Hired, fired, mocked or admired, Peter Moores just keeps on keeping on.
When AOC calls Peter Moores in October for a chat he takes an age to answer. “Sorry mate, I’m just in the nets – can I give you a call back later?” He’d been throwing balls to Michael Lumb.
“Most of the [Nottinghamshire] lads are chilling out, which is good,” he tells me later (when I ask why, with the season just finished, he’s still at it), “but Michael was injured for quite a lot of the season and he’s going to the Big Bash, so we popped in and did a little bit of work, which has been good. Good fun.”
Even when grieving – and it was something like grieving – over losing his job as England head coach for the second time, Moores was keen to find the positives. His son Tom is an England under 19s keeper-batsman who plays in the Notts second XI, and the abrupt clearing of Moores’ diary in early May last year did at least mean he could watch his son play more – even get in the nets with him again. “It’s been nice,” Moores tells AOC, “to have a bit more time to watch him and do a bit more work with him.”
The Notts link (Moores lives 20 minutes from Trent Bridge) also provided him with his next opportunity to find a positive focus following his sudden and unceremonious sacking. At the end of June, with the county bottom of Division One in the Championship, Moores joined the coaching staff in a consultant role under long-serving director of cricket – and England selector – Mick Newell. Moores’ three-month stint, in which he worked one-to-one with players – mainly batsmen – coincided with a dramatic upturn in the team’s form in the second part of the season, as they eventually finished third in the four-day competition. In the autumn Moores’ contract was extended for a further two years in which he’ll work full-time with the club from the start of March to the end of September.
The opportunity was the right one at the right time as Moores looked to recover from the trauma of being sacked – a fate he is said (though he will not discuss it) to have learned of through the media during England ODI duty in Ireland, as Andrew Strauss negotiated his imminent appointment as director of England cricket.
“I got… I left the England role in May and because of my son I was going to watch games at Notts quite a lot. Notts were struggling a bit and Mick said, ‘Can we have a chat?’ And it seemed a good fit to come in as a sort of consultant coach, be able to give fresh advice, see what’s going on, try and help.”
It was also a way of moving on.
“I was partly being kicked out of the house by my missus because I was just sitting on the decking drinking red wine at the time. In some ways moving on, getting on and doing something different was a good thing. And it worked really well: I enjoyed it, and we had some good success.”
While Moores has remained as dignified in the wake of his dismissal as he did the first time around in 2009, the one difference has been his willingness to express his frustration with not being given a full and fair crack. His initial statement to the media in May was restrained but clear enough: “At the moment it’s difficult to put into words how I feel except to say how disappointed I am in the way my term as England coach has ended. I will walk away knowing I’ve given my all to the role and always put the team at the front of any decision making. I knew when I took on the role that this was going to be a tough period for English cricket and I would need time and support to get new players through. My frustration is not being given that time.”
That frustration was understandable. While England had performed dismally at the World Cup in Australia, in Test cricket, as Moores says, they were getting somewhere. Their spectacular comeback to beat India 3-1 in 2014 had been checked only by the blip of a drawn series away in the Caribbean – and that in the wake of a bruising winter of limited-overs cricket. During his first period in charge, Moores gave debuts to future lynchpins Graeme Swann and Matt Prior, and established Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson as England’s new-ball pairing, only to see Andy Flower take the side on. Likewise second time round: the man dubbed on his re-appointment by Paul Downton as “the outstanding coach of his generation” had overseen the blooding of a number of young players who would go on to play a significant role in 2015’s successful summer and beyond. Gary Ballance had become the ICC’s Emerging Player of the Year under Moores’ charge, there had been debuts for Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler, and a commitment to Joe Root, who – it’s easy to forget – had been dropped by the end of the 2013/14 Ashes tour. (As Andrew Flintoff – who has nothing but warm words for Moores having played under him first time round– put it to AOC: “It was like Peter went through the rain but didn’t get to see the rainbow at the end! Andy Flower got his rainbow, and it’s going to happen again!”)
Watching, wine glass in hand, as another coach again reaped the rewards of the work Moores had done in building the foundations of a Test side, would have been trying. As much as anything the new role with Notts offered a distraction.
“I love England and want England to do well, but also, if you’re not doing anything you’re going to find yourself watching it ball by ball, whereas it’s much healthier to be doing something different, I think, and working with a different group of players.”
Sitting around being bitter is emphatically not Moores’ style.
“It doesn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that I loved my time with England – obviously it’s always disappointing to lose a job like that, especially because I had such a short time in there – but really, the game of cricket doesn’t owe me anything. I’ve been in it a long time, 35 years professionally. And you know there are ups and downs that come with it, so moving on is the way forward.”
The thing that was hardest to move on from for Moores was his misrepresentation as a stats and data-obsessed coach constantly trying to complicate a simple game. As England departed the World Cup after a desperate, seemingly outdated showing that saw them fail to qualify for the knockout stage, Moores was misquoted in a BBC radio interview as having said England would have to look at “the data” to explain their failure in the tournament – a line that was roundly ridiculed and used as part of narrative that painted Moores as a stifling influence on the country’s young talent.
In actual fact, on a slightly dodgy mic connection, Moores had said “later”. He received a written apology from the BBC but the idea stuck in the popular imagination. “Looking back at that,” says Moores, “obviously I was misquoted. I actually said ‘We’ll look at it later’. And it didn’t help.”
Moores did mention “data”, but only as part of a long and sprawling interview with Nasser Hussain on Sky, when asked about the long-term direction of England’s one-day cricket.
“The fact that that rumbled on is frustrating because it’s not the way I operate. I’ve spent my life as a coach being passionate about trying to help players be free to play. I know it’s not the way I coach, the players know it’s not the way I coach, it’s a media perception and unfortunately I can’t do much about that.
“I spent a lot of my time as England coach trying to free players up from the analysis that goes around international sport. A lot of it comes from the media, because people are interested in it. Players actually want to get things very simple in their heads, to just go out, watch the ball and play. When I first started coaching 20 years ago you were trying to find information for players because there was none around. Now you’re trying to protect them from it a lot of the time. There’s just too much around.”
The image of Moores as a complicator rather than a simplifier can partly be traced back to his first stint in charge of the England team from 2007, when some of the big beasts of the successful side stewarded by softly-softly Duncan Fletcher reacted against Moores’ more hands-on approach.
“We all make mistakes as coaches, like you do as players, as we do in any walk of life,” he admits, “and I’d learned a lot from my first time in the England role. When I think about creating the right environment around the players, you’ve got to work hard but you’ve also got to be relaxed at the right times, and you’ve got to get the balance right.
“Second time in, we had a good group of young players, we were doing pretty well generally, in Test match cricket we’d picked up. Transitions are hard, because you bring new players in, and that can mean they’re a little bit inconsistent as they get used to the different pace of the game. We’d managed to right the ship in Test matches and then we had the challenge of getting ready for the World Cup. But the frustration was always the timeframe you ended up with, and obviously I was hired three months before the end of the English season to try and get the side ready for the World Cup and we didn’t have a good tournament. We didn’t play well, we played in a style that I don’t think the players or the coaching staff intended, we didn’t manage to get out there and express ourselves as players, so that was frustrating for everybody.”
One of the established players during Moores’ first contract was Andrew Strauss. And come 2015, as an under-fire ECB led by a new chief executive in Tom Harrison and new chairman in Colin Graves, sought a replacement for the recently sacked Paul Downton, it was Strauss in whose hands Moores’ fate would fall. Strauss opted for a clean sweep. (“That was a very difficult decision for us to make,” Strauss told the media at his own unveiling, days after Moores’ sacking had been released in the press. “Peter Moores has been very popular in the England dressing room. He’s got a very good record of developing players, but I felt that there are some areas in international cricket where he is a little bit exposed, for me personally around tactics and strategy. I think we saw that in the World Cup a little bit and also he was undermined by the fact that he had done the job before, so we got to the situation where every game was a referendum on whether the coach should stay or not. And that’s not fair on him and it is not fair on the players.”)
It seems Strauss wanted his tenure as England cricket supremo to be a true new start; a break from the troubled period that preceded it: no Downton, no KP, and no Mooresy. There’s a certain cold logic to it, and the tactics in the World Cup had certainly looked confused. Trevor Bayliss had a strong pedigree in limited-overs cricket. But as a verdict on the job done by Moores overall in under a year, it was harsh.
Strauss, possibly, had long had his view. In his 2013 autobiography, he echoed the likes of Michael Vaughan on Moores’ first period in charge, saying that rather than endless cajoling, “What is required at the highest level is a coach who is able to calm things down, allowing them to play to their strengths and instilling confidence in their methods.”
According to the players under his charge second time round, this is exactly what Moores had been doing. They repected him and the rest of his coaching team. In fact, the post-Fletcher group – Fletcher’s team, really – of which Strauss was a part, is the only group of players ever to have taken against him. Everywhere else he’s been: Sussex, the England academy, Lancashire, England second time round, Notts, the players he’s worked with can’t praise him highly enough.
Soon after Moores was fired, Joe Root was keen to give the coach credit for his own upturn in fortunes, saying Moores had been “brilliant” and knew how to get the best out of him. Several other players made similar noises (James Taylor has said how much Moores helped him while with Notts last season before his elevation to the Test side) – and Alastair Cook, with whom Moores built a strong relationship, even went out of his way to credit the former coach for his contribution to the summer’s success following the Ashes-clinching win at Trent Bridge.
To a players-driven man like Moores the words have been warmly received. “It means a lot to you when people have recognised the work you do – it’s not that you’re an egotist or anything like that, it’s just it’s nice… it’s nice, you know? That people recognise that you’ve helped them on their way. In that side at the senior end… I’ve worked with Stuart Broad, I’ve done a lot with Jimmy Anderson with Lancashire as well as England… it’s nice to hear them say those things, not only for me but for the people connected to me.”
Did he expect Cook to mention him during the Ashes celebrations? “No, I didn’t expect it. But it was lovely that he did.
“I look back and when I left the England team it was a very united group of players – and coaches, to be honest. Which makes it hard to leave, but you know whoever else is coming in is joining a united ship where there’s nothing really broken, we just need to keep getting better.”
Moores’ enthusiasm for the game and for coaching is legendary, and perhaps his new role as a consultant coach, working specifically on trying to make individual players better, is well-suited to him. Chris Adams, captain during Moores’ first coaching role at Sussex when, in 2003, the club won their first-ever Championship title, describes a coach who would go the extra mile and back again.
“In 2003 I was struggling with the bat. Pete spent hours with me in the nets; he’d throw balls to me and we’d chat, and we’d hit more balls… at the time I thought, ‘I feel for this bloke, because I’m really putting him through it’. I just couldn’t find my rhythm. That night I got a phone call at 2am, and thought, ‘Who’s calling at this time?’ It was Pete. He said, ‘I’ve got it, I’ve found it!” I said, ‘What?’ he said, ‘I’ve been watching videos of you bat and I think I’ve worked it out!’ He was in the nets with me at 7am the next morning.”
Where does that notoriously infectious passion come from? “It’s something that I’ve had pretty much all my life. I loved the game straight away and always have. I’ve not really lost that.
“There seem to be different styles of coaches, from ‘sitting back and watching’ to being involved, and I think all fit – you go with what your personality is. What you don’t want to do ever as a coach is interfere, and just because you’re enthusiastic doesn’t mean you’re going to do that. I used to have some great conversations with Bob Woolmer when he was around. Bob was a massive enthusiast for the game, you could have really good discussions with him. I like discussing the game because by discussing it, often you can simplify it. You come to understand it and normally the more you understand something the simpler you can make it.”
Since the end of last season Moores has turned down approaches to pursue head coach or director of cricket roles at a number of counties. For now he seems happy to be contracted on a seasonal basis by Notts to allow him to pursue other consultant work – be it in cricket, business or other sports – before taking stock down the line. But, while the England head coach role hasn’t worked out, there is one job that might be an even better fit for him and the English game. It’s just that it’s another one he’s already done before.
“Pete’s comfortably the best coach I ever worked with,” Adams says, “a brilliant player coach and a developer. Players under his leadership would reach their potential.
“He may disagree completely with me, and I also think he could go and coach any other country and be an absolutely roaring success, but I always felt that the most pivotal role that he could perform for English cricket would be at Loughborough with that crop of players who are either just coming through and being prepared for international cricket, or players who are coming out of international cricket through injury or loss of form. Whether it would be possible for him to go back into that academy role, I don’t know. But I always felt that’s where he would be the most valuable to English cricket.”
Who knows? Strauss never questioned his popularity with players, or his ability to help them get better. Coaching is what Moores loves, and in the hands-on nitty-gritty of trying to make players better he still knows no peer. After everything, the passion and knowledge is still there. Because for Moores, it all comes back to cricket, and coaching, the players and the people. However frustrated and mistreated he might have felt, he stays positive, maintains perspective and cracks on. You can’t, it seems, keep a good man down.