THE CORDON HOME

BLOGS ARCHIVES
SELECT BLOG
April 6, 2013

Australia

Don't blame Pat Howard

Matt Cleary
Pat Howard may be a rugby man, but that doesn't make him under-qualified for the position he holds  © Getty Images
Enlarge

Attended a "Do" the other day, a function attended by various sports and media types. Because that's what you do when you're a sports and media type, you attend Dos. And there you drink and eat and talk sports and media with fellow sports and media types, and there is no argument, it is all good.

So I'm at this Do, doing what you do, at Dos, which is talk about sport. At my table were three other journalists, a couple of retired rugby league players, and a former Australia fast bowler. And so the conversation rolled around, as conversations among Australian sports and media types tend to, to the Australian cricket team, and the recent travails thereof.

And a couple of these types decided a lot of the problems lay with Pat Howard, General Manager Team Performance. "I've spoken to heaps of people and no-one's had a decent word to say about him," said one fellow. "They reckon he's rubbed a lot of blokes up the wrong way," added another. "Quite an abrasive manner, apparently."

And there was nodding among this table of professional sports and media talking-heads and scribblers that this former rugby player could not be successful in a gig as general manager of team performance of the Australian cricket team.

Well, I wasn't going to voice an opinion, given the fast bowler and the other types were in more of a position to comment. These were People Who Knew, or at least sounded like they did. And I've never met Pat, know little about him, nor even what a general manager of team performance does.

But when it seemed nobody was going to offer an alternate viewpoint, I thought stuff it: I'm going into bat. In to bat for Pat. "He's got to be doing something right," I said. "He's come from elite level rugby where he's worked for years. Did roughly the same job. The board's identified a need for a role and appointed a bloke they felt would best fill it. How did he get the job? He's got to be doing something right."

"He's very good at powerpoint presentations," ventured one fellow. "He talks a good game," said another.

I nodded. Others nodded. And that's where the topic was left, the conversation bouncing on to rugby league and the Socceroos, and the winner of the fifth at Flemington. And there it might have stayed, but here we are.

Pat Howard? There seems to be a slightly bigoted and slightly arrogant consensus among some cricket types that a [sniff] rugby player could not possibly look after Australian cricketers. What does he know about the management issues of fast bowlers? What does he understand about "the culture" of Australian cricket? Who the bloody hell does he bloody well think he is?

Well, Pat Howard has been a corporate Chief Operating Officer. He has been in charge of high performance at Test rugby level. He ran rugby's Leicester Tigers. He sits on boards. He is a pharmacologist. He owns 14 pharmacies. He is a smart man.

According to one Cricket Australia type, Howard is driven, analytical, to-the-point, and process-driven. He will tell people what he thinks. He does care about how he's perceived but won't let it deter him from his goal, which is to make Australian cricket strong. He is a leader.

Pat Howard is an expert in high performance of elite athletes. It's what he does.

He probably doesn't know the physical requirements of a fast bowler, but he doesn't need to. He would defer to the sports scientists, the physiotherapists - the experts. And he would make a decision thus. They haven't plucked "rotation" from their bottoms. It's been a carefully thought-out process which aims to stop athletes breaking down. (That they're breaking down anyway does not invalidate it.)

Should we put Geoff Lawson in charge? Or "The Rocket" Rodney Hogg? Or Thommo? If those fellows had their way no fast bowler would ever rest, ever. But when they played (30-odd years ago) there was no T20, IPL, any of that. They barely played English county cricket. They might've gone for a run in the winter. Then played six months cricket. And then stopped, and rested, which is rotation's aim.

A rugby player can't know about another sport? Please. England's rugby coach Clive Woodward went to Southampton FC and then helped the British Olympic team. Steve Waugh and John Eales have helped the Australian Olympic team (and no-one's whined about that). Psychiatrist Steve Peters knew nothing about cycling but is largely credited with getting British cycling to No.1 in the world. He's since helped Ronnie O'Sullivan's snooker and Liverpool FC, and reckons he could turn his methods to any sport.

The Australian cricket team's much-loved former physiotherapist Erroll "Hooter" Alcott got his nickname because he once asked, "when did a Test match begin, do they let off a hooter?"

Harry Harinath is a doctor. He's on the board of Cricket Australia because he's a good man and loves cricket. He didn't play beyond grade cricket in Tasmania. By some experts' rationale, he shouldn't be on the same table as fellow board members Mark Taylor and Matthew Hayden - men who presumably know about cricket - and who appointed Pat Howard.

Cricket Australia's high performance "unit" was created on the advice of the Argus Review (which heard submissions from every corner in Australian cricket). Its manager (that would be Pat Howard) knows as much about the management of elite athletes as anyone. Pat Howard is an expert in high performance of elite athletes. It's what he does.

It irks some that Michael Clarke, Mickey Arthur and selectors would report to him. Change does irk some, particularly when there aren't immediate results. But presumably those who advised Don Argus know cricket.

Howard would perhaps would like to restructure if not outright retract his comment that Shane Watson "is a team player - sometimes", and so expose himself to the poison arrows of Twitter and the professional parts of the commentariat. He'd probably like to phrase a few of his other press utterances differently. But there you go, that's life in the jungle.

But one fact is this: Howard is copping criticism because the team he is managing the high performance of is not performing highly. But that is not (yet) Pat Howard's fault.

RELATED LINKS

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

RSS Feeds: Matt Cleary

Keywords: Administration

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (April 7, 2013, 11:47 GMT)

@ ygkd on (April 7, 2013, 6:58 GMT) - I wouldn't call it "snobbery" - I think we are a nation of whingers. The amount of times I have seen people write comments with absolutely ZERO proof is amazing & it is used to whine on about a player they may not like. As far as Howards' actual performance, I think there has been some good things - like when he comissioned a report into bowlers shoes when our bowling-injury epidemic heightened a while back. I think he is on a hiding to nothing though - as unless he gets to programme the Domestic season & then the International Fixtures for the National Team, he'll have limited CHANCE to succeed. The India tour ended up being a shambles, & IMO a PART of the problem was the shambolic nature of the lead up. Players got to India in dribs & drabs, a key part of the tour (spin), saw a rookie over there in Agar & there was even talk he may debut. This HAS to affect performance.

Posted by Rahulbose on (April 7, 2013, 2:22 GMT)

Only way to objectively judge him is to look at the results. If he has something to offer the team then he must also be accountable for the results. Leaving aside the player performance, even the management of Aus team has been shoddy recently (did everyone do their homework yesterday?). So maybe he is responsible for player performance or for team management, either way he has failed.

Posted by Jimmyrob83 on (April 6, 2013, 20:59 GMT)

As a Victorian I hate Rugby, so he is an easy target.

Posted by   on (April 6, 2013, 6:54 GMT)

I believe Australian cricket over the past few years has convinced itself that change and efficiency can only be effected through slick management. What that has really done is blur realities and divert attention from simple facts of the game. There is a point to which Argus,Inverarity or Pat Howard can help the state of affairs in Australian cricket; management can only be useful to an extent. At the moment it seems they are overdoing it. They need to concentrate on the cricket culture in place, rejuvenate it, make it more vital, reward performances without prejudice and bias, take care to encourage all facets of the game,whether it's pace, or spin, or batting. The rest should take care of itself. And men like Pat Howard should really have little business in the vanguard.It's the players who need to be the subject of discussion.All this management talk taking center-stage is, to be honest, unhealthy for cricket.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

All articles by this writer