The competitor in Steve Rhodes is never far from the surface – and Worcestershire's Director Of Cricket is relishing the prospect of a series decider for England Lions against Pakistan A in Dubai tomorrow.
“We’ve got a semi final and a final to win now,” the Yorkshireman said after the Lions had fallen 2-1 behind in the series last Friday, and they got the first part of the job done when Sam Billings and Liam Dawson held their nerve in a low-scoring match under the Dubai International Cricket Stadium floodlights on Sunday night.
Now the teams return to the ICC Global Cricket Academy, which was the venue for Pakistan’s opening victory in the series and where Rhodes has spent a fair chunk of his time over the last month, initially with the England Performance Programme before the T20 series.
It is his first involvement with a senior England squad, part-funded by the ECB’s Elite Coach Development Programme, and he has loved it.
He told the ECB's Andy Wilson: “It’s been good fun, I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learnt a lot and hopefully I’ve managed to contribute some things to the team environment and the touring party generally. So it’s been a really good tonic.
“For the county coaches to see what the England coaches do and how they go about doing things is great for their own learning to take that back to county cricket, and if there’s any extra little things that we might be doing in county cricket that we could expand to England level then that’s great too. It’s a two-way thing. Obviously I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and more importantly hopefully it enhances English coaches.”
Andy Flower, the head coach of the EPP and the Lions, is equally enthusiastic about Rhodes’s contribution.
“Firstly it’s been great having him here with us,” said Flower. “He’s a very experienced cricketer, and a very experienced coach.
"I knew him as a competitor in the opposition from my playing days and he was always a fierce competitor. I also know that he’s always been, as a player and a coach, a huge influence on the people around him in a very positive way.
"He’s outstanding at creating the right sort of environment for both training and competition. He’s a knowledgeable coach. So not only have the players benefited from him being around and interacting with him, picking his brains, but I think us coaches have also learnt from being in his company. So all in all it’s been really successful having him here.”
Rhodes has been able to keep a close eye on two of his Worcestershire players, Joe Clarke and Ross Whiteley, and has been pleased to see how they have handled their first Lions tour.
“As a guy with only one year under contract I think Joe’s selection was a bit of a shock to some people,” he added.
“But a lot of the players have come to me and said that in the camp leading up to the games he was the outstanding batter. For somebody so young, 19 years of age, to impress some battle-hardened county players, is a real feather in his cap.”
Clarke played in the first match against Pakistan A but then suffered a quad injury in training that has ruled him out of the remainder of the series, although he will definitely be available for the 50-over series against Pakistan A in Dubai after Christmas – if selected.
Whiteley has been an ever-present and has hit six sixes in his four innings, as well as fielding athletically throughout.
“The team meetings often talk about setting a platform for someone like Ross to come in and do some damage,” Rhodes continued.
“To hear the rest of the team talk in those terms, it obviously means that he’s also a respected player.
“Both of them feel very much part of it. The experience that they can gain and take back, and also for them to think they’re only one step away from an international side, and also for our county boys to think Ross and Joe are there and they can back themselves to be able to achieve the next level for them which is Lions.”
Worcestershire is never far from Rhodes’s thoughts, and his priority when the Lions return home later this week will be checking on developments at New Road – although it was his confidence in his support staff that made this elevation to the national set-up so well-timed.
“I’m very lucky, I’ve got wonderful staff at Worcester,” he said. “Matt Mason is the assistant coach and in his development as well to take over this winter and run the winter programme is good experience for him.
"He’s more than ready and doing a fantastic job already. We’ve got Kevin Sharp as the second team coach and batting coach as well so the boxes are ticked and the bases are covered, and Elliott Wilson our Academy coach is heavily involved with the pros anyway.
"All three of them are excellent coaches and we’re in good spot without me. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in this short Christmas period and then again I’ll be heavily involved there from February onwards in the preparations for the season.”
But before all that, the Lions have a series to win.