Interview: Wolves Head Coach Pete Johnston talks about touring life and future of Irish cricket
HAMBANTOTA – Following his sides record-breaking recent match against Sri Lanka A, Ireland Wolves Head Coach Pete Johnston sat down to discuss the Wolves squad, the tour so far, and the future of Irish cricket.
Q. Looking at the tour so far, how have you assessed the squads performance and progress?
Johnston: “When we arrived there was a quick turn-around. We only had one day’s practice before we played a very good side in the two-day warm up match - and then it was more-or-less straight into the first four-day game. It was clear to see that the lads were working extremely hard and learning all the time, but due to a range of niggles and injuries we were down to the bare 11 players at one stage. Even our Team Manager took the field at one point during the warm-up match.”
“But we acclimatised well and managed the injury situation, so by the time the second four-day game came around we were back at full strength, even with a couple of extra white-ball players joining us to begin preparing for the forthcoming ODI series.”
“Despite losing the first four-day game by 10 wickets, there were definite positives to take and strong performances from James Cameron-Dow and James McCollum especially. From my perspective, the difference in the game was really only one big partnership by the Sri Lankans and not scoring enough in our first innings. But we put that right this game and I felt we controlled the second game for the majority of the first three days, which is a great achievement.”
Q. Is there anything specific you put down to the more confident and competitive display in this second match?
Johnston: “The confidence we showed and the performance we put in comes down to the fact that the lads are putting in some great work around their preparation, be it technical or mental. Every different situation and experience out here makes us stronger. I’ve no doubt that the two days we spent in the field just now will also stand us well leading into what will be a very competitive white-ball series.”
Q. You’ve been able to bring a solid support staff contingent with you on this tour – what difference does that make and what have they been working on with the squad?
Johnston: “Yesterday was realistically our first proper ‘rest day’ and we let the guys recharge. Other recovery days we have had so far have involved some priming strength sessions and pool sessions, led by Rob Cassell [Assistant Coach, Ireland Men’s team] and Rob Burge [Strength and Conditioning Coach], along with a big emphasis on monitoring, nutrition and hydration.”
“On the coaching side, we have created batting, bowling and fielding groups and encouraged feedback and discussion from the team. Ed Joyce has been a huge benefit to our batters so far this trip - and over the course of the winter and last summer - he has really helped the players to reinforce game plans around their strengths and to approach every game and situation with consistent, purposeful preparation.”
“Rob Cassell has also been excellent with the bowling group, he has some of the best tactical and game awareness attributes I have seen in a coach. Our bowling unit now have a very good understanding of their plans and options of deliveries in any situation.”
Q. As Head Coach, how far out from this tour did you start planning? And have conditions been as expected or has anything surprised you?
Johnston: “Preparation on all fronts for the players began last October – we’ve had a number of players preparing across a number of different environments, be it overseas, on training camps in Bangalore/La Manga, training with the senior men’s team or with the Academy and under-age squads.”
“As there has been a number of different coaches working with our players, for me it has been a case of having clear communication with these coaches, selectors and the players and knowing how to shape things for the tour and challenges we had ahead. Our performance analyst Scott Irvine has also supported this work by providing ground statistics and information on the opposition. With a lot of our cricket this winter being played in the subcontinent, that has been a big focus in our preparation and the introduction of matting at the North County training facility has certainly helped to create more accurate spin conditions in practice.”
“We were not surprised with conditions in Colombo where it spun early - it is mid-season here, so there is some wear-and-tear on the wickets. Trusting your defence in those conditions is key, and with the slow nature of the pitches, stronger shots down the ground, off the front and back foot, have been the best attacking options.”
“However here in Hambantota, conditions have been different, where the wicket has been a lot fresher and has had good pace and bounce, so we had to adapt quickly again. This came as no surprise to us either, given some prior information from Graham Ford [Ireland Men’s head coach and former Sri Lanka Head Coach] and Scott.”
Image: Preparation for the tour started in October
Q. We’re now moving into the white-ball phase of the tour, are you going into these games with any specific expectations from the squad?
Johnston: “We don’t want to set too many expectations around results, we are here to learn and improve every day - and that is working for us with our performances on an upward curve. Sri Lanka A have named a very different one-day squad, with some experienced players such as Upal Tharanga [who has played 33 Tests and 232 ODIs for Sri Lanka].”
“It will be a tough challenge, but I think we can build on the performance in the last game and take confidence going into the first ODI. We are certainly more familiar with the 50-over format and it has been a strong format for Irish teams, so I would expect us to perform well and push them hard.”
Q. We saw Gareth Delany arrive a little earlier than planned, but he has now been joined by Shane Getkate and Stuart Thompson to make up the white-ball squad. How have they all settled in?
Johnston: “Since arriving, Stuart and Shane have put in some excellent work in the nets and around staying sharp on their fitness while also supporting the four-day team in the last game. Both are excellent all-round cricketers and offer exactly the type of dynamic ability and power that we need for the white ball game. They both performed well in the summer with the Wolves and can certainly play a big role in this series.”
“Gareth Delany will also come in to start his first full game of the tour, and again, his power is something that we will look to capitalise on if we can get good starts and lay a foundation, while his leg spin is also making very good progress.”
Q. How have the tour operations and coordination been so far?
Johnston: “Sri Lanka Cricket have been outstanding - I’ve not been on many tours where we have been looked after so well. All our logistical arrangements have gone smoothly and the facilities have been excellent. They have approached the running of the games and venues with great professionalism so that we are really replicating senior international cricket.”
Q. How important might a tour like this be for aspirants hoping break into the senior international squad at some point?
Johnston: “This tour is an important step for all our emerging players. The Wolves experience offers our young players the opportunity to play competitive Full Member A sides, and give them a taste of the requirements for playing on the world stage. For some of the younger guys, they can go away from this tour having found out a lot more about their own game and what they need to strengthen or add in order to make themselves as robust and ready for the next step up to international cricket. As an example, in this last game, they could not have had a better experience as to what a Test match in hot conditions is like and how fatigue can impact on performance if routines, physical preparation and mental preparation are not at the highest levels.”
“While it is vital the players don’t look too far ahead, and continue to focus on the processes and performances required right here right now, one thing is certain - if these lads continue to make the progress they are currently making, we will have an exciting generation of players coming through when the time is right.”
Image: Wolves and Sri Lanka A players shake hands
About the Ireland Wolves
The Ireland Wolves team was created in 2017 to bridge the gap between domestic first class and international cricket. The squad recently completed an eight-match series against Bangladesh A in Ireland, which followed on from a tour to Bangladesh made by the Wolves in 2017.
Ireland Wolves Sri Lanka tour schedule
• 1 January 2019 - Two-day warm-up match (MCG Katunayake) – match completed (scorecard)
• 5 January 2019 - 1st Four-day match v Sri Lanka A (SSC Colombo) – match completed (scorecard)
• 13 January 2019 - 2nd Four-day match v Sri Lanka A (MRICS - Hambantota) – match completed (scorecard)
• 19 January 2019 - 1st One-Day match v Sri Lanka A (MRICS - Hambantota)
• 21 January 2019 - 2nd One-Day match v Sri Lanka A (MRICS - Hambantota)
• 24 January 2019 - 3rd One-Day match v Sri Lanka A (SSC Colombo)
• 26 January 2019 - 4th One-Day match v Sri Lanka A (SSC Colombo)
• 29 January 2019 - 5th One-Day match v Sri Lanka A (RPICS - Colombo)
• 30 January 2019 - Ireland Wolves depart