Undoing a holy mess Down Under

2011-08-20 00:00

AUSTRALIA have taken the first steps needed to repair their tattered cricketing reputation. Called upon to examine cricket operations at the top level, Don Argus and colleagues have recommended significant changes in the way the Australian team is chosen and coached. Crucially the report gives the board, itself in urgent need of renewal, an opportunity to undo the unholy mess it has created in the last few seasons.

Avoiding cosy generalities, the Argus report has effectively ditched the entire selection panel and overhauled the backroom staffing. Since both areas were performing badly, it is an important contribution. Over the years Australia has been able to put the right men in the right place. Somewhere along the way that skill was lost. Jobs for the boys became the custom, complacency took hold. For a while it did not matter — then Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath stopped taking wickets.

Argus’s main recommendation is the appointment of a full-time chief selector. Andrew Hilditch has made it clear that he is not available for any such role. Anyhow he is not up to the task. Not that the chaos has been entirely his fault. The panel had become an uneasy alliance between his cautious methodology, Jamie Cox’s ambitious analysis and Greg Chappell’s restless radicalism. Common sense left the panel on the day Merv Hughes was ousted. Clearly the next chief selector ought to come from outside the current collection.

Chappell’s dual role as talent manager and selector has also been ended. It was a conflict of interest. In any case Chappell is better suited to identifying and advising young players than sitting on a panel planning the next move. From the start it was a dubious appointment. Nothing in his record, cricketing or otherwise, indicated that Chappell had the settlement and patience required to build a team. His mind is an unusual mixture of visionary and vogue; in that regard he is the counterpoint to his older brother, Ian. However, he can detect cricket ability at a thousand paces.

Besides the full-time chief selector the new panel will include two independent assistants — that ought to exclude Cox unless he resigns from his position with South Australia — plus the captain and coach. The inclusion of the team leaders is contentious. Struggling players might not confide in a coach also called upon to choose the team. Doubtless Argus and company carefully weighed the pros and cons — they consulted widely so their conclusion can more easily be accepted.

Argus has also recommended the appointment of an overseer of cricket operations, the job so ably carried out by Hugh Morris in England. Selectors, coaches, captains and the rest will report to him (or her). It is a sensible move calculated to ensure compatability. Communication is important in the professional age. Of course, the next task is to identify a candidate as discreet and perceptive as the Welshman. Mark Taylor is the obvious choice.

As far as coaching is concerned, Argus advocates the creation of a more senior role, with specialists assisting in specific areas. In effect Tim Neilson’s position has been abolished. He can apply for the new position, but is unlikely to get it. Although popular and honest, he has been unable to take the step from domestic cricket to the international arena. It’s hard to avoid thinking that the senior coaching job already existed; just that he was not able to fill it.

Of course, the changes cannot stop with the cricket operations. The next step is to call to account those responsible for the debacle. A lot of abysmal decisions have been taken in recent times: the three-year contact given to Neilson, the faith shown in Greg Chappell, the foolish season launch, the doomed nomination of John Howard, the appointment of Craig McDermott as bowling coach, the undermining of the state second X1 competition, the contacts given to T20 bubblers and denied to accomplished cricketers, the grovelling before Indian power (not least in forcing players to play T20 a few days before a Test series was to begin), the toleration of conflicts of interest. It tells of incompetence in high places.

The day of reckoning has come. Plain as day, the board is in urgent need of overhaul. Chairperson Jack Clarke was not considered good enough to be sent to the ICC. A likeable lightweight, his term ends soon, but he ought to have been ditched long ago. CA needs to toughen up. Whether his successor, Wally Edwards, is any better remains to be seen. At least Matthew Hayden has been replaced on the board by Michael Kasprowicz. Whereas the former opener talks gibberish (which did not stop Queensland nominating him), the speedster is eminently sensible.

Hopefully the Argus report will have the same effect on local cricket as did the Schofield Report on the English game in 2006. Happily CA intends to adopt it and has also promised to implement the recommendations of the governance report, even if that means accepting independent board members. The nonsense has to stop. It’s time to get back to the basics, and back to work.

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