Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let the Bloodletting Begin, I'll be Watching From Afar

There’ll be a few sore heads around the Australian Cricket camp this morning, and quite rightly so, but as those involved attack the Berocca and other vital sources of Vitamin B it's important that we don’t get carried away.

Five-nil is all very nice, but the prospect of South Africa looms on the horizon, and with just under a week until the start of the ODI series against the Old Enemy there’s a chance to inflict a bit more damage to an outfit that has to be getting very close to the ropes.

That’s a task that needs to be approached with caution, but needs to be approached.

There’s a chance to push a few more of their senior players over the edge into retirement, and the chance to inflict a few psychological scars on the up and comers. That last bit doesn’t need to be anything too fancy, just straightforward hard cricket, played without giving an inch.

Do that well enough and you might get them to the point where the old hands start thinking the kitchen’s getting a little too hot for their liking, the newcomers start doubting whether they can really cut it at this level and any internal ructions among the camp turn into outright hostility.

And, once it’s done, you might just be heading to South Africa with a sort of steely resolve to stare down the aggro that’ll be headed in your direction by an intimidating pace attack, a tong batting line up and highly partisan crowds.

England, of course, will be homeward bound around then, needing to sort out where they’re headed, and developments on that front will be worth watching.

One of the best things about delivering a serious trouncing is watching the aftermath because you need to be reminded what not to do when it’s your turn on the treadmill.

There’ll be an inquiry of some sort, and you can see the start of the navel-gazing in this article (Well-prepared England well beaten: Andy Flower has been the best coach England have had but the environment he created has led to 5-0). Interesting, and well worth a read.

It’s not that long ago that Australia was in the same boat, though the series that led to the inquiry  was 3-1 rather than 5-0. That last Ashes series down under gave us the Argus Report, John Inverarity, Mickey Arthur, Mike Howard and Michael Clarke as captain and selector to replace Andrew Hilditch, Tim Neilsen, nobody and Ricky Ponting.

And with the replacements in place it took a while to shake things out and create a workable modus operandi.

Hopefully, when the England hierarchy starts the analysis the outcome will be equally muddled. That’ll make the urn easier to defend while we, hopefully, continue to Keep It Simple and Make It Fun.

That, I think, is the secret to recent success. We got the selection right, played it hard and made the team environment an enjoyable place to be.

Let’s pause and look at those matters a little more closely.

The first thing we got right, IMHO, was the appointment of a full time National Selector. Andrew Hilditch had been trying to run a law practice and select Australian teams, and you can’t do both.

The first thing we got wrong was the combination around the selection table. That’s not to say that there’s never a place for a captain on the selection panel, but Clarke wasn’t the right man to sit on that panel at that point in time.

The second thing we got wrong probably the interaction between those at the supervisory level once the team was selected, and between supervisors and the players once the selected team assembled.

It’s just over twelve months since we were agonising over a rotation policy that seemed to be the outcome of an inability to deliver a fast bowling attack that didn’t have someone breaking down. It seems no one had the common sense to sit down with the players, explain what was happening and why it was necessary and spell out that the formula wasn’t open to negotiation.

I may have it wrong, but if the logic involves a statistical probability of breaking down in the next match if you bowl more than x number of overs in this one you need to assure the players you’re not doing things that’ll push them into the at risk category and you also need to deliver a strong message about not commenting on, or being guarded in your comments about, selection matters.

That’s not to suggest there’s no room for someone doing Pat Howard’s job, managing international workloads and monitoring the interactions between state and national teams. There are a number of stakeholders involved, and you probably need someone to make sure that one crowd’s self-interest doesn’t undermine the greater good of everyone else.

There was a touch of that last point in the post-match radio discussion when the subject of Pat Cummins (Australia’s highest paid university student) came up. He’d just made a score in Perth club cricket, and there was some speculation he was about to be included in the Scorchers’ line up.  The kid’s still in the at risk age group, coming back off serious injury, and needs to be brought back gradually rather than rushed into the limelight for short term advantage in a competition that may be irrelevant.

Cummins may be the genuinely quick quickie we’ll need when Johnson slows down. End of story. He’s on his way back, doing something constructive along the way, and if he’s also coming along as a batsman that’ll probably come in handy as well.

And, of course, the Argus Report gave us Mickey Arthur, which as it turns out wasn’t the smartest move.

That’s not saying it wasn’t a move that needed to be made, but it didn’t turn out right.

The big point here is that you need the right people at the top of things, and those people aren’t necessarily the ones with the best on paper credentials. They’re possibly not the ones with the perceived best track record either.

At this point,  we’re hovering on the edge of familiar territory as we approach what The Actor and I refer to as the Potassium Counters.

I spent a fair bit of time hovering around the Primary School representative scene, and I’ve seen more than one or two Level Three Accredited Coaches I’d be reluctant to put in charge of an Under 11 team. Level Three supposedly qualifies you to coach an international side, but having the piece of paper doesn’t necessarily mean you can coach.

Conversely, the lack of the piece of paper doesn’t mean you can’t.

The Actor, with a grandson who had the right build to be a shot-putter, trained the kid to national age championships, and I was in the vicinity one Friday night when he collared a young bloke who knew a little about the shot and had  a demonstration of some basic dos and don’ts in a quiet corner of the QB pub.

That was never going to be enough, and he went on to put himself through the process of gaining national accreditation to help the kid along the way, and ensure that someone else didn’t step in and stuff things up for him.

And, in the process, he ran across people whose perceived role was to monitor the athlete’s potassium intake, or some other seemingly insignificant matter. There’s a tendency for organisations like teams and national sporting bodies to set up extensive support structures, and there’s a large number of people with impressive paper qualifications looking for a job.

The employment of Potassium Counters and the need to give them something to do is more than likely, the origin of the Homework Affair, which marked the beginning of Mickey Arthur’s demise. He had been, of course, a rather successful coach at international level, but one could mount a pretty strong case to suggest the proverbial Blind Freddie could have coached the Proteas at that stage of things.

So I’ll be watching reports coming out of England as the navel-gazing begins, and while I’m waiting that article linked to earlier is well worth a careful read.

Not that I’m going to opine on the England process, you understand. There’s plenty to keep me busy worrying about where we’re headed…

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