March 21, 2009

Michael Jeh

Coach or boffin?

Michael Jeh


What exactly is the role of a head coach © AFP
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Every time I stay up all night to watch a game from the West Indies, it ends in farce. It happened in the 2007 World Cup final and it happened again last night. What a waste of a good night’s sleep!

On the subject of waste, I have often wondered what role the coach actually plays at this level of the game. What is his role? Is it to literally “coach” the players in the skills of the game, is it to help with slips catching and fielding drills or is it as tactician/strategist/statistician? John Dyson’s confused actions in last night’s farce begs the question: Was it Dyson’s fault and what exactly is his role?

I have long wondered what value a coach brings to a team at this level of the game. I can see why an individual coach who knows the player well can make little changes to that player’s technique and performance (eg: Gilchrist and the famous squash ball example in the WC Final of 2007). Whether a team coach can honestly help players of this calibre to improve technical aspects of their game is a moot point. In 25 years of senior cricket, I have yet to come across a coach who has made any significant difference to a player’s skills or technique in a team environment. Personalised, one-on-one coaching is a different matter altogether – I’ve seen that relationship work quite well.

To confuse the argument even further, teams at this level have specialist batting, bowling, fielding and fitness coaches. So what does the Head Coach really do then?

Perhaps he is not a ‘coach’ at all in that sense of the word. Perhaps his role is to analyse opposition strengths and weaknesses and to offer strategic or tactical direction. In which case, he is not a coach at all – he is more like the Manager of a football team. Except for the fact that in cricket, the coach doesn’t usually have a direct role in selections and usually leaves tactical decisions to the captain once the game begins. So, by that definition, he is not really a Manager either.

Perhaps he is a psychologist, counsellor and personal confidante to the players. In which case, what are his qualifications for that role? Do you need high-level coaching qualifications to perform this role or are you better off with expertise in other areas?

Judging by Dyson’s miscalculations today, he is certainly no statistician or mathematician. I’m sure he would claim no expertise in this area so why was he then left with the responsibility of making those decisions? Is that the coach’s job, to read complicated Duckworth-Lewis tables and then pull the strings accordingly? If so, why bother with cricket coaching qualifications? Hire a boffin instead!

I’m with Shane Warne on this issue – I’m not convinced that the coach has any significant role to play in teams at this level of the game. If they need other specialists around them, how do they justify their job? Are they merely managers of that human resource environment (in which case, hire HR experts)?

Warne apparently had an instinctive genius for reading the play on the field and cricket has always held a special place for the role of the captain (or other senior players) acting on those instincts on the field. Unlike many football codes which virtually rely on the coach or manager to run game strategy and selection, cricket’s charm lies in the tradition of the captain making those decisions with minimum interference from outsiders. It’s part of the game’s unique character.

This essay is about exploring the role of the Head Coach of a national team and trying to pinpoint exactly what role he is meant to play. There’s no definitive answer I suppose, just a matter of opinion, based on personal experiences. I’m in the Shane Warne camp - those who believe that a coach (at this level) is something that transports you from the hotel to the ground. Right now, Dyson must be wishing that he was the driver of that coach instead of being the person who had to interpret the D/L charts and then decide if the light was really that bad or not.

If Dyson realised that his team was behind the run rate, you can bet he would have thought the light was still good. Perhaps it should be left purely to the umpires to make that decision. Left to coaches or players, it appears that the definition of bad light depends on where your team is in relation to D/L. That sort of cynicism has no place in this great game - either the light was good enough or bad enough but the definition should not rely on whether you're ahead of the rate or not.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Random T. on (April 24, 2009, 11:16 GMT)

I noticed that this is not the first time you write about the topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

Posted by David on (March 25, 2009, 23:49 GMT)

I was at the game and in defense of the coach, manager and captain, the scoreboard displayed the required amount as 244; hence the batsmen being called off. I don't think it was changed after Ramdin was dismissed. West Indies is clearly the better team and Chanderpaul's innings was worth the price of admission.

Posted by Salicram on (March 23, 2009, 13:40 GMT)

Clytus makes an excellent point.

Posted by Sid on (March 22, 2009, 18:36 GMT)

People slamming the coach are right but I don't understand one thing. Why do the coaches have to do this calculations in the first place? And that too by looking at rows and columns on a piece of paper? They have started using advanced technologies like Hawkeye in cricket, how hard it is to write a computer program that does the calculation as per D/L method? In any case, this should be a job of the scorers and D/L score should be displayed on the scoreboard. Why it is not done defies all logic.

Posted by Dr. Reddy on (March 22, 2009, 14:12 GMT)

On the issue of the significance of a coach, Shane Warne was the coach and captain of Rajasthan Royals in 2008 IPL. He has shown that a coach is not needed to run things. As for the farce in the 1st ODI its easy to point fingers at the coach. West Indies are die hard and emotional cricket fans and I believe that its ironic how one day Dyson is hailed as a savior for contributing to the Test series win vs England and then next you see headlines like "Die Soon". The parties to blame are: 1. Yes the coach but the blame doesn't lie in just him 2. Captain Gayle. He is supposed to be PROACTIVE! not just sitting and socialising with his team mates 3. The ground staff/scoreboard attendants. Why are spectators left in this cloud of uncertainity as to what the Duckworth Lewis target is? Why cant the revised target be announced on loudspeakers or displayed on scorecard at the end of every over/fall of wicket? Cricket is the loser and we were robbed of an awesome spectacle

Posted by Mike Welch on (March 22, 2009, 7:22 GMT)

Everyone is entitled to an opinion.let us stick to the facts.Coach Dyson made a simple error just like the one South Africa made in the world cup.All this talk about playing the game through is talk for those who are happy about the end result.If the D/L system is part of the game it is obvious that teams will use it to their advantage,just like the referral system.All the English fans that are writing & talking about the test series, feel bad since they came to the W.I. with a dismissive attitude, talking about warming up for the ashes and got bowled out for 51.They will leave the C'bean with nothing but wounds to lick.All those people who saw the ODI on tv must remember the camera lens will make it brighter than it actually was.Light should have been offered or turned on long before it was and overs should have been adjusted due to rain.How come no spoke about Strauss setting his field after each ball ? We beat England for the ICC Champ Trophy in darkness in 2004!

Posted by R.Narayan on (March 22, 2009, 6:32 GMT)

I have a question. Scoreboards these days give you every conceivable piec of information, down to action replays.Why can't they show the runs requiredunder D/L?? I,for one would be eternally grateful.This is one form of "Glorious Uncertainty" the game can do without!

Posted by Shamit on (March 22, 2009, 4:16 GMT)

Good points Michael, I am completely with you and Mr. Shane Warne in this regard!! :)

Posted by Teri on (March 22, 2009, 3:27 GMT)

The game is over, we have lost the first on. Yes it was a terrible mistake, but we must now learn from this mistake, all the players need to be more au-fait with the technical aspects of the game, we must now move on and let cricket take over. Go West Indies turn around to your winning ways again. See you at the stadium tomorrow

Posted by RICHARD on (March 22, 2009, 2:28 GMT)

The role of the coach is just like everything else in West Indies cricket total shambles. No one know who or what they are thinking. Its clear to me that they all need to psychological help to get their confidence up so as to not focus on bad light but to focus on the game at hand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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