Living up to his own maxim

John Buchanan may well be a character straight out of Richard Bach's epochal book — `Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.' And like the seagull in the book, which soars past limitations, the Australian cricket team coach believes that `there ar e no limits.'

K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR

K. GOPINATHAN

"We are at the base camp, we have to scale the Everest". — John Buchanan's words to the Australian team before the World Cup in South Africa.

HE chairs poetry sessions in the dressing room. Talks about scaling peaks. Mentions Dr. Edward De Bono. Quotes Sun Tzu. Believes that everything is possible. And has a team that loves to stretch beyond limits, leaving statistical books dog-eared.

John Buchanan may well be a character straight out of Richard Bach's epochal book — `Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.' And like the seagull in the book, which soars past limitations, the Australian cricket team coach believes that `there are no limits.'

Limits. It once did stifle Buchanan. He played for Queensland in 1978-79 and aggregated 160 runs at an average of 12.30. He was another journeyman who vanished in the maze of first class cricket. But he never rested easy on the learning curve. "Keep learning, never tire'' remains his motto. And soon he made the transition from player to coach with an effectiveness that made the Australian Cricket Board sit up and take notice.

For coach Buchanan, limits and historical blinkers were a thing of the past. And the Buchanan legend was born when he guided Queensland to its maiden Sheffield Shield Trophy triumph in 1994-95.

He had the odd stumble with Middlessex but it was a stain that never blotted his resume. "Coaching Middlessex was terrible. Captain Mark Ramprakash said on the day I met him, `I set the rules'. And since I was new to the system, I listened but soon it got worse and I had to leave England,'' Buchanan mentioned this during the course of a management lecture at Bangalore. It showed that the man was not afraid to discuss his failures. He learnt from them.

And it is another reason why he got miffed with Glenn McGrath's outburst against Sarwan in the recent Antigua Test which the Windies won. "It (McGrath's outburst) was disappointing because he had done this mistake before and still refused to learn his lessons,'' Buchanan said. Earlier, he told The Sportstar — "I agree that we tend to lose the plot at times. It happens when we get obsessed with the result rather than the process. McGrath played on emotion rather than on skill that day at Antigua and it hurt the team. We are work<147,1,7>ing on these areas. But it is not that we crack under pressure. There have been many instances when we have given our best under pressure.''

Toying with greatness on the field and dabbling in ink off it, is a strange mix. But the Aussies love to scribble ahead while courting the steps of success. Asked about his players becoming wordsmiths and writing inspirational poems, Buchanan said, "it helps the team stay motivated. We also have other great sportsmen come and address our players. Recently we had successful women golfers talk to our guys. It helped. It also reiterates our tradition of success and our pride in being Australian.''

Buchanan does pale into the shadows while the Steve Waugh persona gets those extra shades of light and thunder. But it was Buchanan who egged on a team that is far ahead of the competition, to traipse past benchmarks and set a dominant note. "We set out to dominate. Winning series 5-0 or 3-0 is very important. It helps us to move ahead, set the tone and while the opposition devises their counter moves, we are still far ahead. When I took over from Geoff Marsh, I asked the team to move from being a good team to being a great team. It will indeed be a honour if at the end of the day, we are compared in the same breath with Bradman's invincibles or Clive Lloyd's men,'' he said.

India remains an elusive dartboard for the Buchanan-Waugh combine. The `final frontier' does seem imposing but Buchanan believes that his side has the arsenal to outwit India in India. "Well Steve's mention about the `final frontier' is a personal remark and shows his desire to win here. And I as a coach also believe that winning a series abroad is a more satisfying experience. Hopefully we will give a good account in the forthcoming Tri-Series in India,'' Buchanan said.

The Dravid-Laxman act at Eden Gardens may well sport a `David vs Goliath' sheen but the tour to Australia, scheduled later this year, may well have its share of needle and nemesis. Will it be a grudge series ? "No,'' said Buchanan and later added, "it will be a very good series because this Indian side has vastly improved from the one that toured Australia last. You have a few young players coming through and in John Wright and Sourav Ganguly, you do have the right leadership.''

In the drawboard of desire, Buchanan remains hungry. "We have areas to improve. We need to stretch our possibilities within the limits of time and space. For the next World Cup, we need multi-dimensional players, guys who can bat and bowl both right and left-handed.

We need to incorporate more baseball techniques into our fielding. And we want to dominate and set the trend.'' Buchanan's wish-list has no limits.

And it helps that he knows how to handle people. A 30-second hug to Matthew Hayden that helped the tall opener to believe that he was wanted in the team. And which he gratefully acknowledged with a century in the next match. A few fines that forced Brett Lee run faster towards the team bus than he had ever done to the bowling crease. The Buchanan dossier on his team has many more nuggets.

A success steeped in keeping things simple. That is Buchanan's recipe for courting smiles on the sporting frontiers. "Players have to do their assigned tasks correctly. It is about doing the same things in a better way. Batsmen batting well, bowlers taking their wickets and fielders giving their best,'' he said. Buchanan backs this with a philosophy — `control the controllables'. He elaborated on this by referring to the World Cup final when an evening drizzle threatened to spoil the outcome. "We had the match in our pocket but that spell of rain got us flustered. But then we realised that we cannot control the rain but we can control our reaction to the situation on the field. And we did control our bowling spells and our approach rather well,'' he said.

John Buchanan stepped into the shoes of proven Test cricketers like Geoff Marsh and Bob Simpson, who had their share of coaching excellence. And the greatest tribute that Buchanan has perhaps gained over the years is that no one mulls over his absent Test record. He has proved himself as a coach. And in the true Aussie sense, has indeed set the benchmarks in his chosen field.

Buchanan has lived up to his own maxim — "we have our own limitations but we have no limits to what we can achieve.'' It's a truism that can help all of us. Perhaps it may also help the Indian team to win a series outside the sub-continent since those halcyon days of 1986 when Kapil Dev's men defeated England 2-1. Maybe they will script their paths afresh in Australia — the land where a 165-cm tall man regarded as the finest cricket coach, says "everything is possible.''