January 26, 2010

Another coach derailed

Mickey Arthur's departure as South Africa coach is confirmation of where the power lies in the dressing room. Coaches might pick the team but they certainly don't have total control or accountability for team affairs

We have a running joke at Wisden Cricketer Towers that whenever we put someone on the cover of the magazine, some terrible fate befalls them - generally that they get injured. The jinx started with issue one in September 2003 when a cover interview with England's rising star James Anderson coincided with him losing form and then getting injured.

Now the curse appears to have struck not once but thrice. I travelled to Johannesburg in the hope of seeing England clinch the Test series against South Africa. We know what happened there. Two days before the Test I interviewed Graham Onions. The following evening he was dropped for Ryan Sidebottom.

I also met up with Mickey Arthur, coach of South Africa, to discuss a piece on the umpire review system. Last night I learned that Arthur had resigned. As my deputy editor is wont to say: "Good work, team."

On Twitter, Jonathan Agnew reckoned he saw Arthur's demise coming, Bumble said the opposite. Who knows?

The word is that his relationship with captain Graeme Smith had broken down. I had no inkling of this from speaking to Arthur two days before the Johannesburg Test.

What I did glean was that pressure he was under given that his side were 1-0 at that time. He joked about losing his job. He also talked candidly about the politics involved in South African cricket at the board level and the sensitivities of the decision to leave out Makhaya Ntini for the third Test.

He did talk about how there had been a sense of 'what next?' after South Africa reached No.1 in the world rankings in Tests and ODIs. They lost at home to Australia, messed up the Champions Trophy and there were IPL distractions for some players.

Arthur indicated that there had to be a re-evaluation of goals, a reminder of the players' true ambitions and priorities.

I'm only speculating here but maybe this is where the clash came, a difference of opinion about the best methods to achieve individual and collective success.

Arthur had earlier written about the importance of the relationship between captain and coach. This was in response to England's Kevin Pietersen-Peter Moores breakdown but it has a certain resonance now.

Arthur's departure is confirmation of where the power lies in a cricket dressing room. There is no Alex Ferguson in cricket. Coaches might pick the team but they certainly don't have total control or accountability for team affairs.

A successful cricket captain, as Smith assuredly is, will always win in a power struggle with a coach and Arthur will have been well aware of that.

Moores once said a coach can either change himself or change the team. Cricket coaches can't change the team in the way football managers can so that leaves them with one option.

Arthur may not have anticipated it ending like this, only a days before leaving for a major tour, but he's been doing the job four and a half years and he leaves with the fist-pumping win at The Wanderers still fresh in the memory.

He's a young man, in his early 40s, with a good CV. He shouldn't be short of offers whether from an English county or the IPL. For now, he can sit back and enjoy the Natal Sharks rugby team and following his daughters on the local tennis circuits.

This piece was reproduced with permission from thewisdencricketer.com

John Stern is editor of the Wisden Cricketer