What’s in a name? A lot, if you are Jon Lewis!
Last month, the England women’s cricket team head coach was busy preparing for the limited-overs series against Australia - after conceding the lone Test - when he received a few WhatsApp messages from colleagues congratulating him for being a contender for India’s women’s head coach job!
They were referring to reports of him being one of the applicants for the India job, along with Amol Muzumdar and Tushar Arothe. While it took Lewis by surprise, a few moments later the seasoned coach was certain that it was a case of mistaken identity, once again!
His namesake Jon Lewis - a former Durham captain and coach - had applied for the India role, and many in the cricketing fraternity thought that it was actually the England coach Lewis who was in the fray.
“It was very funny. So, both of my employers (ECB and UP Warriorz) sent me a screenshot within three minutes of the article going out. So, my first thing was, it’s really nice to be loved and nice to be wanted. So when both my employers sent me the screenshots, I was like, wow, this is news to me,” Lewis, who is also the head coach of UP Warriorz in the Women’s Premier League, tells Sportstar.
It was obviously nothing new for Lewis. Last year, when he replaced Lisa Keightley as the head coach of the England women’s team, both the namesakes were in the fray for the top job and ahead of the interviews, many got confused between the two.
“So when I heard the news, I assumed straight away that it was my colleague, Jon, who was going for the role. And actually, I think he’d do a great job if they offered him the role. He’s great, has great knowledge of the women’s game,” the 48-year-old Lewis, a former England and Gloucestershire seamer, says with a smile.
As his phone went on ringing, Lewis had to convince everyone that he, indeed, hadn’t applied for the role.
“I think it was more for the people in the suits, who were more worried about me and I did immediately put a message on the WhatsApp group with the players to let them know that I wasn’t the one,” he says.
“And then the other Jon sent a message on the WhatsApp group sheepishly saying, ‘Sorry, that’s me.’ So yeah, there was a bit of humour around that. We dealt with that with humour and I just had to reassure my bosses at the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) that everything was okay. And then obviously I told both my employers that I am still available to do both my jobs.”
‘Enjoy working in India’
However, Lewis wants to keep the door open in the future. Being associated with the UP Warriorz, he has a fair understanding of Indian cricket now and the seasoned coach wants to use that if there’s an opportunity to work with the Indian team in due course of time.
“In the long term, that is not something that I would rule out. I don’t say never about any job. I really enjoy working in India. It’s a really great place to work. The passion for cricket is second to none. So, I love the Indian people’s passion for cricket,” he says.
Over the last few days, he has been busy conducting a pre-season camp in Bengaluru with the UP Warriorz team ahead of the next edition of the Women’s Premier League. In the inaugural edition of the tournament, Warriorz finished third after losing the playoffs against Mumbai Indians. This time around, even though the dates for the tournament haven’t been finalised, Warriorz want to be well-prepared.
“We are not 100 per cent sure when the season is going to start. So, I think one of my main reflections on the WPL itself from our team’s point of view was that obviously, our overseas players were really dominant. They played some really good cricket.
“However, for our local players, there were a lot of areas for them to improve their games. So when they left us, we were really clear with them about the areas of their games that they needed to improve. And to make sure that those things are actually happening, I think it’s good to have regular checkpoints throughout the year,” Lewis explains the reason behind conducting a pre-season camp.
“Women’s cricket in general, regardless of whether international players or not, I think the ceiling is really, really high, but the players don’t really understand yet how high they can go towards that ceiling. So, just to keep trying to develop our own players and to develop the women’s game in India, I think for the franchise is really, really important.
“At the auction, we picked some really young players and I think during the competition we were brave enough to select some of them quite a few times to give them opportunities to understand what playing in the big show is all about really,” he says.
Youngsters like Parshavi Chopra impressed the team management with her fine spin-bowling show.
“To leave them for a year or for six, eight months, that’s a long time. So, to check in maybe once, twice, three times between the two WPLs, I think, is really important, so that we can just keep a check on the progress of the players and give them some more recommendations of areas of the game that they need to keep working on. So hopefully, those players can get nearer the standard of the overseas players. And then, hopefully, the whole competition goes up, but obviously, the standard of our team goes up so we can compete more than we did last year,” he says.
Abhishek Nayar joins Warriorz
In the pre-season camp, Warriorz have roped in Abhishek Nayar as a specialist to guide the youngsters.
“This is my first exposure with Abhishek. I’ve not seen him coach before. He’s obviously a very experienced coach. He’s done a lot of work with KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders). So, he comes with a really good reputation. What I’ve noticed about the way he coaches is very much he tries to develop the player.
“He’s got a very developmental mindset in developing the individual style of each player. And since I’ve seen him coach, I’ve been really impressed. He obviously has a really good understanding of knowledge of playing T20 cricket and a really good understanding of batting technique and how different individual techniques are able to adapt to different situations and different surfaces,” Lewis says.
“So what I’ve seen him bring so far is a little bit of an understanding of how each player can make the most of what they’ve got so far without making too many changes in terms of their technical changes. So the players have been away working at different parts of their technique, we’ve given them some advice to go and do, and now it’s about how they play the game better.
“Because basically, batting isn’t really about technique, batting is about scoring runs. Batting is about scoring runs under pressure. So understanding your own game and understanding how you play in pressure moments is the best way to go and score runs. So, what he’s doing is that he’s given the players already, they’ve put them in situations where they’re under pressure to score runs but then he’s given them different options within the technique. He’s very good from what I’ve seen so far at individualizing those situations to make sure the player gets the right exposure,” Lewis explains.
The England-Australia rivalry
The last few months have been hectic for Lewis - the England head coach. After conceding the Test, his team bounced back strongly and went on to win the limited-overs series. The coach is proud of the way his wards fought back.
“I think the biggest thing actually was the occasion and the event.
“The fact that we filled stadiums as the England women’s cricket team playing in a series was actually groundbreaking in our country. So, traditionally over a period of time, the last 10, 20 years, the biggest crowds the girls have played in front of were far smaller than the biggest crowds we played in front of this time round. To sell out a whole ODI series was unbelievable and to pretty much fill The Oval or The Lord’s, they were just all great occasions and I think both sides really enjoyed the fact that they were trying to entertain in front of a full house,” Lewis says.
“The one thing that was the next bit for us in England is to try and continue that popularity of the women’s game and probably more than likely because of how we play our cricket rather than whether we win or lose. So, that’s something that the girls have really learned. If you actually put on a show and you entertain people, they will come and watch and they really enjoy playing in front of big crowds. That was great,” he says.
After losing the Test, it was challenging for England to turn things around. But it managed to do so.
“In terms of the rivalry between the two sides, that will always be there. This England-Australia rivalry is something that never goes away. And the fact that Australia have been so dominant over the course of 10 years really, I didn’t realise this but I got told at the end this is the first time they’ve lost a series, an ODI series for 10 years and the first time they’ve lost a T20 series for 10 years. You know that’s a massive achievement for our team,” he says.
“We must be really proud of that regardless of whether or not we win the urn. One of the other big things that I took away from the summer was the character of my team. Like we were 6-0 down with, I can’t remember, was it, five games left and to come back and draw that series 8-all from that position that showed a lot of character and I think England teams in the past (maybe the past four or five years) they would have disappeared and so there’s been a real shift in our team and in belief and in confidence. So, my job now is to maintain that belief, maintain that confidence but also to grow the ability of the girls and to keep improving the team.”
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