"John Buchanan of Australia has won 75% of matches at all levels, far more than anyone in the history of the game," Hugh Morris told the Daily Mail.
This was a statement made by the managing director of ECB; when he was scouting for a coach after Moores - KP fiasco. Just having a glance at that statement on Daily mail made me go into discombobulated stupor for a while. For a cricket aficionado, who believes, those 11 players who play a game of cricket win you matches, that statement came as a rude shock. You just wondered after Buchanan is long gone; whether all those cricket administrators will join together to create an epitaph for him in Hell's door in Turkmenistan.
Before a few cricket fans pounce on me and make mincemeat of my assertion, I would clarify that I am not suggesting a coach's job is of a bus driver, who takes the players to the ground and back to the hotel. My belief is; a coach can play a supporting role, but it is the captain who drives the team forward. It is finally up-to those 11 players representing their team, to perform and help the team to win games. A coach isn't some God having a magic wand that will transform the team from one of those also rans to world beaters.
Once the game starts, a coach in international cricket can't even substitute a player, who looks out of sorts. Yes, if someone gets injured; another player can come in and field in his place, but can't bowl or bat. Just have a look at the game at Ahmedabad, as Flower knew he had made a mistake by going in for the out of form Bresnan ahead of Monty. Unfortunately, you can't substitute a player in cricket. It is another matter altogether that the super coach thought that Bres was good enough to play as the second seamer at Nagpur :)
So, how can a coach help a team in international cricket?
Bad habits - A young player, or even a senior player can get into bad habits (cricket related). There are occasions, when a batsman is playing across the line very early in his innings and he isn't trusting his defence enough. You can also think of a bowler, who is bowling too short. A coach can just spot it and during a break tell him "Hi, why don't you try to play straight on a pitch that has turn and bounce."
A very good example of that is Kevin Pietersen himself. At Ahmedabad, KP didn't trust his defence as he was dancing down the wicket every second ball. At Mumbai, he was a different kettle of fish, as he was trusting his defence a lot more and looked to hit it straight down the ground as well as over extra cover.
The senior batsman KP himself seemed to have done a bit of soul searching about how to build an innings in the subcontinent. For a younger player, who is making his debut, a shrewd coach having the eyes of an hawk to pick up errors made by the cricketer can help.
Right advice at the right time - In the opposition ranks, there is a great batsman, who is going great guns in the series. The captain and his team members too are scratching their heads, as to how to find a way past the wall in the opposition ranks. Here again a coach can step in and give a few tips about how to find a way past him. You can say a coach can be the third eye, as what the captain, or his team members may not be able to see on a cricket field, the coach may pick up a flaw. These days, with analysts around and so much information available on the internet, nothing remains a secret for long.
Man-management skills - Experts keep banging on how important it is for a coach to be good at man management. To some extent it is true as that is one area, where a coach can show his expertise and his true worth.
We can think of factors like good communication, relationship building skills and problem solving skills. Communication skills just doesn't mean that you have to talk in a manner, where the team members understand what you're trying to say. It also means you need to captivate and motivate them with your talk. The coach has to gain the confidence of the team members by being respectful and considerate towards them. Even look to solve the problems that a player is facing. It can be anything ranging from cricket related, or even personal problems. If a coach feels something is wrong with how a certain player is playing, or behaving, he can have an one to one chat with him and look to work out a plausible solution.
In recent times, we have seen coaches, who are lauded for their man management skills; acting like they were in the job for the first time. If the Kiwi coach Mike Hesson was in the demanding and competitive corporate world, he would have been fired straightaway. In a meeting with the captain and your best batsman; how can you not communicate that you are recommending a change in captaincy only for the shorter formats of the game? We are talking about the same coach, who was appointed after some extensive interviews by Edward Do Bono of cricket er the man with 75% record as a coach :) The communication error has meant that the Kiwis have lost their best batsman Ross the Boss for the tour of Safferland.
During the recent KP text-gate, even the experienced coach renowned for his man management skills; Andy Flower didn't cover himself with glory. I have to say the inexperienced captain Cook and who I call as England cricket team's lieutenant, Prior showed more maturity. I am sure everyone agrees that KP made a mistake, but unless they found some solid proof that KP had given tactical advice, it looked weird when I saw comments like KP should never again play for England. You can't throw away a 90 test veteran just like that. Thankfully, the inexperienced captain Cook was mature enough and as a result, KP was re-integrated back into the set-up.
(In the second part of the article I will try to analyse Duncan Fletcher as a coach).