Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Bradman of coaches?

Is John Buchanan the best coach cricket has ever had? Apart from the seemingly endless sequence of wins that Australia have enjoyed under his coaching, the ways Australia have dominated (and continue to dominate) the game suggests an answer in the affirmative. Are there any composite numbers that can rank cricket coaches? For a game that thrives so much on statistics, it’s a surprise that we don’t have win averages, margin ratios and such like discussed on a consistent basis for coaches.

Back to Buchanan. Some may have questioned his coaching methods; some may have found his penchant for misplacing notes on the opposition a bit funny; but no one can question the fact that he has been the coach of the most successful cricket team of the past decade, and perhaps in all of cricket history until now. (Quiz question: who was the coach / manager of the 1948 Australian Invincibles? Or did Sir Don do that role as well?)

Rohit Brijnath of the Sportstar catches up with the Buchanan in this interview.

Buchanan’s stringent training routines and his focus on a corporate style of people management may have got more ink space in the media through his tenure as coach, but this interview brings out the little factors that characterize Buchanan’s success. Like the insistence on carrying their own bowling machine to West Indies during the World Cup this year, even though the West Indies Cricket Board had promised that there would be bowling machines at all venues, just because “it is one of the things we can then control.”

“Playing the percentages” is a term that gets used a lot in cricket. Buchanan does this too.

“Batting wise I looked at our scoring shot percentages, which is the number of balls we score from in an innings and roughly we average 150 to 180 balls an innings, so that means we're not scoring from 120 to 150 balls. And I said to the players I think it's realistic we can actually improve that by 5 to 10 per cent.

“The flip side to that is our bowling, we're in the vicinity of 50 to 55 per cent dot balls in an innings", and so again they tried to increase that by 5 to 10 per cent. In fielding it was the same. Buchanan looked at the opportunities created, the catches, throws at stumps, dives, and the numbers told him the team was successful about one in four times. So they tried to get it close to one in three.”

Buchanan almost seems to treat runs and numbers as entries in a Profit & Loss statement and work on them accordingly – increasing something here, cutting a little bit there, and thus improving the overall numbers successfully. (May be Peter Moores should just tell a certain Stephen Harmison to ensure that he gets the batsman to play at at least 3 deliveries in an over. Now that would be a start, wouldn’t it?)

Simply put, success (in cricket at least) is about doing the little things right, seems to be Buchanan’s mantra. Contrast this with coaches who talk of processes, long-term plans, “building a team for the future” and the like.