Lessons to be learnt from Gary Player

THE ENGLISH cricket team and staff would do well to consider two favourite sayings of golfing legend Gary Player.

Player with legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus revolutionised golf in the 50s, 60s and 70s and took it from the elitist game it was and gave it to the masses. Short in stature, but a giant in achievement, Player was not blessed with great natural talent. But he made up for it with a burning desire to succeed and a great work ethic that would make even modern day players flinch.

Player was the first golfer, if not the first sportsman, to incorporate weight training in his daily routine and even today carries with him weights where ever he goes. Lord only knows what he must have paid in excess luggage fees over his five generations of travelling the world to achieve his dream of being the best golfer in the world.

He still works out hard each day and can still do one-arm push-ups and push-ups not on the palm of his hands, but his fingertips. Just try this some time.

Player is perhaps the most travelled sportsman of all time and to date has flown over 15 million miles in his quest to win as many tournaments as possible.

Undoubtedly, he had a will of iron and could fly across the world for a tournament and consistently win after being in the country for only one or two days. How did he do it? Perhaps two of his favourite sayings provide the answer.

1) The more I practise, the luckier I get, and 2) Persistence and common sense are more important than intelligence.

Why should English cricket look hard at these sayings?

Let us handle the first saying. Duncan Fletcher & Co seem to think the opposite and appear to want to go the other way in an effort to keep the players "fresh", whatsever that means.

Under the central contract system Fletcher as the National Coach can dictate just when his charges can play or not.

Right now, with this restriction being imposed too frequently I believe the English players are entering Test cricket underdone. For example, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff have played only one or two county matches in the last two seasons.

Rather than too much cricket, I believe the English Test players play too little. Even if any English player has a small niggle, he is rested prior to a Test match.

Australia on the other hand want their players to play under these circumstances to ensure they are match fit. When I was coach and a selector, if a player had or was carrying an injury and if he had a Sheffield Shield match, he had to prove his fitness in that game before being considered for a Test.

Michael Vaughan, of late, seems to have missed far too many matches before Tests either through an injury worry or was just rested. Little wonder then he looks so much out of form.

Practice may be okay, but if you hope to be in tip-top shape and confidence and score runs you have to play under match conditions.

Scoring runs can become a habit and habits can only be achieved under testing circumstances. Nets do not qualify for these conditions.

To me, the English players in the Lord's Test looked underdone.

Fletcher should pin up Player's second theory, "Persistence and common sense are more important than intelligence," in the dressing room.

You don't need to have the mind of a rocket scientist to be a Test cricketer, but you definitely have to have common sense and persistence.

I saw very little of this from side on or down the wicket from these two vantage points I occupied at the Lord's Test.

While most spectators prefer to watch their cricket from down the wicket, I find, as a coach, side on view gives me a greater appreciation of the technique and tactics of both batsmen and bowlers.

With the amount of international cricket being played and filmed, every coach in the world has access to replays almost instantly.

In the so called more scientific world we now live in, coaches have available to them the tools, or technology, if you prefer the modern phrasing, to view exactly what is going on with tactics and technique.

The problem, however, is that the person viewing all this must have the skill to pick out where things are going right and wrong.

England must have the information stored to know exactly how to bowl to each Australian batsman and hopefully as a batsman the best way to counter the Australian bowlers.

At Lord's I was left wondering if anyone had the nous to interpret this information as I continually saw bowlers bowl too short and wide and batsmen misjudge the length of the bowlers.

Yes, I will admit that being out of form or not getting match practice can make the players commit errors, but at Lord's the English bowling, particularly in the second innings, was far too short and often wide, while the batsmen generally succumbed exactly to how the bowlers were tying to get them.

Their first innings against McGrath was a case in point.

Yes, I will concede that the wicket was a little up and down and the occasional lower ball was a problem.

Under these conditions it was essential that the batsmen playing McGrath should have been looking to get forward. Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff were all bowled when they were straddling the crease or playing back to balls they should have been pushing forward to.

Yes, the balls did not bounce as much as expected but neither were they shooters. Vaughan's ball hit the top of the stumps, while Bell and Flintoff were bowled by deliveries that hit above the middle of the stump.

Only Pietersen, who scored 57, looked comfortable and was always looking to get forward.

Whoever is giving advice to the English batsmen should take a good hard look at their tactics.

Invariably they hit a lot of fours in whatever tally they make, but do nothing in between.

They had virtually no strike rotation and this made it simple for the Australian bowlers to employ the tactics they thought best to dismiss the English batsmen as they always had their victim on strike.

What concerns me is that they have too many stroke makers and not enough batsmen who can hold an innings together.

It is difficult to understand why Graham Thorpe was left out of the English team. Thorpe is a proven batsman, particularly when things get tough and his presence was sadly missed at Lord's.

England's bowlers certainly got carried away with their first innings performance at Lord's. They did well to bowl Australia out for 190 in the first innings, but their success with the short ball and Australia's ill-disciplined batting masked the fact that the English bowlers lacked tactical nous. In the second innings I generally had trouble trying to work out just how the English bowlers were trying to get out the Australian batsmen.

As a general rule, the Australian batsmen are happier playing off the backfoot and are more likely to get out to well pitched up deliveries, particularly if they swing a bit in the air.

Australia's first five batsmen are uncomfortable, particularly to balls well pitched up early in the innings, but I could not detect any desire by the English bowlers to dismiss them this way.

Inevitably all the English fast bowlers were too short and even if, as the West Indians say, they scored licks as the batsmen were hit, the Aussies handled them pretty easily.

Spinner Ashley Giles looked out of sorts or perhaps not just good enough with his spinners. His over the wicket left handed stuff was ineffective against the quick footwork of the Australians as he tried to land the ball into the rough and when he went around the wicket he did not have the guile, flight or spin needed to get the wicket of top batsmen. Throughout his spells I never worked out how he was trying to get the batsman out.

The P.R. machine, which seemed to swing into action just prior to the Test match, certainly tried to convince the public that this was a new, highly talented, tough England team who could beat the Aussies. It was, sadly, proven wrong and after tea on the first day Australia were on top and didn't look back.

To win England must simplify their tactics, work hard and plan better. If they stick to the same tactics they will be on a hiding to nothing.