Extreme bloodletting

WHO would have thought a few years ago that in any period the sacking of national cricket coaches would have exceeded the regular bloodletting that occurs among the footballers in the English Premiership.


As he has done well, the Indian Board should continue to give John Wright their backing.-Pic. N. BALAJI

WHO would have thought a few years ago that in any period the sacking of national cricket coaches would have exceeded the regular bloodletting that occurs among the footballers in the English Premiership.

Yet it has happened since the end of the World Cup. Dav Whatmore in his second spell with Sri Lanka, Roger Harper, the patient West Indian, Richard Pybus, coach of the mercurial Pakistan players and Mohsin Kamal, who faced a hopeless task with Bangladesh, have all been cast aside.

Some went more willingly than others, some probably felt their natural term of office was finished but the overall effect was of a mass cull. It just shows how much pressure there is on international coaches today and makes one look back in wonder at the long periods in office by Bobby Simpson and Micky Stewart in the days when coaches were a novelty.

I don't suppose Terry Venables, the manager of cash-free Leeds United or Howard Wilkinson of the soon-to-be-relegated Sunderland, sacked at the same instant, wasted much time making comparisons but it leaves cricket without any room to claim the moral high ground.

Their administrators have always stuck their toffee noses into the air whenever football was mentioned mainly because of that game's tendency to get rid of managers and coaches if things went wrong. Secretly they wished they had the opportunity to deal with the millions of pounds that flow through football's turnstiles.

The four dismissed coaches have been followed by a number of captains except, oddly, in the case of Sanath Jayasuriya who wanted to go. Shaun Pollock of South Africa and Carl Hooper of West Indies were also moved aside; England's Nasser Hussain quit, not so much ahead of the axe but before news of his 35th birthday party kicked in.

At the same time replacements have been appointed in the usual casual way, as if employment law was 200 years in the future.

Just for instance let's take the experience of Bennett King, the head of the Australian Academy. He woke one morning recently to read he had been named as the new West Indies coach. It was a shock to King since he had not been informed and had had no discussions about wages and conditions with the West Indies Board or the chance to inform the Australian Board of Control or hold discussions with his family.

Hardly the ideal way to start an important relationship, is it? It is another matter that King has declined the offer.

You have to wonder if any of the cricket bodies engage their brains before they open their mouths. Or perhaps I should say they allow their spokespeople to issue statements. That is the choice at the moment whether the subject is war in Iraq or the next flight to Mars. It puts a middle man between the liars and the lied to and that is an important consideration in modern sport-politics.

I hope the Indian Board have more sense. They ought to realise the accuracy of the show biz saying that it takes five years to become an overnight success and that John Wright has the team moving in an upward direction.

Now is not the time for change; rather it is the right moment to give Mr. Wright their backing and the chance to win a trophy.

If I may be allowed to make another reference to my favourite team of the moment, they should take their lead from the success of the England Rugby Union side. These 15 lads have been at the top for the last five years but not until this season have they managed to pull off five wins in the Six Nations tournament and so win the Triple Crown.

Five years in a row they were foiled at the last minute but, happily, the Rugby Football Union kept faith in their coach Clive Woodward who is now in charge of the bookmakers' favourites for next October's World Cup.

This winter they have held off the unpredictable French, the wretched Welsh, the Italians who had just shocked Wales by pulling off one of their rare victories, the passionate Scots and finally the Irish, the only other unbeaten side in the tournament. Last autumn they defeated New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The way to the World Cup appears to be wide open and recently several pundits have suggested that the England football team management look to the Rugby team for guidance. Not necessarily about technique; more about spirit, sportsmanship and how to manage success. Of course that is not a problem if you don't have victories behind you but the Rugby people have managed to win and still behave without arrogance.

They are unquestionably the team of the year, especially when compared with the cricketers, knocked out of the World Cup in the preliminary stage for the second time in a row, and the footballers who make playing for their country look such a drag.

Duncan Fletcher, given an extension to his contract — which now runs until September 2004 — just before he led the team to Australia, has escaped criticism so far, perhaps because the England and Wales Cricket Board has had other problems to deal with, maybe because it would cost them so much money if he left.

Nevertheless he may be considered lucky to have had to deal with no more than a few mutterings about his lack of public utterances on the Zimbabwe problem.

He is a watchful man and no doubt he will have missed little that has gone on around him in the last few months while England have lost an Ashes series, come a bad second in the tri-series in Australia and been tumbled out of the World Cup in double quick time.

In truth, coaches have to be more aware than ever. Take the problem that hit the England soccer team in recent weeks.

They were holding a private training session before their European championship matches when someone spotted a man taking an obsessive interest in the play and using a tiny video camera to film the more unusual moves.

The cameraman left when challenged but he proved to be a ''spy'' from the opposition camp. Why Turkey needed new evidence of England's plans is difficult to understand since there are few games in this era that are not televised, analysed in detail and readily available on video for any coaching staff.

Cricket is just as blessed. Is there anyone on the planet with half an eye on cricket who does not claim to pick Brad Hogg's flipper even though he is a comparative newcomer to Test and one-day international cricket? Couldn't we all set a field for Damien Martyn and get him caught in the gully area? I am sure that every sport in the world is as heavily monitored. It may be why many are so dull.

The footballing spy did not learn enough. He must have missed the involvement of Wayne Rooney, a 17-year-old striker, who added enough fire to England's performance to give them their second 2-0 victory in a few days and a much better chance of qualifying for the finals since Turkey are one of the main rivals in their group.

Excuse me if I am repeating myself but where is cricket's Wayne Rooney? Don't tell me he does not exist. He is probably in Essex's — or Somerset's or Yorkshire's — second team. ''He's one for the future,'' I hear someone say.

Cricket is too friendly a game. Despite everything nasty there is a genuine admiration, sense of comradeship and respect among Test opponents and spies don't have a place in the game.

I guess that in many cases an England player could walk up to a batsman on the opposite side and ask: ''How do I go about picking Hogg's googly'' and perhaps get some sort of an answer. (Probably: "Mate, you're asking the wrong guy. He's got me out with it three times in a row.")

You will tell me that this sort of trade-off only happened in innocent days and you may be right.

In the last couple of weeks I have come across a cutting from 1985 which recounts how dozens of phone calls a day were received by a weather forecasting organisation during the Leeds Test that year.

They all came from India and "some of them seemed to be from people who needed the information urgently,'' according to the centre's manager.

I wonder why. Don't all answer at once.