Plea for better coaching

Shane Warne's slow approach is being widely copied. Unfortunately, his style may not suit everyone. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

There is too much coaching in modern cricket. A lot of money is being spent on coaches and academies.

IT is over ten years since I first became concerned about where coaching was going, not only in Australia, but on a worldwide basis.

Those who have followed my columns in The Sportstar for a very lengthy period will be aware that I have always been concerned about fashion, fads and theories taking over coaching to the detriment of the game.

In the past, fashion, fads and theories were generally based on copying the style of the successful heroes of the time. When I first entered Test cricket a bat pad technique was in vogue to nullify the spin of Laker and Lock.

Ian Chappell's natural style of going back and across before the ball was delivered was copied on a world wide basis, and more often than not it was a disadvantage to the natural skills of the batsman. Graham Gooch's bat in the air stance had a dramatic effect on batsmen all over the world and particularly in England.

I am yet to hear to my satisfaction any theory on how this helped the batsmen. The great Dennis Lillee was the first successful pace or swing bowler who held his fingers together along the seam. Practically the whole world has accepted this as the way to go.

Very few bowlers now swing the ball and the natural length of pace and swing bowlers these days is at least a metre short of what was once considered a good length.

Little wonder then that few bowlers can swing the ball today for above all, to swing you must keep the ball up.

In addition, I have seldom seen a bowler who can swing the ball with his fingers close together.

Invariably good swing bowlers have their finger on both sides of the seam about � inch apart. This gives you a soft grip on the ball and a nice cradle to rest the ball so that your fingers stay under the ball when you let it go.

His style suits him

Shane Warne, the greatest wrist spinner of all time, is also now being copied on a worldwide basis. His very slow approach is the most obvious theme being copied. Shane Warne is a immensely strong and powerful man, with broad shoulders, a thick body, strong arms and big hands. His style suits him, but unfortunately does not suit everyone. In utilising these great players as examples I would not like my readers to feel I am criticising the players' talents. The point I want to make is while it might suit the individual players with their own particular strength it does not mean it will suit all others.

Unfortunately in this modern age where change for change sake is all the go, new trends are now being institutionalised and Boards around the world, through their coaching departments seek the miracle method of coaching which can be learnt by anyone and will turn them into instant champions. Of course, the Boards should know better. Unfortunately they don't, for they do not have enough experience and knowledgeable ex-cricketers in their midst to sort out the sound from the ridiculous. And believe me with science playing a much bigger role throughout the world, theories are abounding. In addition of course a new profession, and a fast growing one, has developed and those in it feel they must come up with new ideas to vindicate their positions.

Biomechanics

I am all for new ideas and I am certain, that science, computers and biomechanics can play a major role provided the theories are sound, useful and based on the needs of the individual. The first time I had any involvement with biomechanics was in my second year of coaching Australia, 1986. A friend asked me to spend time with a gentleman who was a biomechanic, a human movement expert.

For the first 10 minutes of the meeting he was talking mumbo-jumbo. It was as though he was speaking a new language, and indeed he was as he used phrases, "words I had never heard". It was a language, the biomechanical, just like the computer experts had devised themselves.

I wondered at the time whether it was designed to confuse me or to display the wisdom of the biomechanic expert. Finally, after about 15 minutes I picked up the gist of his speech. It was nothing new, just a new version of what I had known for about 40 years. It was what we old timers called technique. The expert was horrified when I suggested this and insisted it was all new and wonderful. And indeed it can be when used correctly. Unfortunately, however too many biomechanics are trying to reinvent the wheel and often with disastrous effects.

A mess

Nothing illustrates this better than the mess that has been made with fast bowling action and injuries.

For a decade now our experts have been assuring us that to avoid injury to fast bowlers they must be more open chested to avoid counter rotation, the movement, the experts and scientists had concluded was causing the injuries.

Sounds good and I have little doubt that a mixed action could cause injury. On the other hand if it was the natural way for a bowler to deliver the ball he has probably built up the strength and smoothness in his action to be successful as, Neil Hawke, Max Walker, and Mike Procter went with few injuries and plenty of wickets.

Now, after over a decade of encouraging bowlers to avoid injury by bowling more open chested, the scientists have found that the action causes more counter rotation and is a major factor in the very high injury rate among the quick bowlers.

At present there is very little consultancy between the biomechanics and what I would term, experienced coaches with a very sound and proven record using the simple basic fundamentals of the game. Too often, I see players who are a clone of a particular coaching theory.

My most recent experience of this was with a group of NSW under-17 and 19 players. All the players had a wider than normal stance, and picked their bat up exactly the same way. Most of them, even though naturally gifted looked stilted in their movement and with little natural flow or speed in their movements. Coaching can be a double edge sword. It can make a player better or fill him with so many theories that it destroys his natural flair. Right now we are seeing far too much of the later.

Not living in the past

Some people, particularly those with vested interests may consider I am just old coot living in the past. Believe me, I too have considered this for some time, as I pondered over the dilemma I found myself in.

Should I turn a blind eye to what I see and opt for a quiet retirement or should I be the voice of reality and express my concern for the game that I love so much. In considering the current problems I now see, I thought of the position I was in when I first took over as coach of Australia. At that time I had spent a year with NSW. It had been a successful two years with two Sheffield Shield victories and one in the domestic one-day competition.

I had used somewhat of an old fashion approach with NSW, restoring some old fashion virtues, improving the technical skills of the players and bringing back enjoyment to cricket. With Australia I found some of the worries I had with NSW, but on a more worrying plane. We set a tough agenda, based on the simple techniques of the game and instituted a rigorous work ethic. It took time and effort and those who could not cope fell by the wayside.

Right now international cricket is in a perilous state and is as weak as any time in the fifty years I have been associated with the game.

Matter of concern

Even Australia, the strongest team in the world, is concerned. I know the selectors are worried about where the next generation are coming from and lament that there are few youngsters about who are the obvious stars of the future. They worry also about the coaches and felt that there is no one around at present with the ingredients needed to coach the national team.

Apart from India and perhaps South Africa the rest of the nations have still a long way to go. It may seem incongruous that I am raising concern about coaching when there are more coaches and money being spent in large amounts in almost every country in the world. The in things these days are academys or centres of excellence. Australia supposedly led the way in this regard with the Adelaide based academy. To have read the praise it received you would have thought that it was the reason for Australia's success.

In reality it was just a three or four month finishing school which got the best talent available in the under-19's. In fact so more players were graduating from the Australian under-19 to the Australian team than before the academy. The big difference was when they did graduate they were much older than in the past. The Australian Academy was not every state's cup of tea and this can be seen by the fact that every Australian state has its own academy.

State academies

Most of these state academies were started because, states were reluctant to send fast bowlers to the Aussie Academy for the break down factor was huge, leg spinners were having their natural action changed to bowl like Shane Warne and returned poorer bowlers and batsmen came back trying to hit the cover off the ball without learning how to build an innings.

Now of course the world is full of academies and they are the flavour of the mouth. I applaud thus for a properly run academy can be a great help in developing youngsters.

However, it must be sensibly run with the emphasis on teaching the youngsters, how to take more wickets, score more runs, hold more catches and bring off more run outs.

These are the vital ingredients of cricket and while it may have some value, how is the player's skin fold test, how high was his beep test, or could he bench press a record, or will he always be judged by his success on the field.

Right now there has never been a time when we have had so many cricket coaches, yet sadly there also has never been a time when the game has cried out for better coaching.