In our first series of interviews we catch up with former Northamptonshire CCC Professional & current Essex CCC 1st Team Batting Coach, Tom Huggins. Firstly Tom, thank you for giving up your time to speak to us.
You represented Suffolk for over 10 Years, scoring 4920 runs and taking 185 wickets in Championship Cricket. How do you look back at your time with the County?
I was very fortunate to represent Suffolk for eleven years and thoroughly enjoyed that period for a number of reasons. To play sixty-odd consecutive Championship matches and captain the County I call home for three years is something I am very proud of. I have always played cricket to win things so the highlight is obviously winning the 2007 Minor Counties Trophy at Lords and on the flip side of this, I suppose the biggest disappointment is that during my time we didn’t win the Eastern Division of the Championship.
I’d like to think that over the eleven years, I influenced my fair share of games with bat or ball, and on a personal level to finish with the most centuries for the County is something that I’m proud of.
Overall though, I made some good friends and met some good people and I think this is more important than runs or wickets. I’d like to think that over that time I also had a positive impact upon other players careers and helped them develop.
Looking back at your career and seeing how much you have achieved, what advice would you give your younger self & what’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
I began my professional career just as coaches were becoming more prevalent in the game and there weren’t the resources available to players as there are now. Growing up in Huntingdonshire was good because I learnt a lot of my game through play with very little taught to me through coaching. When I moved to Northamptonshire I was fortunate to work with various coaches, but one piece of advice I’d probably give myself is believe in yourself more. Due to the fact that I didn’t really know what professional cricket was like, I took every bit of advice and tried to implement it rather than trusting my own ability to decide what I needed to listen to in order to help my own game.
I always wanted to play First-class cricket and when I reached that goal I didn’t reassess what I wanted to achieve and drifted a bit and shortly after found myself out of the game. I’m not saying that things would have been any different, but I should have re-evaluated my goals to give myself further challenge and drive.
I’d also advise myself to work as hard as I could on playing the short ball. As a batsman especially, you earn your stripes by being able to play the short ball and I should have worked harder at becoming more proficient at this. Looking back now, if you have an ability to play the short ball it clears your mind and allows you to just watch the ball and react. Due to the nature of the game, the ball hurts and when it’s coming at your head there is a certain amount of fear. If you are comfortable with the ball around your head then you are able to make better decisions about judging length.
After finishing your playing career, you started your coaching journey with Suffolk Cricket Board. What made you get into coaching and can you tell us about your coaching journey?
I have always enjoyed the intricacies of cricket and watching the game so coaching was probably a natural path for me, especially with my love of the game. When I was 16, I saw an advert for a Level 1 coaching course and completed that, followed by my Level 2 at 18 and my Level 3 just after I turned 20. When I was a professional, during the winters, I used to coach anywhere I could; indoors at schools, age group coaching back in Huntingdonshire and I developed a love for trying to make players better.
When I was released from Northamptonshire, I coached at a couple of Schools and did a lot of age group coaching for Huntingdonshire before getting a job with Suffolk. I was fortunate that the role with Suffolk allowed me to coach in different environments and work with a range of people. During this time I completed my Level 4.
I always knew that I wanted to coach as high up the performance ladder as I could and the only way to get the experience of this was to volunteer with the Academy at Essex. I travelled down to Chelmsford a couple of times a week for a whole winter in order to gain the experience of working with better players in a professional environment and this opened up opportunities to work with the professional staff through their pre-season phase in 2015.
After this, Suffolk were good enough to allow me to assist during the next two seasons as much as I could with the 1st and 2nd teams and this eventually resulted in a job offer as Talent Pathway Manager where my responsibilities including overseeing the EPP and Under 17’s as well as assisting with the professional staff wherever required.
At the start of 2019, I was offered the role of batting coach at Essex and have been in this position since working with some of the best players in the Country.
That leads us nicely onto your current coaching role as Essex CCC 1st XI Batting Coach. Batting has become your forte and, in your opinion, what are the basic principles all batsman should look to implement?
I am a big believer that everyone is an individual and therefore one size does not fit all. For example, some people start their movements from their feet, some initiate with their heads, some need to move while others require a solid base to be able to move. Having said this, I definitely think that there are some principles which all good batsmen have.
Firstly, their alignment is good. In my opinion, at point of release and more importantly top of the swing, the shoulders are aligned towards the ball and the hands are under the shoulders when you look from the front on. This generally allows the bat to work in a clean plane through the ball.
Secondly, it’s very simple to say, but harder to achieve, their balance is good. And that is a dynamic balance because batting isn’t a series of movements to stationary positions, it is a flowing whole-body movement. Generally, to achieve good balance their head is crucial in working towards the ball.
Thirdly, they manage to transfer their weight back into the ball effectively and make contact under their eyes.
In my opinion, these are the three most important principles when it comes to batting, but overarching all of these is decision-making. You can have the best technique in the world, but if you make poor decisions then you won’t score runs. I think there is a threshold level of technique which you require, but once over this threshold if you make good decisions then you stand a far better chance of scoring runs.
Given the highly successful career you’ve had within the game, you’ve played and coached some of the best players in the world but who is the best and what sets them apart from the rest?
I was fortunate enough to play alongside some very talented players, but the most talented was David Sales. He seemed to have so much time when he batted and everything happened in slow motion. His technique was simple and he judged length exceptionally well. He was a natural timer of the ball and he was one of the best players of quick bowling I watched.
While I didn’t play with him, I was on the staff with Michael Hussey and the main thing that I gained from him was his work ethic. His fitness was on another level, and he used to have a real focus on what he was working on. This was before he’d played for Australia.
In terms of players that I have coached or worked with, the obvious answer is Alastair Cook and everyone knows that his fitness is unrivalled and he is widely regarded as one of the most mentally tough cricketers to have played the game, but I think in terms of batsmanship, his whole game is based around sticking to his strengths and not being drawn out of his bubble and away from his game plan.
Another player who stands out is Dan Lawrence and as a talent, he is very special. His strengths are first and foremost his confidence, but this confidence is based upon good fundamentals and a strong work ethic. He is a student of the game and studies hard on how he can be better.
And finally, what would you say to any young cricketer looking to make their way into the professional game?
The main thing I would say to players is enjoy it and have fun. Enjoy your successes because they don’t come around as often as you’d like. I also think that when we have fun we relax and this allows us to make better decisions.
Practice all formats of the game and make time for innovation. The game is moving forward rapidly and whilst the basis of your game should be built on sound fundamentals that apply to you, by exploring you may find something which could change the game.
It’s such a simple one, but be fitter and be a better fielder. This is all down to hard work and dedication, but without either of these, survival in the modern game will be tough.
Lastly, take responsibility for your actions, and your development. Don’t make excuses, ultimately you are the person who will make you a better cricketer.
Again, we thank Tom for his time. We hope that our young players can use the advice given and see how much can be achieved within the game through hard work and determination.
Source: Cover photo - Getty Images, Article photos - Nick Garnham EADT