Off the field in Sri Lanka, there has been a spirit of co-operation that is robbing the cricket world of half its secrets in the best possible manner
In the ICC World Twenty20, no quarter is asked for and none given. The format and scheduling have shown that you could be sent packing from the tournament with just one bad day. In the case of Zimbabwe, their entire tournament lasted three days, and they were on the way back home before five of the 12 teams had even played their first game of the tournament.
In Group D – half humourously referred to as the Group of Death – New Zealand find themselves in the Super Eights with one win and two points, while Pakistan, who have achieved the same, still need to beat Bangladesh to get through. One slip up, and one of the most dangerous teams of the tournament could be sent packing.
While the action on the field has been brutal – nowhere more apparent than in India’s comprehensive thrashing of England at the R Premadasa Stadium – off the field, there has been a spirit of co-operation that is robbing the cricket world of half its secrets, in the best possible manner. This is, of course, happening through the coaching and support staff of various teams, who have often slipped seamlessly from the home camp to the ‘enemy’ camp, taking with them immense knowledge of players.
This was most apparent on Monday at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, when Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner and the man who made the doosra famous, was in Bangladesh’s corner, speaking to their batsmen about how to pick the spin of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi.
“Of course, it’s a big boost for us to have Saqlain Mushtaq with us,” admitted Mushfiqur Rahim, on the work his team’s bowling coach was doing. “He is telling us how to read Ajmal, Afridi, (Umar) Gul and (Mohammad) Hafeez. But the application of it will depend on us. If we can do that, it’ll be an interesting game tomorrow.”
Saqlain is far from unique in this regard. In the opposite dressing-room, Dav Whatmore, who is now coaching Pakistan, spent four years coaching Bangladesh, knows each of Mushfiqur’s players inside out. While Pakistan’s bowling attack may not need the inside information, it won’t hurt to have knowledge of specific weaknesses and strengths of individual batsmen.
Away from Pallekele, there are several other coaches and support staff who have travelled far and wide in a bid to spread the cricketing gospel. Duncan Fletcher, who now coaches India, was spotted warmly shaking Nasser Hussain’s hand ahead of England’s match against India. After all, Hussain and Fletcher had worked together with England. Add to this the fact that Fletcher was South Africa’s batting consultant, and you have a man in the Indian dressing-room who has intimate knowledge about two of India’s biggest opponents.
If India benefit from having Fletcher in-house, the playing field was levelled with the departure of Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton after their successful campaign in the ICC World Cup 2011. While Gary spent hours helping batsmen deal with the recurring technical challenges that the world game throws up, Upton was in charge of the mental aspects of India’s preparation and play. While there are naturally things that will stay confidential, despite Kirsten now being South Africa’s head coach and Upton the country’s high performance manager, the insight the two have on India’s players is undeniable, given that they lived, travelled and roomed with them for three intense years.
The list is longer and includes Graham Ford (South Africa to Sri Lanka), Allan Donald (England to South Africa), Mickey Arthur (South Africa to Australia), Ottis Gibson (England to West Indies), Steve Rixon (New Zealand to Australia) and Trevor Penney (Sri Lanka to India).
The beauty of this is that even this situation won’t remain for long. If you looked at this list a couple of years down the road, the soundtrack of cricket would have played out longer, and very few would be in the same place in this game of coaching musical chairs.