Thursday, 1 October 2015

A coffee with Laney

Sitting outside the Guildford Sainsburys' Starbucks in the Autumnal sunshine a short squat figure in knee-length shorts and a t-shirt saunters across the car park, mobile phone to his ear. He concludes his conversation, which just happens to have been with the England women's captain, and then reaches out an outstretched hand. "Alright mate" he says. I have never met him before but I already like him.

This is Mark Lane, who for five years was the driving force behind England women's cricket. He was the man that took England to the very top of women's cricket in 2009 when they were not only the World Cup holders, but also T20 World Cup holders and holders of the Ashes. That year ended with Lane being named Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards. It was a fair reflection of his status not only within women's cricket, but within cricket in general.

In 2010 England failed to reach the final of the T20 World Cup and in 2011 the Aussies got the Ashes back winning the one-off Test by seven wickets. Then in 2013 England relinquished their World Cup crown, losing their first game of the tournament to Sri Lanka (for the first time ever) and failing to reach the final after losing by two runs to Australia in the their group match. It signalled the end for Lane as England coach. " I think provided you leave something in a better place than when you took it on you have done your job", he says as he sips his coffee, declining a call from a women's county coach to continue our conversation. "I rang my missus, and I said things are changing. This isn't what I signed up for". The ECB wanted to appoint a Performance Manager to "sit above" the day-to-day coaches. "I liked getting my hands dirty. I wanted to feel the pulse of the team". So Lane left by mutual consent and with no animosity to the ECB or them to him. Within three weeks Paul Shaw was appointed to the new post. But two years on, with Shaw now on the way out and England again looking for a Head Coach, is the door perhaps open for him to return?

"Interesting. I haven't really thought about it. I'd have to speak with a few people....being my missus. I loved my five years and hopefully it was a significant difference in taking the team forward". Lane is enjoying being a Dad and having time to take his daughter to school and having the freedom to go and see his Mum over a summer weekend. He is currently working as Academy Coach at Middlesex County Cricket Club, where he helps out not just with the Academy but wherever needed - county age group, women's, girls, with the Seconds. He loves the diversity of the role and getting stuck in. He is also about to become coach at a nearby private school. Life is good. "But having said that...", he ponders "... I loved every second of my days with England. I was proud to be part of something".

Lane's route to England coach started back in 1988, when as an aspiring pro at Surrey, he got involved coaching the Shepperton Ladies. "I'd done my badges starting at 18. I was about 20 years of age. It was my first coaching job. I ended up working with Sandra Dawson for quite some time". She played for Surrey at the time and later went on to keep wicket for Ireland. It was Lane's first encounter with women's cricket, but it made no odds to him - men or women - it was just cricket.

Lane spent eight years trying to break through into county cricket, but finally at 27 decided he ought to get a proper job. He had "been a scaffolder, spent 10 years on the roofs, and I worked in nightclubs for five years" to support his efforts to play first-class cricket. His "proper job" was to work in the Surrey County Cricket Centre in Guildford. He became Head Coach in 1996. He was there for seven years and it was where he met Claire Taylor in 1998. "I was told - 'We've got a woman coming in here' - I said no problem I'll take her. Claire said 'I want to be the best player in the world' and I said 'I want to play football for Man Utd!' But I also said I can give you the skills, but do you have the desire?" She did. Taylor went from being a wicket-keeper with limited batting ability, batting at eight or below, to the number one batsmen in the world in both T20 and 50 over cricket, and in 2009 she was the first female named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year.

Lane and Taylor worked together for 14 years. At the time it was unusual for an England player to have their own personal one-to-one coach. It was this connection with Taylor, and her obvious development under his tutelage, that got his name to Clare Connor, then captain of England and to Paul Farbrace, now England Men's Assistant Coach, then England Women's coach. Lane was invited to help coach the England Women's team on a part-time basis, which he did alongside Farbrace, Graham Dilley and Dickie Davis.

England retain the Ashes in 2008 (Mark Lane in red)
(C) Ruth Conchie
Lane bided his time and in 2007 he and Mark Dobson were shortlisted and interviewed for the vacant post of England Head Coach, when Richard Bates left the post. Dobson got the job, with Lane being told at the time that he would never coach England "as he had a tattoo on his leg". But when Dobson deserted the England team whilst on tour in Australia, the ECB called up Lane to take over for the Australia leg of the tour. It went well. England won the fifth ODI to draw the series 2-2. Prior to that England had only won one ODI against Australia in Australia. And then England went on to win the one-off Test by six wickets to retain the Ashes. Lane, originally due to return home again after the Australia leg of the tour, was asked to stay on for the New Zealand leg with Jack Birkenshaw, and later that year, 2008, he was officially appointed as England's new Head Coach.

"The rest is history", he says. In 2013, when Lane left England, he had taken them from fifth in the world, to number one in the world. But more than that "we were the most-feared team in the world. People didn't want to play us. They knew they were going to get beaten." Winning World Cups was great for Lane, but for him the 4-0 drubbing of the Aussies in the 2009 ODI Series in England was his best moment. "In tournament cricket you just have to score one more run than the opposition. As much as you want to win World Cups, you actually judge yourself (as a coach) on the amount of series you win, and the margins that you win them by".

So what does the future hold for Lane? "Hopefully I'm going to the World Cup with Ireland next year". It is the T20 World Cup next March and Ireland are hopeful they can qualify as they did for the 2014 World Cup. As for the Women's Cricket Super League and possibly helping out the Middlesex women if they get a franchise? "I just go wherever I'm needed".

There seems little doubt that England have missed Lane's hands-on approach to coaching over the past two years. With the search on for a new Head Coach it seems as though they are returning to that style of leadership. Could England ask Lane back, as they did with Peter Moores for the men? It is certainly an option that has to be on a table somewhere at Lords over the next few months.


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