Andy Moles was discarded by New Zealand. And Scotland. Kenyan cricket collapsed while he was there. And he has been overlooked by England. Moved on from county cricket. There are reasons, there are stories. But Moles hadn’t coached at international level in four years before Afghanistan brought him in.
Moles is a product of the day-in, day-out county machine. He is a born and bred Warwickshire trophy winner. He’s played in more matches than most people will ever see. He probably knows which services on the M1 have the best pastries. There isn’t a surface type he hasn’t played on, a bowling trick he hasn’t encountered or a match situation he hasn’t lived through. His brain is an encyclopedia of cricket experiences. He is a direct disciple of Bob Woolmer.
Moles is the man the English and international games moved on from, and so he went to one of the most dangerous places on earth to take his last chance, and now he has a team dangerous enough to beat the dispirited team of his birth.
It is quite a change for Moles. The life of an international sporting coach doesn’t come with strict guidelines about only eating in your hotel and watching out for kidnapping threats. But for Moles, much like this team, this is seen as a last chance to prove that he belongs at this level. Both are fighting for their future. A win over England, even this England, will help with that.
“Out bullied” is the phrase Andy Moles used when Afghanistan lost to Australia. This was not an accidental phrase. He had used bully many times in the lead-up to the match. “Afghanistan have been a bit of a bully in Associate cricket. They are bigger, stronger and they hit harder. Now we’re playing the bigger teams and they’re going to try bully us. This is an opportunity to show character and heart.”
Moles is a teacher, bullying was his lesson from the WACA.
“Boys, are you okay? Have you done your stretches, are you rotating amongst yourselves? Don’t kill yourself. Look after each other. It’s a hot day.” That is Andy Moles. To the net bowlers. Not his team. Not young men he has met before. But this is Andy Moles. A teacher. A coach. A parental force. The net bowlers, most in their teens or their early 20s, wait for Moles to move away and then chat about how they should rotate.
“They’re responsible for their game, I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world,” says Moles.
There is so much talent in the Afghanistan team. Even when they collapsed against New Zealand to 59 for 6, they still made 186 against one of the best bowling attacks in this World Cup.
Their talent has not even been fully squeezed out in the matches yet. His players are capable of almost anything. You see it in the nets every time they play. Their batsmen have the ability to take almost any ball and just destroy it. Net bowlers across Australia and New Zealand have stood at the back of the nets, yelling “shot” on a seemingly continuous loop. The only time their batting has been tested in the nets is when their bowlers come on. “What do we do, we play straight,” is Moles’ much-repeated phrase.
Moles doesn’t over-coach his players. “They’re responsible for their game. I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world.” A bowler wants to have a rest, he tells Moles he is too tired to go on. Moles asks him if he wants to bowl another over, just so he knows he can bowl even when he’s that tired. His bowler agrees. “That is your area, never leave there.” The bowler is Dawlat Zadran. He listens intently as Moles talks to him, and then jokes to Hassan out of earshot. The next day, against Australia, Zadran bowls an extended spell in the WACA heat where he stays in the right area.
At times you would think that Moles’ job is nets supervisor. Unlike other coaches, he doesn’t stand at the back of the nets or have long talks with people. He puts up the coaching aids. “We need a spinner over here. How are you feeling? Good, well go into the last net.” He places the shoes down for yorker practice. He gets the balls out for each net. He makes sure the right bowlers are tackling the right batsmen. He moves from place to place, a few quick words, “15 minutes”.
There are times when it’s as if he’s organising a school fete and not coaching an international cricket team.
When the umpires come into the nets to do their umpiring sighters the day before the game, Moles chats to them all like old friends. He introduces his bowlers and his captain to them as well. When Hassan is waiting for a hit, he yells out that if he doesn’t get in now, he won’t get a hit. “Five minutes boys, and then we’re done.”
Then Moles goes on to the interviews. Moles gives more interviews than other coaches. If you stop him, he’ll give you five minutes. He knows part of his job is to promote this team. He knows that this might be the last job he has where people want to ask him things.
Moles is in the Perth sun talking to another journalist about “the story of his boys”. Moles is asked this a lot. Moles gives the reporter what he needs. He talks about their personal toughness and their toughness as cricketers. He talks about what they have overcome and their new challenges. “I promote them to ask questions. Why are we doing this? I want them to challenge me as I’m trying to challenge them. And that is the learning environment.”
Around him, someone jokes that they heard a story that the Afghan players were asked about what they liked in Australia and they replied, “the women”. Yet, in this environment, it is the cricketers who are the attraction. Their stories, their pace, their hair, their headbands. They are at times cricket fetish items. Objects of lust and cricket satisfaction. Their lives have never been more different to the old stories told about them.
The refugee-camp days are their memories. Now they have to stop for selfies, tell stories about their childhood, meet politicians, learn what representing their country means, and deal with celebrity. And play cricket.
“The last job I did before here, I worked with an NGO in Cape Town with disadvantaged people. That was about building people. And I see this as the exact same challenge. If we build human beings to get them to understand the need to take responsibility, to know their role in the side – don’t blame others, don’t make excuses – if we bring all that alongside play straight, watch your grip, keep your balance when batting…”
As Moles chats to another reporter, a player walks by. He is flanked by a no-nonsense WACA security officer. But the player is smiling. He sees that Moles is trying to give a detailed answer, so he stamps his studs on the ground as loud as he can, while walking in a funny manner. He also makes funny faces as he walks past. Moles doesn’t react at all. He ignores the silliness and focuses on talking about cricket. The player is the captain, Mohammad Nabi.
Afghanistan’s cricket is not as good as it could be. Some of the players turned up nearly 10kg heavier for their pre-World Cup camp than they should be as professional athletes. They still have too many fielders who don’t seem to know how to dive. They lost a bowler from running on the pitch after seven balls. They follow up perfect yorkers with a bucket of full tosses. Their batsmen stroke the ball with ease, before bludgeoning their own innings to death.
“Every coaching job has it’s own challenges. Here they’ve not played much cricket, they’re naïve at times to the technical and tactical parts of games. So I’m trying to expose them to a different way of thinking, a different train of thought. It is an education.”
Education is never far away. You get the feeling that at times Moles is trying to educate the press as to the difference between his players and a player from England, or even a player from Scotland. “We were here in September and four of our guys were caught pushing at the ball by the second slip. Other people who come here have a knowledge and an understanding. Whereas these guys don’t really have that knowledge of history, of what happens at the WACA. Their backgrounds sometimes mean they don’t even have TVs.”
There have been times in the nets when you are watching international-quality cricket, and at others it seems that you are watching a bunch of kids learning the game. Shapoor was bowling no-balls in the nets. Moles went over and asked him if he was sure he had measured his run-up correctly. Shapoor then measured his run again, changed it slightly, and stopped bowling no-balls. The word “responsibility” was used by Moles. Shapoor had learnt his lesson.
Moles often sits the team down and takes them through a new cricket skill. Something they should already know but don’t. “A lot of the basic things that most 19-20-year-olds have from watching TV, from being exposed to quality coaching, these guys haven’t got that. It’s about dropping teardrops of ideas every now and again. When you think they’re ready for it, you drop another idea. If two or three of them think it’s good and one doesn’t, fine, I’ve got no issue with that, but later I’ll drop another piece of information. It’s their game, it’s not my game. Coaching is about trust, and if I give them information that they buy into and they change their bowling action and have a loss of form, they could lose their place in the side”.
Moles is training his boys differently from the other 13 teams. It is more classroom than cricket net. As he says, “Coaching is educating.”