Australia news September 21, 2011

Australia should look worldwide for a coach

Australia must not be afraid to consider a foreign head coach after Tim Nielsen's wise decision not to reapply
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On the day he resigned as Australia's coach, Tim Nielsen said he felt like he had been interviewed for the job every day for the last four years. By choosing not to reapply for the expanded role recommended by the Argus review, Nielsen has avoided the indignity of sitting a formal interview for his own position - and being rejected.

The reality is that Nielsen could not have won his job back if Cricket Australia was committed to the changes recommended by the Argus review. The report, written by a panel including former captain Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Allan Border, stated that one of the major issues with the team's disappointing on-field performances had been: "an ineffective coaching structure".

It went on to add in parentheses: "One could conclude that the coaching has been more reactive than proactive". The report's authors also said: "It is critical for the development of elite players' skills, physiology and psychology that they have the right coaches available to assist them. The panel queries whether we do, given the performance decline of the team in the past four years."

Nielsen is a good man and over the past month he has handled a difficult situation with dignity, having been informed of the Argus recommendations while Australia's tour of Sri Lanka had already begun. But when all is said and done, he coached Australia to two Ashes defeats, including the 3-1 humiliation at home last summer.

Since then, Ricky Ponting has stood down as captain, the bowling coach, Troy Cooley, has moved on, the fielding coach, Mike Young, has been dismissed, and all four selectors have departed or are on the way out. Nielsen's decision means Australia can start next summer with a clean slate. And as soon as Cricket Australia fill the newly created position of general manager of team performance, the search for a head coach will begin.

Now Australia must cast the net worldwide to find Nielsen's replacement. There is no room for hubris. From Bob Simpson to Geoff Marsh to John Buchanan to Nielsen, it has always been Australians in charge of the national cricket side. But if the best man for the job is an outsider who brings fresh ideas to the organisation, Cricket Australia must be open-minded to such a change.

It has worked for other countries. The New Zealander John Wright and the South African Gary Kirsten both enjoyed successful tenures as coach of India. The Australians Tom Moody and Trevor Bayliss were highly regarded in Sri Lanka. The Zimbabwean Andy Flower has been a revelation as coach of England, helping to make them the world's best side.

Australian fans have a sense of ownership of the national cricket team, and some might resent importing an outsider. They should remember what the Dutch manager Guus Hiddink achieved for the Socceroos, or how popular the New Zealander Robbie Deans eventually became after taking over as the coach of Australia's rugby union side. As Argus himself showed with his insights, sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to identify the way forward.

One of the most obvious candidates is a South African, Mickey Arthur. His international credentials are sound, his reputation flawless, and he is already living in the country, preparing to enter his second season as coach of Western Australia. Arthur has already declared that he would be silly not to consider the job if an opportunity came his way. If he hasn't applied, Cricket Australia should ask him to do so.

They would also be remiss not to approach Flower and see whether he would be interested in a change of scenery. A wonderful Test cricketer and captain of Zimbabwe who has mentored England during their most successful period in recent history, Flower should be at the top of Cricket Australia's enquiry list.

Whoever gets the main job, it will be a very different role from that which was occupied by Nielsen. The new head coach will be a selector, and will work with the state coaches and the Centre of Excellence head coach to develop strategies to filter down throughout Australia's elite cricket

Of course, if the right man is Australian, all well and good. Steve Rixon is the leading home-grown candidate, having been a successful coach at state level with New South Wales and internationally with New Zealand. He has the advantage of being part of the set-up, as the fielding coach, but is not tainted by past failures, having only joined the team management this year.

One possibility is splitting the job, with a specialist coach to guide Australia's Twenty20 side and another to take on the Test and ODI outfits. The Argus report outlined such a demarcation as a potential way forward. In that instance, Darren Berry's aggressive thinking, which steered South Australia to the Big Bash title last summer, could be ideal for the T20 squad.

Whoever gets the main job, it will be a very different role from that which was occupied by Nielsen. The new head coach will be a selector, and will work with the state coaches and the Centre of Excellence head coach to develop strategies to filter down throughout Australia's elite cricket.

And for such a key position at such a critical time for the Australian team, it is vital that Cricket Australia get the right man, wherever he comes from.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo