players just have a month off in October. We have a youngish squad, and for them to get away and play in other competitions overseas can only benefit us as a county. Those tournaments have their own pressures, and we want our players to experience different cultures, different environments, and different surfaces. It will add things to their game, and they can bring that back to us.”
Some players, of course, will train at Malvern over the winter, and they will be Richardson and Kadeer’s responsibility when they report back next Monday (November 14). In their new roles and eventually, in conjunction with the yet-to-be-appointed director of cricket, the pair will discuss training schedules with players, always tailoring their decisions to every cricketer’s specific requirements.
“I’ll be working closely with Richo regarding training and planning the various programmes,” he said. “I’ll take more of a lead with match-day stuff and meetings, and I’ll give my views on the important decisions like who plays in games and who we might have to get as an overseas player. It’ll be more hands-on, but essentially I’ll be offering my support to Richo.”
Kadeer’s observations suggest that the recent changes in the coaching set-up at New Road have changed Richardson’s role a little more than his own. Still, there will be countless times next season when the responsibilities of such a promotion will be very clear to him. But come the blank weekends, Worcestershire’s assistant coach will be overjoyed to pull on the flannels again and become a cricketer once more.
“While the fire’s still there, I still want to play,” he said. “I get so much banter if I fail for a couple of weeks. And when I’m up against the lads in league games, there’s always some light-hearted humour attached to it. Jack Haynes got me out last year, and I still haven’t heard the last of it.”
Guest writer and freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications