Shane Warne, the old rabble-rouser, has been causing mischief again. He is not happy: not happy with the state of Australian cricket, and not happy with his recent fine in the Big Bash League. Take your pick as to which one has prompted an outpouring of constructive criticism on his website, designed to put a few noses out of joint and to put Australian cricket back on the right track.
In short, his blueprint for success might be condensed as: get the current lot out, and get my mates in. Out go Mickey Arthur, the coach; John Inverarity, the chairman of selectors, and Pat Howard, the rugby man now in overall charge. In come Stephen Fleming as coach, cited by Warne as the best opposition captain he played again, and Darren Lehmann as assistant coach; Rod Marsh, as chairman of selectors, and Mark Taylor, as the supremo, or, as Warne calls him, ‘the boss man.’ And then there’s Ian Chappell, the biggest influence on Warne’s career, as a kind of guru figure, a sounding board, an eminence grise- call him what you will.
“All the above people are cricket people, not rugby, tennis or from any other sporting code,” Warne writes in a clear dig at Howard. “They all understand the game of cricket, they have lived and breathed the game for a long time and most importantly have the best interests of Australian cricket at heart, along with being super passionate and above all, they just love the game.” I am sure Fleming would be interested to learn that he has Australian cricket’s best interests at heart.
Actually, I am being flippant. Behind the headlines, there is both a heartfelt plea here from someone who clearly cherishes the success he had with the team and who has some serious concerns about the direction that Australian cricket is heading. Warne worries most of all about selection and the principle of rest and rotation which he, as an old-fashioned type who played through thick and thin, injury and tiredness, has no truck with. There is no mention of the problems caused by the BBL, which Warne promotes fiercely, and in which he plays, but then we can’t have everything.
“Cricket is a simple game…… pick your best team and stick with it in all forms, then the players get used playing together and being with one another on tour, you get to know the person,” Warne writes. “Too much chopping and changing leads to insecurity, players then start to look out for themselves and over their shoulder, this breeds selfishness. It’s also why rotation and resting players will never work. I believe the players should be united, take ownership of this; it’s a very powerful and strong message to send to Cricket Australia if the players’ message is ‘I do not want to be rested or rotated; I want to play every game.’”
What is interesting about Warne’s no-nonsense blueprint is that in many areas it runs exactly counter to the direction England are taking. The Argus Review, upon which much of Australia’s current thinking rests (and into which Taylor amongst others had a big input) was based in no small measure on England’s system, which has brought them Ashes success at Australia’s expense, and which Warne wants dismantled. Copying English cricket is bad for the soul, clearly.
Whereas Warne wants a major figure in charge, a former Australian captain as the supremo (Taylor), England have a former player of no great international standing (Hugh Morris.) Whereas Warne wants a coaching staff made up of former Australian greats (Mike Hussey and Merv Hughes fulfil the Warne criteria for batting and bowling coaches), England have a former Australian state player, David Saker, as part of theirs. Whereas Warne wants only cricket people involved, England have a couple of former school teachers, Richard Halsall, the fielding coach, and Nathan Leamon, the numbers man, as key men in their set-up, and a trainer who comes from a rugby back-ground.
Whereas Warne calls for the coach not to be a selector, nobody has a greater influence than Andy Flower on England’s selection. And whereas Warne wants no rotation, England, in response to the demands of the fixture list, are rotating like never before, so much so that trying to follow the teams selected for the current round of Tests, odi’s and Twenty20s is headache-inducing. With Ashley Giles now in charge of one-day cricket and the news that Graham Thorpe will replace Graham Gooch as odi batting coach, it is clear that rotation for England is not confined to the playing staff alone.
Warne’s blueprint is backward-looking- which is not to say it is wrong- but it runs counter to just about everything England are doing right now. When it comes to cricket, Warne is touchingly traditional, almost sentimental in his views. He remembers all too clearly the great days in the Australian dressing room- but perhaps forgets that there were some all-time great players in there as well. “It is time to go back to basics,” he writes, as if that will be enough to replace the 1271 wickets taken by himself and Glenn McGrath.
There is “room and a place for scientific research and current technology, which can help learn about an opponent, but not instead of using your cricket brain, together they can work hand in hand. Technology can help in recovery, but so can sleep and a common sense approach to recovery. You cannot re-invent the wheel in cricket, if a player wants to become a better slip fielder, catch more balls, want to get better at bowling a yorker – practice (sic) bowling.”
For Flower, science and technology is right at the heart of his coaching philosophy. The nerve-centre at Loughborough that analyse statistics form a critical part of the direction he is trying to take England, as do those in his back-room staff who do not come from a cricketing background. Flower’s coaching philosophy, in which he tries to take players out of their comfort zone by getting them to think beyond cricket’s narrow boundaries, is more akin to John Buchanan’s, the former Australian coach now over in New Zealand, who Warne despised.
The fascinating thing about Warne’s outburst is that he is as close as anyone to Michael Clarke, the current Australian captain. Did he sound out Clarke beforehand? Does any of this suggest that Clarke is deeply unhappy with the current set-up? It is difficult to believe that Warne’s concerns have not come, even in some small way, from Clarke. I’d like to be a fly on the wall at Clarke’s next media briefing, when he will be put inevitably in an uncomfortable position.
Although there is little chance of Warne’s blueprint being adopted, it would be wonderful if it was because the next two Ashes series would then represent not just a clash between the oldest and fiercest rivals in the game, but also a clash of coaching philosophies as well: old against new; traditional against modern; a beer and chat in the dressing room after play, against the ice-bath and computer brigade. Here’s hoping.