IF things had been different, Stuart Law would be preparing the West Indies to take on England.
Instead, Caribbean cricket’s loss is Middlesex’s gain as the Australian coach sets about trying to restore the 2016 County Champions’ Division One status.
Law, who played one Test and 54 ODIs during a career that took in spells with Essex, Lancashire and Derbyshire, has taken over at Lord’s this month after agreeing a four-year deal back in September.
The 50-year-old’s coaching credentials are sound having done a fine job in difficult circumstances with the West Indies, the highlight being a memorable Test win against England at Headingley in 2017.
His task at Middlesex, though, is also tough after the county’s sudden fall from grace, with the 2016 title win followed by relegation the following year and a disappointing fourth-place finish in Division Two of the Championship last summer.
Last season’s campaign cost former coach Richard Scott his job in July but Law is aiming to inject a welcome shot of optimism – and steel – into the dressing-room.
“I don’t know what’s gone before me being an outsider but I’ll bring fresh ideas,” he said. “Those who know me from my playing days will know what I was like as a player.
“We’ve essentially still got the core of a group of players who won the County Championship so we know they are capable of winning games and getting us back into the First Division.
“I’ve just watched them train, and the skill level’s great and the work ethic is fantastic. If we can add just a bit of steel to the mental side, we’ll have a pretty good package. I was tough mentally, a tough player verbally, so hopefully an ounce of toughness will rub off into the dressing room.”
One of Law’s first tasks will be to decide on his coaching team. “I’ve got a batting background so I can shoulder most of the batting workload,” he says. “But the one area I really want to target is fielding. It is one area where every team can improve.”
Law left his job with the West Indies after two years back in December and he believes they have every chance of causing an upset when their three-Test series starts against England next week.
“Don’t underestimate the home team,” he warned. “There’s a core of senior players who have been there for a while and proved they can do it.
“A lot of that group played in that Test at Headingley, so if England aren’t on their game, West Indies have got the team to make an upset.
“The best thing about this series is England are going in as red-hot favourites, going in as an underdog you’ve got nothing to lose.
“It should be reasonably comfortable for England on paper but out on the ground, there are a few guys there with a point to prove and opportunities to cement a place for a long time in the West Indies set-up, so I wouldn’t discount them.”
The thrilling five-wicket win in Leeds two summers ago – inspired by brilliant twin hundreds from Shai Hope – was the West Indies’ first in Tests in England since 2000.
“The euphoria of the first Test win in England in 17 years was something that’s still celebrated in the Caribbean,” Law said. “But some of the kids who stuck their hand up in that match really gained a lot. It comes down to self-belief. If they’ve got self-belief they can achieve anything they want.”
As for Australia, Law is optimistic they can raise themselves for this summer’s Ashes following their recent home defeat by India.
“You always want your home country to do well,” he said. “I fought hard to play for Australia and continue to watch with great interest.
“To see them going through what they are going through is tough to take but they are good players – they’ve just got to work out how to get back on track.
“Justin Langer has just been in for a short period of time (as coach) but he is a good man to have around in those kinds of situations. It’s up to the players to stick their hand up and show a bit more fight.”
CHRIS STOCKS / Photo: Getty Images