Caught out

first_imgAfter a decade of mismanagement and low morale for England’s cricket team,the ECB has turned to HR for inspirationNothing symbolises the eternal appeal of the “cult of the amateur”to the English psyche more than the England cricket team. England’s Testvictory last month over South Africa just failed to enable them to swap placeswith Zimbabwe and become only the second worst team in the world.Many explanations have been given for this national disaster. Some say we’rejust not very good at the moment, others point to alleged structural changes inBritish society – like a reduced emphasis on competitive sport in schools –while one chairmen of the selectors even suggested it had something to do withthe movement of the planets. The belief that we are just picking the wrongteam, once a popular point of view in the nation’s pubs, now has feweradherents than the Flat Earth Society. But there is a much simpler explanation which says that the men who have runthe game for most of the last decade have presided over a massive mismanagementof the human resources at their disposal. Not all England cricketers are lionsbut they have, at least until fairly recently, been managed by donkeys. Poor directionIn 1995, cricket-mad City manager Patrick Whittingdale ended hismulti-million sponsorship deal of England cricket in protest at the treatmentof England’s Test cricketers and the insularity of the game’s administrators. “They have no idea how to treat people. The mental side of cricket ismuch bigger than most realise. It is essential that players should be allowedto meld together as a team and that when a batsman goes out he knows what thegame-plan is and long-distance criticism of players through the media is verybad management,” he raged. Indeed, management of England’s cricketers in this decade of decline hasbeen so inconsistent, perverse, and downright stupid that if you collected allthe mistakes together in a book you would have a new strain of businessbestseller called How To Make The Least Of Your Human Resources.The days of the “gin-slinging dodderers” (to borrow Ian Botham’sfamous phrase) being in charge do seem to be over with the arrival of new,professional management under former Tesco boss Lord MacLaurin. Many things have changed for the better: the old Test and County CricketBoard has been replaced by a new sleek England Cricket Board, women havefinally been admitted to the MCC and the ECB has campaigned firmly and publiclyagainst racism in the sport. Players also usually get a call from the newchairman of selectors David Graveney to let them know if they have beenselected for a Test. Only a few years ago it was not unheard of for players tofind this out through the media.Yet there are equally disturbing signs that, in Douglas Adams’ trite oldwords, the more things change the more they stay the same. At a tribunalhearing, the ECB chief executive Tim Lamb was accused of trying to persuade afemale employee to have an abortion and was quoted as describing the entry ofwomen into the MCC as “We need some good dykes to get some lotteryfunding”. And what the ECB promised would be “cricket’s greatest carnival” –the World Cup – lost some of its sheen when the event’s celebritous promoterAnneka Rice described cricket as a “dodgy sport” and England werebundled out in the first round. The early exit may not be entirely unconnected to the fact that with lessthan three weeks to go before the event started, the England players were indispute with their employers.”The original issue was money,” says cricket journalist ScyldBerry. “Some of the players thought the initial minimum guarantee of£3,750 for five weeks was derisory but it soon broadened into a clash ofculture. When the World Cup schedule arrived, one of the more emotional membersof the England party was so incensed by its militaristic nature that he tore itup.” The arrival of former major general Simon Pack as director of England toursmay not have helped matters: his insistence that players needed permission tosee their families revived memories of bans on wives and girlfriends onprevious tours.Pack was also involved in finding a replacement for David Lloyd as Englandcoach. His trip to South Africa to see Bob Woolmer suggested to the media thathe was the ECB’s first choice, a leak which became embarrassing when he turnedit down. They then turned to Duncan Fletcher who had, ironically, lost out toWoolmer for the position of South African coach a few years ago.Fletcher and his skipper Nasser Hussain seem to be forming an effectivepartnership but there are continued leaks over the discussions of the selectioncommittee which consists of Graveney, Hussain and Fletcher. The decision todrop batsman Mark Ramprakash for this winter’s tour of South Africa is thoughtto have been taken against Hussain’s wishes. Indeed, former captain MikeAtherton told The Sunday Telegraph “What Nasser will not say as captain isthat we have got only three experienced batsmen in our team.” As it isEngland’s batting which has conspicuously let them down and as MacLaurin isbelieved to have been responsible for Ramprakash being dropped – even though,technically, he is not a member of the selection committee – the finger ofresponsibility points clearly at the ECB chairman. The Ramprakash affair becameeven more puzzling to the outsider when he was, belatedly, called up to coverfor injuries, told to keep his temper under control and informed he might endup going back to England as soon as the other batsman got back to matchfitness.Hiring and firing is always one of the most contentious issues in HR but itis even more contentious in sport, when these decisions are high profile, andparticularly in cricket where the criteria by which a player may be picked ordropped are even more subjective than in, say, football. Theoretically, the vital statistics for a batsman (the average runs a playerscores before they get out) and for a bowler (the number of wickets they takeand the number of runs they concede on average for each wicket) should be aneasy-to-use and reliable guide to performance. Yet history shows that theplayers who top these performance charts are not always selected for England.Good practice would suggest that these decisions are explained quickly andclearly to those involved, something that is beginning to happen under the newregime, and that the players/employees should be given scope to air theirviews.Former Warwickshire captain Dermot Reeve, in his autobiography Winning Ways,describes a very different scenario. Before the 1996 World Cup, the thencaptain Mike Atherton told Reeve he doubted he would be selected because of hisfielding and fitness. Reeve argued that he was fielding out of position andpointed out that he had won the fitness contest between the players. A few dayslater, he was told he would not be going because of his fielding and fitness.He was then called up to cover for an injured player.Confidence dive It is equally good practice to try and keep morale among employees as highas possible, an aim which doesn’t quite square with previous Englandmanagement’s predilection for slagging off their players in the press. To befair to the ECB and the TCCB they have not been afraid to bring coaches in tohelp morale whether they be a parson, a former England captain (Mike Brearleywho is now a psychotherapist) or a technical adviser like Geoffrey Boycott. These appointments have not, however, always been handled tactfully. WhileBoycott was coaching individual players on their technique, he was also allowedto act as a media pundit where one of his jobs was to analyse players’performances. Ian Botham insists that Boycott’s diagnosis of the flaws inEngland’s batting was of immense use to New Zealand. This may or may not betrue but Boycott should have been forced to give up one of those roles fasterthan you can say “conflict of interest”.Changes in management have been too frequent for comfort. Since 1992,English cricket has had three chairmen of selectors (Ted Dexter, RayIllingworth and David Graveney), five coaches (Micky Stewart, Keith Fletcher,Ray Illingworth, David Lloyd and Duncan Fletcher) and four captains (GrahamGooch, Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain). There is nothing likecontinuity among senior personnel to settle the rank and file, and frankly thisis nothing like it.If one thing destroys employees’ morale swiftly it is talk of redundancy,and England’s cricketers know that they can be dropped even if they do well.Bowler Andrew Caddick must have thought he had cemented his England place in1993 when he finished a tour of West Indies as his side’s top wicket taker, buthe was dropped because he was “difficult”. Sometimes, the criteriaapplied to the make-up of the England team seem to be even more obscure andabstruse than those used to choose the next Pope. This may explain why Englandhave used 86 players in 106 Tests over the last decade, whereas Australia – thereigning world champions – have used only 41.This is probably the most damning statistic which can be thrown at the menwho have run this sport over the last decade. But here, at least, is personnelmanager Lesley Cook’s first real contact with the nitty gritty of the waycricketers are managed in the 18 months she’s been at the ECB. Previously,almost all of her time has been devoted to managing HR for the ECB’s 90 or sostaff. While Cook, as she charmingly admits, has had too much “mediatraining” to comment on this she does say “Simon Pack is discussingthe fine detail of these contracts with the players in south Africa now.”She refuses to elaborate on the substance of the contracts, but TheTelegraph reports that they will be awarded to eight Test players and eightspecialists in one-day internationals. Up to 80 per cent of their salary couldbe paid by the ECB, according to this report, and senior players could earn asmuch as £50,000. Other players who play for England will be paid a fee for eachgame. Hodgson says, “I don’t think this will create two classes of Englandplayers.” In some ways, this is a logical extension of the system underwhich the ECB employs players for winter tours but it should, at least, ensurethat those 16 players feel they have the confidence of their employer. Thisalso represents a serious investment by the ECB. Lord MacLaurin estimates itwill cost £1m a season.Such moves can only help as, in the long term, will the £10m donated tograssroots cricket in the last four years. The challenge for next season mustbe to get behind the employees/players as even MacLaurin’s worst critics admitEnglish cricket is on a very slight upswing.There is also more that can be done behind the scenes to improve England’sperformance. Reeve has been especially critical of the previous management’sfailure to give players a clear team plan, analyse the opposition and even usea technology as established as video to address specific issues pointing outthat “Bob Woolmer used video to help the South African players make fewermovements when they caught and threw the ball”. On one famous tour, Reeverecalls, the England batsmen agreed to try a new approach in the nets only tofind that they didn’t have enough cricket balls to give the tactic of goingdown the pitch to the bowlers a proper try.While the team has the usual panoply of fitness coaches and dieticians, muchwill rest on the way Fletcher and Hussein manage the players. “Fletcherand Illingworth seemed to think they could just have a chat with a player onthe boundary,” says ex-sponsor Whittingdale. This is where the ECB couldusefully apply some serious HR expertise although it would be an even greaterhelp if the counties followed suit. When Warwickshire won five trophies in twoseasons, partly because of a complete change in HR introduced by Reeve and hiscoach Woolmer, other players reacted as if the team had somehow”cheated” its way to success.Change is possible but it will not come easily. As Lord MacLaurin haspointed out, “a chairman of Tesco can sit down with his colleagues, makeplans and do it. At the ECB, I do not chair a management board which canactually manage.” Mind you, there is nothing much at stake here, only the survival of one ofour national games. Perhaps it is time for a sport which invented the divisiveconcept of “gentlemen” versus “players” to getprofessional.Jon Holmes, agent for sporting personalities like Gary Lineker and WillCarling, once asked an ex-England captain to have a quiet word with a promisingnew Test batsman called David Gower. “I don’t want to talk to him,”said the ex-captain. Holmes later said, in a frank interview with Sue Mott,”Sport in this country is run like a school games department: the fourthformers were not allowed to talk to the sixth formers. If cricket doesn’tradically revise itself, it will become the next billiards.”By Paul SimpsonEngland’s techniqueEnglish coaches follow a strict adherence to correct technique in aprescriptive way – insisting that your left knee or elbow is at the correctangle. There is one basic problems with this textbook technique – it doesn’t work. The gurus have failed to develop enormously talented players such as GraemeHick or Mark Ramprakash. A prime example was that of Devon Malcolm. Despite having demolished theSouth Africans with a historic performance, a year later on tour, England coachPeter Lever decided that his action was wrong and insisted that he change. Thissowed seeds of doubt in the minds of the selectors and to the South Africans’delight and amazement Malcolm was dropped.Oxford graduate Keith Morrison, who was coached by the Australian JackPotter at the university, compares the two approaches. “In England the waythey teach you is step-by-step – getting in line; putting your shoulder overthe ball and then hitting it; whereas in Australia they get you just to strikethe ball, and learn how to hit the ball hard.” Easy, really.By Philip Whiteley Comments are closed. 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