From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.42 :: Oct. 17, 2009
On a Sydney-to-Sydney world cruise, former Australian captain and coach Bobby Simpson and his wife took time off to have an Indian lunch at the `Wet Wicket’, Cricket Club of India. “It’s been smooth sailing so far, we would be back home on October 16, after calling on about 45 cities.
“I miss Raj here at the CCI. I knew he was unwell for a long time. He was a true cricket lover,” said Simpson, 73, who is still coaching in Australia. For many years he coached budding players at the Brabourne Stadium when Raj Singh Dungarpur was the President of the CCI. In the course of a 30-minute chat with Sportstar, Simpson rues the absence of genuine swing bowlers in the Australian attack which was responsible for the team’s defeat in the Ashes. He also dwells at length on Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
Question: Your thoughts on Australia’s back-to-back Ashes reverses in England…
Answer: The Australian team has been having problems when the ball starts swinging. They are aware of it. It’s something I have been saying for 10 years that Australia has to restore swing bowling to its attack. No one gets any practice against swing bowling in Australia. Everyone was dominated by the Dennis Lillee style of great bowling. He was great, but it was not necessarily the best for everyone. One even saw advertisements in the newspapers saying, “Fast bowling clinic in Adelaide and unless you are fast, don’t bother to apply.” Now how many great swing bowlers might have been missed in those 15-20 years. That could have made a difference to the Australian side. They had plenty of time to bowl the opposition (England) out at Cardiff and it may have a made a difference. I think the sameness of the attack showed up as the wicket flattened out at Cardiff.
The Australian team is obviously less formidable with the exit of McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Langer, Martyn and Hayden…
If one looks at any great era, once it’s gone, there’s a recovery time. I experienced this when I took over after the Richie Benaud era. When I came back into coaching, we were at the end of the Chappell era. There’s a lot of sensible team-building required. The fact that the players stay so long in the game, I think it makes it harder for the youngsters to make their mark early. I think that’s where Australia is lacking at present.
They said the Australian Cricket Academy was designed to fast track players from State level to Test cricket. It’s not happening. If one looks at New South Wales for instance, it used to be said that if one did not make the State side by 20, one would never make it. The average age now going into NSW is 27. That’s a huge difference.
It ought to have been an awful experience for Ricky Ponting as captain…
The big question is who do you have to replace him with? I can speak from my experience that it’s not fun captaining a poor cricket team. So it’s probably better that Ricky, who has had a great time, helps with the rebuilding of the team. But eventually, as we did with Allan Border, we have to change the captain before we can finally make the big breakthrough needed. That’s what happened when I was the coach there. While Allan did a magnificent job, we just needed to change at that time, but that’s after Allan had spent lot of time rebuilding the side.
There’s been a strong debate on all forms of the game: Test cricket, One-day and Twenty20…
It’s evolving, but I don’t think it’s anything different from what it was in the past. Remember, when one-day cricket was introduced, everybody said this will save the game. The public have got tired to some extent of one-day cricket because the tactics are boring. When I was the coach of Australia, we used one-day cricket to develop the Test side. What we always strove for was results.
Ninety per cent of the matches are won by one team bowling the other out. But it got to a stage where I think there was so much emphasis on batting and the so called all-rounders that the overall standard of bowling dropped dramatically in one-day cricket. There are not many good bowling attacks around now. Suddenly the game has become monotonous. You need wickets to fall and runs to be scored. How can a team score 400 runs in an innings, and another chase it in one-day cricket? What does it tell you? Rubbish bowling. It’s all a cancer. It’s because they have shortened the boundary. It helps the batsmen immensely. The Adelaide Oval used to be 240 yards from fence-to-fence; now if one went from rope to rope, it would be 180 yards at the most.
Now, how are we going to develop wonderful cricketers for all forms of the game? They also need to play Twenty20 cricket, which is the most boring of all forms. While I like and enjoy it, it’s a bit like one-day cricket. If you don’t get a close finish, what have you got? A very ordinary game of cricket. Now you are going to get more ordinary games in Twenty20 purely because the players would be going out so hard early on and we will see a lot of collapses. It doesn’t give you enough time to rebuild.
There is also this worrying aspect of it. If we go so mad about Twenty20 and everyone learns cricket via Twenty20, are they going to have the techniques, the structures and the mental capacity to play all forms of the game? I don’t think so. At present there are benefits because most of the players have come through the system of Test and One-day cricket. They have developed the skills to play Test and One-day cricket, and when they get to Twenty20, they are pretty capable all-round cricketers. If we go the other way, I think we will have a major problem.
I have seen a fair bit of Twenty20 on television. I don’t think the players/teams have come to terms with the best way to play. It’s virtually the same as one-day cricket. In one-day or Twenty20 you have to set a platform so that you can defend. When I was the coach we had a crack team. I was lucky. When we were in a situation wherein we had a collapse, there was an immediate revision of tactics to decide how many runs we had to get so that we could defend it. That means slowing down the game and taking less risks. In Twenty20 there’s no sign of people working out what’s a defendable total.
There has been a serious introspection into Test cricket. Ultimately, it’s the players who make a game of cricket…
I think the players have got to realise that they have to bowl not 90 overs in a day, but more and concentrate on getting teams out. The bowlers have to become more accurate, the team tactics have got to be better and there has to be variations. Well, Shane Warne has gone. You get a Warne in a hundred years. But what about India? Where have the great spinners gone? They have all gone because captains have no idea how to handle them.
It’s a very good time to be a batsman. I would like to be an opening batsman right now. One has to only look at the bowling and the field-placing tactics, which are ridiculous. I honestly cannot understand it. If I went out to bat and looked around, there would be no third man and only one person on the leg side. How the hell can one bowl to get teams out under these circumstances? The one hard part of batting is judging the length of the ball. If you judge it right you either go forward or back. What’s happening now? Everyone is going forward!
All the bowlers are trying McGrath’s off stump line, but McGrath was a genius. The hardest line for any bowler to bowl is outside off stump. One tends to swing it away. In the end if you have some good square-cutters, like India’s Gundappa Viswanath, they would have a ball. They would get a million runs.
I think we have to get some good common sense back into the game; some good tactics from captains, always with the intention of making it tough for the batsman, putting pressure on him and getting him out. Test cricket has been dying for 100 plus years. There’s nothing better than a good Test match. The players and the public will tell that. There’s drama and the tension in a tight and close Test match is far greater than what one will ever get in a one-day game.
The other forms are essential, including Twenty20. One has to take a long and hard look at it. It’s going to bring a lot of money to the game. But at the same time, I would hate to think that it’s going to take those players good enough to play Test and one-day cricket out of the game. If someone says I will play Twenty20 and earn a fortune, that would be a sad thing.
Shane Warne has said that there should be no sweeping and rolling of the pitch after a Test match has started?
Well, you won’t get another Shane Warne. You must have spinners who can bowl line and length and vary their spin and flight. That’s enough to put pressure on the batsmen and stop them from getting enough strike. Well it (Warne’s suggestion) is conceding that the bowlers cannot bowl the opposition out. So you are looking to give the bowlers an unfair advantage.
Sachin Tendulkar has suggested that one-day matches be split into “25 overs each for both sides and then 25 overs each again.”
That’s another version of one-day cricket. I don’t think we have to fiddle too much with it, we just have to get the players and the administrators to believe that you win matches by bowling teams out.
When I took over the Australian side, we did not have the world’s greatest side, but we had a bloody good one-day side. Steve Waugh had a variety of slow bowlers. Who bowls slower bowlers at the death now?
Commentators and players are talking about yorkers all the time. What is a yorker? It’s a full toss and a batsman’s mistake really if he gets out. It’s not a ball you can bowl at will. In the end it becomes an overpitched one. We should get back to the big boundary lines. If a batsman wants to hit a six, let him hit it on a proper field. I find the sixes in Twenty20 just as boring as the dot ball. The footwork for all forms of cricket should be similar, just judge the length of the ball properly and you have a shot for every ball.
There’s been a lack of genuine fast bowlers these days?
Well, they are slipping away, too. If you look at the history of the game, there have been very few times when there were great, great fast bowlers. If one looks at the history of Australian cricket, there might have been five or six. So what we have got to do is to ensure that the fast bowlers learn the other skills like swing, change of pace, bowling to tactics, understanding the weakness of the batsmen. It’s playing smart cricket to say quite frankly. Pace is just a natural thing.
Brett Lee has gone down with injury issues…
Brett at one stage bowled 500 overs and everyone said he’s been overbowled. So I looked at some figures and picked up a young lad called Graham McKenzie. He was 19 and on his first tour of England he bowled something like 800 overs. We went back to Australia after playing a full season in England involving 30 matches. The Board in their generosity allowed us to come to India and Pakistan on our way home. We played four Test matches in four weeks. Then after having left in April we got home in October for the home season and left for the West Indies in February. Graham bowled nearly 2000 overs in that period. Now, they are spending too much time on gym work.
What do you think of teams having a large support staff?
I think there’s too much emphasis on support staff. If you have a big support staff they all want time with the team or players individually to ensure that they get good marks for what they are doing. Skills are needed in any sport. If you are playing tennis, you hit tennis balls; if you are playing golf and if you are Tiger Woods, you are hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls.
Well, international teams face so many practice bowlers that the regular bowlers hardly bowl anything in the nets. They may rather go out there in the middle and bowl at the stumps. There are two questions here. The first is, is facing practice bowlers good practice for the batsmen, especially when they are practising against lesser players and the second is, do practice bowlers know how to get batsmen out? That’s just common sense.
Yes, there’s also an over-emphasis on gyms. The fashions and fads have come so much into the game these days. I think we are suffering for neglecting the fundamentals of the game. As long as they are neglected you will not get the results you need. Tiger Woods is basically a simple and technically good golfer. All good sportsmen have been good at the skills of their games and the other things come along with them.
On intense warm-ups before the start of a game… Atherton says it’s silly.
Well, the Australian team would warm up when I was there. We had fun. Crowds used to come to see us practise. We would go through the full routine. Everyday was almost the same thing.
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