Mental approach is vital

John Buchanan stoutly denies any problem with the technique of Australian batsmen.-K. GOPINATHAN

JUDGING by recent statements made by members of the troubled Australian team it would appear that some of the players and coach are in a state of denial as to how to solve personal and team problems.

Coach John Buchanan has shocked many, or perhaps most, keen observers by declaring that there was no problem with the technique of the Australian batsmen and it was all just mental.

"I don't believe it's technical issues, I don't believe it's physical issues and the mental game therefore reflects your tactical game or your decision making", he said. "We just need to win a few of those (mental) battles".

"We will then have the capacity to score 400 plus runs that I think is an important first innings result we haven't been able to do so far," he added.

Amazing, while the mental approach is vital it doesn't matter how mentally strong you are unless you have the technical skills to handle the challenge.

I have always preached that a coach must be the voice of reality, at all times to be able to realistically appraise his charges through good and bad times.

In suggesting that there is no technical problem with the Australian batsmen when facing swing bowling is ignoring an obvious problem that has worried the Australian batsmen for some years.

These problems have been undeniable to even a casual observer, but it is apparent as the Australian batsmen struggle in England they are not being addressed.

Perhaps it is time John Buchanan took his eyes away from his lap top and computer and viewed what is going on in the middle and batting practice.

Matthew Hayden, a player who I have admired for his tenacity, will to succeed and common sense, also seems to have his perspective, once one of his strong points, in the wrong gear at present. He can be stubborn and seems to have his head in the sand if he doesn't seek advice. He used to seek guidance when he was in trouble and I was often called if he was in trouble.

If he was quoted correctly when he said "people have done a lot of analysis, but I don't think it is an analyst's thing. It may come down to how mentally sharp you are feeling — I feel fine — but I don't believe it's technique." Sounds very similar to John Buchanan, doesn't it?

Some years ago when I was in Brisbane, Matthew Hayden asked me to have a look at his batting. I had finished coaching Australia at the time. We met and viewed him on video.

It confirmed what I knew was the matter, he wasn't pointing his right foot in the direction he wanted to hit the ball. Instead he was planting his foot and it was inevitably pointing to cover point. This didn't clear the passage to the ball and made him vulnerable to the ball moving in and lbw decisions and also only allowed him to meet the ball with half a bat.

This meant most of his drives were being sliced through the point and resulted in catches in the slips cordon. I warned him that even when he fixed the problem every now and then it would pop up again and cause trouble. Sounds pretty familiar again doesn't it, as Matthew Hayden is getting out lbw and caught in the slips.

It is time Hayden took his head out of the sand and looked at his batting woes with eyes wide open. I always have a chuckle when I hear players make statements like Matty did when talking about Andrew Flintoff's ability to swing the ball away from a left-hander when bowling around the wicket.

Mat was quoted as saying "Have you ever seen a right arm swing bowler move the ball away like he can?" The answer of course, is yes. Many times Neil Hawke, Maxie Walker and current match referee Mike Procter could even swing it back from outside right hand batsman's off stump and earn lbw's, and that is much harder to do than moving it away from a left hand batsman.

So sharp was Procter's swing that in a county match he took a hat-trick, all lbw, when bowling around the wicket. And what about the prodigious swing left hander Alan Davidson got when bowling over the wicket to right hand batsmen?

I once saw him in the first Test against South Africa in 1957 take the off stump right out of the ground when Roy McLean, South Africa's premier batsman, padded up to one wide of the off stump. In the second innings McLean lost his leg stump, this time padding up to a ball outside the off stump again. Alan Davidson was the greatest swing bowler in my view ever.

So the answer to your question Mat is: yes. In those days every team even at grade level had one or two swingers. The present generation struggles against swing today, simply because there are so few around and they haven't learnt the skills to handle them.

Ponting is about the only batsman who is currently in form. Matthew Hayden's form, mind and catching seems to be in the wrong planet at present. Adam Gilchrist has done a brilliant job in the ODIs. Gilchrist is a big time player. He is an instinctive player too and nothing gets your attention, mind and instinct going quicker than the new cherry whizzing past your nose.

One of the major problems in selecting the Aussie team is that both the bowling and batting hasn't been up to scratch. This has made the captaincy difficult for Ricky Ponting. It is all very easy to say he has lacked flair and aggression. But it is near impossible to set field if bowlers are all over the place.

Personally I have felt he has been trying to stop the flow of runs too much rather than demanding bowlers to keep the ball in the right spot.

There has been too much experimentation with in and out fields to stop fours but this has allowed the English batsmen to pick up easy one's and two's and thus never be under pressure.

I would like to see deep square leg and deep point taken out and say to the bowlers get it right, if you don't, you pay the penalty.

A deep third man must be used at all times to stop the flow of runs in that area.

There is nothing more demoralising to the quicks than to find the edge and four runs coming from a risky shot. Between 25 to 30 per cent of runs scored now are accumulated in this area. While bowlers must attack when the situation is right they must concentrate on keeping a batsman on strike to exert pressure. If they can't exert this pressure the cause is lost.