Mentor role offers reward for both McGrath and Yorkshire

Yorkshire's Anthony McGrath. Picture: James Hardisty.
Yorkshire's Anthony McGrath. Picture: James Hardisty.
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IF you spoke about the concept of a cricketing mentor to the late, great Brian Close, Raymond Illingworth or any of those unyielding Yorkshire pillars of the glorious sixties, chances are you would receive a dark look followed by a quick put down.

Something along the lines of: ‘Don’t be so bloody daft” to the questioner, who would probably be made to stand in the corner.

Perish the thought if anyone dared to speak about the professional employment of a mentor to F.S Trueman.

But the game is somewhat different now since those doyens of Yorkshire cricket blazed a trail on the pitch and held court off it – when advice to those who happened to be struggling with their game was usually forthright, quite possibly over a brown ale after the close of play in some nearby watering hole.

It was a hard school and hard words were delivered. If you didn’t swim, you sank.

Nowadays, cricket mentors are an established part of the game with two-time Yorkshire captain Anthony McGrath representing a familiar face for Tykes players to speak to about regarding their cricketing health and, quite possibly, their general well-being too.

Many would think that being a member of a side who are the talk of domestic cricket after winning back-to-back league titles for the first time since 1968 would be all sunshine and roses.

But you would be wrong. Within team sport, there are individual battles and in cricket, there are only 11 shirts to fill. Players miss out, players get dropped, players struggle with form and injuries, players have external pressures.

McGrath told The Yorkshire Post: “I suppose to people looking from the outside, they will think things are great all the time at the minute at Yorkshire.

“But you have to feel for the lads sometimes who are trying to get into the first team and there’s that side to it to.

“With my role, I kind of step in when someone has stepped out of the team or is struggling for a bit of confidence.

“It might be just a bit of a chat over coffee and reinforcing the fact that these players are good ones and a case of getting them to keep working on the things that they have worked on in the past.

“A county season is a long and gruelling one and you can’t be in form all the time. For the guys in the second team are a little bit out of it and it is a case of making sure they are okay and ready to come in when there’s a spot in the first team

“At professional level, it is not so much the technical side, although there might be the odd technical thing.

“It is more your attitude to batting or playing in general. It is about having that bit more belief and that might come from a chat or going over your own performances and when it worked before.

“It is amazing how things change around quickly. But, most importantly, it is about getting an opportunity in the first team and trying to take it and stay in the side as competition at Yorkshire is high.”

In the early days of McGrath’s time at Yorkshire, the notion of a cricket mentor being on the support staff would simply have not been in the equation and would probably have been seen at best as superfluous – or at worst an indulgent fad.

But with the insatiable demands of modern-day cricket, under the microscope as never before, mentors have become part of the sport’s professional fabric, with Yorkshire embracing the concept.

With a first-team coach in Jason Gillespie who puts great stock on team togetherness and unity, and cultivating a genuine family feel at White Rose, the importance of caring for your own can’t be overstated with Yorkshire having resembled a band of brothers during his time at the club.

McGrath, who turned 40 earlier this month, added: “Jason understands the role, very much so. He stresses the importance of family and having friends around as well and he has tried to get that family core at Yorkshire, even though it is a very big club.

“He makes sure that there is that support network around if people are going through a tricky time. They have the support to call on.

“The game has really changed since I started. When I did, it was the captain who did most (team) things and Doug Padgett, who was coaching a little bit.

“Nowadays, there are physios, strength and conditioners and five or six coaches, so there’s a lot of people you can tap into – sports psychologists also. Players are not on their own anymore.

“You can really turn to people away from the game as well. That’s an important thing that people don’t realise – if you are happy in your personal life, then that can really help you when go out on the pitch as well.”

Alongside his duties as a mentor, McGrath – one of only 24 players to have scored more than 14,000 first-class runs for the club – is also working on a non-contract basis as a batting consultant.

He also coaches youngsters at Headingley seeking a pathway to the professional squad and has relished his second career with the White Rose after retiring from playing due to a thumb injury in February 2013.

He makes no bones about the fact that one day he would love to coach Yorkshire and while that may be some way off, it remains something he is striving for.

On his multi-faceted role back at Yorkshire, McGrath said: “It has been a really rewarding year and for us to cap it off with another championship is great to see.

“In the winter, I was in with the juniors and the academy and, after Christmas, it has been more with the first team. Then in the season, I have been between the second team and first team.

“With us having quite a lot of call-ups to England, there’s been quite a lot of lads going in and out in all competitions in the first team. I have gone from working with 14-year-olds in the winter up to people like Gary Balance and Adam Lyth and that’s been the diversity really.

“Some are starting to forge a contract, while others are involved in Ashes tussles. It’s been so different to see how different players work.”