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Thinking on your feet, knowing what the other person has to do, trusting your gut - Australia's new T20 captain talks about the challenges of the format
January 31, 2012
As a new captain, did you have any input into the squad chosen for these two games?
John [Inverarity] got in touch, asking me to submit a squad. I did so and it was pretty similar to his and it went from there. Perhaps not official input but it was in keeping with the recommendations of the Argus report - that's part and parcel of all the teams that are being picked now. It would have been interesting if I'd plucked 11 names from out of nowhere. But I think it's quite obvious that all those guys deserve to be where they are.
Do you see this squad forming the core of the group that will go to the World T20 in September?
I would think so. There's a hell of a lot of water to pass under the bridge until that time and this was just a first step. The hard thing for the T20 team is, we don't get the chance to spend the time together that the one-day and Test teams do. I guess part of starting to talk about the World Cup and get people thinking about it is that at least gives us an endpoint to work towards as a group.
You may have as few as four matches together before the World T20 - is that enough?
It will have to be. But that's not the only cricket that guys will be playing. I don't think you're playing one-day cricket and Test cricket and not necessarily working on your T20 skills. Or IPL cricket for that matter. I certainly don't think we'll get to the World Cup and complain of not having played enough.
Given you haven't been one of the leading scorers in the BBL, how much pressure is there for you to perform with the bat to justify your position?
I don't think it's any different to anytime I step out as captain for any other team. You are captain, but first and foremost you're in there to perform. That dictates a hell of a lot of the respect that you have. Part of my performance will be my captaincy but the majority of it will be with the bat. I have to perform. I certainly would have liked a few more runs in the Big Bash, but since Twenty20 started being played I think my record stands up against anyone, particularly for someone who has batted for the majority in the middle order.
Is it hard to read much into statistics for middle-order batsmen in Twenty20?
It's not only for middle-order batsmen. I think there are a lot of facets of Twenty20 cricket, and we're still working out how we measure whether someone has been successful. Part of naming a squad and starting to work out who's going to fit into the jigsaw puzzle of September is exactly that - [getting] a group that harmonises well together. You could pick the top six or seven run scorers from the Big Bash and the top five leading wicket-takers, but in terms of getting a team together it's about melding those skills and putting all of those things together into a team. We're getting closer and closer and we have more data on T20 cricket but certainly batting in the middle order, it's always going to be a challenge, compared to a Test cricketer, where you get to the end of your career and you say, well, you averaged this. I think in T20 you look at whether people are contributing in partnerships, or what stage they come in, or when they hit their boundaries and their sixes, to be an effective cricketer.
Are you expecting to bat around No. 5 in the Australia side?
I think that's where I'm best suited in this form of the game, particularly with the squad we've picked. We've got a great balance of guys who have had great success at the top of the order. The role of the Dave Husseys, the Mitch Marshes, the Dan Christians, the Matthew Wades and myself, the guys through the middle of the order, is to then capitalise on the starts and then finish the innings.
Michael Clarke was viewed as a good T20 captain but someone whose batting wouldn't have earned him a place in the side. If there are concerns about your batting as well, how do you put those out of your mind?
It's not something I'll be feeling in the group. I'll just be playing a game of cricket my way and the pressure is on your results because you want to be performing, because you don't want to be letting down the ten guys that are playing and the two or three guys that are unlucky enough to not be playing, and all those guys who haven't been selected - you don't want to be letting them down. Cricketers are aware that we play in a performance-based game and the pressure sometimes of what other people are thinking, that's often built up in the media. Once you're out there performing, you're just out there doing your job to the best of your ability.
Cameron White was your Melbourne Stars captain and he's the man you've taken over from as Australia's captain. How supportive has he been?
He certainly has been good to me. I know he's bitterly disappointed, as you would be if you've been told you're not required at the present time in your dream job. I certainly understand his disappointment. But in terms of his chats with me he's been more than helpful. I haven't masterminded anything to undermine him, so I don't think there was ever going to be too many issues between Cam and I. I've really enjoyed working with him over the last six weeks and I've learnt a hell of a lot watching him captain, and trying to help him as much as I can, and seeing how he goes about things. No doubt there will be things I would have learnt off him in the last few weeks that will come through in those two games.
|"I like to think that I'm pretty approachable and pretty inclusive in that if someone in the team has a good idea, let's run with it. It's certainly not my job to be making all the decisions"|
What are the challenges of captaining in T20, compared to the longer formats?
I think the time constraint is the biggest pressure. You have to keep the game moving, and things do happen so quickly. Quite often you sit down and you have plans A and B, and then you're out in the middle and you find yourself suddenly having to look at plans C and D. There's very rarely time when you can get your vice-captain or your best bowler and stand there and have that conversation. Quite often it's in the middle of an over and a bowler has been hit for a couple of sixes and you're trying to think of how you get out of the over for 16 as opposed to 26. A lot of it is about thinking on your feet, a lot of it is working with your bowlers and your fielding group and trusting that gut instinct. But the biggest thing in T20 is knowing your role and knowing everyone in your team's role around you, so if I know what I'm going to do and you know what I'm going to do, it's much easier to predict how you'll behave as well. It just gets back to the harmony within the team. That's why the balance of the XI is so important.
Is it harder to captain than four-day cricket?
No, they're just so different. When you're captaining and you're in the field and it's 3 for 350, that's a pretty tough time to captain too. I just think they're very different. Both challenging and very much rewarding.
Which captains have had the most influence on how you go about the role?
Dan Marsh is someone that has had a profound influence on my cricket. I will forever be trying to emulate how he thought about the game and how he analysed it, and I think I'll fail dismally. But he was someone who I always enjoyed talking with about cricket. He made people feel very comfortable about the cricketer they were, understood the game to the nth degree. He was very level-headed and never got ahead of himself, never got too up when we were winning or too down when we lost - all pretty great characteristics.
What are your strengths as captain?
I like to think that I'm pretty approachable and pretty inclusive in that if someone in the team has a good idea, let's run with it. It's certainly not my job to be making all the decisions. You can always be getting better at your communication. That was one of the things Dan told me. He said it doesn't matter how good you are on your first day, I guarantee you'll get better and better at it the more you do, because you'll just understand people's reactions better and you'll understand the game of cricket more and more.
Australia made the final of the 2010 World T20 but have struggled since then. As an outsider looking on, can you pinpoint why that has been the case?
I can't, really. I appreciate that we're ranked sixth, and I don't know how the rankings necessarily work. But I also know that at the end of this Big Bash we have a winner who could go out the next day and play the Melbourne Renegades, who finished on the bottom, and it would be a 50-50 game. That's the nature of T20. I find it hard to say that we're necessarily the sixth-best team or the tenth-best team or the best team in the world. The rankings to me don't matter. What matters is that the pinnacle of it is the World Cup, and come that time, it's a bit like the Olympics in that anything can happen in the lead-up, but come that little period of time you've just got to be at your best. That will be our litmus test. Our challenge as a group is to become as consistent as possible. That's probably the greatest trait a T20 team can have. We've got an outstanding array of match-winners from top to bottom in that team. The key is now to get us all going in the one direction so those match-winners are performing as regularly as possible.
The selection of Brad Hogg at 40 was in many ways surprising. How would you describe it?
Exciting. All those older players that played in the BBL showed why they were still wanted by teams. Their skills were outstanding. I guess where Hoggy differentiated was with his energy and his enthusiasm and his fitness in the field and the way he can still move. He showed he was able to go to that level. Your preparation needs to be meticulous in T20 but once you're out there you want to be having a lot of fun and [being] energetic and feeling great about what you're doing. Hoggy is someone who will provide that on top of his outstanding skills with the ball.
Hogg is being viewed as someone who can be important for Australia in the World T20 in Sri Lanka. How big a role will spin play in those conditions?
Spin is really important here because we tend to play on bigger grounds and the challenge is to be trying to clear the pickets, and you've got to make sure you hit the ball as cleanly as you can to do that. The challenge in Sri Lanka will be that the ball will turn more, there will be more spin. So guys will be aware of that. But it's a long way away and being aware of that and working on that will be part of the process, but more importantly we worry about the spinners India will play on Wednesday and Friday.
You've been on the Australian Cricketers' Association executive for nearly five years. What have you learnt from that role?
That's a really rewarding one. I think I've learnt more about the issues that we face as cricketers and I'm really fascinated by that sort of stuff. The biggest things I've learnt there are how important cricket is to Australians - those who are playing and those who are coming along to watch and those who are growing up wanting to play it. People love the game in Australia and people want to see it continue to prosper long after we're gone and to have it be a better game long after we leave it. I think the strength of the playing group when they get behind an issue is great to see.
As part of an ACA programme you had a work placement at the Carlton Football Club last year.
It was a great eye-opener for me. It was a completely different feeling in a footy change room to a cricket change room. I envied the fact that they are so structured in the way they can prepare. They play on a Saturday, they recover, they debrief, they turn their attention to the next game and then they play the next Saturday.
I think the challenges at state level of being able to do that when you're swapping from one-day cricket to Shield cricket, back to one-day cricket, and then suddenly you've got six weeks of T20, are really challenging. I was also fascinated by the way they communicate and the differences between communicating to a Chris Judd type, who is a legend of the game and so highly respected and you know is going to do the right thing every time, to a kid who has just come in and is still learning.
What sort of things could you take from that experience and apply to cricket?
I found it fascinating the way the coach, Brett Ratten, has changed his focus from having his best 22 to having a real squad mentality and knowing that if you are going to have success then you've got to know that your 35th, 36th best player, if he gets an opportunity, is going to be able to perform, and what buttons you have to press to get him to perform. I think cricket is heading down that path. You're starting to see rotation policies and turnover in squads, and the experience that I've had in domestic cricket with the cramped schedule, guys who have been injured for little periods or sitting out because they're starting to fatigue - it's the same thing. You just don't get teams winning Sheffield Shields and one-day titles now if they've only got 11 good players. You've got to have such good depth and know that when your best two or three are playing for Australia or your best player is injured, someone can come in and you can still perform as a team.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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