Essex cricket coach Ian Pont ready for another India adventure

International cricket coach Ian Pont.

International cricket coach Ian Pont. - Credit: Su Anderson

Ian Pont is one of England’s finest fast bowling coaches, yet it’s in India and Bangladesh where he’s helping to develop the next generation. CHRIS BRAMMER spoke to the former Essex player and coach.

International cricket coach Ian Pont.

International cricket coach Ian Pont. - Credit: Su Anderson

South Africa’s Dale Steyn and India’s Mohit Sharma are amongst his former students, he’s been to three ICC World Cups and coached the Dakar Gladiators to the inaugural Bangladesh Premier League title in 2012.

Throw a respectable career as a county cricketer into the mix, as well as penning three books on specialist fast bowling, and Brentwood-born Ian Pont has quite the CV.

He’s also a passionate advocate of English cricket and delivers an honest assessment of the current domestic and international game.

Given the recent struggles of the international team, his wealth of knowledge and expertise could be invaluable but instead, he is making waves around the world.

That is mainly in India (Bangalore) and Bangladesh with the Ultimate Pace Foundation (UPF), while in Writtle, near Chelmsford, he runs the Mavericks Cricket Institute, based at Skeggs Farm.

The 53-year-old, who once played Major League Baseball for the Philadelpia Phillies and possesses the second-longest cricket throw ever, heads back out to India in July for the seventh UPF camp and is proud of the steps being made in fast bowling by a cricket-mad nation, recognised more for its spin-friendly dusty wickets.

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While he would love to help develop the next Jimmy Anderson or Andrew Flintoff, he will have no qualms if his efforts continue to benefit players from Asia instead.

“I’m passionate about English cricket and any coach would want to support what their country is doing,” explains the former Essex and Northants bowling coach.

“For now I will carry on my work here in England and in Bangladesh and India and see where that takes me. It might be that I continue building up fast bowling attacks in India, but I would rather build England’s.”

It’s not been easy to become established in India particularly, a country with a billion people and cricket as it’s national sport.

“I have been running MCI for probably 20 years over here and the idea was to offer one-to-one coaching for young fast bowlers, spinners, batsmen, fielders, whatever,” he said.

“When I was growing up I didn’t have specific coaches to help me and over the years I have honed my coaching down specifically to pace bowling.

“There are very few pace bowling coaches in this country.

“As a result, people fly in to see me from all over the country and the world, or I go to see them, and it’s evolved over time.

“But it’s very difficult to get traction for fast bowling in this country. Cricket is a small part of what we do and we are sharing with the spotlight with other sports.

“In India, it’s the national sport, but one thing they have always lacked is good pace bowling.”

So, how did he end up making an impact there?

He added: “I met a guy who runs a cricket centre in Bangalore and he suggested I came to India and we set up the UPF.

“There is nothing really like it over there, a pay-as-you-play cricket centre, and while there will be a lot of academies out there named after big players, a lot of those players won’t actually do any of the coaching.

“I am different. I didn’t want it to be called ‘The Ian Pont Academy’ as people would be saying who?

“But the difference is I go and deliver a camp and people are beginning to realise that I am making a difference.

“When we first started over there, we were just getting kids coming and while that still happens, we are now getting some senior players coming too and seeing what it’s all about.”

Sharma worked with Pont for a brief time with state team Haryana, and was in the Englishman’s coaching group for a month. He recently won the ‘Purple Cap’ for taking the most wickets in this season’s IPL, playing for the Chennai Super Kings.

“His progression has been astronomic,” enthused Pont.

“He is not rapid but has got a lot faster and is a clever bowler.

“He works with other coaches, I am not working with him in India, but I did have 30 solid days with him and proved that if you know what you are doing, you can get results.”

Steyn is another to have worked with Pont, “He is probably going to go on and be the world’s best-ever fast bowler, not because of what I did with him, but he was one of my students for a short time and it is all about getting access to these young bowlers as a coach. I don’t have that in this country.

“I also worked with Taskin Ahmed who played in the World Cup for Bangladesh, he has a coach that uses my methods, and he bowls between 85-90mph which is not that common for a Bangladesh bowler.”

Pont does not have the financial backing or access to work with England’s best young players, but even if that wasn’t a problem, his task wouldn’t be straightforward.

He explains: “They’re (Indian bowlers) so focused and want to learn, which makes me want to do it more.

“There is no comparison to England and one of the most disappointing things about English cricket is not the way its run but more the people that play it tend to have quite a half-hearted attitude.

“I am here in this centre now and no-one is here.

“I know it’s not half-term but in India, a place like this would be virtually full all the time.

“There will be players out there in this country who will argue that they are not like that, but there aren’t many.”

He added: “There is also a determination and I think people in India are seeing cricket as a way to change their lives, whereas it’s a bit of a hobby here.

“I think it’s seen as a way out of poverty for some, the IPL has captured the imagination and now there are parents who are saying their son could become a cricketer, whereas in the past it was always a lawyer or doctor.

“Players can earn two million bucks for eight weeks work which is life-changing and I think we are starting to make a difference.

“They (youngsters at the UPF) don’t play first-class cricket but play senior cricket and the results have dramatically improved. Irfan Sait who runs the centre in Bangalore says that between camps, the boys are improving markedly.”

Pont also waxes lyrical about the attitude adopted by the students.

“They are brought up to sit upright in class at school, to pay attention and to not answer back,” explains Pont.

“We had one lad that travelled 29 hours on four separate trains to get to Bangalore and when he arrived he got his kit on and got straight into the nets.

“They have this in-built discipline and I sometimes have to tell them to chill out and explain that I’m their friend and not their teacher.”

Pont will continue to grow his reputation, but it doesn’t look like it will happen in England for now where he has questioned the structure of the domestic game from grassroots upwards.

“I am slightly concerned that we don’t have a long list of highly-qualified English coaches going for the head coach’s (England) role,” he explained

“The names I am seeing are not even English, they’re Australian, South African and I don’t have an issue with that, but there’s not a big English name on that list.

“I am a believer, as I would be with football, that if you have a good coach education system, you should have an English head coach, especially ahead for the Ashes.

“That doesn’t mean someone like (Australia’s) Jason Gillespie isn’t the right man for the job, but I think we are missing something with what we are doing in English cricket.

“We may have some good candidates down the line but at the moment, I don’t see them.”

On the county game, he added: “It wasn’t long ago that the Australians came to England to see how we ran county cricket, it was that good.

“Then we split to two (County Championship) divisions and I think we have now got two different standards of cricket.

“That was the desired effect but not to the detriment of the second division, which I think we have made slightly worse.

“Players in Division Two are becoming a little disenfranchised.

“Mark Footitt took over 100 wickets at an average of 19, in Division Two for Derbyshire last season. Where is he?

“I would be hacked off if I was him, and if we are seeing Division Two as not being as strong as Division One, then we have a problem.

“We need to look at t20 too. The Natwest Blast doesn’t excite me.

“We have some great players playing in it, but we have Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan are allowed to go and play in the IPL.

“If we are taking our own game seriously, then shouldn’t we be having our best players playing?”