If there is one thing that stands out about Mark Robinson, it is his determination not to stand out. Listening back to our interview in a crowded Starbucks, I have to turn the volume all the way up to 11 before he comes through loud and clear:
“It should never be about the coach,” he says. “Always about the players!”
Perhaps that is the reason why, whilst other candidates announced themselves to the media, Robinson slipped his application in quietly under the radar. We might have missed it, but Clare Connor didn’t, and her enthusiasm for her new coach was palpable:
“We are absolutely delighted to appoint Mark,” she says. “He has a superb coaching record… and is highly regarded.”
After spending an hour with the man of the moment, CRICKETher starts to understand why.
We begin at the beginning: Why apply for this job?
“It’s international sport!” he says, with an air of almost school-boyish wonder in his voice. “The opportunity to participate in World Cups and compete at the highest level – it was hard to resist. But that’s where the women’s game has got to now – it just feels like a great time to be involved and the more I looked at it, the more excited I got.”
Robinson is quick to acknowledge the strengths of the current England setup and the debt he owes to his predecessors, Mark Lane and Paul Shaw:
“Anything can be improved, but it doesn’t need a revolution; it doesn’t need ripping apart. There’s really good stuff that has happened under the two previous coaches. I have to build on all that good work.”
But he also seems to have an intuitive understanding that there are problems which need addressing. Reflecting on the recent Women’s Ashes loss, he sums it up succinctly:
“It just looked at times like they didn’t quite believe in themselves enough.”
So how will he address this?
“I’m less of the technical coach,” he admits. “My job is understanding the person. I will always endeavour to try to understand somebody and how they behave; how they react. Then I’ll commit everything I can to the player to allow them to be the best they can.”
CRICKETher can’t help but think of Lauren Winfield as he goes on:
“There has got to be accountability but there has also got to be forgiveness and empathy. Nobody dies when somebody plays a dreadful shot. We want the players to be going out and expressing themselves, but we can’t be then shooting them when they get caught on the ring. You can’t have it both ways. Mistakes are okay.”
Coming from a background in The Other Game, Robinson is humble about some of the challenges he faces:
“One of my potential weaknesses is I’ve not got enough knowledge [of the women’s game]; but I also come in with brand new eyes. I wouldn’t know some of the players if they were in this room, which is a potential danger, but it is a strength as well. I’ve got a lot of homework to do!”
But he is nevertheless determined to rise to the challenge in 2016, looking forward to a T20 World Cup in India in March, plus crucial Women’s International Championship series which will determine automatic qualification for the 2017 (ODI) World Cup:
“When you are one of the biggest teams in the world, you set out to win,” he says. “You can’t do anything else!”