James Kirtley: Sharks players' Blast experience makes up for coach's lack of it!

Preparations for my first campaign as the Sharks’ T20 head coach are almost complete, writes James Kirtley (T20 Blast head coach for Sussex).

Sussex Sharks will be looking for more Blast success in 2021 and head coach James Kirtley believes they have a great chance / Picture: Getty
Sussex Sharks will be looking for more Blast success in 2021 and head coach James Kirtley believes they have a great chance / Picture: Getty

We’ve had some really useful game time in the second team competition, but the work started some time before those. Thanks to the club’s foresight in splitting the head coach roles, I’ve been able to focus on Vitality Blast plans while Sals has been concentrating on the Championship.

I’ve also had the great luxury of having a number of players not involved in the red-ball stuff, so we’ve had time to have conversations, explore ideas and work out plans without feeling rushed or distracted.

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Guys like Luke Wright, Ravi Bopara, Tymal Mills, Phil Salt and David Wiese have played so many games all around the world, so there has also been a huge amount of experience to draw on.

James Kirtley can't wait to get the Sharks' Blast campaign started

I worked out that a possible starting XI for our opening fixture would have more than 1,500 T20 appearances. That should make up for a head coach taking charge in his first game!

My relationship with Sals, and the fact we both see the bigger picture for the club despite our different areas of responsibility as head coaches, means championship regulars like George Garton and Delray Rawlins have been able to play in the second team T20 games and get good preparation for the Blast. That leaves people like Travis Head but he has more than enough experience to be trusted to switch formats.

Rashid Khan, when he arrives, will be the same when it comes to adapting to different conditions from those he’ll have been playing in in the Pakistan Super League.

Those second team games have also been a great opportunity to learn more about some of our emerging rookies, the likes of Archie Lenham or Oli Carter.

The game time lets our analyst Luke Dunning collect lots of information on their strengths in different scenarios, so we know who might be suited to certain situations come the Blast.

Luke has been brilliant over the course of the past few months, coming up with ideas, looking at all the different ‘what ifs’ that might come up in a game, and then condensing all that so we can come up with some really clear plans.

I like the numbers side of the game, it suits my personality, but what’s more important is how we use that knowledge.

From my time as a player and a captain when I stood in for Chris Adams, I know how important trusting your gut is.

The information we give the players is about making them feel as well-informed as possible to make decisions at important moments.

It sounds paradoxical, but if you give players that little bit of structure through clear information, you give them the confidence to trust their gut and play with freedom.

The prospect of playing in front of crowds, and hopefully bigger and bigger crowds as the tournament progresses, is extremely exciting.

It’s what T20 is all about. Ultimately, the players are entertainers and they have been denied the opportunity to perform for their audience.

I want the guys to embrace being entertainers and my role is preparing them to have the confidence to show off their skills, whether that’s clearing the boundary or blowing the stumps away.

I’m excited to get started. I’ve seen how the guys have prepared and their immense skill levels and now it’s about converting that into a style of play that allows us to win not just in the group stage, but the knock-out games as well.