The maximum positive effect even the best of coaches can have on a team is minimal
England has appointed an Australian as their coach on the eve of an Ashes series and what followed was an avalanche of words flowing from the chattering classes.
Realistically though, how much effect will Trevor Bayliss’ appointment have on England and the series? Very little is the most likely answer.
Trevor Bayliss during Sri Lanka’s practice session at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo in 2011. PIC/AFP
I’ve often stated; “An International coach is something the Australian team travels in around England.” While I haven’t changed my opinion in the intervening years, coaches are now a way of life in International cricket.
It’s interesting to read the reports since Bayliss’ appointment. It was trumpeted that; “He’s won the Sheffield Shield with New South Wales and the Big Bash with Sydney Sixers; an IPL trophy with Kolkata Knight Riders and guided Sri Lanka to the World Cup final in 2010-11.” Well I have a headline of my own; it was the players and the captain who achieved those results not the coach.
The maximum positive effect even the best of coaches can have on a team is minimal. The lower down the pecking order a team (in either standard or grade) the more a good coach can achieve. They’ll have a greater effect on Bangladesh or a first-class team than on the Australian side but it’ll still be minimal.
At international level the best coaches are your teammates. One, they are playing against the same opponents and two, they’re generally good thinkers on the game to reach that level.
And as for this idea that Bayliss, or any other coach “guided” a team to a trophy — that is a myth. If a captain needs off field guidance then the team needs a new skipper because if he’s not a couple of overs ahead of the game and in charge of his team, then they’re in trouble.
And this is where the concept of coaches can be detrimental to producing good captains. The more importance placed on coaches, the more likely it is they’ll encroach on the captaincy tasks. If this continually happens to young skippers, then the likelihood is they’ll be under-prepared for the task when they reach the higher levels of the game.
Alastair Cook may be a case in point.
England’s revival at Lord’s largely revolved around one simple change. Last year against India, England batted Ben Stokes at number eight and Moeen Ali at six.
That was a joke as Stokes is a batting all-rounder and copes exceedingly well with the short-pitched delivery, while Ali struggles mightily. This season Stokes is at six and Ali, as the primary spinner, is at number eight, which is where they should’ve been last season. What’s changed?
Cook was captain on both occasions and if he didn’t rectify the mistake then England should worry about the captain’s judgement. This was an obvious move and getting the batsmen in the right order is important.
Test of Cook’s captaincy
The series against Australia will be the real test for any improvement in Cook’s captaincy. He was more aggressive in his approach against New Zealand but that was mostly a player. Whether Cook can maintain a more positive outlook in the face of an onslaught from David Warner and company is the real question facing England.
I suspect if that situation arises Cook will revert to type because he’s conservative by nature. If he’s trying to be more positive through prodding from either Paul Farbrace or Bayliss, it won’t last because it has to be an instinctive reaction from a captain who is comfortable being bold.
Michael Clarke is a good example of a captain whose tactical instincts are boldness personified. Strangely, Clarke has also struggled to place a cohesive batting order and part of his dilemma stems from a reluctance to bat himself higher.
There’s no doubt Darren Lehmann’s association with Clarke has helped Australia. Clarke is tactically brilliant but his off-field leadership was lacking until Lehmann took a hand in matters.
This Ashes series may well be billed as a battle between two Australian coaches. However, the successful coaches are those who have the most talented players and a good captain and those are the reasons why Australia will have a head start in this Ashes series.