16th November 2018
This is Leicestershire - part 4
* In the third and final part of an interview with former Leicestershire CCC all-rounder David Millns for the ‘This is Leicestershire’ series, the Foxes legend spoke to Communications and Cricket Logistics Manager Dan Nice about his life after playing, and Paul Nixon’s return to the Fischer County Ground.
Former Leicestershire CCC all-rounder David Millns spent a large part of his career either trying to find the outside edge to allow Paul Nixon to take a catch or batting with his colleague.
Now the duo carry out different roles within the game, with Nixon returning to the Fischer County Ground as Head Coach at the Foxes, and Millns an ECB umpire.
Millns still has fond memories of playing alongside Nixon and was delighted to see his former teammate get a crack at the Head Coach role.
The 54-year-old knows that Nixon will craft his own style and has seen players do well at their old county, including Jason Gillespie.
Millns knows that now and again the proverbial kick up the backside is required, but those with good people-management skills who are able to be constructive in the aftermath of defeat are the ones that generally succeed.
He said: “I was pleased to see Nico [Paul Nixon] coming back to the club as Head Coach. If you create the right atmosphere in a team environment, you can go a long way. It’s eleven human beings against another eleven at the end of the day.
“One of the things about Jason Gillespie, who has a terrific record, is the way that his players talk about the feeling and the atmosphere in the team. That comes from the top. If you instil fear into a player; of getting out, of not bowling very well, etc, then you develop a system where players become afraid to perform. If you instil confidence then that has the opposite effect.
“It’s you holding the bat and you holding the ball, but if you have an atmosphere where you have a certain style - almost what I’d call a football style - of management, then it can go wrong.
“We beat Essex heavily at Chelmsford on one particular occasion, we were sat in the dressing room, and I could hear their players being berated. I thought if somebody spoke to me like that after giving of my best, then I’d just walk out of the room. For whose benefit is that? Is it done because that is the expected thing to do?
“I used to hate it when coaches would have meetings after games in which you’d be beaten. Emotions are running high, and it’s best to get a shower, go home, settle down and then look at it constructively in a couple of days.
“Otherwise you’re looking around, pointing the finger and - mind my language here - saying you batted like ****, you bowled like ****, you played a **** shot, dropped an easy catch and so on. It doesn’t benefit anybody.
“I remember Yorkshire players saying that under Jason, there was never any danger of being berated when you’d lost, in fact it was the opposite, with the effort being praised. Then you’d pick apart the performance a couple of days later in order to improve. That’s the style of management that is the best way to go about it.”
Another way of getting the best out of people is those that actively demonstrate the benefits of a skill and working closely with the players, something that Millns saw with overseas player Hansie Cronje.
That is something that Nixon and his coaching staff are keen to do, something visible in the warm-ups to matches, and in coaching sessions on non-matchdays.
Millns believes that getting people to think outside the box and reduce the fear of failure when it comes to performance is vital.
He said: “I remember when we were batting against spin, Hansie Cronje worked with Ben (Smith), Afi (Aftab Habib), Vince Wells, Darren Maddy and others.
“It was about getting out of the crease to spinners and hitting a six if the ball was in the right area. A lot of the batsmen feared a dressing down for getting out in that manner, but Hansie wanted them to get those thoughts out of their head.
“Hansie said it wasn’t something that was an option as such. It was the equivalent of a golfer not using a three iron or a wedge - it’s part of the game, and you have to do it.
“It changed the mindset of our batsmen completely. Aftab would manoeuvre the field and work the gaps, and it was great to watch these guys bat. Aftab had a real class about the way he went about his business.”
Although being able to quickly identify the benefits of a good coach, Millns readily accepts that was not a career path for him to pursue.
Instead, Millns quickly gained his umpiring qualifications before having a career outside of the game for a few years. He turned his attentions back to being in the middle and was named on the ECB Reserve List for 2007.
Millns then joined the full Umpiring list in 2009 alongside fellow former fox Nick Cook, ex Durham CCC batsman and now ICC Umpire Michael Gough, and former Premier League referee Martin Bodenham.
His appointment was part of a piece of sporting history. Bodenham, who was referee for Sky Sports’ first ever Monday Night Football game between Manchester City and QPR as well as the League Cup Final and Replay when Leicester City beat Middlesbrough in 1997, became the first person to become an official in both professional football and cricket.
“Coaching was not for me,” said Millns, shaking his head. “I actually qualified in umpiring in 1998, so when I retired in 2001 I was in a position to be interviewed by the ECB for the reserve list.
“I went away and did other things, and I regret that now, as I didn’t come back until 2007. My situation now is that I’ve done five out of the last six domestic finals but I’m 54 next, and the international boys have to come off the panel at 61.
“So for me it’s too late to start that role and they will go for the younger guys like Alex Wharf and Martin Saggers, which is only right. I’d have liked to have had a crack at that but it wasn’t to be. It’s still great to be part of the finals. If I get to 66, then I’ll have had 42 games in the profession I love. You can’t complain at that.
“I like the challenge of umpiring; it’s your own destiny, and you’re marked on your own performance like a player. As a coach, you can develop the right environment and develop good players but, at the end of a particular spell, you can find yourself out of a job because of injuries, poor weather or poor performance.
“The mentality in professional sport nowadays is ‘we’ll sack that person and bring the next person in.’ Plus these coaches work so hard; I only have to work 90 days a year so I can sail, scuba dive, do all of my walking, and clear off to nice parts of the world over the winter. Umpiring suits my lifestyle.”
Millns is always open to new cricketing challenges around the world. He umpired on the MCC tour to Kenya and has been part of the ECB umpire exchange programme in India. Millns stood in Abu Dhabi for the traditional seasonal opener between MCC and champion county Yorkshire CCC in 2016 and umpired alongside Jeremy Lloyds during the North-South series in the West Indies in March.
Cricket has a fascinating ability to bring people together in different ways at different times. Lloyds made his first-class umpiring debut in 1996 and officiated his first game in county cricket in 1998 - coincidentally, the two years that Leicestershire CCC won the County Championship.
Lloyds was umpire in a Foxes fixture alongside George Sharp at Edgbaston in 1998 in a game that was mentioned in part two of this series. Millns had a fine game, making 99 as part of a last wicket stand worth 109 with Matthew Brimson, as well as dismissing Brian Lara.
That moment is one of many memorable ones that Millns had in his career. Coming from an upbringing in a working-class mining community, Millns fully appreciates the privileges that go with his occupation and understands the responsibilities attached to a role where no two days are the same.
“It’s great variety and that’s a massive plus for me,” said Millns. “Before umpiring this game [Leicestershire CCC v Durham CCC] I was in Birmingham for T20 Finals Day with four different sides and different sets of officials, the week before was the Roses game.
“The amount of people that you meet is great. When you turn up for work and get told that breakfast is available, and you come back to Leicester which is the second best catering on the circuit after Lord’s - sorry John [Stew, Catering Manager], Lord’s is still the best! - you get a lovely menu, and you get asked if you’d like a drink at the end of the day.
“It’s such a privileged life, and my background is working-class, so I appreciate all of that. The middle is my office and I get to stand in the best cricket grounds in this country. The ECB have sent me to the West Indies, Abu Dhabi and India and I’m getting paid to visit various parts of the world.
“If you can’t enjoy it, then you need to do something else. I often say that to some of the lads out there ‘if you’re not happy, then go and stack shelves at 4am in the morning. Then come back and tell me that it’s hard work to do a training session at 10am.’
“The real world is a tough one. We all live in a cocoon and need to appreciate that. It’s not everybody, naturally, as most players are great. But now and again you give them a reminder out there because they get lazy.”
* 'This is Leicestershire' is a new winter feature, exploring the history of our great club. In the next part, we catch up with Ryan Cummins, who tells us his remarkable story from T20 Finals Day in 2006.