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Players can’t be spoon-fed all the time

Harsha Bhogle

Posted: Dec 30, 2011 at 1255 hrs IST

: Wasim Akram, always deliciously outspoken, thinks “bowlers nowadays are pure lazy and are happy with whatever they are being given on a platter”. It is a telling remark, not just because it comes from a great bowler but because Akram spent his formative years before the era of mushrooming specialist coaches. I read this comment just a day before I read of how the return to effectiveness of Mitchell Johnson would be a test for Troy Cooley, the Australian fast bowling coach; or indeed that Cooley’s reputation would depend on it. The two comments are related. If bowlers are handed everything on a platter, as Akram says, they will stop being able to think for themselves and to solve their own problems. They would use coaches as crutches and in doing so retard their own development. A similar, equally valid, argument has been put forward about pampered young men and women and their inability to face the real, and often cruel, world.

There is only that much Cooley can do for Johnson for the bowler has to fire the gun himself. Damien Fleming, another whose company I have enjoyed greatly in a commentary box, is spot on when he says, “The problem is you can’t perform for the players on the field, you can only prepare them, and my big worry with Mitch is that when it’s going badly he doesn’t seem to be able to coach himself on the field to get himself back into the battle.”. The more players are spoon fed the more they will find themselves unable to coach themselves. In fact, later in that interview, Akram says, “The use of technology is good but it shouldn’t stop the bowler from using his own mind”.

That is what great cricketers, or for that matter, great managers or great actors, will always tell you. You use a coach as a map, for directions, but you drive the car yourself. You cannot keep going back to the coach after every ball and that is my grouse with some of the academies these days; that they are producing over-coached over-reliant cricketers. With coaches congregating on maidans and grounds, they are available like a meal is in a food court. If one is absent there is always another around on whom to thrust your problem. Good cricketers become great when they hone their instinct, when they study the opposition they have to compete against rather than wait for notes or video clips to be handed to them. And that is why this is not Cooley’s test but Johnson’s test.

Akram also talks about the season of county cricket that Zaheer Khan played. It has been much spoken about, much documented. When you play county cricket you are part of a team but you are also on your own; you learn to bowl with a new ball and an old one, in the morning, in the afternoon and after six straight days, in the last hour of a game when you are picking your body up and coaxing it to the top of your mark. You play in front of five people and alongside team mates, some of whom are playing as a chore and for a salary. There is much in the daily grind to drive you away from the game but it is when the exit option is a step away in life that we really discover ourselves. It is when you are putting in the hard yards without any reward in sight that you grow as a performer. If the resource and the reward is always at hand, how will you grow?

It is a question that RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma (who has had a string of worrying performances in recent times) will have to ask themselves. How do they steer clear of reward and fame nudging them all the time and put in the hard yards? It is a question to which another fine cricketer, Sreesanth, hasn’t found an answer to but he now has the opportunity ahead of him. He gets seven county games for Warwickshire where there will be no cameras to speak to, no journalists to make statements for and the luxury of working in anonymity. He can do what Zaheer did; toil away, bowl the first ball and the last and eventually, understand himself. He has been offered much on a platter; fame, notoriety and its attendant ills. He now has the opportunity to spurn the platter and become the cricketer he can be.

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