Not a fan of flair, like to see good skill: Ric Charlesworth
Charlesworth has also played a fair amount of cricket for Western Australia.
In the backyard of their posh Perth villa, for several months now, two school-children are getting the undivided, 24×7 attention from one of the world’s brightest sporting brain. Ric Charlesworth, after being miracle coach, is now a full-time doting dad.
Born to a dentist couple not far from his present abode, the 63-year-old has a dental appointment in an hour’s time. Sitting on the front porch for 60 minutes with Charlesworth, among kit bags with small size pads and colourful cycles, means time flies. It’s about hearing extempore observations that can make any sporting vision document sparkle and some casual observations about the World Cup.
The other day, Charlesworth watched the Australia-New Zealand game with his kids, and like most sports-mad families, the father and sons discussed what could or should be done in those tense final moments of the game. Early indicators, according to the man who worked as the high-performance manager of New Zealand cricket and was just a nod away from being national cricket coach after John Buchanan quit, shows that Australia could be the team this time. New Zealand, he thinks, are a few batsmen short. India will be serious contenders, if they don’t do something silly. “Like?,”
“In the first Test of the series last year at Adelaide, they didn’t play Ashwin. Explain that to me. An off-spinner won the game for Australia, Ashwin is a good bowler I think. Why this stuff happens. These things are puzzling.” he says.
Actually, cricket in general baffles him. “Cricket is pretty primitive,” he says in a dismissive tone. Anything but a conformist, Charlesworth doesn’t understand cricket’s love for status quo. “Take a batting order for instance, why is it such a sacrosanct thing. Batting is batting, you go in first or fifth. When we started inter-change in hockey people had to struggle, now when they on-and-off they don’t even think about it, it’s because they have learnt new skills.”
He brings in baseball to expose cricket’s inadequacies. “That’s what they do in baseball, they’ve had pinch hitters for 100 years.” Charlesworth is amused about cricket’s reluctance to place itself under microscope. “They don’t keep statistics on fielding. They have been doing that for baseball for 100 years. How many times a guy has fumbled, how well does he throw, who hits the wicket most times. They don’t even differentiate between an outfield and a slip catch or a running, stationary, diving catch. All these are different, they bunch them together.”
When with Cricket New Zealand, he pushed for a Fielder of the Year award. “John Buchanan was criticized in this country because he was too much into statistics but before that coaching was done by anecdotes. You actually wanted to know how well does this batsman play the short ball, how often does he get out to the swinging ball, you wanted to objectively know what happened. And that’s why we keep statistics because we want to know what exactly happened. Cricket lends itself to that and we owe it that.”
It’s clear that the five-time Olympian loved his life as the centre-half more than his role as opener playing first-class cricket. He preferred the hustle and bustle of the crowded mid-field, the challenge to send a through-ball on spotting an overlapping forward, falling back to sabotage a counter over the solitary battle to face the new ball.
“Hockey is much more dynamic, faster and the game is over in an hour and a half. You don’t have all the time for pondering. It’s not even like rugby and soccer where the game stops all the time. In cricket when the two batsmen are out batting what’s the captain doing sitting in the pavilion. When the bowler is at the end of his mark and he is coming in to bowl then he is in-charge and he knows what field he has and he has a particular strategy.”
Hockey, he says, made its poachers turn into part-time tacklers and vice-versa. This made them tough, multi-skilled and non-differentiable. He sees a time when cricket too will take the hockey path. Future teams will be full of all-rounders. Till that day dawns, Charlesworth will remain flummoxed by cricket and cricketers.
“Steve Smith got selected to the Australian team as a leg spinner that means he can still be a very good leg spinner. Wonder why he doesn’t spend much time on it. You know there is nothing that says that you just have to be a batsman.” Charlesworth is in the habit of saying ‘you understand’ every time he mentions a radical thought. Maybe, for a reason. Despite the clarity of the modern coach’s pragmatic ideas, those stuck-up traditionalists haven’t budged.
“Why they (administrators) want fidelity? In some way what the international federations want is, they want unpredictability, they want upsets, so in some ways it is counter-intuitive to the coaches who want quality. I don’t want to win the world cup 1-0 in extra time I want it 5-0; that is real quality performance,” he says.
Like Australia’s 6-1 drubbing of The Netherlands in the hockey World Cup, a result that would place coaches in a better position with administrators to sign new and more financially rewarding contracts. But for the coach with a difference, it was the ‘final full stop to coaching”. “I could have gone to the Commonwealth Games but that would have been self-indulgent. Why shouldn’t my assistant coaches take over, isn’t it good for them? I thought about it during the tournament, I was just about exhausted by it. I have two children at school and I want to spend time with them.”
On the India connection
I opened the batting against India when they were at Perth in the 70s to play Western Australia. I can’t remember who their opening bowlers were because they were not significant. You had Prasanna, Bedi, Venkat and Chandrashekhar …. They had four very good spin bowlers. I got out to Prasana, I was on 95, trying to sweep and top edge. That was India, they had spin bowling but they didn’t have anything else. Now they have much better pace bowlers, their batsmen are much better in playing pace bowling. Indians are more athletic and that’s the influence of the one-day game. Their running between the wickets is better, their fielding is better. These are the areas where India has made fair bit of progress. And now they have a couple of fast bowlers who bowl 140 kph so they have a pretty good balanced team.
On not being a big fan of flair
I am not a fan of flair. I like to see good skill. Flair is what we call superior practice skill. When you see someone, you know that he has practiced it. He has done the same thing before. So I just see it as an expression of superior skill not as anything else. You should have the chutzpah to do it. Shot that Williamson played to win the match (against Australia). It is a brave shot but it is also beautiful skill. The execution. Virat Kohli can play all the shots, putting them in context, I don’t think that is playing with flair, he does that because he has practiced them. He has spent a lifetime getting brilliant at them. Was Murali a bowler with flair, no he had variety and he could do it very well. The best thing about Warne’s bowling was his accuracy. That allowed him to do all the other things.
On joking with Sardar Singh once that he should play for Australia.
Of course, not. But if you ask me if Sardar was born in Australia would you select him, I would say, “of course.”
On being called a miracle-man
I think people get carried away. Coaches get too much credit when their team does well and get too much blame when the team doesn’t do well. When at the end it is the players who make all the critical judgements. Coaches’ role is to prepare them for that. The very best players still need coaching. They still slip into errors. They make mistakes, their technique varies they need looking at and direction. Everybody needs it. If you think you don’t, it’s time to finish.
Source:: Indian Express