Interview by Rvel Zahid
Julien Fountain has coached Pakistan A in 2001, he was appointed as the specialist fielding coach for Pakistan in 2006 (under Bob Woolmer) and his last coaching stint with the national team was from 2012-2014 under head coach Dav Whatmore.
He talked exclusively to Cricingif about his coaching philosophy, domestic cricket problems he observed in Pakistan, his thoughts on Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's work ethic, baseball coaching experience that helped him in cricket coaching and a lot more.
How was your experience working with the Pakistan team as their fielding coach?
Having been a part of the Pakistan coaching staff on several occasions I can honestly say that each time I was involved, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Pakistan is definitely close to my heart and I enjoy watching their progress in any series or competition even now.
How will you compare the work ethic and attitude of Pakistani players towards fielding as compared to the players from other top-ranked teams?
With experience from a wide range of both international and professional cricket teams, I feel I am well placed to give my opinion on this. In my opinion, Pakistan players are no different to any other cricketers around the world. Some are extremely keen on fielding, while others are less keen. How successful a team are at fielding depends heavily on the attitude, a standard set by captain and coach. If the leadership feel that fielding is important, it raises the teams performance. Misbah is a great example of this, as even right at the end of his playing career he was still professional in his approach to fielding practice, continuing to learn and improve. This attitude rubs off onto younger players.
"If the leadership feel that fielding is important, it raises the teams performance. Misbah is a great example of this, as even right at the end of his playing career he was still professional in his approach to fielding practice, continuing to learn and improve. This attitude rubs off onto younger players."
Will you consider applying for the 'fielding coach' role again for Pakistan if an opportunity knocks on your door?
Absolutely; I feel I can add value to both the international teams and the domestic structure.
How has your baseball coaching experience helped you in cricket?
I started life as a Cricket player at Somerset CCC in the UK, and was one of those players who enjoyed fielding and constantly wanted to be part of the action. This is why I ended up as a wicket keeper as it is the central cog in the fielding machine. When I switched to baseball, I was still considered a good fielder, but the difference was that Baseball continues to instruct players rather than just practice the drills. So I found that each day I was not only learning why I was a good fielder, but how to keep pushing the bar higher and higher technically. It was that ‘Learning environment’ that I brought into County Cricket coaching in the UK in the 1990’s to try and move teams away from coaches just hitting a few catches with no technical input to help players improve.
"I was impressed that Mickey Arthur continuously went on record saying that if you wanted to play for Pakistan, you must be a good fielder. I hope that this attitude is maintained and reinforced by selection panel."
Do you think Pakistan players usually had a tendency towards complacency if they were not pushed hard in improving their fielding?
I think any players from any country need to be encouraged to push their performance boundaries higher and higher. This has to be an attitude that is set by the Captain & Coach and the senior players leading by example. Human beings naturally take the easy route unless they are pushed. It is a matter of setting fielding as a priority. I was impressed that Mickey Arthur continuously went on record saying that if you wanted to play for Pakistan, you must be a good fielder. I hope that this attitude is maintained and reinforced by selection panel.
"Quality, not quantity is a philosophy that is sometimes ignored within Pakistan Cricket" © AFP
Are technique and mental toughness equally important when players are fielding in a pressure situation?
Absolutely. Each are separately important, but in a pressure situation they become linked and a weakness in one, will directly affect the other. We can practice an improve technique, but under pressure, technique can fail without a strong mental approach. Vice versa, you can be strong mentally but unless you have grooved a solid technique, you will not be consistent in the results you achieve.
How did Pakistan Cricket Board respond to the recommendations that you suggested them related to fielding in the domestic system and national team during your tenure?
I think that the Domestic Structure is a much bigger issue than just the fielding aspects. The bottom line is that your national team is only as strong as your domestic structure, so any standards that you want at the national level, must be in place in your domestic teams. Merely adding a person with the title ‘Fielding Coach’ to a domestic team, does not solve any problems if that person is not qualified or competent in the area. It has to be a unified approach from Captains and Coaches at domestic and international level. Quality, not quantity is a philosophy that is sometimes ignored within Pakistan Cricket, with a tendency to just hit hundreds of balls, with little or no actual learning going on. If you receive a hundred balls, and you do a skill badly a hundred times, you are just reinforcing bad habits. Less balls, but with corrections and improvements will lead to long term success.
"Baseball skills are very transferable in cricket, especially in this era of T20 and T10 Cricket that puts a premium on athletic ability, coupled with skill and power. If the USA adopts cricket as part of its mainstream sports culture watch out!"
Which head coach did you enjoy working with most in your coaching stints with Pakistan?
I worked with Bob Woolmer, Mudassar Nazar, Richard Pybus and Dav Whatmore. Each of those coaches had different characters, with different goals and expectations from assistant coaches. It was an honor and a privilege to work with all of them and has allowed me to learn both good (and bad!) habits that have shaped the way I coach cricket today.
To what degree are baseball skills transferable in cricket?
Very transferable, especially in this era of T20 and T10 Cricket that puts a premium on athletic ability, coupled with skill and power. If the USA adopts cricket as part of its mainstream sports culture watch out!
"Working hard behind closed doors when no fans are watching is probably a better role model for young players to follow than the superstar Instagram & Facebook warriors who like to show the world they are working hard on camera"
How was your experience working with Quetta Gladiators during the Pakistan Super League?
It's been fantastic; Nadeem Omar and his family have welcomed me and their support and encouragement has been integral to our success culminating in our league win this year.
What do you make of the fielding standards in the current Pakistan team?
This is a young team, and you have a group of athletic players who are definitely in the ascendancy. As long as the Captain and Coach put fielding as a priority and not just pay it lip service, I think you will see a fielding team that can outperform any team on any given day.
"Misbah & Younis are exemplary role models both for fielding and generally as professionals. They continued to give 100% even at the end of their playing careers"
Which former and current players from Pakistan could serve as role models in fielding for the aspiring young cricketers?
Misbah & Younis are exemplary role models both for fielding and generally as professionals. They continued to give 100% even at the end of their playing careers. Working hard behind closed doors when no fans are watching is probably a better role model for young players to follow than the superstar Instagram & Facebook warriors who like to show the world they are working hard on camera, but pick and choose what they practice and where the put in the effort.
Did you notice a gulf between the fielding standards of new players coming into the Pakistan team and the established players?
Your national team is only as strong as your domestic structure, so any weaknesses at home will inevitably come to light when the national team plays. Fixing problems at the international is a short term fix and does nothing for Pakistan’s long term success.
What is your most important advice to a budding cricketer who wants to become a top-notch fielder?
Set high standards and practice daily to achieve them, don’t accept mediocrity from yourself or those around you, take each practice and game as an opportunity to learn.
Have you ever thought about offering a fielding course on any online teaching platform?
I certainly have and am investigating options as we speak.