The wisdom of Warne

Shane Warne obviously believes that the players within the Australian team can fulfil all of the necessary coaching duties!

I think Shane Warne is beginning to believe the foot-in-mouth press releases, which are continually emanating from his camp. According to the latest Bull of Infallibility to issue from the mouth of the greatest leg-spinner in the world, coaches such as Australia's John Buchanan are only good for transporting teams to and from the grounds. Well, he got that partially right! The word coach is taken from the Magyar — Kocs — which is the name of a town near Raab in Hungary. It is associated with the manufacture of kocs carts — a large carriage used for the public conveyance of passengers.

In modern times Kocs has taken on the meaning of one who brings enlightenment and proficiency to scholars and athletes alike. Warne, however, contends that the coach's role is more like that of a manager or organiser — a `gofer' rather than a `tutor'. I find that opinion rather simplistic — and certainly ungrateful — from a young man who acquired much of his unquestionable bowling greatness under the watchful eyes of the coaches at the nets of the St. Kilda Club in Melbourne. Moreover he is still trudging back to mentor, ex-Australian "leggie" and coach, Terry Jenner for periodic advice, whenever he runs out of inspiration.

When I was appointed coach of the Victorian Sheffield Shield team in the 1970s I had to fill some large shoes: the footwear of men like Jack Ryder and Jackie Potter — both international players and men with experience of state and national captaincy. The timing of my promotion, moreover, added problems to my role — a role which, I quickly learnt to my cost in time and expertise, far exceeded just getting the team to and from the ground.

I took up my responsibilities as coaching entered its Renaissance era. In Perth, former club cricketers and West Australian University lecturers Darryl Foster, and Doctors Bruce Elliott and Frank Pyke had introduced a fresh integrated philosophy into the science of coaching. State practice was no longer a once-a-week, after-work, just-as-it-was-getting-dark, net practice. State coaches became more than former state players-cum-honorary coaches who stood behind the nets, often in street clothes, exhorting the batsmen to "get on to the front foot" and the bowlers to maintain their "line and length!"

Tertiary Physical Educators Pyke, Elliott and Foster introduced the Western Australian Sheffield Shield team to a new regime in which fitness mattered; a coaching plan where aerobic and anaerobic training began in the winter months of June, July and August. A scheme in which levels of fitness were tested, individual programmes were prepared specific to the requirements of each player, and their execution rigorously supervised. Each member of the state squad was introduced to an appropriate gym and weight regime. The players' fitness and skills were tested and programmes were gradated and modified for the pre-season and match periods, with more emphasis being placed on fitness preparation in the early season and on the game skills of batting, bowling, fielding and wicket-keeping as the teams began to play their Sheffield Shield fixtures.

Nor was the mental aspect of the game glossed over. As the new philosophy gained acceptance, players were taught how to concentrate, and induce the ideal performance state. Psychologists Sandy Gordon and Jeff Bond showed how to acquire mental toughness, to counter sledging. On the technical side the term "biomechanics" found its way into the coaches' lexicon and game sense training exposed players to actual match situations.

The pioneer coaching work begun by the Perth Three was quickly adopted by coaches the world over at first-class and Test levels — from Pakistan's Bob Woolmer to Bangladesh's Dav Whatmore, from England's Duncan Fletcher to Sri Lanka's Tom Moody and from Australia's John Buchanan to India's Greg Chappell. The methods once thought outlandishly erudite are now universally accepted. Importantly they were embraced and developed by Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket in 1977 when he sought to introduce a new brand of professionalism into a game, which had become an anachronistic relic of the 19th century. Determined to stage a brand of superlative cricket, which would far outshine the traditionally complacent game, Packer insisted on his players being in top form and in their physical prime — rewarding them well when they were, but fining them when they were not. He revolutionised and modernised, and when cricket was re-united, the administrators were sensible enough to pick up the reform ball and run with it — so much so that modern game is vastly different to that of the 1970s.

Just as the game has changed, so has the role of the coach, who Warne recommends for the rubbish dump. He is of the school which believes in the threadbare adage: "I play, therefore I can coach."

He clings to the misconception that all learning comes from experience and not from knowledge of theory. Pragmatic experience certainly helps in the acquisition of cricketing skill; but so does the knowledge of the reasons as to WHY strokes should be played in a certain way and WHY, certain deliveries behave in certain ways. The ideal coach is the player himself: the tutor who can explain to himself the logic behind certain strokes and certain balls and the practitioner who can execute the skills expertly. Both require the specific knowledge of biomechanical principles, the talent to carry out cricketing skills, the art of communicating how and why those skills are performed and the man-management to stimulate the curiosity of the players so that they expand their knowledge by investigation. From my own experience however, I doubt whether many players such as Warne know every detail of their own skills. And, as for assisting other players with their skills when they encounter problems? Ha!!!

The coach is more than a jack of all cricketing trades; and whilst he would not presume to be master of them all, he must have a smattering of knowledge of performing cricket skills and the modesty to delegate the responsibility of teaching many of those skills to men who can. He must also have more than a nodding acquaintance with fitness training and testing, weight training, nutrition, psychology, biomechanics, tactics, game sense training, sports medicine, growth and development, communication, man-management, and the organisation needed to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and one's own team, as well as coordinating and timetabling practices and team meetings — oh, and I nearly forgot — knowing how to chauffeur a coach!

Shane Warne obviously believes that the players within the Australian team can fulfil all of the necessary coaching duties — in addition to monitoring and simultaneously improving their own playing performances! Personally I would like to see Warne himself handle the job! He is always at his best in handling the tough, personal and individual challenge, which almost amounts to the impossible. Perhaps like author, Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts he has imagined "as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" He may aspire to coaching his former colleagues when John Buchanan carries out his announced intention to retire shortly! But rumour, according to veteran world player, Darren Lehmann, has it, that Sri Lankan coach Tom Moody, Australia's Centre of Excellence coach, Tim Nielsen, and Indian coach, Greg Chappell, have the inside running for that post. Moody however, is said to have ambitions to succeed Duncan Fletcher as England coach, should he retire after the World Cup. Which leaves the South Australian, Nielsen. I wonder if he has got a licence to drive the team bus?