Interview: Rob Cassell on Afghan series, keeping bowlers accountable and the role of technology
DEHRADUN – Rob Cassell has come a long way since his club cricket days in Melbourne – with the 35-year old Australian now occupying the role of Assistant Head Coach & National Fast Bowling Lead for Ireland Men’s international team. He is currently on tour with the squad in India.
Identified early as a talented fast-medium bowler in his homeland, Cassell represented Victoria and South Australia during a domestic first-class that was unfortunately interrupted by a persistent back injury. After calling time on his playing career, Cassell soon found his way into coaching – becoming one of the most promising and effective bowling coaches in the country. After a five-year stint coaching with South Australia, he made the move to Ireland in 2017 and has not looked back.
Cassell was interviewed at the team hotel in Dehradun following a training session in the lead up to the Test match against Afghanistan.
You’re in the role almost two years now - you mentioned ‘the chance to develop current and the next generation of Irish cricketers’ as one of the main reasons you moved to Ireland. How is progress on this and what has what have been your highlights so far?
Cassell said: “The two years have flown by and there has been a bunch of Senior and Wolves tours in that time. There has also been plenty of freezing cold sessions at North County indoor centre that chilled us to the bone, but it was great to see the commitment and drive of all the players to get stuck in and develop their skills over the winter. I ran some Fast Bowling nights, with Ryan Eagleson, with the aim of developing the skills of not just the senior bowlers but those in the Academy, Wolves and under-age setup. It will take time to develop the skills and execution standards, but hopefully all the fast bowlers can see a path to success, and the strategy and skill level required at international level.”
“My highlights would have to be the series win over Afghanistan in Sharjah, and Peter Chase’s death over bowling against India in the T20Is at Malahide.”
Have you ever played or coached in India before? Has anything surprised you / been unexpected?
“I haven’t toured India for a long time but did so way back in early 2000s. It has its challenges and Dehradun is one of the more remote places we’ve been too recently but at the end of the day we are here to play good cricket and most days are either training or playing or talking about it, so there isn’t much time for sightseeing! But I’m happy enough as long as I have a decent bed, access to cold beer, a few good books and Netflix.”
Image: Rob Cassell at training
What does the Assistant Coach / lead bowling coach do on a tour like this?
“My main role is to make sure the bowlers are clear on plans and confident in their skills before each match. Given the volume of matches we have played so far (3 x T20s and 5 x ODIs) against the same opposition we did more analysis than we normally would.”
“Some plans worked, some have required adjusting from match-to-match. Afghanistan had some high quality strikers of the ball and that put pressure on our bowlers to execute each ball and adjust plans in match.”
“Without doubt the worst part of my job is refereeing the lads soccer matches during warm ups and training!”
From your playing days to now, how has the role of technology impacted/improved on bowling coaching? How integrated is it in your role?
“I think cricket has seen an increase in the use of technology in the last 5 years, especially in the use of analysis on opposition, stats and match-ups that may suit us. It’s become much easier to quickly review players performances.”
“I also like to measure the bowlers execution at practice to keep them accountable and make sure they are under some added pressure. Regardless, the players still need to stick to their own strengths and execute their skills under pressure.”
On the tour, what have days between games been like - can you find much time to work on things with bowlers in the nets? Or is it mainly studying analysis video and discussion? Or, is it as much about rest between games?
“Days in between matches are still important for the staff to chat to players and identify areas to improve upon for the next training session or match. Ben Smith [batting and fielding coach] and I usually sketch out our training session plans and make sure the players get what they need.”
“The players will usually access footage over a coffee with Scott Irvine [Performance Analyst] or chat with the coaches informally. Graham Ford will usually chat with the skipper and discuss our line up and strategy for the next match and make any changes if needed. There is still plenty of time after all that so the pool table and table tennis gets a workout and calling home is also a priority and can help take my mind off cricket!”
General consensus is that the bowlers during the T20Is seemed to struggle to contain the Afghan batsmen, but conversely there were some excellent bowling performances in the ODIs. Is this a fair assessment? Or is it not a like-for-like to compare the bowling across formats?
“Our T20 bowling performances had been decent during our Oman quadrangular series, but with Afghanistan being a step up in class we have found it challenging. The form of Zazai and Nabi was a thorn in our side and if you slightly miss execute the ball disappears into the stands.”
“Our T20 bowling unit is a work in progress and we, along with most other bowling units in T20, find it difficult to change momentum when a batsman is running hot, like Zazai was. The T20 World Cup Qualifier tournament later this year will be a great test for us.”
“Our ODI bowling is more experienced with Tim Murtagh leading the attack - he brings a degree of confidence and calmness to the group. Afghanistan also played a little differently in that format.”
The spinners have certainly come more to the fore as the series has progressed - do you expect conditions will continue to be more favourable to spin going into the Test?
“As the matches went by we adjusted our line-up to give us more spin options - James Cameron-Dow and Andy McBrine came in due to the conditions and the wicket block getting a little more tired. Despite playing at the same stadium, conditions have actually been variable between pitches. We have played on two lower, slower pitches - which was more of a grind, but the rest of the pitches have been decent. Only in the last few games did we start to see some decent turn. Obviously, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb bowled well for them, but they will probably do so in any conditions.”
The Ireland Men’s team is in action on Friday in the one-off Test match against Afghanistan.
A livestream will be available, with details posted on Cricket Ireland social media channels.
Afghanistan series – Test Squad
William Porterfield (Captain), Andrew Balbirnie, James Cameron-Dow, George Dockrell, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker.