“Cricket is a simple game
Shane Warne, 2013.
No, it really isn’t. It’s probably one of the most complicated games ever invented. It has an infinite amount of strategies involved in it. It combines chess, golf and psychological torture, is physically unnatural and is played on a surface that lives, breathes and changes.
I doubt many people tell Shane Warne he is wrong on matters of cricket. The man is a legend, has the arrogance of 12 heavyweight champions, and over 700 Test wickets to back it up. When it comes to cricket strategy, his brain is a sentient supercomputer.
So when he writes a review of Australian Cricket, you’d be a fool to not at least look at it.
The problem is, Shane Warne is not a super tactician off the field. As he as spent the best part of the past twenty years proving to us.
He’s good, he won the first IPL for Rajasthan with canny captaincy, bargain basement picks and himself as el supremo. But three IPLs and two Big Bashes later, Rajasthan have never been in the final (or even the semi-finals), and the Melbourne Stars have not qualified for the Champions League.
Considering that Warne plays outside the salary cap, the Stars have a $700,000 head start on every other Big Bash team. Forget that it makes the competition fundamentally unfair – even with that advantage the Stars have not set the competition alight.
Of course Warne is not the dictator of these teams. He is however, often the captain, coach, cheerleader, GM and most important person at both teams. If you are a new franchise, and you buy Warne, you are not buying 4 overs of leg spin a match. You are buying a way of cricket.
Warne is much like the charismatic millionaire self-help guru. His plans work for him, and will work for you too. Forgetting that the people that read his suggestions and follow his advice have one fatal flaw. They aren’t Shane Warne.
His review of Australian cricket is nice, and it’s definitely not always wrong, but the Australian team is not a franchise that he can sway by his talent or his personality.
His review can be boiled down into two key points.
1) The people he likes would do a far better job than the current lot.
2) Cricket people with smarts and international experience are the only answer.
The first point is best ignored. Warne is nicer to his friends than any many alive. And him selecting a crew of his old playing or drinking buddies is what he does. It wasn’t that long ago he picked Darren Berry in a list of the best 50 cricketers he ever played with or against. Even as Darren Berry’s biggest fan I find that a big call.
More importantly, every single name Warne has used is a former international cricketer. It’s not an accident. Warne trusts people who have been to the top. He’s not the only one; Justin Langer’s run as batting coach coincided with the Australian batting line up failing at every turn. Now, you can’t just blame him for that, but if it wasn’t Langer in the job, and some computer batting guru, the fans and press would have wanted his head. Instead, Langer was promoted.
Personally I think the best person should get the job, not just the best person who happened to be the most talented 5, 10, 15 years before. A lifetime of watching films has told me that some actors become brilliant directors, and some actors direct stinkers.
But we’re talking cricket here, not film, and definitely not rugby (in Australian cricket the word rugby is now substituted for Pat Howard at all times). Cricket is like nothing else on earth, so only cricket people can get it. People who live, breathe and taste cricket. People with cricket brains.
The cricket brain is a special thing. You only had to see Taylor, Boof or Flem out there at their best to know that an instinctive cricket brain is a majestic dragon that cannot be replicated by computers or research.
So is there a lack of cricket brains in the Australian set up?
Mickey Arthur played 110 first class matches, and averaged 33 with the bat. Players like that only make it if they have pictures of their selector in a compromising position, or are really smart. John Inverarity only played 6 Tests, yet they way people talk about how he went about his cricket, it wouldn’t surprise me if his cricket brain ends up in the National Sporting Museum at the MCG.
Yet they aren’t on Warne’s list. Warne either doesn’t like their cricket brain (his quote about how to select the captains may suggest this), or he thinks they’re doing a bad job.
Have their performances been so bad? Is the Australian team in the hands of the rugby guy, the professor and the overseas coach been so bad that we need an urgent review, two years after the last one?
According to Warne, yes, “The current set up is not working, as the results are showing! What are our world rankings in all forms?”
When the Argus report came out, Australia were ranked 5th in the world with a rating of 100. They are now ranked third in the world with a rating of 117. That’s a direct improvement under the Clarke, Arthur, Inverarity and rugby regime
Not even Warne could say with a straight face that the rankings of ODI and T20 are a proper representation of where you are as a cricket team. Since Argus, Australia has played in one ICC tournament. They lost in the semi-finals to the team that won.
In Tests they’ve been up and down. They drew with New Zealand at home, beat the West Indies away, beat Sri Lanka home and away, beat India at home, drew with South Africa away and pushed them before losing at home. It’s not popping corks time, but it’s not bad for a team in transition.
When the Argus report came out, Australia were ranked 5th in the world with a rating of 100. They are now ranked third in the world with a rating of 117.
That’s a direct improvement under the Clarke, Arthur, Inverarity and rugby regime.
Not that they couldn’t do better, and even be helped by some of Warne’s people. But from the outside, it doesn’t appear like it did two years ago when there was obviously something very wrong with Australian cricket.
Right now it appears like a lot of fairly intelligent cricket people, and one rugby guy, moving Australia forward. They make mistakes, but Stephen Fleming made mistakes too, even if he did it with nonchalant, silky charm.
Cricket brains and ex-players are very important, but they are not the answer to everything. For instance, after 150 years of organised cricket, with the many champions and genius cricket brains that have graced the game, we still don’t have an effective training technique for improving running between the wickets.
If cricket were simple, we may have worked that one out by now.