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Padding up as a team manager in the Big Bash

Date: January 19 2014


Geoff Lawson

While the national team continues to have spectacular success on the international stage against an English team that has made losing a habit several lane-dwellers in Kings Cross would be proud of, the summer holidays have been constructed around the franchise-based Big Bash.

The healthy attendances and millions of television watchers have assured the ''business'' success of version 3.0, but the vigour of the players has been the principal ingredient that makes the multi-coloured circus a genuine entertainment.

Among my various roles in NSW cricket, I have assumed the position of team manager and assistant coach of the Sydney Sixers.

Managing a team of young cricketers is not as difficult as it may seem, especially if you have formed an opinion about the combination of youth and athleticism while watching the Australian Open tennis or a football code. For a start the body-ink quotient is way below the national average for sportspeople and ''piercings'' relate almost exclusively to what happens to the gap between point and cover when Steve Smith is in full flow.

You may call me old-school (and the players show little reluctance in shying away from that epithet) but cricket is still a game played by the more conservative of our people.

Even in Twenty20, players have time to think their way through actions and make decisions without spontaneity. ''Which ball will I bowl, where and how, and to what field placement? Which stroke am I likely to play against the next ball?'' Then there is half a second to sort it out.

The BBL competition format is not as hectic as the Indian Premier League with its 10 teams and a match every few days. Once the IPL train gets rolling there is no stopping it as it barrels its way around a nation of 1.4 billion born cricket tragics.

When I was coaching the now defunct Kochi Tuskers, we sometimes found ourselves sleeping on the floor in the transit lounge at Mumbai airport waiting for the onward connection. There is nothing quite like the sight of a player being paid almost $2 million for six weeks of work curled up in a corner next to a garbage bin with his head on his backpack to remind one of the glamour of professional sport.

The Bash is an eight-game regular season and there can be a week between games. Players in their home states can have valuable rest in familiar surroundings, whereas interstate or international players may find themselves in a hotel or apartment and often at a loose end, looking forward to practice sessions for excitement outside of game day.

Bored players tend to eat too much and watch television, as most are of an age where reading a book or hitting the tourist spots is not particularly inviting. This is when they ring the manager and ask what they can do. When the manager replies that they should read a cricket biography and recommends some fascinating museums to visit, they end up stating that a new version of Angry Birds has just been downloaded.

The manager has some paperwork duties on match day but the main pain in the backside is collecting the telephones and tablets of everyone who will be in the dressing room. This is done for anti-corruption reasons, ostensibly so that top-secret information cannot be divulged to an outside source who may then use that knowledge for advantage. In Australia we have an especially diligent group of anti-corruption officers and that is a good thing.

A list is compiled with the owner and number of each device and this must be filled in and signed. The phones are then locked away for the duration of the match.

The problem is that the players and staff arrive at different times. Some will be in at 4.30pm for a 7.30pm start as they will be doing extra work. Batsmen feel they must hit several thousand balls each day to remain in top form. So far this season not one bowler has asked to do extra work in the nets before a game. This is a clear indication of bowlers being the more intelligent of the cricket species.

The anti-corruption man generally asks a dozen times, starting about 4pm, if the device list is complete, even though half the team might not be at the ground. Until this task is complete, I don't get to do much of my other job, which involves assisting player preparation.

The Sixers coaching staff are experienced and one of the keys to being successful at this game is to have a knowledgeable captain and senior players. Those who know what they need to be ideally prepared make coaches' lives much smoother.

Team lists are created and copies made to go to the media and match officials, then the skipper takes his master list to the toss. The players interrupt their warm-up to wait on the outcome of the toss and preparation then changes depending on the call.

Game time is spent in a nervous funk as players prove to be human and don't do things perfectly, like we used to do in the olden days. I would much rather play the game than watch it and second-guessing players is a healthy pursuit for coaching staff in any case.

Win, lose or tie, there will be debrief - brief being key. It will be a simple analysis of what could be done better and if decisions made were in keeping with the infamous ''game plan''.

When the dust has settled, the rush of winning or the halt of losing dissipates, a few cold refreshments are served and players relax around the rooms talking cricket and the opposition wanders the cricket pitch length of the members bar to join the foe, now friends.

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