The new role of the specialist cricket coach
As the world cricketing landscape continues to change, we are also seeing this change manifested throughout the coaching ranks too, as international and professional sides hire specialists in spin, batting and fielding.
How have specialist cricket coaches evolved? Who started it and what we might see in future?
New Zealand’s cricketers have struck a deal with former Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan as a spin coach for their upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.
What a brilliant idea – enlisting the help of the world’s leading wicket-taker. Although using specialist coaches isn’t new in the world of cricket, the continued growth of Twenty20 cricket – including franchises, new leagues and tournaments – along with the regular diet of Test and One-Day Internationals has turned the spotlight on increasing the skills of players more acutely.
Such is the need for rapid adaptability of the modern international player to jump between formats, we see coaches and experts brought in to give them the edge required to perform on different stages.
Let’s look at some of cricket’s key specialist coaches and the history behind it, their impact and what types of specialist coaches we might see in future.
An American in cricket
Former Australian coach John Buchanan was known for thinking outside the square and introducing new ideas to cricket. Enter Mike Young.
A former minor league baseball manager, player and coach, Chicago-born Young was hired by the Australian cricket team in 2000 as a specialist fielding coach after he had great success coaching the Australian national baseball team, and did the role until 2005.
Young also had stints with New Zealand and India and is currently the Kings XI Punjab’s fielding coach in the Indian Premier League.
Young really is the first specialist coach of the modern game.
Spin Kings for hire
The previously mentioned Muttiah Muralitharan should see lots more time as a specialist coach if the trend of slow bowling featuring heavily in Twenty20 cricket continues.
Former Pakistani leg spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has also mentored New Zealand’s batsmen and is currently assisting the Bangladesh side with spin and his “doosra”.
Jonty and White Lightning strikes again
Ex-South African stalwarts Jonty Rhodes and Allan Donald are two other former players who have shown real ability as specialist coaches.
Rhodes has had stints as a specialist fielding coach with South Africa, the IPL’s Mumbai Indians and Kenya while fast bowler Donald helped New Zealand’s bowling stocks and during the 2011 World Cup it was noticeable Tim Southee had more aggression and pace than previously, surely as a result of the South African’s mentorship.
London’s calling a team of specialists
Why have England’s cricketers dominated in recent times? One could do no worse than glance at their coaching structure. Along with Andy Flower as head coach, the side has a fast bowling coach (ex-Victorian and Tasmanian cricketer David Saker), spin bowling coach (ex-Pakistani player Mushtaq Ahmed), a batting coach (Englishman Graham Gooch) and fielding coach (former Zimbabwean cricketer Richard Halsall).
Mike Hesson – the new John Buchanan of cricket analysis?
I’m putting it out there. Newly appointed New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson could be the next ‘John Buchanan thinker’ of the game.
In his short tenure so far, has shown a shrewd analytical mind and willingness to challenge new ideas and his players. He featured heavily in bringing in Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas to help his charges for their upcoming Sri Lankan tour.
New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor provided an insight into Hesson’s analytical approach recently:
“Under Hess, we’re looking into the planning and structure around our game plan and how we assess each member of the opposition in greater detail. It’s an area I thought we could improve,” Taylor said.
Former New Zealand quick Shane Bond was recently appointed their specialist bowling coach and has risen quickly through the coaching ranks since his retirement in 2010.
Looking to the future
What could we expect for the future of specialist coaches within cricket? I’d expect a greater emphasis on more specific skills; such as swing bowling, reverse swing, spin, seam and batting. Fielding will continue to be a hot topic, but also Buchanan’s once fanciful prediction of fielders who can throw with both arms could ring true particularly with Twenty20’s focus on athletic fielding (and the make-up of the recent Twenty20 international teams justifies this). Independent think tanks and strategy sessions could come into play too, and maybe more baseball coaches to assist cricket teams. Whatever the landscape and future of cricket’s specialist coaches, the game is the richer for it in many senses.
Listen to Glenn Mitchell's preview of the Third Ashes Test in Perth at the WACA ground:
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