Thursday, March 28, 2013

Short Pitch: Lessons from World Series Cricket

The following excerpt is taken from page 81 of Gideon Haigh's wonderful book The Cricket War, and describes the Australian tour to England in 1977.
Generational problems in the team had been some time coming... nine players [in the back row of the team photograph] had a combined eighteen Tests between them.  Among the team's nominal seniors ... only the captain and vice-captain Chappell and Marsh were genuinely risk-averse selections: Walters had never succeeded in England, McCosker's jaw might not have healed, Thomson was a medical miracle, and none of Walker, O'Keeffe or Davis had been first-choice players a year earlier.  Premature Australian retirements in the preceding two years had divided the team before Packer's intercession.  As Ian Davis remembers: "There was literally no middle age in that side.  You had me and Hooksey, and Serj and Kim Hughes in our early twenties, and then all these other guys round thirty.  Unless you were a very strong personality, you were just in awe of them". 
A page later, Haigh continues regarding Greg Chappell's captaincy:
The captain pined for the do-it-yourself ethos of his brother's time: cricketers who didn't need to be told ... As his virtuoso skill proved insufficient to inspire, Chappell withdrew.  The senior players closed ranks around him, instinctively protective but inadvertently widening their distance from the ranks.  Everyone felt aggrieved, nobody felt responsible, individual isolation was universal.
Sound familiar?

It's fair to say that in the dozen years following the Centenary Test, Australian cricket struggled to reclaim anywhere near its best form.  The hard-bitten culture instilled by Chappell or Allan Border has been minimised by subsequent captains who - while the logical or best choice - didn't have either the same horses to choose from, nor the psychological skills to maximise their performance.

A case in point - would any Australian dare disappoint Chappell or Border?  Recently, we saw players "try" their captain and face the ramifications.  With the most effective Australian captains of old, expectations were communicated through personal relationship, rather than rules.  It is within this environment that players like Lillee, Thomson, Warne and McGrath flourished and under which Australians traditionally perform best.

Australian cricket took a decade to recover from such a fractured dressing room.  Similar stories abound of the 1989 Englishmen and the post-Richards West Indians; one wonders whether it will take Cricket Australia another decade to understand the value of powerful and incisive leadership - on and off the field.

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