Into the World of Coaching
Recently I sat down to chat with Matthew Packham, a specialist spin bowling coach who has worked with Rajasthan Royals academies in the UK and UAE. Over the course of our conversation we covered a range of topics, from the sense of home Matthew has with the Royals to the specificities of coaching leg spin.
To begin, I asked Matthew to walk me through his journey into coaching, eager to find out how you end up an academy coach. Like many coaches in sport, it all began as a young player. As a boy, Packham played for Surrey before cracking into the Sussex Elite Academy. It was unfortunately here where injury struck. After suffering an injury to the tendons in his hand, Packham was stuck outside of the game he loved for four years. It was here that the first foray into coaching came.
After realising that the game of cricket was where his interests remained, Matthew looked for work in the world of coaching. It was through former mentor Sid Lahiri that opportunity came, with a coaching gig at Parkside School being the offer. What happened next was the stuff of dreams for any leg spinner.
Parkside became the hub for the UK academy of the IPL franchise the Rajasthan Royals. Opening this academy was none other than all-time great and former Royals captain Shane Warne. For any cricket fan this would be a dream meeting, but for Packham it was even more special. See, Packham had the wonderful opportunity aged 11 to have a coaching session with Shane Warne at Lord’s, even getting to meet Warne’s legendary mentor Terry Jenner. At the opening of the academy, Warne was shown the photos that got signed aged 11, characteristically Warne remembered the meeting.
Indeed, throughout my interview I got this sense that the Royals brand was something that Matthew Packham kept finding himself back in. When there, he met former Royals Director of Cricket Zubin Bharucha. In very serendipitous fashion, Zubin had also played at Reigate Priory (Packham’s former club). It was rather fitting then, that being Head Coach at Reigate Priory is where Packham ended up next.
This roughly brings us up to the present. As something of a freelancer, Packham still works there but has recently found himself out in the UAE at the request of Dougie Brown. Yes indeed, this would be for the UAE Rajasthan Royals academy.
All in all, it makes for a very interesting journey, with the thread being Packham’s clear desire to learn from the best. Indeed, this is exactly what he said himself when he spoke of his work with Ian Salisbury and Sairaj Bahutule. There is a clear desire to collect as much knowledge as possible and pass it all along. A quality of a top coach.
It was after this that I asked a few questions about how Packham approaches coaching spin. My first was to ask what he usually focuses on when starting with a new group. What is the first thing he addresses?
In a word, alignment. The answer I got was that the best results come from being able to make simple but effective changes. Do not go out of your way to start tinkering with players’ actions when there are much easier things to address. Look at the run up and delivery, think about if everything is aligned or if a player is falling over one way. I was told to think about the fact that leg spin is a delicate art, one wrong part can scupper the whole product. If you keep your deliveries consistent and aligned you will find immediate improvements.
Away from technique, my next question was about the mental side of the game. We’ve all seen games where even the best spinners have torrid days. They drag it short, they throw up full tosses, they get sent to the boundary over and over. Is there anything a coach can do about this?
The answer I got was certainly yes. There are things coaches can do to try and help young players build up the mental side of their game. To show this, I was given a case study of one of Packham’s players. Shamir Shah has just made it onto the Sussex Junior Pathway. As an immensely talented spinner, Packham identified him as a player who he has tried to help with the emotional side of the game. It would seem to be a consistent part of Packham’s work given that he mentioned often receiving praise from parents for helping their children to change their mentality. What I gleaned is that the most important thing is to bowl positively. If you start to overthink or worry, things will go wrong. Don’t burn yourself out and bowl yourself into the ground, focus on having fun and looking to bowl that ripper.
Finally, I was interested in finding out what Packham thought about the attitudes towards spin in the top level, and whether or not they have a negative impact on young spinners.
In Packham’s words, things are getting better. As a young player, he admits that there were not always that many role models around. Identified as being the biggest reason for change was the IPL. Now, spinners are incredibly valuable entities, and there are so many big names. Even this season, you can see how well spinners are doing with Yuzvendra Chahal leading the wicket-taking charts. Spinners have such a clear role in white ball cricket now, being so good for terrorising players weak against spin in the middle overs and even the power play.
It was a fascinating interview, and I am so grateful for Matthew giving me his time.