Experience is the key

JOHN BUCHANAN... doing a fine job to keep Australia on top.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Australia have been very fortunate in the last two decades to have had a very STABLE GROUP of Test cricketers whose form has been consistent and fitness excellent. They have been the basis of the team's success.

John Buchanan's confirmation of what has been known for some months now, that he wouldn't continue as Australia's coach after the 2007 World Cup, has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons as far as his replacement is concerned. Many names have been put forward and some have confirmed that they will seek the position.

Some of the names that have emerged up to now are Steve Rixon, Tom Moody, Greg Chappell, Dav Whatmore, Bennett King and Tim Neilson, a long time coach at the Australian Academy who has shared the role of Assistant Coach with Jamie Siddons over the last year or two. It is certain that many more names will surface in the new season, including some from overseas.

It is not my intention to push for any particular coach, but I would like to recommend a "back to basics coach" for Australia after over a decade of `Biomechanics and Science' coaching. While I believe there is value in both these areas, I think they have been overdone to the detriment of natural skills.

It is no coincidence that the standard of Test cricket in most countries has dropped alarmingly in the last decade. Though it is not entirely because of the new approach, it has much to answer for this malady.

In seeking a new coach, I believe Australia should be looking for a man who has played at the highest level and also has coached a team. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to passing on the knowledge, particularly when it has been gained from exposure to the highest playing levels and not just learnt from books, or should I say computers.

The new coach also needs to be someone who can work with the youngsters in order to develop them into successful players.

One of my major concerns with the Australian team in the last six years has been the number of young players who have been given opportunities, but haven't been able to hold a permanent position in either the Test or ODI teams. Many have had the potential, but only Michael Clarke has hung on with some success.

Unfortunately, now it is widely accepted that players need to be in their mid to late twenties in order to have the maturity and mental balance to cope with `Modern Test Cricket.'

I don't subscribe to this view, for in the earlier era young, talented and exciting new players were the life blood of the game and Australia's cricketing history has been hugely enhanced by the likes of Bradman, Archie Jackson, Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud, Doug Walters and the Waugh twins, Steve and Mark, who all made successful debuts in first class cricket as teenagers.

We have been very fortunate in the last two decades to have had a very stable group of Test cricketers whose form has been consistent and fitness excellent. They have been the basis of Australia's success.

The downside of such a successful, long term group is that most of the players will leave the game around the same time. And the task of replacing them is monumental, and needs to be planned well and patiently.

You don't have to look beyond the West Indies to know the problem. For just over 20 years, the West Indies seemed unbeatable. But very little forward thinking was done in the West Indies to develop a programme to bring the talented youngsters on. While many West Indies youngsters in the past 10 years have had natural gifts, very few have been helped to turn their natural gifts into success.

Herein lies the crux of the issue of who should be the next Australian coach. Who will be that person who has the patience, skill, aptitude and knowledge to turn the young, rough diamonds into sparkling champions?

Natural talent has and always will be around. How to turn these players with natural, god-given skills into successful performers is another matter.

At a time when we had very few coaches in Australia, peer influence was the single most important factor in the quick rise of the talented youngsters. It wasn't anything official or planned, but just accepted by the senior players that their role was to help and mould the youngsters into better and more successful cricketers.

I had the likes of Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson to make the road ahead easier and successful for me. When I became a senior player and then captain, playing the role of a mentor came easily to me. When I look back on my cricketing life, I appreciate that those who preceded me had been the ones who gave me the knowledge and the desire to help others and be a coach.

Unfortunately, and particularly at the higher level, peer influence is now not as evident as it once was. A great pity that so much knowledge is now being lost.

A winning coach is a rare commodity and a consistently winning coach is even rarer. John Buchanan has a fine winning record and he was blessed with the most vital component — a team of rare talent and experience.

I handed the Australian team to Geoff Marsh less than 12 months after we finally beat the West Indies in 1995 and had the right to claim to be the best in the World. Geoff expanded the winning theme in the next two or three years, and when Buchanan took over they were undoubtedly the world's finest team. With the talent available and the depth of experience Buchanan did a fine job to keep Australia on top.

Buchanan has been very much a computer biomechanics and science man. Understanding the mystery of technique and solving them has never been his strength.

The development of a new and exciting breed of Australian cricketers is the challenge ahead.

I was interested to read an interview by Shane Warne where he said John Buchanan's successor should have international playing experience and a track record of developing young players. This was two days after I had made the same recommendation in a newspaper interview. Very interesting!