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Howard warns against complacency

Daniel Brettig

January 14, 2014

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Pat Howard, Australia's team performance manager, at a press conference, Melbourne, November 22, 2011
Pat Howard says Australian cricket must 'keep pushing, keep assessing, keep improving' © Getty Images
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A sense of urgency - even emergency - coursed through Australian cricket's veins in the lead-up to this summer's Ashes series. The team performance manager Pat Howard has now warned that such energy must not be lost in the afterglow of victory over England if the team's success is to be lasting.

Howard's role, outlined by the Argus review and bestowed by the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland in 2011, made him ultimately accountable for the national team's performance. He was thus in danger of losing his job had the Ashes stayed with England, and admitted as much at the start of the summer.

A sweeping victory over Alastair Cook's tourists brought relief to Howard and many others at CA, allowing him the privilege of a dressing-room invitation at the end of the Sydney Test to share a celebratory drink with the team - players and administrators have not always mixed so fondly. He could look back on numerous decisions, from the appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach and the return of Brad Haddin as vice-captain to the call-ups of Craig McDermott, Damian Mednis and John Davison to on-tour support staff roles, as key moments along the way.

"We did collectively have a lot of faith coming out of England; the one-dayers confirmed that faith post the Test matches as well that we had the capability, and obviously it's holding your nerve through what was an interesting period," Howard told ESPNcricinfo. "I think a lot of people held their nerve and the players performed admirably.

"There's been a lot of things going on for an even longer period than that [England] but the things we see are what we call the shop window and the Test team and how that goes. There were 11 guys who performed brilliantly during that period of five Tests and a lot of backroom staff who kept them on the ground for that period and obviously the coaches that got the best out of them during that period."

There were structural adjustments too. The domestic season is now divided into four distinct blocks of matches, starting with the domestic limited-overs tournament, the Sheffield Shield, Big Bash League and then the closing rounds of Shield games. Pitches have been massaged to better advance batsmen and spin bowlers, while the age restrictions on the Futures League have been removed altogether. The fruits of many of these gambits will not be known for some years, but Howard is adamant that the changes ushered in during times of poor results must not be followed up by contented dithering. He is on guard against complacency.

"Sometimes success can bring complacency and that's why you've got to have a strategy and a document that drives you, either the CA strategy or the team performance review, the Argus review as it's commonly known, and to keep trying to push processes forward and to innovate," Howard said. "Some things work, some things don't, but the continuing ability to keep pushing, keep assessing, and keep improving is important.

"We've looked at longer-term projects like stuff coming out of our domestic changes or the pitches and things which we've been pretty vocal on this year, and you're not going to see the benefits of those for a while. But we've seen a significant increase in the number of overs that spinners are bowling, as a consequence the number of overs the batsmen are facing of spin, and we're going to continue to try to work with all the officials around Australian cricket to try to support the Australian Test, ODI and T20 teams.

"But I've been really happy with progress. We've seen a significant rise in centuries, a significant rise in half-centuries, but there's also areas like 50s to 100s [conversion rates] that haven't improved as much as we'd want. So there's all those changes that probably take more than half a season to wash through, and we're going to have to be patient to try to get some batsmen really putting their hand up and giving the selectors even more choice."

It should not be forgotten that the Australian Cricketers Association is tabling a state-of-the-game report to CA that will offer plenty of frank commentary on the problems the players themselves still see in the system. The placement of the BBL in the centre of the summer is chief among them, an issue highlighted by Shane Watson before the Ashes began in Brisbane. Howard himself is not satisfied with the current marginalisation of the Shield around the BBL, and is discussing with CA how the balance can be improved further in 2014-15.

"Change is always hard, and sometimes you've got to put your head down and get that change through," he said. "We've had some positive and some negative feedback, and the negative feedback has been really constructive. So we're looking to tinker, but none of that's gone through yet. I think in terms of the blocks of season that'll continue, where Ryobi will be played in a block again and we'll see if we can get the balance right with the number of Shield games either side of the BBL and see if we can get that through.

"It's a really complex time of the year, absolutely no doubt about that. But we try to keep our thinking clear. For those the selectors identify we make sure we work from the first Test backwards and work in with the states and the BBL teams, make sure we can incorporate any training or workloads into competitive cricket as well as training. Those plans are in place, you get injuries along the way, you get pressure on performances and suddenly teams wanting to make BBL semi-finals etc. So there are lots of competing interests and it is complex, but it's a great challenge."

The repealing of earlier regulations restricting the second XI competition to three, then six, players aged over 23 was the lowest-profile but arguably most significant change to the Australian cricket landscape. They had been put in place at the behest of Greg Chappell, who remains CA's national talent manager, due to his fears about a lack of youth coming through. A subsequent exodus of senior players from club, state and national levels had consequences for the national team, and Howard said the need for greater balance was now appreciated.

"Change is always hard, and sometimes you've got to put your head down and get that change through" Pat Howard

"I think the state talent managers who play chairmen of selectors for each state have done a really good job with that," Howard said. "In some states there's a significant amount of youth playing at the state level, and as a consequence we look at the balance of not just the Futures League team for the second XI game but also how much youth is being represented at the top level. I think they're doing a very good job generally at getting that balance right and getting the best growth out of those players.

"We're also trying to send a message to grade cricketers with aspirations that you can play in the next level, we want to be able to say if you though that's closed off that's not closed off. The presence of those players in premier grade cricket is important, so we're trying to have that system which is deep and fosters talent all the way down. The importance of a young player playing with an older player in premier grade cricket I don't think is lost on anybody."

Howard was reluctant to speak about the Ashes victory, preferring to let the players bask in their success. But he admitted to enjoying that moment in the dressing room, a place he has avoided crowding in the past. "I believe the dressing room is a sanctuary for players and those that are close, so it was very nice to be invited in," he said. "I'd resisted for a while, but it was very nice to join them."

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

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Posted by bren19 on (January 16, 2014, 0:30 GMT)

@thegimp - thanks for the comments. I admit I have not read the argus review but just going on what I read here. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (January 15, 2014, 21:16 GMT)

"Posted by xtrafalgarx @Rednwhitearmy: Rebuilding is a myth". Just pick the best players test match to test match and don't look too far ahead". I could not agree more. Writing off a player today because you think he will be too old in 5 years is utterly rediculous. The contrast between the last 2 Ashes showed us 1 thing (for the umpteenth time), form is everything.

Posted by Tumbarumbar on (January 15, 2014, 21:05 GMT)

Hi @Vikas-Butani, I may be suffering short term memory loss but I think there was only one sitter dropped by the English in the one dayer. That was Finch, the caught and bowled chance from Warner almost took the bowler's fingers off. Whose to say that would have changed the game anyway? Maybe if Finch was out at that time then Watson doesn't receive the ball he was out to and doesn't get a duck and he goes on to make a hundred and Australia still wins. Who knows?

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (January 15, 2014, 10:35 GMT)

@Thegimp: Exactly. Everyone wants to find the next 100 test player or the next 15 year player, but that doesn't necessarily result in having a good team. you should just pick players who can do a job and keep the TEAM rolling rather than the players. It's not about having superstar players it's about keeping the team moving forward.

Swann and Trott like players are usually the order of the day, short and efficient careers, keep them rolling through.

Posted by Thegimp on (January 15, 2014, 7:24 GMT)

@ xtrafalgarx...Rarely truer words said. Football sides rebuild as they only have a small squad to pick from. International Cricket side shouldn't need rebuilding, they are either good enough or not. Realistically a player only has an average of three to five years at the top. Only a select few get through to 10 years. Most are 30-50 Test players. You can't rebuild the Aust side of the 90s-00 s, they just happen.

Posted by SpadeaSpade on (January 15, 2014, 7:04 GMT)

Per Mr Howard " "Change is always hard, and sometimes you've got to put your head down and get that change through. Well Pat is is some more negative feedback for you mate, Pls bugger off and leave the planning to those who know the game best. Unless I'm mistaken you were pivotal in the engagement of an overseas coach and the rotation policy. In All due respect if we couldn't find someone in Australia good enough to coach the national team I'll stand rooting and how many times did you need to be told that picking the best 11 available on the day is the only way to pick your national team. The change in these 2 areas is significant in the change of fortunes for the aussies, Mickey Arthurs ABC interview stated they didn't think we could win in England and had always planned on winning at home. What BS was fed to the players Australian teams should expect to win every series they compete in. Self belief is everything in sport.

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (January 15, 2014, 6:51 GMT)

@Rednwhitearmy: Rebuilding is a myth. Just pick the best players test match to test match and don't look too far ahead.

Posted by Thegimp on (January 15, 2014, 6:04 GMT) missed the point of the Argus review and hence Howard's point. It wasn't to make spin friendly pitches, it was to go away from the more common practice of producing seam friemdly wickets with the sole aim to produce more outright results at Shefield Shield level as what has occurred over the last few seasons. Batsmen were having a hard time surviving so batting was sliding. The seamers were rolling sides early so the spinners were suffering. Spinners weren't getting overs so batsmen weren't getting experience against spin. Seamers were getting used to friendly decks and having their figures and egos inflated. A wicked trilogy solved with the simple act of telling groundsmen to produce 'normal' wickets again.

Posted by Thegimp on (January 15, 2014, 5:55 GMT)

I kind of wish The Waughs, Ponting, Hayden, Langer, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Martin, Gilchrist, Clarke, Hussey etc never existed. Everytime Australia beat someone the world starts to tremble that we might be recovering toward another two decades of world domination and can't wait to put the boots in. Some very small minded people openly entice responses by entering discussions and making comments about topics that don't concern them. India gets thumped no matter where they travel and yet their supporters continually comment negatively on Australian stories hoping that SA thump Australia. English (yes you Redandwhitearmy) previously commented that England would win 5-0 and yet after their complete capitulation, you are still not contrite enough to say well done Australia. Your only apparent hope in life and reason for living is for SA to thump Aust.

I find that very interesting.....

Posted by Ozizim on (January 15, 2014, 5:36 GMT)

Seriously! Here are the facts. England were far too complacent and had a West Indian laissez faire approach. Forget the batsmen, the fielding was shoddy too. Oz team is just above average, at best. Take away Haddin from the series and you have trouble. Do you realise how bad it's gonna be for the Aussies in RSA? Place your bets now.

Posted by muzika_tchaikovskogo on (January 15, 2014, 5:18 GMT)

@117no: Very valid point made. While Australian players and fan are understandably euphoric about the return of the Ashes, such euphoria needs to be tempered by realism. A lot of people seem to be forgetting that the Australians whitewashed the Indians 4-0 and the Sri Lankans 3-0 under the now reviled Mickey Arthur. We'll know their real progress when they step out of familiar conditions.

Posted by on (January 15, 2014, 5:12 GMT)

{Howard himself is not satisfied with the current marginalisation of the Shield around the BBL, and is discussing with CA how the balance can be improved further in 2014-15.}

Good. It is a joke how the Shefield Shield is taking a back door to a second rate BBL. We are about to embark to Sth Africa and not a first class game of cricket to be had apart from the tests. Seriously!

I didn't see Howard warning anyone of anything when we were losing left right and center.

We win a series and he comes out of the woodwork with warnings. Pleeease.

The money spent on paying him a fortune could have been spread around at grass roots level and at least done some good.

Posted by vik-expert on (January 15, 2014, 2:17 GMT)

I am kind of getting Howard's point. I think bad cricket was played by England and Australia played like average team. The result 5-0 doesn't show the big problem in Australian cricket team. It will show up in SA series. Even in 1st ODI if the sitters were taken by English fielders then England could have won the match easily. I don't think so Maxwell, Warner & Finch have any batting techniques. They are just flat track bullies like some of the Indian, Pakistani and Sri lankan batsman (Dhawan, Afridi, Rohit, Hafeez, Chandamal). Maxwell reminds me Recado Powell useless cricketer. Watson and Harris both of them surrounded by injuries.

Posted by 117no on (January 15, 2014, 2:12 GMT)

Let's not get carried away...we only beat the 3rd ranked Test side on our home patch. We were 5/100 in most innings...

Pat Howard, you are going in the right direction but it is still early days.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (January 15, 2014, 1:53 GMT)

I don't know if success baught complacency to AUS but I know ASHES success had baught more strategy within the SA camp! Mitchel Johnson true colors will be out then, his own medicine of sledging will be dished out to his batsmen by Dale and the boys!

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (January 15, 2014, 1:52 GMT)

Most of the aussie side is 35+ so once again they are going to have to rebuild. South Africa will crush them then its all downhill.

Posted by dunger.bob on (January 14, 2014, 23:54 GMT)

@ Varun Ravichandran: Docile Australian conditions. Well, at least that's a mildly interesting statement in an otherwise vomit inducing effort. .. Have you got it in you to expand on that and explain what you mean? I'm super keen to know how came up that.

Posted by C.Gull on (January 14, 2014, 23:41 GMT)

I get that it's his job to say things like this, but really, it's wholly unnecessary right now.

Posted by bren19 on (January 14, 2014, 22:56 GMT)

I question the value of making spin friendly pitches in Australia so we can uncover spinners. All this will do is make average spinners get better results that they deserve and wonder why they get belted at test level. The spinner you want in your team is the one that stands out in non spin friendly conditions. If there is no such beast - pick your 4 best bowlers - even if they are all quicks.

Posted by bren19 on (January 14, 2014, 22:54 GMT)

Pat Howard? Argus Review? I might be old fashioned but cant we just play cricket. When we are not going so well - practice more. All this argus review, state of play, high performance manager all sounds like PC rubbish. Surely these things were only in place to make it look like CA was doing something in the tough times. We won - drop the fakery - no one is upset with you now.

Posted by Chris_P on (January 14, 2014, 21:52 GMT)

@Varun Ravichandran. So docile India have never won a series here? You have either no idea of Australian wickets or choose to flout your ignorance for every Australian pitch is very well grassed. I mean seriously, do you do any research?

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 20:25 GMT)

Unrelated to the topic... Neil Patrick Harris would be a perfect Doppleganger for Pat Howard...

Posted by gogoldengreens on (January 14, 2014, 18:33 GMT)

Oh no here we go again - we have had a test series go past successfully for Australia and never did we hear the words Argus review & Pat Howard until now...

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (January 14, 2014, 14:51 GMT)

I do not see a place where I can post an appreciation to the words of Ian Chappells's interview so I will try here. he remains a voice of sanity in an increasingly insane world. He always has something good to say and here is no different. A very wise man indeed.When I was younger sides did win away quite often and the balance needs reasserting. Re Aussie pitches-they are a lot more amusing than English ones even if we can't win a thing on them. Perth really is a fine wicket.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (January 14, 2014, 14:32 GMT)

Actually I am still coming to terms with that monumental stuffing of the English cricketing turkey we just witnessed - or was it just a dream?

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (January 14, 2014, 13:58 GMT)

@Izzidole: Cricket in Australia needs the BBL. Simple as that. It's about the kids and families it introduces to the games, the ratings have been through the roof this year and it's great for cricket in Australia. The problem is that it clashes with the players needs as well. We need them to be playing FC cricket to push for places and put pressure on the test side but at the same time we need new people coming into cricket and the holidays are the best time to do that. So it's very hard to balance it.

Posted by izzidole on (January 14, 2014, 12:42 GMT)

There is no reason to be complacent since we have only just won the ashes and the mission is not complete until we beat both India and South Africa to be the number one team in world cricket. The job is only half complete and still theres a long way to go and lots more work is left to be done. The test series against South Africa will give a clear indication where we stand. As such it would be better for us to keep quiet until the mission is complete. Despite all the work that's gone to improve the quality of cricket since the release of the Argus Report I reckon the BBL is a big stumbling block and should never be conducted in the middle of a test series. It virtually shuts the door on those who are trying to play test cricket rather than limited overs cricket. It gives the wrong message that T20 takes top priority over test cricket. The BBL is merely a supply chain for aussie cricketers who want to earn big money playing in the IPL. It should be re-scheduled for a later date.

Posted by Amit_13 on (January 14, 2014, 11:58 GMT)

When did this happen? When did administrators become so important and indispensible in cricket?

Posted by WC96QF on (January 14, 2014, 11:53 GMT)

Impressive to see the clear headed thinking by Howard and the CA administration. Aus cricket wl surely get better. It can only be good for world cricket.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (January 14, 2014, 11:26 GMT)

@ disco_bob on (January 14, 2014, 11:15 GMT) Too true, but that tactic worked against the poms, we will consistently have to come up with other tactics to stop becoming complacent

Posted by disco_bob on (January 14, 2014, 11:15 GMT)

@rickyvoncanterbury, providing of course that we don't consistently have top order collapse.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (January 14, 2014, 11:14 GMT)

@Carl don't confuse the ODI wickets in India with test wickets, wickets that spin are as much a challenge as playing in Perth. It's a different matter altogether that the moment the ball starts spinning in India, visiting teams start crying hoarse and call it doctored, notwithstanding the fact that home batsmen score double hundreds on the same wicket!

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (January 14, 2014, 11:07 GMT)

It was an excellent performance by the Aussie team, but it was a victory in home conditions against an ageing English side. SA will be testing but it will be similar to Australian conditions. Real test for Aussies will be in England and the sub continent. The great Australian side was great in all conditions. Before the fans start celebrating and talks of establishing a legacy starts, start winning in swinging/spinning conditions. It's not only the sub continent teams who need to prove their worth by winning in foreign conditions! The same team minus Johnson lost 4-0 in India not long ago. What Australia needs is young fast bowlers (Pattinson is a great prospect when not injured), a decent spinner (Lyon was ok in India and got wickets in Ashes mostly because of pressure created by others) and batsmen to replace Rogers, Clarke and Watson in the longer term.

Posted by android_user on (January 14, 2014, 11:03 GMT)

I would hardly call the WACA or GABBA docile. Hobart swings. SCG spins. Adelaide is a dirty road but it's still more of a fair wicket than the roads in India. It's a paradise compared.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (January 14, 2014, 11:00 GMT)

With a series against the Saffers coming up... complacency is not the word we have to worry about, it is consistency.

Posted by Sir_Francis on (January 14, 2014, 10:50 GMT)

Docile australian conditions? It's not UAE or those roads on the sub continent. Brisbane is a bouncy, seaming track, WACA is very bouncy, Hobart also seams (like NZ or the UK), Melbourne is a good cricket wicket, SCG turns and Adelaide is, well, a road. 6 different types of conditions and only Adelaide is "doclie" although they usually seem to get a result there.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (January 14, 2014, 10:37 GMT)

@varun. Great call. I mean, that happened once - how could anything else ever possibly happen? Your scientific analysis is flawless. I'm pretty sure australia has never won a match away, ever. This is the internet so I won't bother backing that up. I'll just make some tired old comment about everyone being lions at home instead.

Posted by KGY27 on (January 14, 2014, 10:27 GMT)

I don't understand why supporters of Indian cricket supporters think they are the only ones who should enjoy success. I have enjoyed seeing the Aussies being successful this summer but I get a strong feeling that there are many world cricket supporters who fear our success because of where it may lead.

Posted by Webba84 on (January 14, 2014, 10:20 GMT)

@Varun, Have a bat at the WACA and then see if you still think its docile.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (January 14, 2014, 9:53 GMT)

Well said Howard - we must keep pushing forward now that we have rediscovered our true selves after a short period of adjustment.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 9:38 GMT)

Complacency on the basis of what exactly? Everybody knew up front that Australia are a supreme side on docile Australian conditions. The moment there's a blade of grass or a cloud in the sky however, it's all over.

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Daniel BrettigClose
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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