11 August 2012

Considering the bowling coach

Before I head into this article, let me first give a big congratulations to the Australian u/19 team with regards to their victory against England in their first encounter of the ICC u/19 Cricket World Cup.

Our boys currently hold the title after winning the last event. That was a side that featured players like Nic Maddinson, Josh Hazelwood, Mitch Marsh (brother of Shaun Marsh), Alister McDermott and Kane Richardson.

While I am only informed about a handful of the players at the moment, I hope to see some of the lesser known players emerge into the state system with positive futures, especially on the batting front.

It's an exciting tournament to follow due to the raw passion these young blokes have when taking to the field for their team and you can catch some of the action live as well as most of the matches will be broadcast.

I was recently reflecting on the appointment of Allister de Winter as our new bowling coach. There has been an understandable sense of concern and doubt over his appointment. Most of this will be owed to the reason being that de Winter was not exactly a bowler who had any form of domination as a fast bowler during his playing days. Is this fair?

Troy Cooley, who was our temporary coach prior to the appointment of Mickey Arthur, was a player who had a similar background to that of de Winter.

Like de Winter, Cooley played his state cricket for Tasmania and it would be fair to say that he was also not a bowler who would have been talked about in a hyped-up manner amongst supporters back in the day. Cooley finished his state run with a First-Class average of 61.35 from 33 matches, while de Winter managed 21 matches with an average of 50.51.

These statistics suggest far from ideal credibility to take on any form of leadership or coaching roles at the elite level. Yet, we all remember the 2005 Ashes where Cooley played a massive role in grooming the English fast bowlers to wreak havoc against our rather outstanding batting line-up throughout the tournament. That Ashes series goes down as a classic due to the fact there was rarely a dull moment, especially regarding the contest between bat and ball.

There we saw Cooley, who had now become an established coach, take an elite team into a historic Ashes victory with his input and tactical planning being boasted as a key ingredient to the success.

Not long after he was let go by the ECB, he then had a stint as our bowling coach and sure enough the Ashes victory that came soon after was the brutal 5-0 victory. Despite being a plain state cricketer, Cooley knew how to key in with an international cricketer, read the opposition and work on all facets of each individual bowlers strengths.

While this outlook of comparison would not be fair, given de Winter is taking on a bowling unit in all forms of the game that has just a glimpse of experience in comparison the English and Australian bowling units Cooley coached, there is something to be said for the lack of First-Class brilliance they had.

The point is that it doesn't appear as if one had to have necessarily been a spectacular cricketer, let alone at the elite level, in order to key in with your students from a psychological and technical point of view. Clearly having a gift for coaching, the passion to learn and the understanding of the fundamentals can be more than enough. At the end of the day the bowlers are the ones who have to go out there and execute what they have been taught.

Justin Langer was with little doubt one of the boldest and best opening batsman, especially when partnered by Matthew Hayden. Yet, despite JL's credentials as a spectacular international cricketer and human being, he hasn't exactly had a glorious run by any means as a batting coach.

The Australian batsmen have continued to struggle for consistency for some time now and having witnessed JL work with the batsmen at practice sessions it would be unfair to say he doesn't try. He sure does but it proves that having international experience can certainly benefit the players to a degree, but certainly isn't a defining reason for appointment to coach a crop of international players.

de Winter had a far from ideal rehearsal with the disappointing limited overs series loss to England. The bowlers managed all of 13 wickets and the team's synergy was flat. It was definitely not the start that de Winter needed in order to gain a vote of confidence from the Australian supporters around the globe.

The pressure won't be easy to handle for the upcoming season with some high intensity cricket to keep us entertained. Craig McDermott's left a big void after unexpectedly walking away from the game, his resignation being owed to a work schedule that was too demanding. Certainly a bizarre reason coming from a man who took 291 Test wickets and knew the demands to thrive at the highest level.

Irrespective of this, McDermott knew all too well how to key in with his bowlers and we saw our Test bowlers execute their skills with consistency and genuine confidence. International experience must have played a major role but McDermott had the ability to connect with the bowlers which has been publicly acknowledged by Peter Siddle and James Pattinson - who even went as far as to state that he would prefer a bowing coach with international experience to take on the role.

However, de Winter certainly had good motives to get the job and you just need to take a look at the ascendancy of the Tasmanian Tigers bowling unit in recent times.

Ben Hilfenhaus was dropped from the Australian squad after a horrendous Ashes series, which was also partially due to discomfort after suffering from knee tendonitis. Yet Hilfenhaus went back to the Tigers and began to work with none other than de Winter.

de Winter and George Bailey, Tasmanian Tigers/ Australian Twenty20 skipper, worked with Hilfenhaus encouraging him to use the crease more to accommodate his bowling attributes, attacking with different lines and angles but most importantly de Winter reworked Hilfenhaus' bowling action which a more technical dynamic to address.

A rejuvenated Hilfenhaus has since taken 37 wickets at an average of 18.19 from just 7 Tests. Further evidence of de Winter's work in action would be looking at players like Jackson Bird and Luke Butterworth. Hilfenhaus has given de Winter plenty of public support as well which should be taken seriously given the lack of public opinion a player like Hilfenhaus presents.

If de Winter can connect with his bowlers, learn their strengths, iron out the weaknesses and work out how to make each bowler work off his teammates abilities, then de Winter will certainly be on track to carrying on where McDermott left off.

de Winter has been credited as a coach who learns quickly. This will be vital as he gets stuck into a job that will be kicking off with high expectations, starting with a limited overs series in the UAE in conditions that really test a players fitness and patience.

He may not be someone who has international experience or had the perfect first off campaign, but Cricket Australia have made their decision and I am sure this wouldn't have been done without serious consideration. Then again, what person doesn't take on a new role in life where expectations are high or somewhat unreasonable?

de Winter has a job to do and the support from every Baggy Green fanatic would help that extra bit. Everyone has the opportunity to write their own chapter who comes into the Australian cricket story and de Winter has a chance to have his own legacy. With the upcoming schedule, we'll know soon enough how successfully the de Winter method develops.

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Joshua said...

Agree with you Ian...not every great cricketer becomes a great coach and a great coach need not be a great cricketer! and as you've rightly said, he has done an excellent work with Hilfy!so he can surely help our other bowlers...importantly, its not good to comment about him poorly before he settles down..as true baggy green supporters, we need to back him at this juncture strongly!!!

Ian said...

Well said Joshua!

Furtermore, if there was a time to back the team, now is the time with a tough schedule coming up.

Our limited overs sides (ODI and T20) need some serious regrouping but if our Test batsmen can come right then this side will be gearing up to face the challenges.