Old guardian still close to new talent
In her playing days Belinda Clark spent years as the world's best batsman and the captain of the strongest side, but she had the misfortune of never appearing in a home World Cup. Clark led her side to victory in the 2005 tournament in South Africa, the second time she was in charge of a global triumph, and by the end of that year had retired as one of the most celebrated figures in women's cricket.
The tournament began today in her home state of New South Wales, and though Clark won't have an on-field role she will be busy. "I remember watching the 1988 World Cup final on the TV, but it's been a while since then," she says. "I managed to squeeze my career in between the two home World Cups. On the one hand I will miss not being on the field, but on the other hand I'll be involved in other ways. This tournament is going to be fantastic."
Clark, who played 15 Tests and 118 ODIs, is the manager of Australia's Centre of Excellence (formerly the Academy) and runs a close eye over the men's and women's squads as part of her administrative duties at the complex in Brisbane. So even though the outfit is no longer her side, she has tracked it since planning began for March 2009 shortly after Australia beat India by 98 runs in Centurion four years ago. She was involved in the early re-setting of goals for the team, then part of the exit of senior players, before watching the regeneration of the side.
Over the past 12 months the team has increased its matchplay, including series against New Zealand and India in the Australian summer, and during the off-season five representatives spent extended periods at the Centre of Excellence to fine-tune for the World Cup. Clark was there when Karen Rolton, the captain and experienced batsman, spent 11 weeks at the facility. The stints of Ellyse Perry, Kate Blackwell, Emma Sampson and Shelley Nitschke varied between a fortnight and a month.
"Karen's 11 weeks were to get her physically ready to embark on the season and we did that for a specific reason," Clark says. "We were really pleased to have had them here." All of it was geared towards the World Cup, which kicks off an A-list winter that includes the World Twenty20 and the Ashes in England.
The entire squad also goes to Brisbane a few times a year under the direction of the head coach, Richard McInnes. While the men's Centre of Excellence intake gets months to focus on positioning front elbows and back legs, the women don't have the luxury of a major overhaul in the few days they spend at Allan Border Field.
|Clark, who played 15 Tests and 118 ODIs, is the manager of Australia's Centre of Excellence and runs a close eye over the men's and women's squads as part of her administrative duties at the complex in Brisbane. Even though the outfit is no longer her side, she has tracked it since planning began for March 2009, four years ago|
"The work they do here has to be quite specific and it has to be tangible because there's no point trying to change the world in five minutes when you have them for three or four days," Clark says. "Then they go back to their states for three or four months, then you have them back for three or four days again. Because of the difference in attendance time, you have to hit the mark pretty quickly, so the girls have been doing a lot of that type of work for the past 12 months."
McInnes, who was the Australian men's team's performance analyst until the 2008 tour of the West Indies, has relied heavily on being games-focussed when the squad is together, developing the players' ability to perform their skills under the highest pressure. That way they know that if they are needed in the final on March 22 to strike a last-ball four over point, or deliver an off-stump yorker, they are ready.
During a Centre of Excellence camp the attendees will also undergo series of tests to measure their bodies and performances. There will be medical and physiotherapy examinations along with fitness and skill analysis. Batsmen will learn how many places they can hit the same sort of delivery, while fast bowlers will discover their speed and accuracy. Spinners will see to the centimetre how much they turn the ball.
"We get in all the experts from the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra," Clark says. "All the high-speed cameras come up here and we go from there. It's part of the picture, not the full picture. We also do psychological profiling. We gather information and find ways to determine whether they are moving forward, as well as identifying strengths and weaknesses." Those attributes will be tested over the next three weeks.
Clark, who will be doing television commentary and radio stints during the World Cup, will remain involved throughout the tournament. "I'll be working closely with the coach," she says, "and overseeing the strategies we have in place for high-performance cricket."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo