Captains and coaches have a big role to play in creating the right environment
What attracted me to team sports was the opportunity to work with a group of teammates towards achieving a common goal. The feeling of satisfaction that I felt when the team goal was achieved was very different from that which I experienced when I attained a personal milestone.
Apart from the fact that you have others with whom you can share the celebration, it also makes one feel part of something that is much bigger than oneself.
When I look back on my cricket career, the memories that are the strongest are those that were shared with others. I remember the victories that were achieved against the odds and the frustrating losses that were usually the culmination of days and weeks of hard work.
The difference between winning and losing was often as simple as which team wanted it the most and which team was prepared to sacrifice its personal goals for the greater good of the whole. Unselfish acts of courage and commitment were often the difference between winning and losing.
Talent was important, but the most important ingredient in team success was the commitment to work through the tough times together to achieve the required result. Often, when one was flagging, the knowledge that your team was counting on you was enough to drive yourself for a bit longer rather than succumb to the demands of the situation.
Team work comes in many guises. It is most easily seen in the effort on the field, but the selfless act of staying behind after training to help teammates work on their game or a kind word to one who has had a tough day, or is feeling the pressure, can be what inspires their next game-changing performance.
Captains and coaches have a big role to play in creating the right environment for talent to shine through. I think good coaching has less to do with helping a player technically than it does with creating an environment in which the players challenge and encourage each other to get better.
Team rules and team values are an important part of creating an environment for success. Players need to know what the parameters are in relation to behaviour and commitment and the rules have to apply to everyone in the group.
Different skill sets, personalities and temperaments are an important part of building a successful team, but selfishness and poor attitude can eat away at the team fabric very quickly if they go on unchecked.
Reading between the lines, I get the impression that the failed homework assignment was not enough on its own to cause Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke to suspend the four Australian players this week, but it was a symptom of a wider problem that they felt they had to deal with sooner rather than later.
One can argue that things should have been done differently, in days gone by it would have been handled man to man over a beer, but the world has changed so one has to assume that previous warnings or exhortations went unheeded. In that case the only recourse was to use selection as the blunt instrument to get the message across.
To turn this tour around, the Australians will have to focus on a simple game plan that is underpinned by a whole-hearted team commitment. They will be hoping that this decision will clear the decks for this to happen.
Cricket tours are not a place for the weak and faint-hearted. They are long and arduous for one is removed from ones usual support structures and away from loved ones for weeks and months at a time. Even when one is playing at ‘home’ it can mean being away from your home town for weeks at a time.
Not many sports expect their players to live such an unreal existence that places inordinate strains on individuals like cricket does. Batting especially, requires one to deal with a high percentage of failure that can eat away at self-confidence very quickly if one is not robust and well supported. It is easy to become distracted if all is not well in your own world.
This is compounded when the team is not doing well. It is in these situations that everyone needs to pull together and remain focused. If players become self-absorbed and focused on self-survival a tour can disintegrate very quickly.
The Australian team management has ‘drawn a line in the sand’ in the hope that it can right the listing ship so that the last two Tests don’t become a killing ground that destroys its structure and confidence before the Ashes challenges that lie ahead.
It is a bold move that will only be able to be judged with the benefit of hindsight, but if the tough decision hadn’t been taken, things may have got a lot worse before they got better.