Wednesday Interview - Bob Simpson August 24, 2005

The fundamentalist

Edward Craig
Former Australia coach Bob Simpson is famous for his back-to-basics approach - and for his success. Recently he guided Holland to the 2007 World Cup. Here he talks coaches, players and getting old

Former Australia coach Bob Simpson is famous for his back-to-basics approach - and for his success. Recently he guided Holland to the 2007 World Cup. Here he talks coaches, players and getting old

Bob Simpson says that coaching Holland takes him back to an earlier age © Getty Images

How has the culture of cricket changed since you were first involved?
It is a more difficult game in many ways, in that there is a lot of money in it now. It means players do not have a normal retirement age - they stay on as long as they can. I think that is, in the longer term, faulty. Even the Pura Cup players will play on until they are 38 years old. There are problems there because you need youngsters coming through. It used to be said in New South Wales that if you did not make the side by 20 you would never make it. But the old guys are holding on longer and the average age of players going into the NSW team at the moment is about 26. That is a huge difference. If you look at the cricketers who are just below Test level, most of them are 30. If young players are playing beneath their level they may not develop the skills to go to the next stage.

So are the current Australian team too old?
They are getting on the older side but they will still be too good for England. Australia have reached the pinnacle and there is only one way you can go from there. How long it takes to go down is another matter.

What do you think of the current national coaches?
Coaches have got too technical. There is too much of the scientists and the biomechanists coming up with theories. We have seen problems with fast bowlers; the scientists recommending an open-chested action has not worked and the injury-rate is much higher than it used to be. They are now saying we should all bowl like Jeff Thomson. That type of thing comes in fashions, fads and so on, without a solid basis. I think for more than 100 years the best cricketers in the world worked on this and came up with the best ways to play the game. Suddenly, in a very short time, that is thrown out as old-fashioned. I am not sure it is old-fashioned, I think it is correct. There is a role for science, a role for biomechanics and a role for computers. We must ascertain what the role is and not believe a new idea is perfect. At times, it is computers for computers' sake.

Back to basics: is that how you turned the Australian side around with Allan Border in the late 1980s?
Yes: fundamentals! If you talk to any of the really recognisable coaches in any sport, they will always tell you that the simple fundamentals are the key to success.

You scored 311 in a draw at Old Trafford in 1964. The Test only got to the second over of the third innings, despite there being no rain. Why does that not happen now? Is that because they can't bat that long?
Look, I think there is an imbalance of strength - Australia are just so much better than any other team around. There is no way that any team can score four runs an over in Test cricket if you bowl properly. If you try to go at that rate you will get out. Also, I am concerned about bowling around the world. The ability to bowl tight - which is a basic element of bowling - is not as good as it should be. There is no swing bowling around, spinners are going out of the game - it is down to changing fashions in the game and theories that people jump on. A problem is that if you have a great, great player who does well but has a slightly different style, everyone wants to copy them. That might not be the best for other players.

Recognisable coaches in any sport will always tell you the fundamentals are the key to success

How did you end up coaching Holland?
I do a lot of consultant coaching around the world. I don't want to get involved in full-time coaching any more; I had some friends in Holland about three years ago and they asked me if I'd be interested. I did a couple of stints with them then and the ICC Trophy came along and they asked me if I'd help them with their preparations to get to the World Cup.

What does Holland's qualification for the World Cup mean to you?
It means a hell of lot to me. I am a great supporter of the minor countries; I think a lot more can be done to help them. To be part of a team that will be going to the World Cup gives me a great deal of emotional satisfaction because you become fond of the players you coach. It is like going into a lovely time-warp back to the period when I played. We were not much different to these minor countries - we were amateurs also. Even though we were playing Test cricket, we were not really paid. We took time off work to go to practise. The standard is different because there are not as many players in the minor countries. But there is still a lot of talent around. The big difference with these countries is that they don't know how to use their talent properly. They need coaching. A little common sense, not too technical.

How important is the ICC Trophy?
It is important if the other Test-playing nations and the ICC take it seriously. All the Test-playing nations could do more to help the countries in their area. For instance, Holland ought to be getting more assistance from the ECB. I just do not understand why they will not now be playing in the C&G Trophy.

This interview first appeared in the September 2005 issue of The Wisden Cricketer