The end of the ‘mad scientist’, John Bracewell
Imagine you’ve just been dismissed for only a handful of runs towards the end of play in a tough Test. After you recover your bat from the corner of the dressing room, where you’ve thrown it in disgust, showered and dressed, you’re handed an assessment form on which you have to note down what you think of your own performance and that of your team-mates.
Imagine that this happens at the end of every day in all the Tests you play in.
This is what the New Zealand cricket side had to do during the ‘mad scientist’ coaching reign of John Bracewell. This reign is now – finally – ended with New Zealand, once a gritty and hard to defeat Test side, ranked eighth in world, only ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
A fearless prediction: with Bracewell and his control freak ‘mad scientist’ style of coaching now out of the picture, New Zealand will start to become the stubborn, difficult, ornery side of the past, beginning with the Test series starting in Dunedin this week against the West Indies.
Martin Crowe, arguably one of New Zealand’s finest Test batsmen and a shrewd thinker and commentator on the game, exposed the peer assessment nonsense that totally demoralised the New Zealand Test side.
“In the dressing room there is a bunch of consultants called Leading Teams handing out forms at the end of each day’s play. They don’t know anything about cricket, by the way, but they are asking players to fill in forms assessing each other’s behaviour and then have a peer assessment … I find it quite sickening to be honest.”
And, of course, Crowe is right.
He did not direct his fire totally at the peer assessment system. He argued that the biomechanics theories put in place at the New Zealand Cricket Academy “have ruined over the last ten years” the batting techniques of virtually all the New Zealand batsmen.
Mark Richardson, the slow-coach batsman, who transformed himself from a left-arm spinner and number ten batsman into an opener – admittedly without too many strokes – with one of the highest batting average any New Zealand Test player has achieved, was on New Zealand television recently going through the batting techniques of the New Zealanders after their batting collapse against Australia at Brisbane.
Their techniques are “crap” he insisted, and he showed pictures to prove his point.
So much for the Academy and its theories of biomechanics.
These are the same sort of theories that would have proved that Shane Warne could not possibly bowl long hard spinning spells with the ball with a run-up of just a couple of paces, or that Bill O’Reilly could not possibly bowl his top-spinners and leg breaks at the medium pace of his normal delivery, or that Don Bradman’s penchant for cross bat shots could not possibly succeed on seaming English wickets.
They are the same sort of theories that have lead to virtually all the New Zealand medium-pace and fast bowlers breaking down all the time.
Richard Boock, an excellent New Zealand cricket writer, interviewed Dr Regena Mitchell, a management expert, on the implications of the peer assessment program for the New Zealand cricket team. “The danger is,” she insisted, “you might get artificial harmony, and it could quite likely come at the expense of the internal competitivess.”
This judgment was supported by an incident described by the forthright, hard-hitting New Zealand batsman Craig McMillan in his recent biography. His peer assessment described him as “obstinate,” “competitive” and “self-centered.”
These comments were intended to be derogatory and designed to force a change of behaviour into a more docile and harmonious style.
But when you look at it, all the best cricketers have been imbued with obstinacy, competitiveness and an intense self-centered approach.
John Bracewell’s success in purging the New Zealand cricket side of its obstinance, competiveness and self-centered approach was matched by a corresponding lack of success in terms of results where these qualities are necessary if sides and individuals in them are to succeed in becoming consistent winners.
As the old sporting adage says, nice guys finish last.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
Watch Glenn Mitchell's wrap of the second Test, where Australia were victorious early on the final day, winning by 218 runs and taking a 2-0 series lead into the third Test in Perth.
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