`I wouldn't really coach the boys until they are 12 or 13'

Simpson spoke about several aspects of coaching. He said the Indian Board took the right decision to appoint John Wright as the coach of the national team.

G. VISWANATH

"There's a problem with heavy bats and grips. Sachin Tendulkar is talking about lighter bats these days," says Bobby Simpson regarded as the `Guru of coaches' by many. The former Australian opener, captain and coach spent a week with 20-odd juniors at the Brabourne Stadium in May. About 20 coaches also benefited from the seminar organised by the CCI, Mumbai.

"I think I did a lot of things naturally. I was good at observing things." — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Simpson spoke about several aspects of coaching. He said the Indian Board took the right decision to appoint John Wright as the coach of the national team.

Excerpts:

Question: What is the right age to coach a youngster?

Answer: Well, I wouldn't really coach the boys until they are 12 or 13. I think they should be first told how to grip the bat, how to stand and just go out there and enjoy it. When they are 13 or 14 you can start to work on them. Before you start coaching you have got to know their natural style. You should not coach them to be clones with your pet theories. The coach should examine his ward's natural way of doing things. If you curb a youngster's natural approach you take a huge percentage of his likely success.

But there have been instances of youngsters picked to play Test cricket at a very young age. They must have been coached from the age of eight or nine.

I cannot remember too many coaching lessons I had before I got into the New South Wales team. You learn by watching the best. You learn with help from your peers. I am very conscious and afraid of the way cricket and coaching is going around now. We seem to be entering an era with fashions, fads and theories dictating everything. Ideas are coming in which is nice, but we cannot accept them until we can see the value of them. You have to only look at the batsman who stands with the pick up of the bat in the air. Finally, after ten years, this stance and pick up of the bat in the air has been taken out of the English coaching manuals. The heavy bats I think are finally on the way out. Even Sachin (Tendulkar) has started using lighter bats. God bless him. So hopefully boys would do that. Gooch was successful with the standing position; it suited him. But a coach cannot tell his charges to follow him.

You said at the coaches' seminar that you came to know more about the game after you first retired, at the age of 31.

I did know the game when I was playing, but probably did not know how to appreciate it. I think I did a lot of things naturally. I was good at observing things. Certain people helped me. I knew a fair bit. But when I became a commentator I had to tell the people what was happening. That gave a totally new perspective. You had to suddenly explain to people what you have been doing and thinking about it. Obviously to reach Test level, you have learned about the game, a lot about yourself and what makes you successful. That's fine. But when you pass on that knowledge, you have got to be very careful about what you pass on.

What's it like working with Allan Border's team?

I think I am a better coach now than when I first started. I am learning everyday in my life and everything is a learning process. You pick up wonderful little new ideas, hints from the most amazing sources. A good coach is always the one who is prepared to learn. During the Border years it was a very set assignment. I was with NSW for two years, which had won the Sheiifeld Shield twice. I had spent a lot of time as captain, playing club cricket. So I had got used to handling people. Going into the Australian team, I took over a team that was not well disciplined, the work ethics were right down the drain.

So the initial work I had to do was build on restoring some pride, little bit of humility on some occasions and also restoring a work ethic. To develop a genuine love for the game. Then it does not become a work, it becomes a pleasure. So those were the ingredients we first worked on. The New South Wales boys quite enjoyed it for the first six months. They could see what was going on, something they did not see for two years. You have to make sure that you give people a fair chance and if they cannot match up to the standards you want them to be, they have no place in the team. Once we went on further and further the players became more accustomed and I only became a fine tuner. I just had to pull them back on track. Even the experienced players get into bad habits and that's the time the coach comes to the fore and does some fine-tuning.

You were saying about the love for the game...

That's the main criteria. All the good players I know in each sport do it because they love playing their sport. You can see them enjoy playing the game, getting a kick out of their own skills. They love winning, too.

It's said that you emphasised on working the singles.

Well, it was just a follow up from my own game. Bill (Lawry) and I appreciated early that the best way to face the fast bowlers is by being at the bowler's end! So we did that by rotating the strike. Tactically it is probably the best way to tackle many bowlers because they don't get a chance to work out on their plans.

What about the quality of Test cricket these days?

I am a little worried about it. Apart from Australians, particularly, there is no competitor really. We hoped South Africa would be, but they are not there. That's not a healthy situation for cricket. If Australia wins in the last hour on the last day of every Test match, then you would have had a competition. Australia get the inevitable results mainly because they do the basics right. They bowl accurately, bat sensibly, hitting fours, and they take the singles in between to put the pressure on the fielding team.

Whereas in today's cricket there are too many players who go for the big shots. Bowling wise, there are not many who can bowl maiden overs.

It's said that the Australian system places restriction on overs to be bowled at junior levels.

It's hardly surprising. People don't know what's causing injuries. There's no study, which says that the reason for bowlers breaking down is because they are bowling too much. It's somebody's assumption. If you don't practice, how do you become good. Gary Player says `the more I practice, the more luckier I get.' If one looks at all great sportsmen they practice a lot. Tennis is a very physical game. I have not heard any one say that one should not practice more than 25 serves at a time. What we are getting is too technical.

It was a great education for you, playing with Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey and so many stalwarts of the game.

They talk about it. I think the best place to talk about cricket is being away from the game and talk cricket over a meal and in a very relaxed situation. I was a youngster who batted at No. 7. I had enough success to make the best side and once when I realised that I was not doing well, I was seeking advice.

Many feel Australia has the best coaching system.

I think most of our money is spent on the development of the cricketers. Certainly we are getting far too technical and complicated. One should understand the Australian structure below the top levels. Every town in Australia are playing competitive cricket. From that structure people come to know who are the promising kids around the scene.

After the World Cup win, John Buchanan said that Australian cricket could go ahead further and leave the others behind.

He's probably talking about left-handed and right-handed throws! He says that every time. But of course there's always a chance to improve. I think we are going into a very interesting period. The most recent person to come into the Australian batting line up and holding his position is Ricky Ponting. So you can see the reason in the selectors decision to move Steve Waugh out of one-dayers. Australia was becoming an old team. Australia must get young players. We were flicking the ball 40 years ago. We used Mike Young (baseball coach) 20 years ago. Mike did not have anything new to add 20 years ago. The game has not changed.

It's only in the last 10 years that countries have thought about a national coach.

That's probably because we did well after I came in. Everyone follows the fashion at a particular point of time. What's important is getting a right coach. He has to be teaching the right things. He must always be the voice of integrity and honesty.

The players today want a coach. In the past we never thought about it. The captain ran the show then.