Interview with Mark Alleyne

All images courtesy of Gloucestershire Cricket

Jeremy Blackmore speaks to cricket legend Mark Alleyne, who’s made a triumphant return to Gloucestershire County Cricket Club as head coach to guide the next generation of players towards success.

As captain, Mark Alleyne led Gloucestershire County Cricket Club to nine trophies and a Championship promotion at a time when the ‘Glorious Glosters’ dominated county cricket and redefined the way one-day cricket was played in England.

As the county’s most decorated player, he was immortalised in a mural painted on the walls of the Seat Unique Stadium at Nevil Road in 2019. Alleyne’s career in numbers as the club’s highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in one-day cricket also features at the ‘Legends Walkway’ area of the ground. Now he’s back as the new men’s head coach, bringing that wealth of experience to help inspire and guide the latest generation of Gloucestershire players. Determined to find that winning formula again, he has clear ambitions to turn around the club’s recent run of poor form and see them challenge for silverware once more.

“That would mean everything to me,” he says. “As a player, I know what it feels like when you’re going out onto the pitch and the opposition are not looking forward to playing against you. It’s a really good feeling. It would be great if we can manage to rekindle that kind of presence on the field. That would be really satisfying.”

Fast bowler Dom Goodman throws the ball to Academy product Archie Bailey on pre-season tour in Stellenbosch

Born in London in 1968 of Bajan descent, Alleyne moved with his parents to Barbados aged four, where he first learned to play cricket. He returned to England 11 years later to further his education before heading to Bristol to join Gloucestershire as a young professional in 1986.

In those pre-glory years though, Gloucestershire were regarded as journeymen with no title to their name since 1977. Alleyne is quick to acknowledge the hard work that went in to forge the later success.

“I had some very good years here, none more so than the seven years as captain, where we secured nine titles, but the memories go well beyond those glorious years. Before that, you had all the hard yards of trying to win championships and evolve as a cricketer. Those two [periods] form very good memories for me.”

Appointed captain in 1997, Alleyne forged a pioneering partnership with coach John Bracewell, placing an emphasis on hard work and fitness and approaching the limited overs game in a very different way. He was supported by key players who fully bought into this new way of playing like Australian all-rounder Ian Harvey and England wicket-keeper Jack Russell.

“We caught cricket at a sweet spot really, where players were very skilled,” he says. “But there were certain aspects of the game they didn’t bother too much with, fielding for one. There were good catches, but I didn’t think teams really tried to make an effort in creating a fielding cauldron where you can save runs and create pressure.

“We did that really well and supported our bowling unit. And we got ourselves fitter. So, our running between the wickets and stuff like that was very aggressive. We were always looking for scoring opportunities, which is everyone’s default position now. But at the time, we felt quite progressive in that aspect.”

From player to coach
A career in coaching was not on his radar though. Towards the end of his playing career, he embarked on a master’s degree in business studies at Bath University and intended to stay in cricket but working on the business and administration side. Fate intervened when Bracewell took up the head coach role with New Zealand in late 2003, leaving a vacancy at Nevil Road. Asked to take over, initially in a temporary player/coach role, Mark served as the county’s head coach until 2007, winning two titles and taking the county to the T20 Cup final.

With three young children at home, he stepped away from full-time coaching jobs to prioritise his family life, taking on consultancy roles and working at the National Performance Centre at Loughborough, where he coached the England Under-15s. He spent time as the MCC head coach, and later became cricket professional at Marlborough College.

“I’d dedicated a life to playing cricket and all the travel and commitment that took,” he explains. “When I started a young family, I really wanted to be at home a bit more. This meant probably being in the school system, so we had the same holidays. That’s what drove me towards coaching within the school sector for a bit.”

I really got my appetite back for the first-class game”

The time away from the grind of the county circuit also gave him time to follow the footballing progress of his youngest son Max, who is currently part of Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad. It’s been an exciting time for the Alleyne family, who regularly travel to Manchester to catch Max in action.

The journey back into elite cricket happened gradually over the past few years. First, the England selectors asked Alleyne to act as a scout, making the most of his shrewd cricket brain and keen eye to observe some of the young up-and-coming batters around the county circuit.

“While doing that, I really got my appetite back for the first-class game,” he says. “I wanted to get back in and make a difference. At the same time, I did some work with the England one-day side in the Netherlands. Then I did the T20 Blast with Glamorgan and the Welsh Fire franchise for a couple of years.

“So, when this opportunity came with Gloucestershire, it was a good time for me, because my children had just come out of full-time education, and I felt as though I had some time now to scratch my itch and could go for it.”

Some part-time coaching work with the Glosters in 2021 proved beneficial too, giving him an early chance to get to know many of the players: “The current squad has quite a nice balance of some senior, experienced players who I had contact with in 2021. But also then, I was working across the second and first elevens, so Ollie and Tom Price, Dom Goodman, those guys were starting to cut their teeth a little bit. So, I managed to build up a decent rapport with them. So, getting back into it has been fairly seamless.”

Remaining optimistic
He is aware though of the challenges ahead. Gloucestershire finished bottom of Division Two in the County Championship in 2023 and have won just one limited overs trophy since he was last at the club. He is frank about the situation and acknowledges changes need to be made.

“What we’ve been doing, hasn’t worked. So, we do need to jerk ourselves into a slightly different way of approaching the game. We’re definitely not going to be maybe as passive or conservative as we have been in the past.

“That’s one attitude change we’re really looking for, looking to start games on the front foot. We have seen, despite some of the results the last two years, that once the team gets into the game, they can compete. But very often, it’s a little bit too late.

Head coach Mark Alleyne in discussions with lead bowling coach Mark Thorburn

“So, we’ve got to be able to play from the front and lead from the front. That’s something we’ll be looking to do, start the games at a bit more of a pace.”

He feels there is some cause for optimism, pointing out how talented his squad are despite their recent form.

“I think with a fully fit squad available, and a new face, some new ideas, I reckon we can get the group together to produce something a little bit more exciting than the last couple of years. Hopefully, looking at the four-day options in the County Championship, promotion is something we would really like at the club. We want to be competing in Division One, certainly over the next few years. I think that’s a realistic ambition.”

His own coaching style has evolved over the years, drawing on the many inspirational leaders he has played under and worked alongside.

“You’re constantly learning and picking up stuff you think you might be able to use in the future. So, I would say my style is a hybrid of a lot of good people I’ve had around me over the years.

“John Bracewell, yes, being one. But I’ve had some good captains, like Courtney Walsh. We’ve had coaches like Eddie Barlow, and my first coach John Shepherd. In amongst that, a lot of different styles, a lot of different ways of doing things. So, it’s important you do find your own way, your own philosophy and try and stay true to that.”

I would like the whole club to feel inspired again”

Looking at the Gloucestershire squad he inherits, he is excited by the quantity and variation in the bowling department. The batting line-up too has a good blend of experience and youth, bolstered by Australian batter Cameron Bancroft.

While this season’s opening game against Derbyshire was washed out by heavy rain, Gloucestershire could take real positives from the final day of their Division Two clash against favourites Yorkshire as Ollie Price’s career-best 147 and a century from James Bracey helped the Glosters to an unlikely draw.

Cricketing ambitions are one thing, but Alleyne wants to create a buzz around Nevil Road again.

“I feel as though we just stagnated a little bit. So, I would like the whole club to feel inspired again and be a bit more ambitious and look to make waves in Division One and get players going around the world playing franchise cricket. And just be a vibrant cricketing club again. That would make me very happy if we can start to get that going.”