April 7, 2013

Coaching kills the batting star

Young batsmen seem to be developing more slowly these days than in the past

Recently I stated that the Australian production line has slowed to a crawl, which begs the question: are there alternatives to developing young batsmen for an international career?

I was surprised last August when I attended the Under-19 World Cup to find that among the major nations, in all bar one case, the fast bowlers were way ahead of the batsmen in development. The exception was India. They had batsmen with uncomplicated footwork who also possessed the shots to take charge of an attack, with Unmukt Chand being the standout.

My mind went back to when I first saw Ricky Ponting as a 17-year-old at the cricket academy. After five minutes it was obvious that here was a young batsman who looked every inch an international player. Apart from Chand, I didn't see one batsman at the U-19 World Cup who displayed similar traits.

Ponting recently questioned the amount of short-form cricket now played by batsmen in their development stages. In an interesting observation about his junior days, he indicated he had to be removed by the bowler, not by a set of rules. "I was batting until someone got me out, and if that took them a week then that's how long it took them," he said.

In trying to devise a better method to produce batsmen for the modern game, is it worth delving into the past to improve the future? Along with the example of Ponting's upbringing, there's further compelling evidence from the background of both Garry Sobers and Javed Miandad - two champion batsmen with totally different styles, who played a lot of their youth cricket on the street.

When asked why he batted without a thigh pad, Sobers said he grew up using a picket off a fence, facing bowlers delivering a rock that was rounded into shape with tape, while playing on a rutted road. He explained it was in his best interests to hit the unpredictably deviating "ball", because if he missed, it was going to hurt.

Then there's the development of Sachin Tendulkar. He played in hundreds of matches on the Mumbai maidans, often moving from one game to another on the same day. Contrast this with the structured net sessions or long stints facing a bowling machine that a youth cricketer currently endures.

Having benefitted as a youngster from good coaching, I was appalled when I read former Australia legspinner Bill O'Reilly's sentiments on the breed. "If you see a coach coming," O'Reilly wrote, "run and hide behind a tree." However, I eventually came to the conclusion that if you don't receive good coaching when you're young then you're better off with none at all. Like O'Reilly, many of Australia's champions came from the bush and learned by practising their art in unusual ways for hours on end. Don Bradman, Stan McCabe and Doug Walters were three batsmen in this category. The conclusion to be drawn? They worked things out for themselves and eventually knew their own game inside out.

This accords with the 2013 TED talk on child learning delivered by Sugata Mitra. The eminent professor suggested it's best to pose a question to kids and let them unearth the solution for themselves. This is what Bradman, Sobers, Tendulkar and Miandad were doing in different ways. They also benefited from playing against men at a young age, which is one sure way to hasten the development process.

There are now more coaches in the game but there's less batting artistry. The modern methods are often devised to produce more power and better hitters, with a leaning to the agricultural rather than any pretence of artistry. Often, this is a case of mistaking change for improvement.

In his coaching book Sobers laments: "One of the tragedies of cricket coaching is that the greatness of the game's best players has been revered but never followed, praised but never preached." He has a point. The players with the best records succeed more often under all conditions than those with inferior statistics.

Tendulkar and Michael Hussey are good modern examples. They both developed a solid batting foundation complemented by a wide range of strokes and then adapted their game to the different forms. This is a better proposition than taking a hitter's approach to batting and then hoping it translates into success in the long form of the game.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amith on April 10, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    @FlemingMitch nice one mate, his commentory was very biased, everytime Brayshaw came he literally fell off his seat, you would think they were related. @Hyclass fair points but in saying this selection 'system' needs and overhall. The Australian batsman can only be better for the experience in India, so not much needs to change aside from perhaps Khawaja coming in which as been long overdue. And Watson needs to bowl as well. And i am hopeful we use one of our shield spinners as the second spinner rather then someone from outside. Given that Australia and the UK both attract high levels of immigration there are bound to be examples of foreign born players in both teams. What surprises me is that Ahmed Fawad can just walk-in to the Aussie team once he gains citizenship, while in England he would first have to serve a seven year qualification period before being selected.

  • Ross on April 10, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    I said it before that certain players in the India series were picked on reputations they might earn in the future rather then batting. To hear the likes of James Brayshaw verbally fall off his chair on air as Maxwell thrashed around like a branded stallion was not good. Lo and behold, thanks to the heavy breathing of Brayshaw et al every time the camera zoomed in on Maxwell's face, suddenly he's worth a mill and a baggy green to boot.Watson's non-bowling highlighted that unless he bowls he can't hold a spot in the team as a batsman at Test level. As much as i repsect him we either get him bowling, or forget him forever in the creams.Khawaja's non selection over the last 3 months has not been acceptable and the kid is made for test cricket and one of the few whose technique hasn't been affected by T20 cricket so he is a must for the ashes. Sunil great list of young players there mate, shows that we do have the batsman coming through.

  • Allan on April 9, 2013, 11:11 GMT

    Sunil you are obviously very knowledgeable on the young batsman around the country. Exciting to see Maddinson, Harris, Head, Patterson come through. Also agree that Khawaja is our next best batsman and can't wait to see him fire in the ashes. @AidanFX i think Hughes is returning to his old technique and that's fantastic to see, hopefully a big ashes for him as well coming up.

  • Rahul on April 9, 2013, 11:03 GMT

    @Mary its hard not to talk about the ashes, its just too exciting and only 3 months away. I think that the starting xi should be Warner Cowan,Hughes Clarke,Khawaja, Watson, Wade, Starc, ,Sidle, , Bird, Lyon. Watson must bowl and we must have 6 batsman. As you mentioned Khawaja must get his chance and is a key batsman for the English conditions. I'm also encouraged by the young batsmen; Nic Maddinson, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson, Cam Bancroft, Will Bosisto and Sam Hain (in the unlikely even that Hain chooses to play for Australia instead of England). I've added a few names to those you put there. But Ian Chappell, whose talent spotting of technically strong young batsmen I admire immensely, thinks Australia still has massive problems with the technique of young batsmen and he wasn't at all encouraged by the U19 World Cup in 2012. So I'm still rather concerned about all this.

  • James on April 9, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    I think a lot would be discovered through a table showing which putative Test batsmen had stayed at the wicket for how long, in their average innings. I would suggest that Cowan is selected because it is thought he is attempting to become a batsman of temperament, like Bob Simpson, rather than a roll of the dice, like a number of others we have been embarrassed by in recent months. I know a lot of spectators, especially in recent years, round the world, like the gambling feel that has come up with the shorter forms. I wonder who it is who is telling our tyro batsmen that this superficiality is OK, that we don't admire character and substance.

  • Aidan on April 9, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    Hhhm can we put Hughes into that category - prematurely dumped in the tour in Eng rather than let the kid work out how to deal with a barrage of fast bowling - he was sent to exile and forced to change his game (over coaching) - which initially had devastating results. To his credit, he developed the ability to once again make runs at first class level; but the guy could have been anything.

  • Mark on April 9, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Ian, I agree with your opinion and believe that we live in a society where nanny state do-gooders have too much in influence in learning. I also believe that contemporary Australian batsmen have developed a technique where they play from the crease and their only movement is one step forward to the pitch of the ball and to hit through the line of the ball. Very few Australian batsmen have good footwork either forward or back. In recent times, blokes such as Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey, Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Allan Border and David Boon have/had reasonably good footwork, but none of these blokes had as good footwork as blokes such as yourself, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Greg Chappell.

  • Mariam on April 9, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    With all this discussion on batting talk will turn to the ashes son enough. I would love to see Inevarity announce the folloiwng for the ashes. "We have taken the decision to take seven batsmen and eight bowlers (six pacemen and two spinners). Watson to be inlcuded if he is bowling. Indian tourists Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty remain an important part of the national limited overs sides and their form in future first-class seasons will determine whether or not they earn a recall to the test side.". The pace attack of Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc, who has recovered well from surgery to remove bone spurs on his ankle. Nathan Lyon remais our premier spinner and Ashton Agar joins the tour for development as his backup.The test team will revert to the traditional batting lineup of 6 batsmen being Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Michael Clarke, Usman Khawaja and Stephen Smith with D Huss joining the squad as the backup batsman.

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    I would like to take divergent point here. More than the coaches, its the fear of a particular skill that has the young bunch in trouble. I will site two examples here. India has been consistently producing champion batsmen, and yet there are no quality fast bowlers. Hence a batsman always gets away without due coaching and is let off to develop on his own most of the times. But in case of fast bowler, his action is twisted and turned over and over again before he plays his first ranji match. Hence he remains ineffective, much like what Mr. Chappell is stressing here. On the other hand Australians have had a nice record of having developed champion fast bowlers time and again, but when it comes to batting there are too many coaches who are experts in instilling the fear of the bouncer or the swinging ball. Hence the young ones instantly run to any coach who is available. Faulty techniques always lead to faulty players be it a batsman or a bowler. Thus hence the problem.

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2013, 16:09 GMT

    Just to add that there is no scarcity of ´home grown´batting methods out there, both recent and current. I don´t think anyone could seriously argue that the approach and methods of Graeme Smith, Katich, Chanderpaul, Sehwag or even Trott are anything like text book, which in part, I suppose, is what makes them so difficult to bowl at. All of these guys have very good career records. Chappelli may just be on to something!