Monday, June 24, 2013

Bring On Uncle Fester

Since I’ve got a largish fiction project I’m trying to finish and the morning walk usually provides the opportunity to nut out the next bit, you might suppose developments like the overnight sacking of the Australian cricket coach will be seen as an unwelcome intrusion, since it’s something Hughesy will feel obliged to comment on.

Mickey Arthur’s sacking, and the appointment of Darren Lehmann to replace him, does, however, bring a couple of long-standing issues to the fore, and not just the most obvious ones concerning homework and Joe Root’s wig.

Note the emphasis on the just there. One can’t help suspecting that there’s a lot more going on under the surface with a team that would seem to include a number of individuals with egos larger than many small planets.

Let’s start with the seemingly minor issue of who the members of the Australian cricket team actually listen to.

Elite sports people, of course, are in the position where they’re bombarded with opinions, criticism, helpful and unhelpful suggestions from all directions, friends and opponents. Maybe not quite twenty-four seven, but not far off it.

So you can understand why they might be inclined to be selective about who they listen to. Cricketers who’ve played at the highest level tend, as far as I can see, to only heed the advice of their notional peers, and the current CEO, being a moderately performed ex-Shield player and the High Performance manager, being a Rugby person would not seem to qualify.

That’s not a peculiarly Australian issue. Indian Test players weren’t inclined to heed Greg Chappell’s opinions and suggestions, Bennett King might have coached Queensland to a couple of Sheffield Shield/Pura Cup wins but didn’t last too long as coach of the West Indies. The Astute Reader would probably be able to come up with other international examples.

Much of this, of course, has come about since the emergence of the professional coach, and the rise of national coaching accreditation, something that has allowed a number of moderately performed first class players to build up a career in the game. Take a look around the periphery of most sides that can afford the outlay and you’ll find any number of support staff, any or all of whom can be selectively ignored if you’re not inclined to see their presence as important.

That, from where I’m sitting, would appear to be the source of the recent situation. Mickey Arthur might have been the nominal coach, but wasn’t seen as someone certain players needed to pay attention to when he’s trying to lay down the law.

Of course, if you’re supposedly a vital member of the side you can ignore him but he won’t have the clout to discipline you because he needs you if he wants to win games and hold his job.

That would seem to be the explanation for the homework incident, where a five minute task that might be useful getting everybody’s minds on the job after a break is ignored because four blokes don’t feel it’s important.

On that basis, I’d have to applaud the decision to terminate the contract, and would definitely endorse the choice of Darren Lehmann as Arthur’s replacement because if the current lot won’t listen to an Australian who’s had an extended run at the highest level and showed himself to be reasonably astute in the coaching department there isn’t much chance they’ll listen to anyone.

So I’d like to be a fly on the wall when the Ashes squad sits down at Taunton later today and Lehmann starts laying out the way things are going to operate from here on. Hopefully it’ll be a case of This is how things are going to be rather than Look fellas, I hope all this is all right with you, but I’d like to...

It’s not as if these things are rocket surgery. Ten Tests where we need to take twenty wickets and score more runs than the opposition. There are procedures that need to be put in place, of course, practice routines, training drills, all the nuts and bolts stuff, but that’s not rocket surgery either.

What really needs to be cemented in place is a team mind set, and that’s where the rules, and a bit of arrogance comes in. This is the Australian team. Traditionally, we’re hard bastards in baggy green caps. Second best is not acceptable. That sort of mentality.

Something like an Ashes tour, where one presumes the transport arrangements involve a team vehicle that’ll shuttle back and forth between accommodation and venue, as well as between venues, would seem to be the perfect opportunity to build a competitive unit. Leave the wives, girlfriends and families on the periphery while the job gets done and no fraternising with the enemy.

Remember, in an era when anything you do can appear on Twitter within minutes of it happening, team protocols are there for a reason, and must be adhered to. If that involves appointing a committee who’ll sort out a social itinerary that’s loaded with interesting activities in reasonably secure locations, go for it. You can have a reasonably good time, bond as a unit and, hopefully get that urn back sooner rather than later.

And if there’s anyone on board the bus who isn’t prepared to commit themselves and follow the team protocols, send them straight home.

For a bit of further reading, try Victorian leggie Bryce McGain (here) and Brydon Coverdale (here).

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