Vitae Sports’ Steve Kirby is one of the most exciting young up and coming coaches in English cricket.
The former fast bowler enjoyed an illustrious professional playing career spanning over 12 years – he played well over 300 domestic games for Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset, and took 572 first class wickets at 28.74 apiece, 142 List A wickets at an average of 27.9 and 83 T20 wickets at an impressive 22.78. He took the leap into coaching at a young age, and it’s fair to say the decision paid off.
Kirby always knew he wanted to go into coaching. In fact, he was doing it whilst still playing, completing his badges, helping Gloucestershire and Somerset with their academies, coaching out in Canada and running his own academy.
When his playing career was ended early through injury, though, he had to take a break from the game.
But it didn’t take long for Kirby to fall back in love with cricket. He swiftly took up the role of head coach with the MCC, an honour he is very proud of, and helped the young talent at Lord’s for over two years.
When the opportunity then came to move into county cricket, he had no hesitation, and moved to Derbyshire as assistant head coach and bowling coach, and has been at the County Ground ever since.
It’s been a crazy coaching career for Kirby so far, but this is just the beginning.
“I was trying to think about coaching a fair bit whilst I was still playing but I finished at least three years earlier than I wanted to” Kirby told us recently when asked about his transition from playing into coaching.
“I had a dislocated shoulder and an operation put me out. So things got accelerated – I was coaching whilst I was playing; I had gone through my badges, I had been lucky enough to work on Gloucestershire’s academy, Somerset’s academy with the like of Jos [Buttler] and various others and that was fantastic experience.
“I got a chance to coach Canada just before the World Cup as a consultant bowling coach which was a great experience and I was just topping up. I had my own coaching company which I worked with Jon Lewis.
“I wasn’t sure really where it was going to go, but I was so upset that I had to retire that I could not watch a game for the first 12 months. If it was on the TV, I had to turn it off. Coaching was the last thing I wanted to do, and I went into recruitment.
“I did that for three years then I just got this bug to come back to cricket. It is something I had always loved, and I really wanted to help people and get the best out of them. Man management is something which really intrigues me – I had been a manager within the commercial world but I wanted to be able to bring that back to something that I loved and was hugely passionate about, so I took on the MCC job.
And what a job it was for Kirby. Fascinated by helping players both on and off the field, he was a perfect fit for the role.
“I started to slowly get back into the game working with Oxford University as part of the MCCU programme, so I was starting to get that bug to go back and suddenly that job came up. It was ideal.“I see it as a finishing school for late developers, and being a late developer myself, I felt I had that connection with the people that were not given a second chance. I went for the interview and gave a huge presentation – three stages and the second stage was a presentation in front of the likes of Mike Gatting and Matthew Fleming – it was quite daunting.
“I got the job, took it on and it was a case of getting the YC [Young Cricketers] programme and the MCC foundation back on the map, making them relevant, and instead of competing with county academies we would do a national strategy and then bring on an international strategy.
“It was a wonderful programme – not just about producing the next first-class cricketer, but about the stylistic approach to the player and make them good human beings. I wanted them to have a
career outside of cricket whilst they were trying to become professional cricketers – the MCC are passionate about giving the players the opportunity outside the game if cricket did not work.
“My highlights include giving them the opportunity to go on and play first class cricket. I felt like we got it back on the map – it was starting to be seen as successful again. And more importantly it gave these people a chance of a career if cricket did not work. I really care and cared about my players – I
look back on it and helping the young lads was superb. I loved every minute of it.
“It was a fantastic job, but I was doing 70 hours a week. I had this opportunity to go into county cricket as assistant coach at Derbyshire and I have jumped at that over the last couple of years and have loved it.”
The story of how the job at Derbyshire came around for Kirby is a nice one. His connections in the game helped him a lot.
Since being at Derbyshire he’s used his man management skills to his benefit and achieved plenty already. The club reached T20 Finals Day in 2019 for the first time ever, and are two from two in the brand new Bob Willis Trophy at the time of writing. It’s going pretty well.
“Dave Houghton was the batting consultant coach at Middlesex and we had worked strongly with Middlesex at the MCC,” said Kirby. “When I knew that he was taking the job at Derbyshire and he wanted some help, I had to do it.
“I thought it was great I was getting the lads into professional cricket at the MCC, but one of my ambitions was and is to try and go on and be an international coach. So, the next step was to get into county cricket and move up the ladder.
“I am so glad I am here now because the lads are a talented bunch. Watching these players move forward and progress has been so exciting – we have now established a really strong trust relationship with the players, and it is now about getting them to kick on. I really do have some high
hopes for where we can go, this year particularly.
“I want to see someone play for England. I want to see us win a trophy or two, and that is not out of the realms of possibility, especially in white ball cricket – we are a really strong and powerful team, especially with the bat.
“We were able to establish a really strong and simple game plan [in the 2019 T20 Blast] and we were able to bowl to scores that we could easily knock off – we have a top six batting lineup that I would be very scared of bowling at to be honest! “The project in the next two years is going to be very exciting in red ball, too. I would like us to get up into the first division and see where we go there. That is a very strong ambition of ours, alongside
honours in the white ball game.
“In terms of the bowlers, it was brilliant to work with Ravi [Rampaul] last year – he is a quiet man, but he is a leader. He bowled more overs than anyone else and was always there for the younger players helping and offering his advice.
“Seeing Fynn [Hudson-Prentice] come through after spending years with him at the YC and helping him through some difficult times was great. He had a wonderfully successful year last year and hopefully he kicks on.
“We have a lad called Sam Conners, who I do not want to speak too highly of too soon of, but, if he keeps going on the curve of growth he is on, he has got a huge future ahead of him. Jimmy Anderson said to me last year that he liked him!
“We have a few other young bowlers as well – Mikey Cohen, quick left arm for example, and we have some really good spinners. Matt Critchley has been working hard and I can see him doing some really exciting stuff this year. There are other bowlers to talk about and I am really excited. The bowling stocks aren’t huge, so we have to look after them, but there is some real talent here.
Derbyshire got off to a winning start this season with a thrilling three wicket win over Nottinghamshire in the first game of the season, but preparation for the season was different because of the coronavirus pandemic Kirby insisted they’ve made the most of things, though.
“It’s been so strange” he said. “Managing the players and their well-being and mental health, as well as my own, over the last 15 weeks not knowing whether were going to play cricket has been such a difficult time for everybody.
“To get back in with limitations was tough. We had to work one on one initially and then go through small groups, then full group training. But just making sure everyone is safe is the main thing.
“We were in Zimbabwe – we worked really hard all winter and had an amazing pre-season, but we had to rush back. Normally we would put the bowlers on a 12-14 week build up, making sure we put them through the cycle, but we have not had that opportunity – we had four weeks to get them ready.
“It has been a weird time, but I am excited to see what the season will bring. A lot of cricket in a short space of time will be a challenge but we have a positive in that we can rotate the squad and we have chance to see other players and get stuck in.”
And in terms of ambition, Kirby wants to go all the way to the top – and why not?
He said: “I would love to go all the way and work with England – that is my dream and ambition. I am so pleased for a good friend of mine, Chris Silverwood, doing as well as he is doing right now. I would love to follow in his footsteps and get a chance, because you always want to work with the best.
“It is an ambitious goal, but it’s not arrogant. I understand there is a long way to go, but you gave to set your bar high!”