The coaching experience

There is a huge difference between an academy coach and a coach who is in charge of a high profile international team. The latter's reputation is on the line every time his team goes onto the field.

It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but judging by the criticism handed out to the England coach Duncan Fletcher following his team's performance in Australia, the same could be said of cricket.

When England performed brilliantly, winning the 2005 Ashes series, Fletcher was hailed as the architect of the victory. But after poor performances in the first two Tests of the current Ashes series, the scalpers, led by ex-internationals, were out for the England coach.

The most caustic criticism against Fletcher was made by the former Australian wicketkeeper and ex-Australian Cricket Academy head coach, Rod Marsh, who was also the head coach of the English Academy. The first two paragraphs of his column in The Observer following England's defeat in the first Test are revealing.

It goes: "It hurts me to say this because I have worked with a lot of the boys involved for four years, but the England set-up looks a shambles at the moment. And they have played accordingly.

"Take the selection process. It's a farce. When I was asked to join the selection panel while heading up the Academy, I said that I didn't think Duncan Fletcher, as coach, should be a selector for this reason: if a player was struggling he was not going to go to the coach to ask him to help fix the problem, and that's what the coach is supposed to be for. If the player knew the coach was also a selector, that player would reason that any admission of weakness was likely to affect his chances of being selected, so he would keep quiet."

If this all sounds familiar, yes, you have heard it before. Ian Chappell, the former captain of Australia under whom Rod Marsh played, has been talking of it for years. Even Shane Warne's comment that coaches are only good for taking the team from the hotel to the ground was another one of Ian Chappell's old chestnuts.

One of the problems of the views of Chappell and Marsh is that both, during their time, were selectors and members in the hierarchy of the Australian teams. Whenever an Australian team was on tour then, the selection panel for the series was made up of the senior players. So, what is the difference then between a captain and his senior players choosing the team and a coach selecting the playing XI? Did the senior players always select the best team or did they favour their old mates?

As someone who was a coach, I realised that players needed help and that a good coach should spot the problem in a player even before the player himself realises that he is developing the problem.

A good coach is vital for the development of a team, and no one knows the players' worries better than an observant coach.

One of the fascinating things about Marsh's coaching career is that he has never coached a state, county or country. Whatever coaching he has done has been mainly at the academies where his main role has been that of a manager.

There is a huge difference between an academy coach and a coach who is in charge of a high profile international team. The latter's reputation is on the line every time his team goes onto the field.

When Marsh and Chappell played, there were no coaches. The top and senior players took up the responsibility of assisting the youngsters in the team. Most of the time, particularly on long tours featuring plenty of matches, it worked well, but not always, especially if you had "clannish" players all keen to protect their own position and that of their mates.

The tour programmes these days are such that they demand an experienced coach who, in my view, must have a role in the selection process.

At one time coaching was seen as rather unfashionable, and the senior players, after retirement, sought the big rewards offered in the media instead of becoming a coach. These days, however, coaching is more acceptable and pays well, and many senior players are casting their eyes in that direction.

A word of warning to both the players and those aspiring to be coaches: it isn't easy to go from being a good player to a good coach. To reach the top in cricket it takes skill, imagination, ambition and a degree of selfishness. To be a coach requires dedication, responsibility, understanding, experience and talent.

The latest to put his hand up for the coaching job is Darren Lehmann. He has said that he would like to coach England. Lehmann is liked and well respected in both England and Australia. He has been a successful player in both countries and has great experience as a player. But would he make a good coach right now?

If my own experience is anything to go by, I doubt it.

When I retired at the age of 32, I had played first class cricket for 16 seasons and I thought I knew a lot about how to play cricket. I immediately took up radio and TV broadcasting and writing in the press and for the first time I had to explain what was going on, on the field. The most difficult was radio broadcasting where you had to explain to the listeners just what was happening on the field.

Suddenly, all the knowledge I thought I had about cricket wasn't thorough enough for making good, concise comments on the play. It was here that I developed what I thought was the hallmark of my coaching career — `The Reasons Why Theory'. Rather than just talk about a situation I tried to give the listeners a clearer understanding of why things were happening the way they were.

While I continued my media career I also kept playing club cricket for 10 years. It was here, where I was virtually the captain and coach, that my theory on coaching following my `Reasons Why' philosophy continued to develop.

Thereafter the coaching style I developed served me well and allowed me to become Australia's first National coach. I also added new thoughts and ideas to my coaching for the benefit of my young charges.