Old wine in new bottle

John Buchanan may well have made the decision to take the Australian cricket team into an ARMY CAMP for training. But football teams of all codes throughout the world have been doing this for decades.

There are few really new ideas in coaching. Most of those tendered as such are virtually rehashed thoughts of the past, dressed up with a new language and slant. The one that comes most quickly to my mind is `biomechanically correct', which is the new way to describe `technically correct'. While the numerous biomechanics throughout the world will agree to disagree with this statement and suggest it is an oversimplification of their science, I believe it is so.

What has triggered my thoughts on this subject is the decision of the Indian and Australian cricket coaches to take their teams into army boot camps for training. It is suggested in the Australian media that it is the brainchild of their team's coach, John Buchanan, to organise Australia's five-day adventure. John may well have made the decision to take the team into the army camp. But football teams of all codes throughout the world have been doing this for decades. Apart from some physical aspects, the big claim of such ventures is that it will help the team to `bond' better. `Bonding' is of course the modern word for what used to be called `team spirit.' It struck me immediately as to why would a team, which is so successful and experienced, need a `bonding' exercise?

I am the first to put my hand up and admit that I have happily utilised the skills of experts from other fields to add variety to our training sessions.

And the short list included dieticians, fitness trainers, psychologists, computer experts, aerobic instructors, water aerobic experts, yoga practitioners and many others with specific skills. I must also admit that the very pretty lady aerobic experts appealed very much to many of the players.

This attraction diminished somewhat about halfway through the sessions when the players began to realise just how physically demanding this sport was.

Yoga and meditation were also well received surprisingly, and I must admit that I found it probably the most enjoyable experience that I participated in. I was also involved personally in just about all the new training activities.

The army exercises worry me a great deal, for they involve so many different and dangerous routines which take a great deal of skill and training to complete successfully and without injury. My thoughts on this are heavily influenced by the horrific facial injuries suffered by Ian Healy's brother in a jungle camp, arranged by the Queensland Cricket Association for the state squad. The young Heally, a very promising batsman, fell from a 20-foot log wall he had just scaled and suffered multiple injuries.

The Australian team will spend five days with the army challenge and another four days locked away in meetings. Little wonder then that Shane Warne and others, now contracted in English county cricket, have strongly objected to being recalled from playing cricket for the sake of a camp at which a bat or a ball will hardly, if ever, be seen. Some of the meetings, described as `housekeeping,' will be of importance, but four days locked away!

Still, this is a changing cricket world we live in. And I can't help but remember a recently retired great player, after attending what he felt were an unending talkathon of meetings, saying, "God Simmo, how many meetings do you have to attend in which "actual" cricket is not discussed?" Many, many years ago, even before I began coaching Australia, I remarked that with the number of people frequenting the Australian dressing room, the team would have to book their seats if they wanted to sit down to watch the match. This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but prompted by the number of managers left over by World Series.

Shortly thereafter, when I was appointed the coach of the Australian team, I quickly restored the privacy of the squad in their own dressing room. I was reminded of this when I noted that 24 people would be in the official English party when they tour Australia this year. This is about half the number, who clambered on stage to receive medals when England won the last World Rugby Cup in Australia. They were all apparently in the official party, but for the life of me I couldn't understand how that many could be possibly needed.

It just seems that coaches are building their own little empires and they see their jobs as managers who should appoint others to look after every minute detail. Delegation is fine and the seeking of expert opinions is sometimes necessary, particularly if the coach's knowledge of the game is not as good as it should be. I certainly was happy to utilise the services of outside experts and then monitor this advice.

The strangest thing about all this is that a few days after the Australian team finishes the army camp and the talkathon, it leaves for a one-day competition in Malaysia. Most of the squad will have just finished the longest break they have had in years and the only practice they would have had would have been indoor on concrete-based pitches. Hardly the type of programme needed before going into an international competition in a very humid and hot country and on turf wickets that are sure to be soft and holding. Oh well, after all this is supposed to be a more scientific, enlightened and professional era than ever before.

I never thought it was wise, however, to travel with a huge support staff, for it is inevitably disruptive as these extras struggle to vindicate their position in the party. Tension can easily arrive in such situations as players who are not doing well or are out of the XI gravitate to the softest shoulder. The more the people in the party the more the extra soft shoulders that are available. With excess numbers hanging around, particularly in the dressing room, the more the chances of tension rising, especially in tight situations if silly, thoughtless statements are made.

I will be fascinated if 24 people or more are in the English party. It'll also be interesting to see how Duncan Fletcher handles it all, particularly if his team isn't doing well.