Fast-tracking is the in thing!

Published : Mar 30, 2013 00:00 IST

Why is it, someone asked me the other day, that young sportsmen make the climb to the top so much more quickly now than they used to? My friend thought it might be improved scouting, better coaching and more thoughtful training methods. I think not, says Ted Corbett.

Why is it, someone asked me the other day, that young sportsmen make the climb to the top so much more quickly now than they used to. He mentioned Joe Root, the England batsman tipped to be their opener alongside skipper Alastair Cook soon, and perhaps captain of England when Cook steps aside; Rory McIlroy, the best golfer in the world until his recent setback and various Olympic athletes now retiring in their early 30s or mid-20s after wearing themselves out with training and competing at an age most of us used to have a wild time; he could have mentioned Lewis Hamilton, now earning a Lottery prize a year as a racing driver.

My friend thought it might be improved scouting, better coaching and more thoughtful training methods.

I think not. It’s nothing more nor less than television with its 24-hour, round the world, detailed, slow-motion and close up analysis backed by the voices of many who have been there, done that and been forced to treat the bruises.

Way back in another life I once spent an hour watching Terry Griffiths, the snooker world champion, at practice.

He knocked a blue into the middle pocket and grinned with satisfaction as the white ball spun back to the centre of the table. “What shot was that?” he asked. “A stun shot,” I answered.

“I was world champion before I knew that. I played the shot all the time but I did not know I could produce the stun shot until someone said how well I played it.” That was in the late 1970s but the same conversation could not be repeated today.

The new champion, whoever he is, will have spent hours in his boyhood watching snooker on television, listening to the former professionals and learning all about the technicalities.

He will not — as I and millions of ordinary club cricketers, Rugby players and amateur footballers like me — have had to rely on word pictures from radio and later from the jerky grey shadows that were called black and white television.

Once they have left the battlefield that is international sport, most players are only too willing to discuss their methods and the ways of their rivals.

I am not fond of the concept of former players taking all the best commentary spots on TV. Those ex-players know more about the game than I ever will but they are either unwilling or unable to express themselves well enough or lack the training to tell a story as briefly and concisely as a journalist can.

That is why Richie Benaud was so admired. Long before he was a successful Test all-rounder he was a crime reporter on the streets of Sydney among some of the toughest conditions, most daring operators and skilled competitors known in the newspaper world.

I doubt if he had it tougher in Test cricket than on the police beat in Sydney which taught him how to assemble his facts at speed and get to the main point quickly.

Benaud’s main broadcasting rival was Tony Cozier who has more than a tuneful Caribbean voice and a gift of rhythm. He comes from a family of journalists and has the priceless gift of being able to summarise a story in a single sentence. Oh, that some of the cricket experts had a tenth of his ability to sum up a match in a phrase.

They have another, equally valuable, ability to pass on knowledge, to point out the advances in the game, to demonstrate the way hand and eye combine compared with days gone-by and an instinctive grasp of what is coming. Sadly, there are more and more former players dominating the airwaves and fewer men with the ability to tell the tale.

Still, for everyone like me who regrets the trend towards a commentary box full of former cricketers — some like Nasser Hussain who will never be able to do anything short of telling the unvarnished truth in the manner of Ian Chappell are worth their weight in 3lb bats — there are young players grateful to learn with their ears glued to the TV set.

When I first joined the cricket world full time, I was astonished at the ignorance of players who had reached Test level about the laws, the technical terms and the history.

I met one who confessed surprise that he could have a second new ball after 160 — fruitless — overs another who confessed he had no idea at the small print of the lbw law and another who captained a Test side for several years without ever having opened a book detailing the laws.

The downside of the surge of players towards the gantry and the press box has been their absence from selection panels, coaching roles and playing their part as match referees.

Instead they are fulfilling their role in advancing the game by passing on their experience to the young players who will one day become Test giants; and then retire to the commentary box and add the weight of their own knowledge to the eager minds of tomorrow’s stars.

It appears to be happening already although I don’t suppose the day will dawn on which one old timer will tell the kids to bone up on the laws, read a history of cricket and study an MCC coaching film.

I think that is a pity but the youngsters are probably better off with a bat or a ball in hand and getting lots of fresh air into their lungs.

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