Neil D'Costa, known for the years he has spent coaching Michael Clarke as well as for his work with Phil Hughes and Mitchell Starc, gave a barbed little interview to the Sydney Morning Herald last week, pointing out various 'fundamental flaws' in the 'non-negotiable basics' of Australia's top order.
Such is the depth of Australia's trauma, another filleting with the knives of the press barely registered, although D'Costa had a few hurtful zingers in his armoury. Yet this was a piece that could be read another way, too, because it was a story that said something about modern coaching.
We are about to enter the second age of the coach. The professional game is reaching an apex of analysis as science reveals more of the physical realities of batting and bowling. It's not quite golf - yet - but it will be one day. As players become highly-priced freelance contractors, why wouldn't they employ a personal coach to micro-manage each aspect of their game? And why would those coaches not become high-earning mini-celebs in their own right? Golf after all has its swing gurus and its putting specialists, its mind-managers and its conditioning champions.
As in golf, a new language is developing to describe function and form, a mix between management-speak and pop-science. D'Costa's piece is studded with it: he talks about 'kinetic flow' and the 'entry and exit points' of various shots. Yet at heart, this new language is another way of analysing principals that are as old as the game.
D'Costa offers this jargon-heavy paragraph on David Warner: ‘Warner has what in swing mechanics is called a reverse swing. His
weight is distributed as if he’s a right-handed batsman facing the
wicketkeeper. The shoulder facing the bowler is high when, in fact, it
should be lower at the time the ball is released. That would enable
Warner to enter his shots with the correct weight shift and put his nose
over the little toe on his front foot. What I see is Warner’s leaning
back. That allows him to cut easily but, when he comes forward, his
balance is off. Having too much weight leaning back also makes him
susceptible to lbw when the ball is swinging.'
Or as my taciturn former coach Jim Cameron would say: 'lean into the ball' (or 'lean into the f**king ball' - he was Australian) .
D'Costa on Shane Watson: 'Watson has a similar shoulder angle and alignment problem to Warner.
He shifts his weight back when he sets up. Watson is a big build, so
it’s worth comparing him to Kevin Pietersen or Jacques Kallis, who each
get their front shoulders down and stand slightly open at release so
they can lean into the ball, chin-forward.'
Or, get your head over the the ball.
Brad Haddin: ‘You cannot recalibrate your judgment if you move your head and Haddin
moves his head around, both when he’s batting and wicketkeeping. Like
Khawaja, he drops head when batting and keeping, losing milliseconds of
Keep your head still.
Usman Khawaja: 'He breaks rule No.1 – keep your head still. He’s tracking the ball
by dropping his head. After his dismissal in the second innings of the
fourth Test, Nasser Hussain asked ‘How did he miss that?’ The answer is,
he dropped his head before the ball arrived and was looking at the
ground instead of the ball. Until he changes that habit and is able to
track the ball in and out with his head still, the rest doesn’t
Watch the ball.
We're at a juncture, as the late Bob Woolmer pointed out in the title of his majesterial book, of the Art and Science of Cricket. The fundamental principals of the game have been known to every player since the age of Grace. Science is, at the moment, engaged in explaining why the art works. It has value, and as the demands of its formats drive further, richer evolution of its methods, it will have a widening area of study.
But the oldest lessons should always be learned first, and they don't need decorating. Watch the ball. Keep your head still. Hit it when it's under your nose. The song remains the same.
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