In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Pakistan's new fielding coach, Julien Fountain, speaks in great detail about his initial impressions of the Pakistan team, the challenges that lie ahead in his current assignment as well as his experience with the Head Coach, Dav Whatmore.
I'm absolutely delighted to present an interview with Pakistan's fielding coach Julien Fountain.
Julien was the first baseball player to be used as a "Specialist Fielding Coach" by any test level cricket team when he was hired in 1998 by the West Indies to coach on their tour of South Africa.
After parting company with the West Indies, Fountain was approached by the Pakistan Cricket Board to act as assistant and specialist coach for the Pakistan A cricket team on their tour of Sri Lanka under Head Coach Mudassar Nazar. Upon completing the Sri Lanka tour, Fountain accompanied the team back to Pakistan where he was tasked with holding "Elite Coaching Clinics" at all the major academies including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi.
He also attended a week long camp in Karachi under the guidance of Head Coach Richard Pybus with the senior Pakistan National Cricket Team working with the players prior to their upcoming home series. He also held a series of clinics for Pakistan coaches at each of the venues.
In 2006, having both grown as a coach and gained valuable youth coaching experience, Fountain was hired by Bob Woolmer to act as "Specialist Fielding Coach" for the Pakistan National Cricket Team on their tour of England.
In addition to working with Pakistan and the West Indies, Fountain has also been employed at various levels by the ECB, the Irish Cricket team, Bangladesh, Bermuda and the Stanford Superstars.
He is a UKCC ECB Level 3 coach and is a T20 specialist, covering "Baseball Style" power batting mechanics, slower balls and elite fielding skills and was recently appointed by the PCB as the fielding coach alongside Dav Whatmore after the PCB Chairman Zaka Ashraf stated that he wanted to appoint professional coaches.
PakPassion.net: Good to speak with you once again Julien and a warm welcome back to the world of Pakistan cricket.
Julien Fountain: My pleasure Saj, it’s great to be back, chatting with you guys at PP.
PakPassion.net: How does it feel to be working with the Pakistan cricket team again?
Julien Fountain: It feels really good. I’ve had a couple of brief stints before under Bob (Woolmer) with the senior team in 2006 and Mudassar (Nazar) with the “A” team and academies in 2001. It’s a great feeling to be working with players who are not only extremely talented, but have a great mix of good work ethics coupled with determination, amicability and above all pride in their performance.
For what it’s worth it is also nice to be working for an organization (the PCB) that respects my professionalism and honors my commitment to them. Both Dav and myself are being treated really well and we are keen to propel Pakistan to the top of the ICC tables. We both feel that we (Pakistan) are very capable of achieving top rated rankings in all formats of the game, and look forward to playing a role in achieving this.
PakPassion.net: It seems that most young Pakistani cricketers prefer either a bat or a ball in their hands and practising their fielding skills are literally an afterthought. What do you think the young, up and coming cricketers in Pakistan can learn from the likes of Younis Khan and what can they do to ensure their fielding is of a good standard by the time they make it to international cricket?
Julien Fountain: You are absolutely right. Guys like Younis Khan, Misbah and Hafeez should be considered role models. If you look all around the world, at the different backgrounds, the different nationalities of cricketers, you will notice that the people from those countries tend to follow their role models. Consciously & sub consciously, coaches will present the standard of cricket and what is good and what is not in a certain way. The attributes that these guys bring i.e their professionalism, their hard work and their dedication to high performance are obvious to us (Dav & Myself) and we are dedicated to making sure that these positive attributes are recognized and emulated at every level of cricket in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Most Pakistani cricketers tend to have this reputation around the world of being poor fielders. Do you think that is a fair assessment of their fielding skills?
Julien Fountain: Personally I feel that’s a huge generalization. In my professional experience I feel that people make sweeping judgments about fielding and fielders and usually those judgments are based around on whether a team wins or loses. Generally speaking if a team wins, you will find that nobody mentions how bad they were in the field. As soon as they lose, they are suddenly a terrible fielding team. There are many aspects to cricket, fielding is just one.
Of course there are areas that I will be addressing from a tactical and technical point of view with each of the players; but you have to identify an individual’s performance and then create an appropriate training plan. I operate a computer program called “Direct Hit” during the game that allows me to collect all of the fielding performance data, player by player, & ball by ball, giving me a huge amount of detail on each player & the team overall.
To be honest, It’s amazing the data that comes back at the end of the game. By collecting the facts rather than letting emotion get in the way, it’s possible to get a much clearer picture of fielding performance. My Mantra is “Fielding Fact not Fielding Fiction” !
PakPassion.net: Whether you are a cricketer or a member of the coaching staff, the start to ones tenure is always important. Winning the Asia Cup recently in Bangladesh must have been a massive boost for you?
Julien Fountain: Oh man absolutely! Let’s be honest though; both Dav and I had only been in the job for a few days before we went to Bangladesh, so most of the credit goes to the players and the former coaching staff who had did the groundwork for the results that we got in Bangladesh. We are happy to take over and push the team onwards and upwards but going to Bangladesh and performing like we did was definitely a great start for everybody concerned.
PakPassion.net: There’s plenty of talent in that squad that went to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, but as ever there is always room for improvement. Any areas in the Asia Cup where you felt the team were lacking?
Julien Fountain: I think every professional sports team is always looking to tweak it’s performance, to raise it’s game to make sure it’s up there with the best, if not actually setting the standard as the best in the world. Specifically within my department as the fielding coach yes of course there are going to be lots of little areas that we can adjust or tweaks we can make.
The philosophy that both Dav and I subscribe to is “High Performance Unit”. We both feel that for a team to succeed, there has to be a group buy in from all concerned, players, staff & officials. We will draw on both our experiences from across the cricket world and beyond, to ensure that we create an environment that nurtures high performance.
PakPassion.net: After the Asia Cup you returned to Pakistan and had the opportunity to watch the Super 8s twenty20 tournament. What were your impressions of that tournament in Rawalpindi?
Julien Fountain: It was a fantastic week of cricket; we flew back from Bangladesh and went straight up to Rawalpindi. It was a quick turnaround for Dav and I; but it was a great experience, we enjoyed being able to sit and watch the cricket without the pressure of having to prepare a team. It was very nice to be able to sit, relax and absorb the atmosphere, look at the players and take a general overview of the different players and their performances. We felt we could have been watching a twenty20 tournament anywhere in the world.
PakPassion.net: What did you think of the standard of the cricket played at the Super 8s?
Julien Fountain: We saw some good cricket and some good performances and we’ve managed to pull a few ideas from the Super 8s tournament on how we can move the international team forward. It was a very good experience and both Dav and I were very glad that we went to Rawalpindi to watch the tournament.
There were obviously some elements that we feel could be improved, not least the general standards of fielding and tactical awareness when setting or chasing a target. Reducing the amount of wides & no balls, coupled with reducing potential boundary balls is also very important moving forward to the World T20 in Sri Lanka.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the Super 8s tournament gave you something to work with ahead of this years twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka?
Julien Fountain: Most definitely. It was the last domestic cricket of the season so there is not going to be cricket played other than international stuff. It gave us a good look at the standard of T20 cricket in Pakistan. We were able to see how the players we took to Bangladesh perform domestically amongst their peers; but it also flagged up a few younger players and one or two former national players who we feel could add value to a Pakistan team.
We are looking primarily at performance, and we want to pick players who we think can provide that performance. What’s in the past, is in the past as far as we are concerned and we want the players to understand that we have no pre existing thoughts about them. Everybody will be judged on their performance, plain and simple.
PakPassion.net: You have previous experience of being in and working in Pakistan. We are of course aware that international cricket has not been played in Pakistan, but how did you find the security arrangements while you were in Pakistan?
Julien Fountain: As I mentioned previously, we could have been watching a T20 tournament anywhere in the world. Most things were exactly as you find in any other major cricket nation. The hospitality was first class and we were well looked after. Looking to the future, there are things that need to be changed if Pakistan is to hold a franchise based T20 competition.
Things like the balls (they need to use Kookaburra balls, as those are the ones we use at international games) and the general event entertainment needs better planning and a more comprehensive week long program (there were only bands or singers at the final), and the PA guy definitely needs some lessons in microphone use.
Oh yeah and the clown, the teddy bear and barney the dinosaur need to be retired! (if you are to appeal to an international TV audience)
PakPassion.net: Many observers feel that fitness and fielding go hand in hand. As an expert in such matters, what are your thoughts on this assessment?
Julien Fountain: Fitness goes hand in hand with all skill areas not specifically fielding. Fitness, strength and agility all play a part in every single aspect of cricket. You can identify it’s presence in fielding perhaps quicker than in other areas, but people get a little confused with it’s importance. For example there are Olympic athletes who are super fit but if you hit a ball towards them they would not be able to catch it; which demonstrates how misguided perceptions can be.
You have to understand that an elite fielder displays a range of attributes such as excellent hand to eye coordination, tactical awareness along with speed, agility, strength, cardiovascular fitness and supreme skill execution ability. And lets not forget courage; just ask anyone who has stood at backward point when Sanath Jayasuria is batting (something I have experienced myself as 12th man for the West Indies, so am well aware of the speeds the balls travel at international level)
The software that I was mentioning earlier in this interview allows me to identify the specific areas where players need assistance and if a guy is a little slower, or less agile then we can address that in conjunction with our strength and conditioning support staff. We can identify skills and scenarios where players need tuition and we can tailor a training program to suit each individual.
There are one or two current players in the Pakistan squad who have been tagged as being poor fielders; but in actual fact they pick the ball up cleanly and throw the ball accurately and they catch the ball well and they slide and dive.
What is actually happening is their movement to the ball is perceived as being slow. In that case you have to work on their agility and speed and not necessarily on their fielding. Hitting a thousand cricket balls at these guys will not help, but without properly identifying this, these guys will always be labeled poor fielders; which in my opinion is negative & wrong and serves to further undermine their confidence and hinder their progress.
PakPassion.net: Fielding standards in domestic cricket are by and large fairly mediocre. How are you looking to improve the standards of fielding in domestic cricket and therein ensuring that those cricketers coming through the system will have the required fielding skills for international cricket?
Julien Fountain: Having been to the recent T20 competition in Rawalpindi, I could see that at the beginning of the week the fielding standards were pretty poor and we saw a lot of very simple mistakes. However as the week progressed and the pressure intensified, the fielding performances got better and by the end of the week there weren’t as many mistakes.
Generally speaking my job will be to try and get the players to put more emphasis on executing fielding skills as close to perfect as possible; and to train in such a way that creates this push for excellence. I want to try and raise people’s awareness of the impact that elite fielding performances can have in competition, and couple with that the understanding that fielding is a skill which must be learnt exactly like batting or bowling.
There is absolutely no reason why Pakistan cannot “out field” the likes of Australia, England or South Africa; the old myth that subcontinent teams cannot field was smashed by Sri Lanka years ago. We will not be accepting any excuses about outfields or age. If we are to compete at the T20 WC in Sri Lanka and then the 50 Over WC in Australia, we will have to have a full compliment of fielding skills; that is non negotiable these days.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the current crop of Pakistani cricketers will respond to the more technical approach that you are instilling?
Julien Fountain: In my experience these guys are no different to any other current international players globally; if you show them ways to get better, they are very keen to know more. It’s their career after all !
The old days where certain players, (who shall remain nameless), were allowed to skip fielding practice due to their seniority are long gone. Players are judged on total performance, and in the same way if their batting or bowling performance is below standard, they seek assistance; if they are not up to standard in the field they will be given specific tuition to remedy that.
PakPassion.net: Do you plan to hold any training workshops or coaching sessions for the domestic coaches in Pakistan in order to deliver your message and ideas to a wider audience?
Julien Fountain: That is really important for the long term development and I am keen to, where time allows, to start this process. Nothing has been arranged quite yet, however it’s got to be in the pipeline. It’s crucially important because you cannot just coach the top 25 cricketers in the country and leave it at that. You have to get the message out into domestic cricket, into school cricket and specifically to the coaches on the ground. You have to raise the standard across the country, so both Dav and I are pretty keen to get our “High performance” message into every region & every level if we can.
PakPassion.net: We’ve heard the recent good news about international cricket returning to the shores of Pakistan. That must be a huge boost for Pakistani cricket and for the likes of yourself who are involved in Pakistan cricket?
Julien Fountain: Absolutely; I couldn’t agree more. The time we have spent with the team so far and the time that we spent at the T20 tournament in Rawalpindi it was clear to us that Pakistan is crying out for international cricket and everybody is keen to see international cricket come back to Pakistan. The tour by Bangladesh is a great step forward and everybody is going to be very happy to see it and hopefully it’s the start of much bigger things to come.
PakPassion.net: Both you and Dav have already displayed that you have gone into your roles with a lot of thought and planning regarding the challenges you face. Could you run though some of the goals, plans and targets that you have set yourself?
Julien Fountain: With my role specifically, I appreciate that fielding can really change a game. And it’s my professional opinion that fielding is the easiest of all the departments to get better at. Now if you listen to the general public and the cricket pundits then they think that Pakistan are a really bad fielding team. I personally disagree with that and the statistics I collected during the Asia Cup, back that up.
There are, of course, specific areas where we can improve and but we have some team targets & goals that we want to achieve and we are already looking towards the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka in a few months time which will be a crucial marker.
I am going to be preparing a plan for each of the players ensuring that they are fully prepared when we hit the ground in September for the T20 WC. That being said, the public are going to have to understand that between now and then, the players will be undergoing a learning process and they will make mistakes as part of that process. And although my current contact is for 2 years with the PCB, I am also looking towards the World Cup in 2015 in Australia. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day !
PakPassion.net: This is the first time you have worked with Dav Whatmore. Can you give us some insight into Dav and what it’s like working with him?
Julien Fountain: Dav is, without doubt, a total professional. He is extremely knowledgeable both in terms of technical & tactical aspects of cricket. More importantly he is a real “people person” and that will be key to the success of the Pakistan team. He has a fantastic sense of humour, something which the picture editors in the Pakistan media, seem to want to deny by always showing him scowling ! Use the pics where he is smiling please.
He’s a really nice guy, the consummate professional, dedicated to his job, but also a lot of fun to be around. Above all he’s very fair in the way he sums up situations, and deals with people, whether on the field or off the field. I am really enjoying being his assistant coach, and look forward to helping make a real difference to Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: I know you’ve got a really busy schedule at the moment and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your time today and wish you the very best in your role as the Pakistan fielding coach.
Julien Fountain: “Shukryah” No problems and I look forward to answering questions and comments and generally getting involved wherever possible on PP “insha allah”