Coach to Destination …

In all the debates about the roles about a coach in a cricket team, Shane Warne is associated with the prosecution’s opening remarks.
Do we need a coach at all.

Shane Warne – always good with the wrong ‘un – said this. “I’m a big believer that a coach is something you travel in to get to the game.”

John Buchanan meanwhile (the “coach” in question) – opens his website, with a line from Henry Kissinger. “The task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been“.

The irony of it all !

Just before Australia won the Ashes 5-0 and thrashed everyone in the World Cup, they were having all those campfire type team building exercises. Pushing cars and vans uphill. John Buchanan’s ideas as part of regaining the Ashes. Thats when this Warne-Buchanan controversy first erupted. (It was not the first time). Now, Warne is an important part of the Aussie juggernaut. He certainly was for the Ashes. And yet, within days, the reaction from the defence was swift. Ponting, Gilchrist, Langer all spoke up for their coach. They did not say that he’d helped with them conquering a weakness in technique. Or identify a opposition weakness. That was assumed as a given.

What they said was this.

His greatest strength is his vision and his courage to plant the seed of achievement in a very talented side. It’s easy to go through the motions but one thing that inspires very good players and successful people is to keep trying to extend them all the time.” That was Justin Langer.

My overriding perception is that as a cricket coach and man manager his overall goal is to better his players as people. With that will come being better cricketers.” Thats Adam Gilchrist.

And so, to Shane Warne’s own opinion in his autobiography. And this is the bit where he introduces John Buchanan. Unedited.

While the impact of Gilchrist and Lee can be measured in runs, wickets and catches, it is harder to quantify the impact of a coach on the squad. Bobby Simpson and Geoff Marsh had Test Match experience. But John Buchanan, the current coach, has had no experience in international cricket – just the odd Shield game. Buchanan is from a completely different angle. He is probably the most thorough coach I have known and some of his ideas are very different and come from left-field, but they seem to be working. The coaches before him left the team in good shape and Buck has bought in new ideas with success.

Everyone is familiar with the picture of this tall, slightly awkward-looking figure with glasses hammering data into his laptop computer or scribbling on endless sheets of butcher’s paper. It certainly isn’t the traditional image of a cricket coach. On our activities away from cricket we split into two teams – the Julios, named after the suave, sophisticated singer, Julio Iglesias, and the Nerds. The Julios are people like Mark Waugh, Michael Slater, Brett Lee, Greg Blewett and Errol Alcott, our physio. Those are the guys who make an effort with their appearance and know one end of a blow drier from the other. The Nerds generally include Glenn Mcgrath, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist – the ones who don’t worry too much about their haistyle or the latest fashion. Down the years, Brendon Julian has been the most appropriate captain of the Julios, while Tim May led the Nerds with distinction. But, with greatest respect, I think it is only a matter of time before our coach assumes Tim’s mantle.

His ambition is to be able at the end of each day’s play to give an individual disk or feedback sheet to every player containing data of his performance. To people like myself, who aren’t quite up to date with new technology that seems incredible. He already has an enormous amount of information stored up about our opponents. Obviously, the more experienced players like the Waughs and myself are familiar with which batsmen tend to hook compulsively, or who tends to nick to to the slips or doesn’t play spin so well, for example, but even then it is invaluable to have that knowledge reinforced by tangible evidence. I still back myself to use the old brain, but if anyone is unsure or there are differences on what approach to take, the computer is a good back-up. When he took over before the Pakistan series he set up one-on-one meetings with all of us to outline his ideas, tell us what he expected of us and ask what we wanted from him. He stressed the importance of knowing us as characters as much as cricketers. He is big on setting goals.

The fact that he didn’t play Test cricket is an interesting facet of his career. His track record at Queensland, coaching the side to a first ever Shield win, was superb and those who questioned his methods were in the minority. With the game becoming so much more “professional”, shall we say, I think the modern coach needs to offer more than his own experience. It is not enough these days to turn up an hour or so before the game and go through the motions with a few stretches. Although we sometimes wonder what is behind Buchanan’s routines, the results show that he knows what he’s doing. He has been known to have us work on juggling, as though we were about to join a circus. Sometimes we hit balls with our eyes shut. Occasionally, we have been told to jog around the boundary while trying to bounce a ball up on our bats. As Mark Waugh said, it was hard to see how that particular exercise was going to help us but we gave it a go. I can only assume it was designed to help our concentration. With Buchanan, there is a reason for everything, even if it isn’t obvious to us. We trust him and try to keep the whingeing to a minimum.

And in that little Warne passage there, in my view, are a number of things.
A non-believer’s list of positives which must form the core of a checklist when the 7 man committee meets tomorrow.

Questions tho : Do they have options? Do they have a checklist? Do they have a common destination ?


p.s. Rohit Brijnath’s interview (with a I-knew-it-was-the-butler stunner end ) with John Buchanan here.

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