Jonathan Trott has thrown all of his energy into the next chapter of his cricketing life as the coach of the Afghanistan national cricket team.
Afghanistan had shown themselves a force to be reckoned with at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 where they moved from minnow status to beating top tier nations.
After beating England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands, Afghanistan narrowly missed out on a quarter final spot but were no longer viewed as the lightweights of years gone by.
Trott explained that fans often don’t see the work behind the scenes and the buildup and he’s happy with what they achieved.
“We came so close – to get into the semis would’ve been good, but it wasn’t to be unfortunately. It’s been the culmination of a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes – previous tours and previous training camps, that sort of stuff,” Trott said. “I’m satisfied, it’s been a lot of hard work. I’m also excited with the amount of talent we have with the players in the squad.”
Confidence has been building in the Afghanistan squad.
“The amount of confidence these players are gaining is great. When they play against big nations and win games it helps them to believe in themselves and the world takes notice,” Trott said.
Afghanistan have had their chances.
“We’ve been so close before and have literally beaten ourselves. A perfect example is the Australian game that we should have won- we’ve lost games that we really should’ve won,” he said. “As long as we learn from those experiences and get better then that’s ok. You’re going to make mistakes as a young playing nation if you’d like, where your all-round game gets tested in all its facets.”
Trott himself has been there and done that having represented the English national team from 2007-2015 and was recognised as ECB and ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2011.
52 international tests with a batting average of 44.08, 51.25 in ODI’s, showing himself useful with the ball, and an asset in the field means Trott knows what it’s like to play successfully.
After nine years of international cricket, Trott left the international arena as a player but jumped back in right away as a coach and embraced it.
“I did a lot of coaching straight after my career as a player ended. I spent a year in Kent getting paid minimally with a lot of travel – it was great for cutting my teeth. I also had two years at Warwickshire and spent my time in between doing coaching as a consultant with the England – Lions’ tours, under 19 tours, and main tours,” Trott explained. “I felt I was ready for a head coaching role which is what I really wanted to do. I then got the opportunity with Afghanistan.”
Coaching Afghanistan was completely different to what Trott was used to.
“The coaching role with Afghanistan was a whole new learning experience with regards to a different culture, how the game is spoken about, the way the game is coached, and the way the game is played. At the same time, you’re dealing with guys and their confidence in their own abilities that is at the infancy of being major players on the world stage – that’s the challenge and exciting part of it really,” he said.
“I had to pay for my own ticket to Ireland for a series we were playing there. It just goes to show the different in the level of the things we are afforded as western sides, an example was arriving in Ireland, and we had no tracksuits.”
Things needed to change and in order to do that Trott needed buy-in from the players.
“I was just trying to find out what was I dealing with in the players. The work ethic, the way that they trained – with these things you can gauge what your areas are that need work and what you can turn into a super strength. What can we build on? What needs attention? Those are some of the things you work on,” he explained. “Professionalism, punctuality, accountability, and accepting responsibility are things that we’re now seeing the guys buy into. The biggest thing is to get players to understand that these things actually matter or count.”
“For me it’s realising what is important to these guys and what I should be pointing out as important but at the same time recognising what isn’t important and I’m wasting my time – you have to box clever,” Trott said. “Both sides are sort of feeling each other out. For me understanding their culture, them as people and where they come from, and how their upbringings have shaped them is very important. It’s also important to recognise what they’ve been exposed to in the past with regards to professionalism – this helps me gauge what is achievable as a coach with them and what pace we need to go at.”
Trott had to adapt and adapt quickly as a coach.
“The culture is very different. Religion plays a huge role in their beliefs and confidence as well and that’s first and foremost. In Western culture – South Africa and England – sport is first and everything else is almost secondary,” Trott said. “So you have to take that into account. In between practice or in the middle of practice players will have prayer time. Some players will be up at 5am for prayer time when as a coach you take it for granted that they’re sleeping and recovering.”
“There’s always this balance you need when pushing the players. You need to be understanding and have compassion for it all. To be able to adapt and evolve is really important. Things in their culture are forever changing and new things are cropping up all the time whereas for us growing up, we like structure, plans, and foresight,” he said.
“We’ll have fixtures coming up and they’re not set in stone a month out. There have been times when I knew I was flying on a certain day, but I’d only get my flight ticket that day. Those are the sorts of things you become accustomed to,” Trott explained. “When I first took over that would put me on edge, now I’m like ‘yeah whatever’,” he explained.
The experience has empowered Trott.
“I do think it puts you in good stead. The landscape of cricket is always changing, an example is franchise cricket where you have loads of different of cultures. The more experience you have as a coach with different nations and cultures, the better you will be able to combine those and be successful in whatever world or team you find yourself in,” he said.
Afghanistan had qualified for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in 2015 and 2019 as minnows.
Trott believed they had the potential to be real contenders, but the start wasn’t ideal.
“We wanted to do better than we did in the Asia Cup. We got knocked out on a technicality – net run rate – we lost a game we really should’ve won.
“Targeting that first game against Bangladesh, we got bowled out for 150 and ended up losing. Our performance against Australia in the field; we’re trying to eradicate these lapses of performances and mentality. It’s not a lack of talent and it’s not a lack of skill, it’s to have that mental strength which we’ve seen in the run chases against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Dutch. That’s the pleasing thing, we’ve seen some really bright areas but there still are those areas in mentality.
Afghanistan exceeded expectations.
“If at the beginning you had said to me four wins against these nations I would’ve said ‘Yeah we’ll take that,’ but once we were into it and we had four wins and two games to go it changed,” Trott said. “I’m not a guy who rests on my laurels – I like to stay ambitious.”
“That’s why we were there and that’s what I explained to them. We were not there to just make up the numbers,” he said.
“What I’m pleased about is a lot of the time, the game against Pakistan people say ‘OK the World Cup is over, we’ve beaten Pakistan, we’ll go home’ type of thing. For the next game we had a bit of time off and then had a very complete game against Sri Lanka who we’ve lost to in the past.” Trott said “We beat them in this World Cup comprehensively and with a professional all-round performance.”
“So that was good to see that they can back it up. A lot of the time we’ve had really bright and brilliant performances only to fall off the cliff either in that game or the next. So there is that continuity to back it up,” he said. “Against the Dutch, they played well but we pulled it back and beat them comprehensively – there is resilience building but we did that for three games and then couldn’t do it against Australia,” he explained. “That’s the challenge going forward. If you want to do well in competitions, it’s not necessarily about playing the best cricket, it’s about playing the best cricket in key moments in the game while being consistent,” Trott said. “That’s what basically wins things – consistency on and off the field.”
Afghanistan had numerous highlights, but one stood out for Trott.
“I would have said if we had beaten Australia at the Wankhede stadium – it didn’t happen. I think for the players it was seeing them beat Pakistan. The joy it brought everyone, and their country was awesome, especially after the devastating earthquake that took place a few weeks earlier,” he said.
Self-confidence was a major hurdle for Trott and the team.
“My biggest struggle with Afghanistan was just getting them to believe that they can beat major nations and win a lot of things. That’s been the biggest struggle, getting that self-confidence. But that’s something that comes from within. No one really believes until they’ve done it themselves and until then it’s just a lot of preaching really,” Trott said. “Now that they’ve done it, they’re going to have that self-belief which I’m excited to see going forward.”
Trott has advice for professionals moving into cross-cultural environments.
“Be open minded and listen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions with an intention of understanding and having a positive impact. I think at the moment a lot of people are afraid of asking questions and talking – we’d much rather text or read up on Google than actually interact. Interact in a positive way and don’t be afraid of having uncomfortable conversations and discussions as long as there’s intent on making things better.”
“I think as coaches we try and facilitate. Don’t be scared to roll up your sleeves and actually coach is what I would say and what I’ve actually tried to do. Whether that’s right or wrong, well I’m still learning myself,” he said.