Pakistan, coached by Mickey Arthur, won the Champions Trophy at London recently. Pic/Getty Images
The Champions Trophy was proof that when it comes to short-form cricket (ODI and T20), the Asian teams are arguably more successful than even the host countries in some situations. Two sub-continent teams in a final in England in June would have been unthinkable not so long ago when conditions would normally have spooked them. But they are now more adaptable, skillful and innovative than ever before. Clearly something is going well in the preparation phase.
So why is it then that so many of these sub-continent cricket teams, from national set-ups through to T20 franchises, still continue to rely so much on foreign leadership? Is it still a hangover from the colonial days when it was generally thought that expertise in coaching, captaincy and even sports medicine should defer to countries like England and Australia? For a while, the West Indians were still highly regarded but such has been their rapid demise that even they are ignoring their rich domestic heritage of former world champions and opting instead for foreign coaches.
Change in India's approach
Think of the various coaches employed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India over the years. It's only been recently that India are now looking within their pantheon of cricketing luminaries to fill the national job. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have almost exclusively gone down the path of foreign intervention for nigh on two decades now since full-time coaches became a staple. Given the riches they could draw on from all the great players (who must have been coached by good coaches one must presume!), why do they keep looking outside to fill these vacancies? Is it because of politics and internal bickering that they prefer outsiders?
It may well be true that the success of Asian teams proves the reverse of my argument - that their success can be sheeted back to foreign influence. In Pakistan's case, they will point to the Champions Trophy in the cabinet and feel vindicated. Fair enough too but at what point in their evolution will they embrace home-grown talent? Or will it forever be an apologetic admission that leadership positions are best filled from western countries?
Think of the IPL and compare that to the Big Bash and similar tournaments in NZ, England and South Africa. IPL franchises often overlook Indian cricketers of note for captaincy and coaching roles, even to the extent where they appoint captains who are not deemed captaincy material for their 'home' teams. Is it because there is still this subconscious bias, perceived or real, that an Australian captain for example will command more respect from the troops? If that is true, why do such perceptions still exist in the modern era when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka can reap rich local harvests? At the most basic level, it simply doesn't make sense. Commonsense suggests that understanding local conditions, the right lengths and pace to bowl, what shots are best played/eschewed on certain pitches, reading weather patterns etc are decisions made with the wisdom of insider knowledge. Why would an Australian bowling coach have a better grasp of bowling skills in India for example?
Ask yourself - how many Big Bash teams employ foreign coaches, captains and medical staff, even when they call on the experience of players like Sangakkara, Jayawadene, Dwayne Bravo, Shoaib Malik etc? Most of their staff are Australians - they don't traditionally open too many doors for leadership positions to foreigners. Mickey Arthur was a dead man walking as Australian coach and was sacked. Yet Australian coaches can be found at all levels in other countries. Are they really that much more advanced than the rest of the world? If so, why is Australia not winning everything on offer, at home and abroad? Go to any hospital in Australia, NZ or England and chances are that the best specialists in the broad medical profession will trace their roots back to the sub-continent. It is all the more ironic then that so few allied sports medicine staff attached to cricket teams in Asia are recruited from within. Is that a deliberate recruiting policy because they fear that these skilled professionals will be accorded less respect if they are local, regardless of whether their qualifications have been obtained from a western university? It doesn't make sense when normal patients often queue for months in Australia to be seen by Indian doctors and surgeons.
You speak to cricket-savvy folk in the sub-continent and they mutter words like politics, corruption and cronyism as if these sins do not occur anywhere else in the world. Having been involved with cricket administration in various countries, I can assure you that Australia and England are not immune to any of these human foibles. It may be hidden (or denied) by self-righteous, holier-than-thou folk who make a career of preaching governance and ethics to the colonies but villainy, treachery and bad politics are universal traits. There is no honour amongst rogues, regardless of colour or creed. There is so much to be proud of if you look for talent within… employ local, win global... there is a new world order in cricket and it's staring you in the mirror!
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player