Who's really in charge?
Ask Imran Khan
Stabroek News
August 10, 2003

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Last Thursday was possibly the most nerve-wracking day of cricket in Guyana. Three offour matches went down to the wire in the TCL Group Regional Under 19 One Day Challenge. At least one of those to-the-wire battles though, caused an ugly aspect of our cricket to be exposed like skin on a nude beach.

Given that these are not our senior players, it is best that no names be called for fear of disturbing any of the player's minds as they are engaged in this competition which can either make or break their careers at the next level.

At one of the games, as the team chasing was approaching the winning target the game was stalled for several minutes as lengthy directions were relayed to the captain from his dressing room bound coach. For the last few overs, all the fielding positions were being virtually set by the coach.

It reached ridiculous proportions when the captain, before the over began, would look to the dressing room and set the field and select the bowler based on the coach's directions. Upwards of twenty minutes was lost to this preposterous activity.

For the eager and tense spectators, what was an exhilarating cricket match was cheapened into a hideous farce.

It was clear that the coach in question had no confidence in his captain, vice-captain or any of the players on the field. He felt that without his input from beyond the ropes that his team stood no chance of claiming victory. That the team ended up losing should send a clear signal to that coach and the many others like him that when on the field the man in charge ought to be the captain. All decisions should be made by him, of course with advice from his on-field colleagues.

Throughout the three days of preliminary round matches, coaches and even managers, were seen everywhere from the commentary box to the pavilion engaging in all manner of interference with the on-field action.

One manager/coach team was seen seated on chairs just beyond the boundary ropes engaged in lengthy discussions with their bowlers who were fielding on the boundary. It could very well be that they were discussing how their grandmothers were doing back home, but I seriously doubt it.

Other coaches were seen at all parts of the ground, cajoling, encouraging, advising, blaming and chastising players depending on their performances.

It is all well and good to shout a word or two of praise to a player for bowling a good delivery or making a good stop, but to be shouting and rebuking players in front of spectators and officials is humiliating. It is not difficult for such behaviour to also de-motivate players at this level.

Basic human psychology informs that a quiet compliment in the privacy of the dressing room can be much more effective than sporadically bellowing "good ball" from the boundary. Our coaches may have been good cricketers in their time and may have an extensive understanding of the game, but they are unquestionably lacking in human relations.

Human relations is an area in which any coach worth his paycheck, pays keen attention to, learns well and exploits carefully.

From the evidence, much work needs to be done with more that a few of the coaches in this area.

There is another dimension to this micro-managing of the on-field operations by some of the coaches.

Many of them have had little or no say in the composition of their teams and ultimately who should be named leader. Not involving coaches in the decision making process regarding team composition can lead to this blatant derailing of the captains on the field of play.

That our cricketers oftentimes come from inferior educational backgrounds can also contribute to the coaches feeling the uncontrollable need to take over when the game is on the line.

What should be the solution though, is a series of strategy sessions to develop the captain's cricketing acumen. Presenting him with possible scenarios and asking him to respond in a manner he thinks most appropriate. Based on his successes and failures, he can be advised accordingly. These are things though that have to be done in preparation for tournaments.

To disregard this component of cricketing leadership is naive and archaic.

Too many times have we heard the virtues of giving a man a fish as against teaching him how to fish. How will the youngsters learn, if when the game is down to the wire, the coaches direct the proceedings from the dressing room?

No one benefits, everyone loses and the captain learns nothing from the pressures of a close conclusion.

From time to time, the situation got so bad last week that, many of these coaches who are former players of not-very-much repute, appear as though they were more interested in living their failed dreams through these youngsters. It can very well be a crucial reason for the failure of some of the teams to perform as well as they were expected to.

A few of the coaches do allow the on-field action to go on without interfering. They make notes of mistakes and outstanding performances and at the end of the day discuss these at strategy sessions with the captain and team, or the regular team meetings. That is among the best of strategies.

Whether we believe that leaders are born or they are made, when they are on the field, they should be allowed to do the job. The time for selecting the right man for the job is long gone. Let the youngsters get on with it.

If they succeed it may be a mark of a Test captain in the making. If they fail, the coach's job is to pinpoint to them where they went wrong and how they can improve.

The lesson then would be a valuable one. Experience, after all, is still the best teacher.

Imran Khan
Cricket Writer

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