Monday, March 19, 2007

Cricket coaching: being judged on uncontrollables

Bob Woolmer succumbed to a heart attack following Pakistan's shock defeat to Ireland that led to the former team's World Cup exit. I have diligently avoided commenting on performances of coaches because their job, as I see it, is almost unseen to a common cricket viewer like me. But at these times you try to imagine yourself as a cricket coach of an international side. The question that comes first to your mind is: How stressful is it for cricket coaches to be constantly judged on parameters many of which are beyond his control??

As a coach in any team sport perhaps you come with a vision of making a positive impact on the performances of a set of individuals aiming to function as a team. You decide that you will shut yourself from external praise / criticism / opinions and do your job as planned but find it hard to do so with communication hitting the roof these days. You see players in your team and find a similarity between them and yourself.

You notice a difference though. The players are judged on individual performances but the captain and you are judged on team performances. That automatically signifies that the players are almost entirely dependent on their own performances on the field for their rating points but the skipper and you have no individual scores except team wins. The skipper has an individual role to play when the team gets into the ground but not you. You have an individual role unseen to all but the players and administrators.

Now we come to perceptions of the role of a coach. Many ex-players believe coaches have a peripheral role to play and the skipper is responsible for team performance. However there are occasions when a coach gains the stature of a supercoach. This effect is augmented in countries where people are emotional and perenially in search of shining heroes and shady villains.

This blow-up takes a bigger shape if cricket is one of the few fields where your folk see themselves as world beaters. Things get further exhilarating for you if the media and people don't see their captain as too clever irrespective of the reality. It has a positive effect on your share of plaudits. Some of the phenomena you get credited with when the team succeeds are:
(i) the team performance takes an upswing soon after you join the side,
(ii) the team shows inprovements in fields earlier thought to be its weakness,
(iii) the skipper suddenly takes a few smart on-field decisions in the following year, decisions that are thought to be beyond him.

Slowly but surely you are accorded the status of a sorcerer, someone with a knack of working wonders with people and turning also-rans into champions.

The flip side comes when the team falters. Now you get to learn of the essential problem with not having an individual role to be assessed on. You may still be thinking that you are doing your job well but the team is struggling because most players are. You are prepared to take some of the blame for that but not all. If you are a born leader you will take it anyway without a word of protest, but it seldom goes down well in the digestive system.

It is quite like a skipper scoring a century chasing 240 in a losing cause. Skippy gets blasted for his handling of bowlers in the opening overs but gets praised for the fighting innings later on. In your case you got only praises when the team did well. You may think you did certain things improperly at the time but it did not matter; people were searching for their shining heroes and you were one of them. Now that the tide has turned you can resign yourself to morph into the shady villain that pubic are looking for. They are unaware that you may be still scoring centuries with your unappreciated work.

Only tough people can continue performing in such situations for years. If you are Bob Woolmer you are a tough cookie. You avoided quitting your roller-coaster job of
coaching Pakistan for greener pastures. Difficult as it is to coach a subcontinent team, it certainly took even more out of you to switch to this extreme mode if you are coming from lands where your role in the team performance is understood better by the game's followers and, maybe, the players and administrators as well. You prepared yourself for a lot to happen, or at least we can say that you backed yourself to take most things that could happen....

if you are Bob Woolmer you will be long remembered for your role in revolutionising your (i.e. coach's) role in the international game. These tributes state as much.

[Cross posted on desicritics]

1 comment:

Hiren said...

The coach has a thankless job especually in the cricket crazy subcontinent. Woolmer is the embodiment of the fact that all great players do not make great coaches and vice- versa. That is why he was preferred over Javed Miandad though his record as a player is not all that impressive.

Very informative writeup.