The real stars of cricket

Style is fine for a batsman, but more often than not it is those with not much talent, but willing to put in hard work, who amass priceless runs in international cricket.

Cricket (or golf, tennis, baseball, mahjong, snakes & ladders) is a simple game made difficult by coaches. We've all heard that one often enough. I have even heard coaches arguing as to which is the most difficult game because that seems to lend it a certain mystique. I'm sure some games are more difficult than others and I'm also sure some games are made more difficult than they need to be.

However, I can't honestly say I regard cricket as a simple game. I think that is basically because of the time factor involved. Cricket shares obvious basics with games like baseball or tennis, but it stands alone in terms of the time a match takes and within that match, the time a player has to dwell on the next move.

The cricketer has time to think and that does not make the game easier to play. Concentration is not easy to sustain over a six-hour day at the crease. In fact, it is well-nigh impossible, but the ability to distil concentration into the moments it really is needed is vital. That is a skill, which can be learned and it is a coach's job to look at the mind games as much as the techniques involved.

The ability to relax between deliveries, for instance, has always been associated with effective slip fieldsmen, but it applies as much to batsmen and even bowlers.

There are techniques which help, but they have to be worked on and practised hard if they are to become second nature. The higher the standard, the more the skills needed and it is one of the ironies of top level sport that people are deceived by how easy it looks.

Nobody should assume that cricket is an easy game to play simply because a Test cricketer makes excellence look commonplace. That is why I have always had the greatest respect for players who are not blessed with a lot of talent or style, but who achieve excellent results by their ability to work hard and intelligently.

No decent coach wants to undermine the naturalness of players or stifle genuine flair. But neither should he accept the superficial as evidence of talent. How often do we see players with a pleasing style given preference over players who turn in the performances, but who don't look nearly as polished. It happens a lot more than it should.

In fact a flowing style can often disguise a multitude of basic problems, which will eventually be exposed. But such stylists get a lot of public affection and cricket being a writer's game, they get lionised in purple prose.

However, they are the exception rather than the rule. The modern game has not enjoyed many Greg Chappells, but it has produced a large number of wonderfully effective players such as David Boon, Geoff Marsh, Mark Taylor, Matt Hayden and Justin Langer.

You couldn't describe them as elegant even though they had their moments and played elegant shots. Other infinitely more elegant batsmen have proven much less productive at the top level.

But boy, don't selectors just love to pick them!

On the other hand, less elegant or flamboyant batsmen are not properly recognised and are easily dropped. Ian Redpath is in this category and in discussions about the Chappell era, his deeds are seldom acknowledged. Yet, he was a vital No. 6, particularly in tough times when better-known players struggled. Tall and thin, he didn't have a commanding presence, but boy was he hard to shift!

Laconic by nature but all steel in the middle, Redpath made 97 on his debut against South Africa in Melbourne in the 1963/64 season. Unfortunately, in what was to be a pattern in his career, the selectors could not find a spot for him in the remaining three Tests when Norman O'Neill returned from injury.

He struggled on the 1964 tour of England and for 18 months after that was in and out of the Australian team. In South Africa in 1966/67, when they were probably the best team in the world, he came of age in a very tough and disappointing series for Australia.

Only Redpath and myself averaged over 40 per innings and luminaries such as Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, Bob Cowper and Keith Stackpole had an ordinary series.

Over the next two years in Australia's struggling times he was a regular in the Australian XI. On Australia's tour of South Africa in 1969/70, perhaps one of the former's most disappointing tours ever, he was the lone performer. While wickets crashed around him, Redpath stood firm and averaged 47.17 — well above any of the better-known batsmen.

Redpath had two excellent series — against England in Australia in 1970/71 and then against Pakistan the following year — when he averaged just under 50 in both. Unfortunately, this was not good enough for the selectors and they didn't pick him for the 1972 tour of England. Don't ask me why, for it was one of the strangest selection decisions I have known. It was made even stranger by him being included in every Test series after that tour.

Redpath finally decided to retire after one of his finest Test series ever against the West Indies in 1975/76. In that series, which featured Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, he scored 573 runs at a average of 52.27 including 3 centuries.

It was the last Test series that Australia won against the West Indies for nearly 20 years.

One of the great anomalies of that period was the non-acceptance of Redpath's success and fighting instinct and the acceptance that Ian Chappell was the man needed for tough situations and consistent success. Then where did Redpath stand?

After all, Ian Chappell in his two Test series against the tough South Africans scored only 288 runs in 18 innings at an average of 16.94, while Ian Redpath scored 669 runs in 18 innings at a average of 44.6. Interesting? In the 12 series that they played together, Redpath's average was better in nine of them. Overall, Ian Chappell averaged 42.42 in his 75 Tests, while Redpath averaged 43.45 in 66.

While Redpath may not have achieved the public's or the media's acclaim, he was one of the toughest competitors I have seen. And he did it with great grace, a smile on his face and in the true spirit of cricket.