Andrew Wu wrote an article in The Age recently titled, “Days of coach only being used to take players to ground are gone”.
To put the coach role and captain’s role in cricket into perspective, one must first consider the difference between short duration team sport and long duration team sport.
Short duration sport is virtually all sport apart from the likes of cricket; i.e. a game is generally over in an hour to two hours at most.
In short duration sport, the captain is physically involved in the contest and apart from occasional stoppages where he or she may be required to respond to a referees question, the captain has little time to consider too much else – other than their own play and keeping their teammates on task.
As a consequence and historically, the short duration team sports have always had a coach. The coach is the person responsible for applying the team’s game plan through tactics, substitutions, time-outs etc.
In a long duration team sport such as cricket, the game continually stops – after every ball, every over, at drinks, and at interval and day breaks. The captain in these situations has time to reflect on a previous play before deciding what to do before the next play. In fact, the captain has time to consult a range of players onfield should he or she decide to do so.
So the captain has historically run the game.
The coach in cricket is a relatively modern arrival. Outside of school and some club cricket, the first real ‘coaches’ were probably seen in English County cricket in the 50s. The evolution continued and Australia appointed its first team coach, Bobby Simpson in the mid-80s.
The coach was always a former cricketer and had needed to play to a very good standard at the level for which they were coaching.
When I was appointed to coach the Queensland Bulls, I replaced legend, Jeff Thomson. I had a very modest playing background – nothing in comparison to many of those whom I was coaching.
Similarly, when appointed Head Coach of the Australian Cricket team taking over from Geoff Marsh, my background and experience was coaching, not playing.
My skills were designed to achieve the following–
- Create vision and strategy for the squad
- Performance manage the players and support staff
- Develop and maintain a leadership culture
- Use data and analysis to improve performance
- Get results through modern systems and processes
I always worked closely with the captain so that we were both heading in the same direction and not giving mixed messages to players, support staff, selectors, administrators and external groups such as media.
Like it or not, the game has become more complicated due to the rewards on offer in the game – rewards to players, teams, associations, owners, sponsors and data managers.
I used computers for the first time in cricket during my time at the Bulls to ensure that the knowledge, intuition, experience and anecdotal was complemented by the preciseness of the data analysis system.
I believe the T20 game, the shortest form of cricket, lends itself to far greater intervention by the coach, verging on the role of coach in the short duration team games. It is so difficult for the captain and players to recall game plans, batting and bowling specific plans, set plays as like their counterparts in other codes, they and especially the captain are totally immersed in the game with little stoppage time.
With the rewards on offer, I suspect franchise owners, associations and the players themselves will want to leave as little to chance as possible. So the role of the coach, directly helping the captain make the right calls onfield, based on intuition plus what the data and game plan say, is evolving rapidly.
So the speed of the game needs to be matched by the speed of thinking from those who have been absolutely wonderful servants of cricket.