Australia news January 23, 2012

Player suspicions allayed by Howard

Suspicions and doubts about the priorities of Cricket Australia's management have filtered steadily out of the Australian dressing room in the months since the appointment of Pat Howard as the team performance manager.

A year ago the players readily questioned the priorities of CA and its desire to equip the team in the best possible way to win matches, to the point that management and selectors were banned from the dressing room during the ODI series against England. Now there is confidence that Howard and the coaches and selectors underneath him are committed to creating the best environment for success, and will not allow compromising decisions to be made.

Causes for most anger in the ranks last summer included the 17-man squad named in advance of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, and the refusal to release Michael Hussey and Doug Bollinger from the Twenty20 Champions League to prepare for a Test series in India.

Such decisions fell within the remit of Michael Brown, the former general manager of cricket operations. Brown has left CA to oversee preparations for football's 2015 Asian Cup, having been shifted to one side by Howard's appointment. Paul Marsh, the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association, said the new structure had bred trust.

"Under the new structure I'm reasonably confident that we won't see another 17-man home Ashes squad announced just to keep the marketing people happy," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "What the players want more than anything is a support structure that gives them the best possible chance to be successful. I don't think the previous structure always allowed this but the new structure has an individual in Pat Howard who is accountable solely for team performance.

"This has quickly created an environment where the players now feel that they have someone within CA senior management who is completely aligned to the goals of the team. The immediate impact of this is that players are starting to feel that the performance of the Australian cricket team is the high priority it should be for CA, whereas for the past few years this has rightly been questioned by the playing group."

Brown's former role was unwieldy, covering an enormous amount of ground. It included the team, playing conditions, disciplinary measures, television rights and pay negotiations. He was seldom heard from by the players unless it was a call to inform them of their selection in the national team, or to notify them of a disciplinary breach.

By contrast, Howard is a consistent presence around the team in his oversight role, sitting in on selection meetings and working closely with the head coach Mickey Arthur. His background as a former rugby international and coach has also given him a closer appreciation of high performance sport and its demands than Brown was able to call upon.

Ultimately accountable for the performance of the team, Howard has said he is less an auditor than an agent of collaboration, between players, coaches, the national team and the states.

"I don't see myself as looking over their shoulder, I see myself as enabling that performance - we've all seen there's a lot of talent there - and making sure that talent gets an opportunity is really important," Howard said. "And I think most of the Australian public have seen, given a chance there are some guys who are really well and truly up to it or can grow into it.

I think for a while there everyone did get a bit insular, and it was a bit quieter, we were a bit more intense. But I think now the new coach has set in, the new selectors have stepped in, the communication's been really good, everyone knows where they stand."
Michael Hussey on the new structure

"That's one of the great stories of the summer. Everyone, be they players or management, want the same thing, they want Australia to win, to perform, and they bring to the table lots of ideas about how we can improve. If we can bring that collaboration to the table then as a consequence we can only improve over the next couple of years."

The strong results seen so far against India have suggested that the team is benefiting from the change, and Hussey said there was an air of refreshment that had come from the knowledge that everyone was working towards the same goal.

"Certainly winning breeds fun, but also there's been so much change around the team, and I think for a while there everyone did get a bit insular, and it was a bit quieter, we were a bit more intense," Hussey said. "But I think now the new coach has set in, the new selectors have stepped in, the communication's been really good, everyone knows where they stand, they know what their roles are, and they know where they want to take the team in the future.

"I think that gives everyone a lot of heart and a lot of confidence. And then you can really be yourself and really see the characters come through in the team."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here