The working system of two teams

Sandy Gordon, the Australian sports psychologist, has had a good run in India, providing inputs on mental strength and focus. -- Pic. K. GOPINATHAN-

FOR the past one month we have been flooded with details about the Australian team, about Australian cricket and its players. Almost everyday we are informed — and then reminded — that they are truly, utterly wonderful and are deserving world champions.

Experts, having studied the Aussie system, pronounce on its deep merit in much detail. Australia, they say, is on top because it has created and sustained a structure that recognises quality, then supports it scientifically to ensure promise is fulfilled not lost along the way. The players slip into an environment that is professional; administrators are enlightened, equally professional and no less committed than the players. This makes a formidable partnership because all players — cricketers/officials/sponsors/media — pull together in the same direction and this remarkable synergy not only produces a world beating team but also shapes a model, which is the envy of other teams.

Nobody denies that there is plenty to learn from the Aussies. Theirs is a robust, tough, no-nonsense system that relies on merit, there is no place for quotas, zonal considerations, sifarish, dosti, accommodation and adjustment. If Steve Waugh outlives his utility he is promptly informed, and told to depart. If Healy or someone as big is not delivering, sentiment does not come into play. Only performance matters and the system is ruthless, brutal and unemotional. You are there as long as you are good. If not, too bad mate, someone else has to get in.

Obviously, this system is working, Australia is winning, everyone else is trying to catch up. What Australia does others follow. England, therefore, has an academy similar to theirs and in case anyone had doubts about its origin the fact that Rod Marsh is in control should clarify the position. All of a sudden Australian cricket is a hot product exported to different parts of the world, even our NCA is Adelaide inspired. Australian players/coaches are sought after, its cricket expertise (contracts, marketing, coaching, drop-in pitches, physical training, TV coverage, Players Association, or the Spirit of Cricket) is considered very valuable.

The Australian Test skipper Steve Waugh and his wife Lynette seen with a boy on a visit to a private school in Kolkata. Waugh, after his successful and satisfying association with Udayan, a home for children of leprosy-affected parents, is now working with the Aussie Tourism department to attract visitors from India. — Pic. PARTH SANYAL-

Earlier, such impulses to take the game forward came from England but cricket there is in a slump, kicked out of business by other more vigourous competing sports. Struggling to meet contemporary challenges, of remaining a popular sport and finding sponsors, it came up with a 20-over competition with cameras on the helmets of players and microphones on shirt collars of the fielding side captain. This gimmicky response can be a short-term answer but the problems confronting English cricket are too deep-rooted to be erased by technology or by playing around with the format of a cricket match. The real test lies in getting the national side to win, raise performance, improve quality of play and, most important, produce a superstar of the stature of Lara or Tendulkar.

At present, at least in England, there are no signs of either of this happening. The unfortunate reality is cricket is today a peripheral sport in England and as a result of this decline England is peripheral to world cricket. The Aussies are up there, in front in every possible way — they set the agenda, they set the tone and in case someone is imprudent or ignorant to miss the point the efficient Aussie Cricket Export Committee steps in to reconfirm their domination.

In this context, India has been carpet bombed by Australia lately. Their coach visited India earlier in the year to tell us why they are so special. The Aussie team, he said, works democratically and the coach is actually a manger and a facilitator. His job is to create the right environment for players to perform, motivate/encourage/empower them to fulfil their potential and achieve group goals. A cricket team is no different than a corporate entity — both have to perform to achieve set objectives, the captain/CEO must ensure individuals comprising the team put their energies into the most productive channel.

The Australian psychologist has had a good run in India, providing inputs on mental strength and focus. He spoke to senior players and will soon bring out a manual to be used by others. Modern thinking says cricket is in the mind and if the mind is not trained, or if there is no mind in the first place, then there is a serious problem. Cricketers must, from an early stage, learn to handle pressure, focus on essentials and prepare for handling various demands that competitive cricket throws up.

Australian coaches and trainers are busy in India, someone or the other keeps springing up every other day, the long list stretches from the Chappells, Simpson and Marsh down to Inverarity. They hold forth at different forums, expounding on the great Aussie cricket experience to spellbound audiences across the country.

Interestingly, the Aussie influence is spreading beyond cricket, easing gently into new, exciting territories. Steve Waugh, after his successful (from the publicity standpoint) and satisfying (from the emotional standpoint) association with Udayan is now working with the Aussie Tourism department to attract visitors from India. Ricky Ponting is a brand ambassador with Cricket Next, a Mumbai based cricket website. Brett Lee, though injured, is writing newspaper columns for Indian papers and featuring in many advertisements. Every other member of the Australian party is engaged in some form of commercial tie up during the tour, players are writing columns, attending events, endorsing products — their diaries are full and each day is a crowded whirl of activity.

Steve Waugh speaks feelingly about his desire to win here, described fashionably as some final frontier as if India is a lawless, wild, mysterious, exotic location inhabited by the Taliban or Al Qaeda. According to Steve Waugh India is a cricket country that has to be subdued by Australia, a more powerful, more civilised cricketing superpower.

This can, possibly, only happen in the distant future because Tests are not planned between the two nations. But whether Australia wins a Test series in India or not, and whether Waugh is part of that campaign, there is no disputing that at least for the moment Australia's cricket conquest of India is complete.