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The team now consists of two halves: a burnt-out one and a fresh one
July 24, 2014
Nelson Mandela has spoken about this. "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others".
The difference we make to the lives of others is a constant struggle, for we are often busy trying to make a difference in our own. Mandela had his stuff sorted. And so he focused on what he could do to make a difference to the millions who struggled.
In all forms and all levels of endeavour we see attempts to make that difference, whether it be in leading a nation, an organisation, a team or a cause. Cricket does a great job of testing those who are charged with this privilege - coaches.
Unlike in any other sport, the coach in cricket sits and watches for five long days. Once the game has started he has very little influence on the players. Once engaged, the player's mind heads into a tornado of concentrated or confused thoughts, feelings and emotional responses. To play a Test match to its end is akin to putting one's life on hold. Nothing else registers during that period. You don't taste the food you eat, or wonder if the rubbish has been put out. You become entranced with the five-day examination you are about to be put through.
The exception of a Botham, a Miller, or a Sobers is to be noted, as they were able to fit Test matches around their social lives, but the norm is that the Test match sneaks under the skin and rattles you a bit. Sleep becomes nauseating. Nothing really prepares you for the ordeal, and very few coaches can calm the anticipation. It is the ultimate in mental stimulation on a playing field.
Today the dressing room is full of consultants and experts. Most of whom have never tasted the texture of an excruciating dry mouth and numb feet as the moment of playing a first Test series, or any series, envelopes you. Its the oddest thing to see so many helpers, who wouldn't know, lurking with intent, trying to help, to justify their privilege within the inner sanctum of Test match fever.
|A Test match sneaks under the skin and rattles you. Sleep becomes nauseating. Nothing really prepares you for the ordeal, and very few coaches can calm the anticipation. It is the ultimate in mental stimulation on a playing field|
Mostly, once a test begins, a team operates without too much influence from the throbbing throng of staff, due mainly to the internal conversation the player has with himself, which ensures the well-meaning advice offered mostly goes unheard. Once the ordeal is under way, the player simply has to get on with what he has in his own toolbox, and no advice will really suffice.
This neatly packed marathon series between two middle-ranked teams, England and India, there has been a distinct example of what can work when one coach is on his game and one isn't. In the Indian room is a quiet, dry, tough-as-nails, ageing mentor, Duncan Fletcher. Importantly, you neither hear him nor see him. That was his effective style when working with Michael Vaughan. That's how he was in New Zealand recently, despite the series loss. He allows the players to take control, to be self-sufficient. He looks secure in his role. In the England camp there is Peter Moores. You cant miss him. He's the first one you see, every time. He is out front, in the spotlight, no doubt trying to do the job required; yet he is misguided. He should be secure in the background. Coaches should not be seen. Instead, they should sit quietly, listening.
At Lord's, I saw the insecurity on the England balcony. Throughout the Test match, the cameras that were trained on the home dressing room zoomed in on a recurring theme. The hallowed balcony, once adorned by players, was now constantly inhabited and dominated by the coaches, and in the middle of the conference was the struggling captain.
Symbolically, there was no room for the young excited player to sit in the coveted seats. There was no space to sit and share with other mates, rubbing shoulders in the moment of thrill. Nope, they had no hope of feeling the atmosphere of hovering above the masses. The bench was filled by Moores, Paul Farbrace and Alastair Cook. It was something of a staged defiance. It smacked of a circling of wagons. A bit sad, really.
Fletcher never ventured out into the spotlight, nor the sunlight. He stayed in the backroom, in the calmness of his trust in himself and his troops on the field. And he let the young players enjoy the best seats in the house, soaking up the occasion. And what an occasion it was. A triumphant Indian dousing of a troubled, overloaded leadership group in constant denial.
A front is not what a team needs. It needs straightforward honesty and trust and faith and a backbone. Its not about a coach or anyone not playing, but about those selected to do the job in the middle. Once the game starts, it's vital the team is allowed to breathe, that the rest get out of the way, not sit in the front row and clog the view.
Moores is not only the coach but a selector. In effect he is the judge, the jury and the executioner. It must be too daunting to venture out on to that balcony and confess all to the man of all things (albeit one without any international experience), especially if you are on the wrong side of burnout or are going through a wicked patch. Fletcher is only a tour selector, the team having already been selected for him. There is a difference.
England are a team of two halves - a burnt-out one and a fresh, free-flowing one. The problem for the new mob is that once they are in the team for a few months, the mood will start to change. Take Ben Stokes. As a rookie, he was fearless; now he is shot. Will Sam Robson, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali improve their game from here?
Then there is Joe Root, the one in the middle of the two halves with two years under his belt, who enjoyed a fun start, then a fearful whack, and is now thriving off his own spark. He should lead this team out and beyond. His batting is one of conviction. Conviction is a bloody good start for a team that has lost so much, so quickly.
India are growing up together, building with purpose. This first away win for a while will generate more growth. They can even afford to leave R Ashwin out, yet you sense MS Dhoni and Fletcher will bring him in at some stage, at the right moment. These leaders know their roles, and the demarcation lines that provide the vital clarity.
Fletcher is making a difference, as he has done before for England, by simply getting out of the way. That's what counts.
Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New ZealandFeeds: Martin Crowe
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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