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Stuart Law: ‘I want the mateship to come back’

over 4 years ago | Interviews

How would you reflect on how last season panned out?

“We set out to change the way we play white-ball cricket, and it took off. The players, to their credit, grasped what we were trying to achieve. To get to the quarter-finals of both the 50-over and 20-over competition was a marked improvement.”

“The Championship is still the number one test of your cricket skills, and we were found wanting on a number of levels. We had players coming back from injuries; it wasn’t down to a lack of effort and commitment from the players, that’s for sure. But just the way things panned out, the way we played, we didn’t score enough runs with the bat.”

What’s been that shift in the way you play white-ball cricket?

“With the batsmen, we talked in particular about being brave in the way they play. About increasing their strike rate and playing with maximum flair and potency – without maximising the risk of getting out. It’s a fine line, but we had Nick Gubbins have an excellent [50-over] series. He didn’t bat in the top order, but rather in the middle because we used his pace between the wickets. Stevie Eskinazi – I was told that he probably wasn’t good enough to play white-ball cricket – he went out there and really grasped hold of the idea. Those two in particular stood out. With our bowling too – it was about being brave. If you’re unsure of what to bowl, just make sure you run in and bowl your best delivery.”

What were your expectations of the red-ball side when you came in to the job?

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. With the quality Middlesex have in the dressing room, it’s extreme. We have players that have played international cricket and players that are on the fringes of playing international cricket. So you think the output would be a lot higher than what we have actually achieved. Basically, it came down to our batsmen not scoring enough runs. We didn’t recognise tough moments, and we weren’t ready to grind away a total of 275 to 350. If we consistently got those, our bowling attack is good enough to control the game from there. We recognise that, and the batters are aware that they underachieved last year. It’s up to us to get it right.”

There was an extra spot up for promotion to Division One last year. Did that add to the disappointment of not going up?

“I’ve played and been around long enough to know that if you’re worried about outcomes, you forget about the process and what you need to achieve to reach those outcomes. If you’re highlighting and focusing on just one thing, which is right at the end of the line and don't worry about what’s happening day-to-day in front of you, that can be miles away. I know people around Middlesex, and the members, they desperately want us to be promoted, but if we just walk around talking about promotion it’ll very rarely happen for us.”

“I played for Queensland and we’d never won a Sheffield Shield, and all we talked about was winning the Sheffield Shield. The year we won it, funnily enough, we never talked about winning it. We worried about each game and the old clichés; each day at a time, each session at a time, each ball at a time. Lo and behold we forgot about what we were trying to do and focused on the one percenters. That’s the mentality I’m trying to encourage in our dressing room.”

After Dawid resigned as captain was there still an effort to keep him at the club?

“We spoke about a lot of things throughout last season, and I wanted to make sure Dawid was focused on what he wanted to achieve in cricket: to play for England. To do that you’ve got to play really good cricket at domestic level and dominate. He’s a tremendous player and a massive hole in our team to fill, but I think it just came to a stage where he needed to freshen up mentally and it was discussed that if he didn’t have the captaincy, we’d love to have him in the middle order scoring runs for us and plying his trade as he has done for many years. But he made the decision to up and leave.”

“The intention was always to make sure we kept hold of the best players. We had numerous discussions, whether it be through a third party or whatever. Dawid made the call that he needed a change to freshen up. We supported him through his decision-making process and in the end it became evident that it was probably best that we part ways and move on to the next challenge in our respective cricketing lives.”

How did Peter come into the reckoning as a potential overseas signing?

“I’ve known Peter for a while so I met up with him during the Durham game [at Lord’s last year] for a coffee, and I just asked how he was going at Durham. He really wanted to make an impact in county cricket and felt that the time was right. His Australian career is still there and thereabouts but in first-class cricket back in Australia, we always talked about county cricket as the finishing school. It finishes off your technique and you become the player you are. The technique you need in English conditions needs to be well-honed and deliberate with your footwork and choice of shot. Pete was excited by that challenge but he also said he didn’t want to come in for bits and pieces – not a month or two months but a couple of years and make a difference. Once I heard that we sat down as a management group at Middlesex, looked at pluses and minuses. Pete’s pluses are that he plays in a very, very successful team back in Australia with Victoria. They’ve been dominant in Australian domestic cricket for a very long time and he captains them. He knows the environment he wants to create. He also knows how to score runs in difficult conditions. To come over as an overseas player and dominate, it’s difficult but it’s a great challenge to put under yourself. He’ll look forward to the added responsibility of being captain and go about his business as the good pro that he is.”

So was it always part of the plan for Peter to come in as captain too?

“First off, we had to look at the player’s character. If we were going to lose the services of Dawid, we had to find the right character to get the dressing room back together. First and foremost, we’re trying to look for a player that can not only score runs but also build on a culture that we’re trying to create. Pete, while he’s a fine player, he also comes from a successful culture back in Australia. The reason why I named him captain was I didn’t want to put undue pressure on the players that we’ve got in our dressing room; they’re under enough pressure to get the job done. I thought we’ll take that pressure away and give it to the overseas player who is going to be in a better mental state and more experienced to cope with those extra stresses and strains. The local boys can just get on and play cricket. Pete and I will work hard together with the coaching staff to get our strategies right, and hopefully it all starts singing and dancing come mid-April.”

You’ve talked about building a “culture” – what do you want that culture to look like?

“Ruthless, challenging every day, trying to get better, open and honest, tough conversations – that’s the sort of culture I want. That’s the culture I’ve seen be very successful at this level and above. But I also want us to play with a lot of fun. I want the mateship to come back. I want us to spend more time away from the game during the summer. Successful teams spend a lot of time away from the game of cricket as well. If you get to know your teammates on a very personal level, when you get into a fight, it’s amazing how much you stand behind one another and fight hard for the cause.”

Who are some youngsters to keep an eye out for this summer?

“You’ve got the likes of Max Holden who’s been around a while – it’s time for him to stand up and show England what he’s made of. Martin Andersson is a kid who missed out a bit last year due to a double stress fracture in his back, but he’s an exciting talent who’s got good skills with the bat and can bowl steady pace. It’ll be great to watch him. Tom Lace had a great year with Derbyshire last year and he’s got a real chance to stake a claim in first-class cricket. There’s quite a few. Ethan Bamber’s been on the fringes for a while and got his first five-for last year. He’s making good strides during pre-season. There’s a number of them but for me, just keep an eye on Martin Andersson.”

Mitchell Marsh follows on from AB de Villiers as an overseas pro in the Blast. What prompted his signing?

“AB was great, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with one of the greats of the modern game, just to see him go about his business and see the way he thought about his game. And my word, if you saw some of the innings he played, it was just breathtaking. It’s a shame that the way he’s structured his career now that he’s unable to fill a spot this year. But it’s tough flying around the world with a young family. That can prove difficult at times, but we respect that he’s made that call. And to have Mitch Marsh, he’s a three-dimensional cricketer, a tremendous young man to have around the group, a leader – but he’s also got that fun element. And when he hits the ball, it stays bloody hit! I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in these conditions, especially on the better wickets. The all-round fun he plays with, it’s quite infectious.”

Now I know you talked about not talking about promotion… but what would represent an impressive season?

“Obviously, promotion! That’s the number one thought on everyone’s minds and we can say it now. That’s obviously what all the staff, all the office and membership want. They want Middlesex to be promoted and believe me, there’s no-one else working harder than the players themselves to achieve that. It’s up to us to make sure we’ve got the mental side of things 100 per cent so we can achieve it. I’d like to think the 50-over competition this year represents a bigger opportunity to go further than we did last season and in the T20s, I’m excited to work with Eoin Morgan, arguably the best white-ball captain in world cricket right now.”

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