Friday, 30 November 2012

The ECB shows the way

England is the world leader in cricket strategy. I’ll give you a moment to digest that statement. The same England that gave rise to the word de jour ‘Omnishambles‘ back during the 1993 Ashes by seemingly giving a test cap to every single player registered across the amateur leagues of England and Wales, have come up with a world-leading, sensible, beneficial, and sure-to-be-copied idea.

I refer, of course, to the decision to split to coaching duties of limited overs and test match cricket. It’s often said that the simplest ideas are the best. I’d be more inclined to say that the best ideas are always characterised by a collective ‘why didn’t we think of that earlier’.

During the summer of 1996/97, Australia didn’t make the finals of a home ODI tri-series for the first time since Packer invented the genre. This was disastrous for ticket sales and, crucially, television ratings.

Packer, via his TV Station, went kicking and screaming to the board after being contractually obliged to show 24 hours of play between 2 neutral teams during prime time. The board reacted by splitting the selection of the limited overs teams and the test team.

The moment Mark Taylor and his stoic 13 from 33 balls was removed from the top of the order, the common consensus was ‘Why didn’t we do this years ago’. He was replaced by Michael di Venuto (even the great ideas have their limitations), and then later Adam Gilchrist. Welcome to the brave new world.

Sri Lanka were the first to do this, but due to general mistrust of the still relatively-new upstarts, the theory didn’t catch on until Australia did it. England have stuck so stoically to the idea that they have played ANY wicketkeeper at opener.

Splitting the coaching duties makes as much sense now as splitting the teams did back then. Different skillsets, different theories, different coaching required. It leaves Andy Flower, by far the best Test Match coach in the world at the moment, to focus on what he does best. It also gives him time off from meaningless 7-match bilateral series to recharge, focus, study, and plan. There can’t be a single cricket board across the world who won’t sit up and think ‘we MUST pinch that idea’.

The same cricket board that chose 23 players in 1993, and Ian Austin in 1999, has shown the rest of the world how to think strategically. You’ve come a long way, baby.

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