April 4, 2011

Cricket Australia eye the wrong ball

By turning to other sports for inspiration and ideas, the board may be diluting cricket rather than enriching it. Why not get help from other cricketing nations?

As Michael Clarke marked his first day after his appointment as Australian Test captain with an appeal to reapply cricket's fundamentals, his board's national talent manager, Greg Chappell, and a quartet of minions were returning home from a trip to Boston and Texas to watch baseball and American football.

This unfortunately timed mission was not billed as a holiday or an exercise in wish fulfillment. Instead it was trumpeted by Cricket Australia as a "reconnaissance exercise" designed to "explore best practice being used by two world-leading organisations, covering areas such as recruitment strategies, list management, player preparation, opposition analysis and team culture". The exhaustive-sounding brief seemed to address areas that must be fine-tuned by administrators if they wish to hurry on the next generation, and at a time when cricket is bleeding talent to football, Australian Rules and general apathy at an alarming rate.

Yet the fact that five senior officials would find the time to disappear to the United States before the season had actually ended said rather too much about the thinking of an organisation that still believes it does cricket coaching and management better than anywhere else in the world. It is a notion that has persisted despite a pronounced slide down the rankings at international level, and a noticeable drop in the standards of domestic cricket.

Internal appointments are common - national coach Tim Nielsen, talent manager Chappell and new Centre of Excellence coach Troy Cooley have played their own version of musical chairs with management positions in recent years - and it would not surprise to see another promotion from within the ranks to replace Cooley as Australia's pace bowling coach.

Whoever is chosen, they are likely to be taken in by fashionable thinking about the value of other sports as a source of knowledge and ideas for the greater development of cricket. The American trip is of a kind commonly made by many sporting coaches in the early 21st century, as AFL mentors venture to London for primers on the ways of the English Premier League and rugby league bosses check in with the NFL for tips on kicking and injury treatment. A culture of cross pollination extends to the poaching of staff from one sport to another - fitness manager Darren Burgess jumped from Port Adelaide to Liverpool FC via the Socceroos.

While this all sounds quite enlightened, it is arguable cricket in Australia is being diluted, rather than enriched, by ideas from outside the game. Clarke certainly would appear to think so, having this to say when asked on a national current affairs program what needed fixing in the Australian team: "To start, it's about me being able to do things my way. The advantage is, after these three one-dayers in Bangladesh we have a couple of months at home where we can, as a group, Cricket Australia, selectors, board members, Shane Watson and myself, sit down and make a plan to build to the future. But the things that come to mind straight away are, I love the Australian cricket team playing that entertaining brand of cricket. I think it's really important that we go back to some of the old-fashioned style basics of cricket, where we get better at our basic batting, bowling and fielding, which is going to mean doing more of it at training. These days in cricket there's a lot of technology, there's a lot of sports science, which I think is a big part of our game, but I think with a young group we need to get better at the basics."

"I love the Australian cricket team playing that entertaining brand of cricket. I think it's really important that we go back to some of the old-fashioned style basics of cricket, where we get better at our basic batting, bowling and fielding"
Michael's Clarke's view of the way forward for Australia

Twenty20's emergence is the highest-profile departure from said basics, but there are others ranging from the variance of opinions on how to manage the bodies of young fast bowlers to the fact that three of Cricket Australia's highest office bearers - chief executive James Sutherland, head of cricket operations Michael Brown and head of marketing Mike McKenna - each cut their administrative teeth, with decidedly mixed results, in the AFL. Sutherland, Brown and McKenna are all commonly heard to spout the buzzwords about "world's best practice", "the pathway" and "development", while advocating a wide search across all sports for the best of everything. Their apparently high-minded intentions, however, are clearly being lost when it comes to the results of the Australian team, and this is where pride in the country's coaching system has become dangerous.

Help is more readily sought from other sports than it is from other nations playing the same game. The only foreign-born mentor with the Australian team is the fielding coach, Mike Young, who has parlayed his long and decorated baseball career into a lengthy cricket tenure. But there is nary an Englishman, Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan or Kiwi in sight. Often an Australian coach will try his luck overseas if opportunity is scarce at home, a path trodden by Cooley and more recently David Saker with England. But there are precious few to have been welcomed in Australia from overseas backgrounds in coaching or development - brief stints with New South Wales for Waqar Younis and Graham Thorpe aside. The appointment of former South African coach Mickey Arthur to manage Western Australia was a welcome deviation from the trend.

Much can be learned from the ways of other nations, particularly those who bore the brunt of Australia's dominance between 1995 and 2008. Given their inability to tie down the hyperactive genius of Shane Warne for any protracted period, Cricket Australia's eyes had to be cast across the seas for a quality spin bowling coach. Bishan Bedi and Saqlain Mushtaq worked wonders for Jason Krejza and Nathan Hauritz at various times, but their roles were confined to those of one-off consultants. On his last visit to India, Hauritz bemoaned his inability to see Erapalli Prasanna. At the same time Mushtaq Ahmed was helping Graeme Swann maintain the form of his breakout summer, something Hauritz was unable to do while taking advice from Ricky Ponting and the Centre of Excellence spin coach John Davison. An attempt to attract Muttiah Muralitharan to Brisbane for this year's intake was unsuccessful, but would it have been different with the offer of longer-term employment?

Spin bowling is just one of many disciplines unique to cricket, and all the research trips in the world to the Boston Red Sox will not improve Australia's increasingly tenuous understanding of its subtleties.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on April 6, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    Life has indeed came a full circle for OZ cricket. From swaggering days of Ponting / buchanan when the former coach had said that generation next players should look to play the game ambidextrous to new captain clarke saying that they need to go to the basics of cricket....

  • Ben on April 6, 2011, 5:35 GMT

    Haha Isnt it true that the successor reaps the benefits ? I suspect India are now benefiting from some of Gregs work...Especially challenging older and established players to step up or out Sachin certainly has..the rest replaced by younger players .

    While this works well with India Australias talent pool is not in a good state. When Ponting entered the Australian team he was averaging 60 in Shield 10-20 higher than everyone ( and Hayden / Clarke 50) , now you lucky to find a young player at 40 or anyone at 50 eg there are no young players that stand out .

  • adeel on April 6, 2011, 1:39 GMT

    if aust wants to dominate again, they must first kick out the dead wood from coaches to selectors to greg chappel. aust has this false high pride that they don't want to hire an outside coach..well tides might be changing...warne will never coach as it restricts him from his freedom. maybe they should go after gary kirsten. he is interested in T20 franchise coaching job!!

  • Philip on April 6, 2011, 1:06 GMT

    Othello22, unfortunately, is correct. T20 bash-fests are ruining the game at State and junior-squad levels. Bowling spin is a dying art - the Warne revival being but a blip. Consequently, batting to spin is also history. If CA want to look to other sports, perhaps they should figure out how to put their efforts behind the juniors who are committed to cricket and not something else instead. As it is, football will take a lot of the current 15 & 16 yo crop, because AFL & NRL can offer an 18yo money and fame. Only IPL can truly match it, so most of the ones that are left have their eye on T20. And T20 hampers their long-form development. Changes at the top won't really help. You have to start at the bottom. Develop kids who can play long-form. Have a separate long-form pathway - yes, you have to protect bowlers' young backs - but there must be ways if there's a will. Less opportunities and less money - is it any wonder cricket bleeds players in the mid-to-late-teens?

  • Warks on April 6, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    Just another overseas junket I'd say. Did they fly Business Class? Bring in Ric Charlesworth as coach. This guy is phenomenal. Former first class cricketer for WA, played countless internationals for Australia in hockey, coached the mens and womens sides to Olympic golds and world championships, is a qualified medial doctor and was a member of parliament for a few years! This guy can do anything! Fifty bucks says Cricket Australia never approached him though. You read it here.

  • Arsalan on April 5, 2011, 18:26 GMT

    Great article. I still believe that Australia has enough talent available to remain a dominant team. I think if somehow the could convince Shane Warne OR Glen McGrath to coach the side (with Langer still in picture), it would do wonders for team. We have talented young fast bowlers like Copeland, George and Hasting, and even younger guys like Hazelwood, Starc, Pattinson, Faulkner. Spin doesn't look all that bad either. Hauritz is a class act, Doherty is very good limited overs bowler and O'Keefe should be given a chance in Test incase Hauritz is unavailable. It's really up to the selectors, if they start picking players on merit, I think Australia is good enough.

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2011, 12:49 GMT

    One thing Greg Chappell had managed to achieve during his tenure as the Indian coach is to keep the Indian national cricket from blossoming for few more years. He has ruined many an Indian cricketer's career by trying to control things. Now, Chappell is a selector, with the intention to rebuild the team. ACB, Good luck with that.

  • red on April 5, 2011, 3:36 GMT

    Interesting. I see more non-aussies commenting on an article written for CA. I am not sure if its Greg Chappell (that so many Indians are commenting on it) or the waning interest for australians to the sport of cricket. CA shud work on spin bcoz there is too much of turnover in the speed department with so much cricket and so much competition and loss of form. I think CA has done it earlier and will do it again but only if they have the motivated cricketers. Good luck CA bcoz cricket needs you, a dominant force to reckon.

  • Matthew on April 5, 2011, 0:27 GMT

    Great article. Points out CA's misdirected ideas and highlights the need to finally open our coaching ranks to overseas individuals. I would like to see Arthurs as the next coach as his hard line approach and Clarke's preparation and tactical nous would do wonders for the team. The review can't happen quick enough and although I hold out hope it will replace the selectors, coach and an outdated management process, I understand the lack of action that has happened over the years will likely extend to a toothless review.

  • Andrew on April 4, 2011, 23:40 GMT

    Good article, I have been annoyed for sometime now that Mike Young remains the fielding coach. What could Young possibly teach cricketers about fielding in the slips??? Oz fielding was a MAJOR reason why we ruled the world. Some of the slips fielding Oz have had over the years from Greg Chappell, AB, Tubby, & Mark Waugh have been brilliant. Once upon a time when a batsmen nicked the ball I knew they were going to be snapped up by someone - I could celebrate before the ball reached the fielder. These days I cringe not knowing whether anybody (keeper included), will catch the bloody thing. We don't hit the stumps in the field like we use to. Back in the early 2000s & 1990s, we were hitting the stumps from anywhere inside the circle about 7 to 9 times out of 10. These days it seems like less than 1 in 2 times or 50%. Pup is right, the batsmen failed in the Ashes PARTLY because they wouldn't go after wide trash that was served up short & wide of Off Stump, very defensive!

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