It has been a decidedly difficult few weeks for Australian cricket. A confident, aggressive and organised South African unit has handed out tough defeats, leaving the players reeling and the public shocked. Understandably there were changes on and off the field. One that raised a few eyebrows was the appointment of Greg Chappell, the former Australian captain and batting great, as a selector. Chappell was only given the role on an interim basis, but the fact that he was removed as selector five years ago, after the Argus Review suggested exhaustive changes to cricket structures makes his return a talking point. Chappell, whose insight into the bigger picture in cricket is unparalleled, took time off to chat with Cricbuzz.
There was a time when the world looked to Australia for direction when it came to cutting edge coaching, fitness, back-room support. How did that change?
I am not sure it has changed entirely. Trevor Bayliss is Head Coach in England and Michael Divenuto has just left a role with the Australian team to join Surrey while Jason Gillespie has just ended a very successful reign at Yorkshire. Andrew McDonald has come back to coach the Victorian team replacing David Saker who has joined the Australian team after a very successful stint with England. I think we can also lay some claim to the coaching development of Chandika Hathurusingha who left his assistant coach role with NSW to join Bangladesh where he is doing well.
What has changed is that most countries have invested in their own coaches and coaching programs in recent years and that is a good thing. Australia has led the way in sharing knowledge and expertise with anyone who was interested when they could easily have tried to protect their IP. This sharing of knowledge has been good for the game I believe.
Changes in domestic structure take a while to reflect on the national team’s performance. Is there a particular point of time, an event or a change of policy that set this in motion?
Sport is constantly changing so it is important for the domestic structure to be assessed and adjusted accordingly. Australian cricket may not have reacted quickly enough to the changes in domestic cricket as the international game pulled away from it to maintain our competitive advantage at the highest level. Following the Argus Report in 2011, our domestic structures and pathway programs have been overhauled under the guidance of Pat Howard. The changes will take some time to have an effect at the highest level, but they will eventually and I expect time will prove that they have been good changes.
Not too long ago it was near impossible for a batsman to break into the Test XI. The likes of Stuart Law, Martin Love, Jamie Cox … to name a few, scored heavily in domestic cricket but played relatively little or no international cricket. Is it a concern that players aren’t banging on the door to be picked in the recent past?
That is a bit too simplistic. It just happened that we had one of our most successful era’s in the late part of last century and the beginning of this one and it was hard to replace some of the incumbent talent. In my memory we have had downturns in the mid-60’s the mid 80’s and again now. Each time we have had a downturn we have bounced back and produced some of the best teams in our history so I would warn everyone not to get too despondent, or too excited if you are from overseas, about our current situation. I have great confidence in Australian cricket and our ability to bounce back from this lean period. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen!
You saw the rise of the West Indies to a dominant force and their subsequent fall. In the case of Australia’s decline, is it that other teams have lifted their game or that Australia has fallen from their standards of excellence?
It is a bit of both. There is no doubt in my mind that some of our problems were self-inflicted. The end of a great era is often hard to recognise and even more difficult to accept, so we were not agile enough to respond as well as we might have, but who is to say that it is not a bad thing that a system has a good cleansing every now and then?
How much responsibility do administrators need to take for the state of Australian cricket at the moment? And the players?
The game went professional in Australia about 20 years ago, but the administration only really changed significantly 5 years ago. In the intervening period the increase in international playing commitments took the top batsmen and bowlers away from our domestic cricket in a way that impacted domestic cricket severely. This impact was not recognised nearly as quickly as it could have been and it has had the effect of increasing the gap between the domestic and international game. Young batsmen have been affected by this change by not getting the challenges they need domestically before embarking on an international career.
In times of crisis it is sometimes tempting to make drastic changes. Is that what is needed or is being patient more important?
A number of really good changes have been made in Australian cricket in the past 5 years which should go some way to bridging the gap that I have discussed. These changes will kick in shortly as the first of the players coming through the altered pathway burst into senior cricket. Once this happens, Australian cricket will move quickly towards its next successful era.
There’s a school of thought that believes that the way forward for Australian cricket is to embrace new schools of thought rather than look backward. What are your views in this regard?
I believe that we have looked backwards to learn from what has worked in the past and developed strategies and systems that are very forward thinking.
In the recent past there has been a slew of books and columns by players (Clarke, Mitch Johnson, Brett Geeves) that has, in a manner of putting it, aired dirty laundry in public. Is the old adage of what happens in the dressing-room stays in the dressing-room a thing of the past?
For fear of being trite, I think it is a case of it is what it is. Everyone has to do what they think is best with their life at the time. It would be nice if everyone got on with everyone all of the time, but the reality is that they don’t. Personally, I think it is best left in the dressing room, but that is probably a nave point of view.
Taking a step back from Australia, how to do you judge the global game? Is it healthy?
The short answer is yes, but there are plenty of challenges ahead for the game. Can we support three formats at the highest level and, if we do, how does that impact on each format and the game generally? The game is going through one of the great periods of change in its history and how we react to the challenges will be important for how the game goes forward. It is obvious to many that Test cricket is not capturing the imagination of young people so does that mean we throw our hands up or try to find solutions? James Sutherland and CA have been a big proponent for Day/Night Tests and they are now being trialled in a number of places around the world. That on its own will not be enough in my view. I think we need a Test championship to add some meaning to each domestic series and we probably need to have an international schedule that recognises individual country’s needs, but has a big-picture view of the game worldwide or we could see some countries fall by the wayside. That would not be good for the game for no one country can play in a vacuum. We are all in this together and need to work together in everyone’s best interests.
(This interview first appeared on Cricbuzz on November 25, 2016)