Greg Chappell

The new era benefits from a natural advantage

As much as M.S. Dhoni hosed down talk of revenge in the 4-0 win for India over Australia, he will be aware that there was an element of revenge in it, but he will also be aware of the much bigger meaning embedded in the victory.

India was better in all departments than Australia during the series, although the part that will please Dhoni most of all is that the win heralded the breakthrough of the next batting generation.

The passing of the golden era of Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Ganguly and Tendulkar has worried Indian fans for some time. As recently as last year, pundits were saying their replacements were not readily obvious.

Now, less than 12 months later, we have witnessed the re-launch of another batting line-up to rival the famous five.

Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara and Kohli all looked to be players of class as they flayed the hapless Australian attack to all parts of the stadia.

When Tendulkar retires, exciting youngsters like Rahane and Unmukt Chand will come into the calculations. As they establish themselves at the highest level, India will, once again, have a batting order that is the envy of the cricket world.

Class batsmen

The fact that the series was played in India in conditions more familiar to the home team was significant, but the biggest difference was that India had an array of batsmen who oozed class. For Australia, only Clarke appeared to be capable of playing an innings of similar quality.

Whether this new-look Indian cast can reach the heights of the aforementioned group only time will tell. And whether they can translate their sublime skills on the different types of pitches found overseas God only knows, but one has to assume that some of them will step up.

Kohli has already made runs in Australia and Pujara looks to be a replica of Laxman, who played some of his best innings away from the sub-continent. Dhawan showed on debut that life after Sehwag does not have to be dreary. His consummate dismantling of the Australian attack was as good as any debut innings in my memory.

Australia, on the other hand, is finding it difficult to replace the loss to their line-up of the quality of Ponting, Hussey, Hayden and Gilchrist, some of whom have been gone for a few years now.

The population difference may be part of the reason India has handled the transition better, although I believe it is a much broader issue that could leave a number of countries, including Australia, in their wake for some time.

The developed cricket countries have lost the natural environments that were a big part of their development structure in bygone eras. In these environments, young cricketers learnt from watching good players and then emulating them in pick-up matches with family and friends.

Usually, any instruction that was received was rudimentary while interference from adults was minimal.

In these unstructured settings, players developed a natural style while learning to compete against older players during which they learned critical coping and survival skills.

Good example

Dhoni is a good example of a batsman who has come up in this fashion. By competing against more experienced individuals on a variety of surfaces early in the development phase, Dhoni developed his decision-making and strategic skills that have set him apart from many of his peers.

The danger for India is that, because they have almost unlimited funds, they will be lulled into following their more developed counterparts in thinking that by creating academies, they will develop better cricketers. Academies are finishing schools; they do not produce the creative thinkers that become the next champions.

India will be better served if, once they have built the state-of-the-art stadia that they need, they provide spaces for young kids to be able to meet other like-minded individuals to explore their own talents without too much interference from adults.

Educational researcher Sugata Mitra has proposed that learning in the future should include building schools in the cloud where, with minimal input from adults, children will teach themselves. As he described his ‘self-organised learning environments’, I was reminded of how we used to learn cricket in Australia and how they still do in many parts of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In the developed countries, the structured environments with highly intrusive coaching methods that have replaced those creative learning environments, have reduced batting to an exercise in trying to perfect the imperfectible. This has meant that batting skills have deteriorated to the point where modern players really struggle to survive, let alone make runs, when the pitch is other than a flat road where the odds are overwhelmingly in the batsman’s favour.

If I had my way, I would change the education of coaches from training them to be the font of all wisdom to becoming managers of a creative learning environment in which young cricketers learn the game with minimal invasion from adults.

I can hear those that believe that batting is all about technique asking how these ‘free-range’ cricketers will become technically adept. All I can say is that for the first 100 years of Test cricket that is how the very best were bred.

I am a believer in the Bradman view, that he espoused so forcefully in his wonderful book — The Art of Cricket — nearly 60 years ago in which he said, ‘I would prefer to tell a young player what to do than how to do it’.

Unless the developed countries adopt this method, I fear that those countries that have it, and maintain it into the future, will have an unbeatable advantage on the international stage.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:47:01 AM |

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