Cricket has been modernized from being a talent-driven sport to one that now takes cognizance of technology, psychology, endurance and technical superiority. The support staff (manager, coach) must now be equipped to confront the challenges of the opposition with precision and must do their research in order to achieve consistent positive results. Additionally, the players are required to pay keen attention to their work ethic, mental approach, knowledge of their environment, the opposition and their rapport in the dressing room.
Australian Greg Chappell in his autobiography Fierce Focus described how his dressing room encounters were counterproductive when he was coach of India’s national team, since there were different status tiers at team meetings. He concluded that the meetings should be separated into senior, intermediate and junior, since the junior players were afraid to speak in front of the seniors or challenge their points.
This kind of thing exists even in the local cricketing system in Guyana. In fact in many cases the junior players are not confident enough to make contributions because they feel insecure or believe they are now establishing themselves, while the seniors dominate the meetings and can take a particular angle without the challenge of sufficient reasoning.
There are other cases where the senior players cannot express themselves and do not speak at all during team meetings. I recall when I first made the senior inter-county team as a teenager for Essequibo in 1995, and when I was called upon to speak, I did. However, the two most senior members and the best batsmen were uncomfortable and did not contribute to the meeting at a time when I was looking for guidance and inspiration from them.
Generally though, I have found that players rely heavily on the technical staff and in particular the coach to solve most of the problems, instead of there being a collaborative effort. This would require the confidence of the team to be at the optimum level, and all the players given support to express themselves without fear or intimidation from the hierarchy. Separating the different status groups as revealed by Gregg Chappell perhaps contributed to his short and contentious tenure as India’s coach. Both seniors and juniors would take the field seeking the same result but not with a common goal or sharing the same concept of what is to be achieved.
Team meetings should be held in an atmosphere of inclusivity, mutual respect and appreciation for differing views, and the contribution of a centurion should stand equal scrutiny with that of the scoreless. I admired the boldness of England’s coach Andy Flower admitting that it was a mistake to omit spinner Monty Panesar from the first Test against India given his heroics in the second Test that England won. I wonder however whether the views of junior players about the nature of the pitch were given due consideration in determining the eventual composition of the team by the seniors.
Perhaps he was admitting that England’s team meetings would have to look for the consensus of the entire team instead of the opinions of a few. It is always the better option to choose consensus in team building.