Anthony McGrath enjoying new role as Essex head coach despite never coming off the phone!
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 March 2018
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The 42-year-old discussed the importance of getting the group together in Barbados and why he won’t change too much after replacing Chris Silverwood
Four months into his role as Essex head coach and Anthony McGrath is straining at the leash. He has yet to oversee a ball bowled in anger and the confines of his office on the balcony of the Chelmsford pavilion feel like a prison cell.
So the present pre-season tour to Barbados – culminating in the four-day County Champion match against MCC, starting on Tuesday – is like the days before release. It is also a chance for McGrath to get his voice heard by a squad reconvening after a lengthy winter break.
“Barbados is very important because we’re into match-play,” he says. “It’s three weeks till the season starts, so it becomes that little bit more real. The problem we have in this country is that the off-season is so long.
“People can get good at being indoors and it becomes a safety net. We’re lucky that we’ve sent quite a lot of guys away, so they’ve been playing a lot of games. But I think it is important to be together as a group and get a couple of my ideas over.
“You can do a bit more fielding, more preparation, tactics, but the most important thing is the guys getting outside into match practice because when we come back we’re pretty quickly into Cambridge and Yorkshire. It’s really starting to be the business-end of pre-season.”
McGrath was promoted when Chris Silverwood moved on to England duties. The handover has been almost seamless and there will be no discernible change in philosophy; the two men worked together for the last two seasons in which Essex finished top of Division Two and then top of Division One.
“We set out genuinely to win every competition, not to prioritise at all,” he says. “Ten wins out of 14 last year [in the Championship] … unless you’re aggressive and play with that intent you can’t win that amount of games.
“So with the ball we bowl really attacking lengths, and with the bat we look to score. When you play that way you’re going to fall on your face sometimes; as yet we haven’t, but I’m sure we will, without a doubt.
“But the lads are confident with that, and have been for the last two years, so it would be silly to change. There is a different kind of pressure this season; I guess it’s an expectation from the outside for us to repeat last year.
“But from within the dressing room it’s very similar. We’ve got to get at least to the mark of last year because other teams will improve.”
McGrath, 42, knows the two sides to the season after the season before: in 2001 he was a member of the champion Yorkshire team who were relegated the following year; conversely, three years ago, he was coaching at Yorkshire when they won back-to-back titles.
He is equally aware of what happened to Middlesex in 2017: from champions to Division Two in 12 months.
“I think to win this league you do so many good things, it’s silly to ignore them.
“So what we’ve got to do is focus on what we did well and then, obviously, improve on what we didn’t do well. If we do that I’m confident we can become competitive in each form.”
So what is the difference in stepping up from assistant coach to head honcho? “You’re never off the phone,” McGrath laughs, continuing to list: “Emails, meetings, a lot more planning, agents, don’t see the missus as much, that kind of stuff.
“But I knew what the extra responsibilities were; they go with the territory. I like to be hands-on, and I like to be out there in the nets.
“That was my main reason for getting into coaching. There will be some off-the-field stuff I’ll have to do, but once the cricket starts it takes care of itself. I’ve enjoyed it since I’ve taken over, so I’ve no complaints.”