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American influence on Aussie cricket

Potchefstroom: The name Mike Young might not strike an instant chord with cricket fans, but the American baseball coach is helping mastermind Australia’s World Cup defence.

Young is working with Ricky Ponting’s squad as their throwing and fielding consultant and his inclusion in the touring party is an example of Australia’s willingness to look beyond cricket in a bid to improve. After a career playing and coaching baseball, Young is happy to admit he has not got a complete grasp of cricket, but that is not his brief.

“I just say to the players I’m not here to tell them how to play cricket,” he said Friday. “I am here to throw up alternatives, other options for them to think about coming from a perspective away from the way things have always been done.”

Young’s influence can be seen in relay throws from the deep and players tracking each other to the boundary, both moves designed to ensure the ball is returned as quickly as possible. Young’s work also ranges from basics like how players throw the ball to how they look to restrict runs.

“We have set-plays in the field that we will be using in the coming month and they will get players out,” he said. “We are also working on how the players actually throw the ball to keep it down as flat as possible and developing the principle that you field with your feet not your hands.

“By that I mean the way you get into position to field the ball, working on angles to cut the ball off. The phrase is ‘angles, balance, see your target.’ We are looking to field aggressively, we are trying for run-outs and that excites me.”

Young never made the big time as a baseball player in the United States — the closest he got was attending spring training with the San Francisco Giants — but he played and coached in The Netherlands and Italy and managed the Australian team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

His introduction to cricket came in 1981 when he arrived in Queensland to take up a job. “When I got to Australia there was some cricket on the television,” he said. “The people I was with said the match finished on Wednesday and I couldn’t believe it as it was only Monday at the time.

“I was pretty confused, so I asked who was going to win and they said it would probably be a draw. All that time and a draw'”

Young’s inclusion in the Australia coaching set-up is down to coach John Buchanan, who first introduced him to the squad at a pre-season camp in 2000. “John has been the best thing to happen to cricket for a long time as he is willing to go outside the traditional boundaries of the game to seek input,” said Young.

“John, Steve (Waugh), Ricky (Ponting) and all the players have been great, asking questions and also willing to listen to me. They are elite athletes but they have really impressed me with the way they are willing to try new things.”

Young also believes the skills of some of the squad could transfer into the baseball arena. “There are guys in this team that could play in the big league,” he said. “Matthew Hayden with his size and talent and Ricky Ponting too. You rarely see it because he is in close all the time but when we do catching he has got a brilliant arm.”

For now though Young is focussing on the World Cup. “I turned down a job in professional baseball to be here and it is an honour to be involved with Australia in the biggest thing in the game,” he said.

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