A wake-up call

The Indian selectors and Greg Chappell seem to be trying to change Indian cricket to fit in with their theory of how the game, and in particular one-day cricket, should be played.

While a score of 91, batting second in a one-day international, doesn't signal disaster time, it should certainly herald a wake-up call for the Indian selectors. Particularly since this very low score on a good batting track follows a disappointing performance in the recent ICC Champions Trophy.

Over the last 12 months or so India have been fiddling too much with their teams and how they should play. Between the Tri-series in Zimbabwe in August 2005 and the tour of the West Indies in 2006, 26 players have played for India.

When I was appointed the coach of Australia, there were 44 players competing in the Sheffield Shield and one-day state competitions. I was horrified that so many positions had been given out, even if some of their selections went back a decade.

It was even more disturbing considering the fact that there are only six state teams in Australia. Meaning, there are just 66 players available at any one time. The 22 players going around without an Australian cap must have felt somewhat slighted.

The reason for such an extraordinary number of capped players was put down to the twin problems, the World Series Cricket and the rebel tours of South Africa, which saw to that most of the top players were not available. To overcome this, the Australian selectors, myself included, sat down and decided that there were only 16 players then who were worthy of international honours. We kept our selection to the next 12 months to those players. And this was done without any public announcement or telling the chosen 16 of our decision.

Sure, there were often temptations to increase this number as one player or the other scored a hundred or took wickets.

We backed our 16 and while some players were omitted and others added, the basis of Australia's recovery and the players responsible for the World Cup victory in 1987 formed this group.

When we selected the 16, the core players were Allan Border, David Boon, Geoff Marsh, Craig McDermott and Steve Waugh. In our view they were tough cricketers and we built the recovery of Australian Cricket around them.

In some ways it was like solving a jigsaw puzzle. We had five spots filled, but completing the problem took a long time and the final spots were filled not until the 1989 Ashes tour.

In those days our thinking wasn't cluttered in the belief that one-day cricket was different to Test cricket and required different skills. We believed that the most talented players could play in either form of the game with great proficiency. They did, and indeed they still do it.

Yes, there will be the rare exception such as Andrew Symonds now and Simon O'Donnell in 1987 — players who were more suited to the one-day game. But the team that won the World Cup final at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta, in 1987 was also generally Australia's Test line-up.

Unfortunately these days, many one-day teams are filled up with so-called all-rounders who can do a little of both batting and bowling. But the truth is that they don't have the major criterion for all-rounders — that is to be able to hold their position in the team as either a batsman or a bowler.

In the history of cricket, only Keith Miller, Garry Sobers, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev were good enough to play for their countries as either a bowler or a batsman.

The Indian selectors and Greg Chappell seem to be trying to change Indian cricket to fit in with their theory of how the game, and in particular one-day cricket, should be played. While more theories abound today than ever before, cricket is still a simple game that is only made more difficult by well meaning theorists.

My whole theory on coaching the cricketers is based on improving the natural talents of the players and the culture of their game. Almost every country has its natural way of playing the game. Australia are different to England. South Africa and New Zealand are different to Australia and more like England. The Asian countries are similar to each other, but have slightly different ways of using their incredibly flexible wrists while batting. The West Indies have their own individual style, and thank goodness, this is what makes them so different and exciting than the other countries. Unfortunately, the globalisation of world cricket and the predominance of clipboard, biomechanical and scientific coaching have tended to muddle the natural skills of the players.

Equally unfortunate is that Australia seem to be the heartbeat of this movement and the Australian coaches now all the rage with Tom Moody (Sri Lanka), Greg Chappell (India) and Bennett King (West Indies). Fellow clipboard Englishman Bob Woolmer coaches Pakistan.

What worries me greatly is that in their desire for change and their faith in the so-called scientific approach, they will destroy the naturalness and culture of cricket in these lands.

Everybody now wants to jump the Australian bandwagon. This is quite natural, for the Australian team is the best now. What shouldn't be forgotten about the Australians is that they have been around a long, long time, and learnt and shaped their skills under a different regime. Australia are the best because they have learnt the basic skills well and stick within their natural talents. India, on the other hand, seem to want to change every thing.

It is ideal if the players are so malleable that coaches can immediately say, `this is the way I want you to play' and the player can immediately change. India seem to be going through this process right now with too frequent changes in the team and styles of the players.

The batting order is just one obvious area that has been fiddled with. What I can't understand is choosing Tendulkar and Dravid to open the innings. This, to me, looked like putting all your eggs in one basket.

Dravid has always done his best down the order, helping the team in its recoveries. His low scores, batting up the order, would have upset the morale of the entire batting line-up. With excessive stroke-makers in the Indian line-up there was no one to steady the ship.

It is just a few months to the World Cup and India must quickly find some strong-minded players to shore up the team if they want to challenge for the top honours in the West Indies.