“You wonder how good you could have been,” Grant Bradburn says, affording himself a moment’s reminiscence. If only he had known then what he knows now.
Often it is those who had to graft the hardest who make the best coaches.
Capped 15 times for New Zealand over an 11-year spell, the former all-rounder was more out than in but his relentless desire proved formative. Now back in his native land, preparing to guide Scotland’s challenge at the World Cup, he knows well what it is like to battle the odds and push uphill, even when others have long written you off.
In Dunedin on Tuesday, the Saltires enter the lion’s den, making their tournament bow against the co-hosts in Bradburn’s one-time stomping ground. For the quartet of non-Test nations involved, there are points to prove and hierarchies to disrupt. Every victory for the mis-named minnows is a finger raised to the ICC and its monopolists. Should the Scots return winless, just as they did in the West Indies in 2007 and on home turf eight years before, they will have only a meek rebuttal to those who argue the sport’s caste system should remain untouched.
Their coach, nearing the close of his first year at the helm, will defend the Saltires’ inclusion to the end. “They’ve worked hard for this opportunity,” he says. “They’ve earned the right to be at this World Cup by playing extremely well. And we’re pleased with the steps forward they’ve taken.”
A resounding victory over Ireland last week turned a few heads. So, too, the nearest of misses against the West Indies. Preston Mommsen’s men are still long shots, but they need not fear the odds. “We’re targeting two wins,” the captain says. “We haven’t restricted ourselves to that,” Bradburn subsequently counters.
“We certainly want to do what no other Scotland team has done and that’s to win games of cricket at the World Cup. It’s a tournament like any other: if you can get some momentum, you can easily win two games and then look for more. We feel if we can get two, we can get into the next round. If we’re re-evaluating our goals after six games, then we’ll have done well.”
Observing the squad in training is instructive. Bradburn, externally, is easy-going and jocular. When his players are called to attention, detail is all, his tone demanding application and focus. Learning his second trade in provincial cricket, his mantra was for self-betterment at every turn, to aim as high as talent allows. “Our team contains some incredibly dynamic skills,” he says. “Our intention as a coaching staff has been to get these guys into a place where their skills can freely come out.”
His lieutenants, Craig Wright and Paul Collingwood, have been allowed leeway to input. The pair, after all, oversaw the qualification campaign. But Bradburn has a deliberate philosophy, one influenced heavily through New Zealand’s own coaching programme which threw open the doors to a variety of sports to allow their secrets to be analysed and borrowed.
“I looked a lot at rowing, speed cycling and rugby, sports that are considered high performance in New Zealand,” Bradburn reveals. “It gave me a chance to put my own thoughts on performance into a broader context and it has definitely shaped how I coach. Probably most in how it’s helped simplify the demands I make of the players day in and day out.”
The All Blacks were especially instructive. “They’re easily accessible in New Zealand and the coaches are too. We interacted with them and the other coaches from the Super 15. You see what they do, how they build a culture where everyone is equal and has an individual job to do. And how they, coming from a small country, aren’t scared to beat the bigger nations.”
Music to Scotland’s ears. New Zealand, coming off a 98-run victory over Sri Lanka in yesterday’s Pool A opener, will not back down in their own backyard. Yet Bradburn’s compatriots will have a natural affinity with the underdog. “Kiwi fans are knowledgeable,” he smiles. “If we play well, we’ll get their respect.”