Calcutta, June 28: A quiet word can often make the difference. Yet, if one goes by a John Buchanan example, a hug too may dramatically recast the canvas.
Justin Langer will confirm that.
“Actually, Justin was having a poor Ashes tour (2001) and we had almost come to its end... It’s not that he wasn’t trying, but the harder he tried, the more he didn’t succeed… His one last chance was the final County game before the last Test (The Oval). As it turned out, Justin failed yet again.
“It’s then that I decided to have a word and, on returning to the hotel, both of us and the vice-captain (Adam Gilchrist) headed for the bar. We were there till around midnight, with Justin doing the talking… He came out with everything: The disappointment, pain… He was hurt that we hadn’t backed him at the start of the series…
“As we left for our rooms, I hugged Justin… Fortunately, nobody saw us or, else, there could have been a big story! Clearly, he felt better and so did I. Again, spontaneously, I asked whether he still had it in him to deliver. ‘Just give me the chance,’ was Justin’s response, this time with a smile.
“The rest, as they say, is history. He scored an unbeaten 102 before retiring hurt and hasn’t looked back since… Frankly, I ought to have spoken to Justin much earlier, I should have communicated better… It was, for me, a lesson,” acknowledged numero uno coach Buchanan, during his fascinating (HSBC-arranged) talk on ‘Managing Champion Teams’ here last night.
[Incidentally, in the 22 Tests after that, opener Langer has averaged just a shade below 60, recording eight hundreds and six fifties. This superb run has taken his career average to a handsome 45-plus.]
Man-management, however, is only part of the business of managing a team — champion or otherwise. The brief includes creating an “aura” for which the internal player-analysis (“personality types”) comes in handy.
Buchanan revealed that Team Australia was determined to “create a real presence” on landing in South Africa for this year’s World Cup. Reinforcing that “real presence” was step No. 2.
Still, according to Buchanan, retaining cricket’s most coveted trophy isn’t anything more than “setting up base camp No. 1 on way to Everest.”
Later, interacting with The Telegraph, Buchanan grinned and confessed he “didn’t quite know” cricket’s equivalent of conquering Everest. “Can’t say, don’t know,” he insisted.
Amazing, coming from somebody who has watched his wards smash both Test and one-day records with such contempt.
But, then, Buchanan believes in never getting satisfied… In constantly raising the bar… Believes in there being “no limit” to achievement…
“It’s a one-ball game and, so, the right decisions must constantly be made… The coach merely helps in reaching those decisions… It should, of course, come to a stage where he becomes redundant… He must challenge the players to think and, essentially, each one of them should become his own best coach,” Buchanan opined.
An unusual line of thought, yes, but it’s difficult imagining Buchanan to be predictable. Indeed, he must already have begun plotting to unleash something different in 2003-2004.