How Green's meticulous foresight helped reach the zone of proximal development

Green's rapid learning and use of knowledge from seniors to transcend extreme challenges has surprised his team-mates too

Alex Malcolm
Cameron Green's proactive 77 earned him the Player-of-the-Match award in the first Test  •  Getty Images

Cameron Green's proactive 77 earned him the Player-of-the-Match award in the first Test  •  Getty Images

It is doubtful Lev Vygotsky knew anything about cricket. But Cameron Green might be the perfect embodiment of the Soviet psychologist's life-long work.
Vygotsky is best known for his 1930s theory on the zone of proximal development, which is the range where learners can rapidly develop their ability to problem-solve in challenging scenarios under the guidance of more knowledgeable people, as opposed to on their own.
How does this apply to Australia's 23-year-old prodigy? His Western Australia batting coach, Beau Casson, who is a trained teacher, offered some insights into the work Green did in Western Australia prior to touring Pakistan back in March.
"It's probably a bit teacher-ish, but Vygotsky's theory, can we take him right on the edge, where he's just finding a bit of friction, a bit of a challenge, and then can he hold that new way under pressure," Casson told ESPNcricinfo.
"If we can make it a little bit tougher [in the nets] than what he faces [in the middle], then he's going to be in a better place to make rational decisions out in the middle.
"What's the hardest thing? It's extreme spin, it's extreme pace, that you face in international cricket.
"Greeny has been doing that for a period of time in the indoor nets with rubber mats, spinning the ball unpredictably."
Fast forward to July in Galle, in conditions that scarcely get more extreme, Green produced his finest display as a Test batter, earning Player of the Match honours for his superb 77, the highest score in the match.
Green's ability to learn rapidly in the toughest of environments could not be exemplified any better than by two individual strokes during his innings.
The first ball that he faced, with Australia precariously placed at 100 for 4 on the second day in the first Test, he skipped decisively down the track to Dhananjaya de Silva to get to it on the full and drive firmly to long-on to get off the mark. Contrast that to his first Test innings in the subcontinent, in Rawalpindi, when he was 1 off 15 before he finally ventured out of his crease to Nauman Ali only to nervously prod it back to the bowler.
Green's proactivity and bravery in Galle didn't stop there. His state coach Adam Voges noted in the lead-up to the Test that his footwork and reach would be a significant advantage for him in Sri Lanka. But he also employed the sweep regularly. It is a shot he had hardly played in his first-class career to this point, but one that he worked on tirelessly behind the scenes and that he unfurled off the second ball he faced in the ODI series against Sri Lanka. It eventually brought about his downfall, but it yielded a stack of runs in the process.
Perhaps the most telling shot of his innings in the Test came the ball after Alex Carey holed out for an equally proactive and brave 45. Australia were six-down, just 29 runs ahead with only the bowlers left to bat. Old-school thinking might have called for a reset, and a younger Green might have gone back into his shell. Instead, he skipped down the track to Ramesh Mendis and drove him out of the rough, on the up, against the turn wide of mid-off for four, to keep the momentum going and maintain pressure on Sri Lanka's spinners.
Green's captain Pat Cummins said his team-mates were shocked by his ability to learn and adapt so quickly.
"He's always been a fast learner but that's even surprised us how fast he's learned out there," Cummins said. "From ball one, [a] really sharp, [a] really clear method. It's a credit to him and the coaches [for] how they've worked over the last couple of weeks.
"Speaking to some of older guys as well, [to] find his method and then just being brave enough to try it, that was the difference in the end."
Green himself proved Vygotsky's theory, noting the help and guidance he has received from team-mates about playing in Sri Lankan conditions.
"When you come to the subcontinent you've got a few unknowns in how to go about it," Green said at the post-match presentation.
"But we've got a lot of experienced guys in the changerooms: a few guys I can talk to, to get a really good idea before I go out there. A few guys said just to be proactive. I think if you go out there just defending, you can get yourself in trouble. If you're just looking to score it's probably going to give yourself the best chance. If you're going to get out at some point you might as well play some shots."
It's one thing to have access to an army of knowledgeable people in international cricket. But as Zak Crawley is finding out in England right now, it's quite another thing to go out and problem solve on your own in difficult conditions, under extreme pressure.
Green is proving with each challenge that comes his way, he can take it in his giant stride.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo