Johannesburg - This week’s debate over whether Graeme Smith should be head coach to Geoff Toyana’s assistant coach in the Global T20 League has inadvertently raised another topic that’s always confused me – cricket’s strange relationship with its coaches.
Some were a little mystified that Smith – a former Proteas captain and a colossus of the game with no coaching credentials – was preferred to Toyana, an ex-player whose titles and players developed scream career coach.
There is a basic answer to that. Even as a poor man’s Indian Premier League or Big Bash, the Global T20 League is no less of a vanity project for the franchise owners.
And what is a vanity project if your fantasy team can’t be coached by your favourite player, a Graeme Smith for example?
Be that as it may, the preference of hiring ex-players as coaches shows certain mistrust by the game for career coaches.
It is something that shows itself in the balance of influence: the captain is seen as the team leader both on and off the field and the coach a second class citizen of sorts.
Legendary Australian spinner Shane Warne, at the height of his feud with former Aussie coach John Buchanan, is on record as saying a coach is that thing that delivers players to the stadium.
This is a marked contrast to other team sports, where men like Vince Lombardi (NFL), Phil Jackson (NBA) and Alex Ferguson (football) are still spoken of in hushed tones.
To make a point about cricket, a friend asked me this week what the England coach’s name is.
Even though I follow cricket and obviously have the inkling that his surname is Bayliss, I must admit I had to stop and think if his first name was Troy (the former Super biker, as it turns out) or Trevor. See what I mean?
A great example of the low regard held for coaches in cricket is in the Proteas’ recent test series against England.
Captain Faf du Plessis missed the first test due to the birth of his first child, a game the team lost heavily, and when he came back they turned the tables on England.
The talk immediately after that was the “Faf Factor”, but the moment the Proteas lost the last two tests for a 3-1 series defeat it reverted to how coach Russell Domingo – who has had his whole tenure as an international coach questioned because he never played first class cricket – had to go.
The rationale given for what is a lopsided weight of influence, compared to other team sports, towards the captain is that it is he who makes the decisions on the field. Fair enough, but does he prepare the team as well? If so why doesn’t he take some of the blame in defeat?
Not that ex-players don’t work as coaches.
Gary Kirsten had never coached before leading India (and later South Africa) to number one in tests and a World Cup; Mark Boucher proved a few people wrong by winning two titles with the Titans in his first year in charge last season; and Anil Kumble was doing a good job with India until Virat Kohli’s monstrous ego got in the way.
Boucher had a stab at explaining why cricket maybe doesn’t necessarily treasure coaches with the right papers when he took over the Titans last season: “I think coaching has become a little bit more about thinking out of the box, the managing of players and understanding that you don’t have all the knowledge in the world with regards to batting and bowling, even keeping.
“But there are quality people out there you can bring in and use for certain individuals. It’s important to realise that not everyone in the team is the same and that certain players have certain mentors they’re comfortable with.”
With regards to the heavy criticism coaches who have never played at the highest level cop, it might be prudent to finish off with former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi’s take on the subject: “I never realised that to become a jockey you needed to be a horse first.”
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