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Taboo broken as Australian coach empowered

Daniel Brettig

August 19, 2011

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Michael Clarke and Tim Nielsen have a chat, India v Australia, 3rd ODI, Margao, October 24, 2010
Michael Clarke and Tim Nielsen will become national selectors with immediate effect © AFP
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Australian cricket has confronted one of its great taboos by handing selection duties to the national coach, an enormously powerful role not performed since Bob Simpson was removed from the national panel in 1994. At the time the incoming captain Mark Taylor felt that Simpson exerted too much of an influence over Australian cricket as a prominent coach and selector alongside the less conspicuous captaincy of Allan Border.

But now, as members of the Don Argus-led review into Australian cricket, Taylor and Border have recommended that the coach be part of a new panel of five that will also include the national captain, Michael Clarke. Among a raft of drastic changes to the structure of the national program, this one spoke loudest for how much times and attitudes had changed.

The incumbent coach, Tim Nielsen, and Clarke will immediately take on selection responsibility while on the current tour of Sri Lanka, but a new senior coach will be appointed in due course. Australia's vastly experienced fielding coach, Steve Rixon, and the Western Australia coach, Mickey Arthur, are both expected to express interest in the position.

"In my time in cricket administration it is probably the biggest chestnut, there's been a change of view on whether coaches and captains should be selectors many times," Cricket Australia's chairman Jack Clarke said. "I think the three captains on there probably would've had a certain view at one stage, interestingly they all came to the view to make that person accountable and the structures are all about accountability. To make those people accountable they need to be selectors, and the board accepted that."

Argus, who spoke as much of corporate dictums as cricketing ones, said the matter of communication between the selectors and the players had been so poor as to necessitate the formal inclusion of the coach and captain in the process.

"One of the things that came up was the communication between the players and the selectors and I'm sure you've heard that, and what we've done is to try to get adult conversations going around the panel of the selectors and the players," Argus said. "Normally communication solves most insecurities, and if we achieve that, that'll be a huge step forward."

The increased influence of the coach and captain closely mirrors the power wielded by the England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, architects of Australia's Ashes defeat last summer. The coach's broader role is also similar to the model now popular globally and at state level, though the Australian set-up has continually differed from this due to the strongly divergent views over Simpson's time in charge. Argus denied that the England model had been a major influence, preferring to conclude that it simply reflected the best and most functional model for high performance and accountability.

"I got an email overnight from a good friend of mine in England and he said 'now that we're No. 1, would you like some input into your report' and I said 'as a matter of fact I was thinking of putting in a recommendation that we get a Zimbabwean coach and four South Africans into the side'," Argus joked.

"The answer is no, it had no bearing on it. I had a look at that [England] as a passing phase, but if you have a look at the structure and you have a look at the corporate structures of high performance organisations around the world, you'll find some similarities."

 
 
"What we've done is to try to get adult conversations going around the panel of the selectors and the players. Normally communication solves most insecurities, and if we achieve that, that'll be a huge step forward"
 

Greg Chappell, the selector currently on duty in Sri Lanka, will be stripped of that role but is welcome to continue as the national talent manager, a position now far less powerful that one he had fashioned over the previous 12 months. It is unclear whether or not Chappell will elect to continue in his modified position.

Tensions between Chappell and the players bubbled under the surface during the summer, and Sutherland admitted that there were times he too was not welcome in the dressing room. Famed for wanting a free hand in whatever role he takes in cricket, Chappell must now adjust his methods and concentrate on talent identification, or move on.

"In terms of whether Greg is happy or not, that's something you can ask him," CA chief executive James Sutherland said. "I've spoken to him ahead of these recommendations being handed down. So he understands what the board has recommended and what it has adopted in that respect, and we will go on from there.

"He may well have some decisions to make himself about that, but that's really in his hands. It was a brief conversation, I had a lot of people to speak to today, I was delivering a message to give him an update, he hasn't seen the report, so he needs time to digest that.

"It was seen as important that there is a segregation of duty between the national selector and the national talent manager, such that the national talent manager was no longer a selector. Nothing to do with personality, purely a structural decision that best divests accountability."

Accountability was a major theme of the day, as CA sought to change a structure that had clearly lost its edge and effectiveness across years of success, leaving it quite unprepared to deal with the aftermath of that era.

"The lack of accountability and the objective of really performing was something that wasn't in the jargon that was coming through, and that's from what I'm used to outside, so that's an outsider's view," Argus said. "If the national team can concentrate on starting to get a winning culture going again that's a good start, and it doesn't need to be distracted by all the noise about selection and other stuff that they read, I'm sure that unsettles them. This gets the structure settled down and they can concentrate on what they do best. That's really what it'll be all about."

Clarke and Sutherland also emphasised that the search for the head coach, full-time chairman of selectors and general manager high performance would all be global ones, with no preference for local or internal candidates.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (August 22, 2011, 0:18 GMT)

@ hyclass - I wouldn't say that Simpson as a Coach/Selector was a failure! Also in regards to a captain being a selector, for tours it has been a part of tradition for over a 100yrs. We are the best test nation ever. That being said I would rather see it eventually revert to 3 selectors with no direct involvement with the team. Point to ponder, why is it that most other sports employ a coach to select? In Oz, its part & parcel of our elite sports that coaches drop players week to week. I don't know why a player, (cricketer) is considered to precious to be told they're not playing in the next match? @Sir_Freddie_Flintoff - nice, proof why the rest of the world can't wait for you guys to go back to your rightful place in world cricket - just about level with Zimbabwe! LOL! Top place in world cricket for about a week & the world is already sick of you! At least with Oz it took about 5 years, & India 1 year, (WIndies about 10 yrs!) - Sth Africa fell off the perch to quick to be annoying!!

Posted by hyclass on (August 20, 2011, 8:47 GMT)

Im sorry @ Green_and_Gold...but intelligence is the act of learning from mistakes, not repeating them. Having a coach as selector is a minefield for the exact reasons that @Prem_Baba has named. It failed with Bob Simpson at the helm.Taylor,one of the two men recommending the current course of action,was the man opposing it last time. Coaches are confidantes,whose importance should never exceed that of the players.They are not there to decide whether a player is better or worse in certain conditions.They are not there to force players to change their game.That kind of behaviour badly damaged Hughes before the 2009 Ashes warm up game. Coaches exist to put structures to training that SUPPORT the players.

Posted by The_Wog on (August 19, 2011, 22:36 GMT)

Sir Fred, no bowlers? On the contrary, Australia has the greatest talent pool of bowlers the world has ever seen: Since Worn, we've produced Test spinners Cullen, Beer, Doherty, Krejza, McGain, Hauritz, White, Casson and shortly Lyon. Not to mention Clarke and Symonds playing as front-line spinners. We produce enough Test spinners to staff every Test team in the world.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 19, 2011, 19:13 GMT)

I think the Aussies are going to follow the Pakistani way of selection where the coach and captain have BIG says. It also used to be India's way a few decades back. So it's a subcontinental thing. I don't know whether it will be successful in Australia's case. We have to wait and see. In the immediate future however, Australia needs to ensure they start to win tests on a consistent basis. They need to get rid of POSERS in the team and wayward guys who have no interest in playing test cricket for a long term basis. Andrew Symonds spoke about such players in an interview with Harsha Bogle a couple of years ago. All in all, it will be a tough future for Australia along with the likes of India. Both teams have average players in their current setup and that's not going to solve anything. The IPL and Big Bash League will spoil the talent pool. Already Australia don't have a quality spinner. Most worrying is the fact that India don't have a quality spinner anywhere. Hmm, bleak indeed.

Posted by Alexk400 on (August 19, 2011, 17:35 GMT)

Aussies must drop selfish Michael clarke. You need selfless guy to be captain. Watson is next obvious choice but if not they look out for people who born in 1986, 1989, 1993 in future. Especially people born in 1993 will be great captains. That is my tip. Coach can be in 1977 1989 1965 1953

Posted by Green_and_Gold on (August 19, 2011, 15:34 GMT)

@Prem_Baba - If the coach is any good then they should already be able to work out the weaknesses of the player before the player should need to go to them to talk about it. The coach should know all the players he works with and if there are problems he should be able to input that at the selection. For example if he can see 2 batsman of equal standing and one is very suseptable to the swinging ball and the other plays it well then that would be important stuff for a tour to Eng. Furthermore as a selector he can then talk to the player who was not selected and work on a plan of technical improvement for the player not selected so their expectations are managed. I know this is a pretty rough example but it should highlight some advantages. Lets see how it goes and what results it brings. If it dosent work then we can always revert back and remove the coach from the selection panel.

Posted by Ms.Cricket on (August 19, 2011, 12:46 GMT)

The coach should never be a selector. How can a player go to a coach and say I have so-and-so problem, could you help me get it fixed when he very well could be ruining his chances for selection by admitting this? Already the coaches, Neilsen especially, look like they cannot do the coaching job by themselves, we then have bowling coaches (McDermott), batting coaches (Langer), fielding coaches added etc etc added!! To give them the formal selection role is dreaming!

Posted by CricketChat on (August 19, 2011, 12:24 GMT)

I think Tom Moody would be a perfect fit for the Sr coach role. Relatively modern day player, has coached SL in a tough environment, young and healthy enough to stay in the job for next 6-8 yrs.

Posted by hyclass on (August 19, 2011, 12:08 GMT)

@landl47...well spoken on those three important words...I would add...coaches should never be selectors...its bad for everyone..the system wasnt broken so why did it need fixing...and half of the so called rebuilding is a myth...Hayden and Gilchrists records were on the slide and Langer and Martyn werent exactly irreplaceable...Hodge and David Hussey were overlooked and a good many others as well...Rod Marsh has been my goto man for a long time...i cant imagine anyone more effective in world cricket.

Posted by Mogadon on (August 19, 2011, 11:58 GMT)

@Governor, Marsh would be a good pick for Chairman but someone will have to referee the meetings if Rixon is Coach. Their both opinionated blokes and I can see them having a pretty frank conversation.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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