A job for safe hands
In picking Tim Nielsen as John Buchanan's replacement Australia have compromised left-field vision and distinguished on-field service. Seven years ago the Australian Cricket Board ditched the logic that said a coach had to have appeared in more Tests than training seminars and appointed a university lecturer. The traditionalists were as confused as the players in their early meetings where Buchanan outlined his powerpoint plans, but the gamble pushed Australia to unreachable levels.
What Ricky Ponting does not need as he rebuilds a team that has lost four pillars in a series is another technophile. And in the absence of a recently-retired player such as Steve Waugh, who could have filled a Geoff Marsh-style role, a man was picked who knows the present, the future, the science and the practice.
Nielsen speaks of himself as hands-on, but he also considers Buchanan as a mentor and the merging of the spheres is what strengthened his credentials in a field that speculatively included Tom Moody, Greg Chappell, Dav Whatmore and Bennett King. Over the last seven years Australia was jammed with outstanding performers who needed gentle guiding instead of reality-show makeovers. As Ponting develops his own squad of generation whys there will be many questions that a cricket coach rather than a man-manager will be better qualified at answering.
Like Buchanan, Nielsen has never represented Australia, but he did spend nine seasons as a wicketkeeper-batsman at South Australia, and that earns him credibility Buchanan could never achieve with his seven first-class games. When a player wants to know why his left knee is collapsing during a cover-drive he will be confident in quizzing Nielsen. Aged 38, he has developed a successful new career, but his playing days were not decades ago and the understanding of those on-ground feelings will help make him a confidante instead of a school master.
Nielsen ended a three-year stint as Buchanan's assistant after the 2005 Ashes series and took an in-house promotion to head the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane. It was a strategic move as many of the players who attended the Academy since then were targeted as short- and medium-term international options. Unlike Buchanan or a coach called home from overseas, Nielsen knows the potential yields of the next crop and how to foster them.
Sitting in a suit and flanked by Cricket Australia's chief executive and chairman, Nielsen accepted the job after being approved by the board at a meeting in Melbourne. His family sat in the front row and watched his opening lines as the coach-elect. There were no major announcements or plans and he is unlikely to become a convoluted baiter of the opposition.
Australia evolved dramatically with their no-thought-is-not-worth-a-thought guru. However, now the self-sufficiency of the squad has diminished it is necessary to find someone more orthodox. The new-age philosophies will not be binned, but in Nielsen the squad has a player-centric, skills-based coach. It is a low-key choice that is safe and sensible.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo