Just a few weeks back, the sporting world was greeted by the news of the sacking of Manchester United’s erstwhile Manager, Jose Mourinho, and even though some would argue that the Portuguese had it coming, I wonder if the same can be said of Robert Samuels, Jamaica’s national cricket coach who was shown the exit door shortly after Mourinho’s storied exit.
If anything, both developments brought to the fore once more the underlying principle of sports where teams and players get all the accolades for pulling off match wins and title victories while coaches take the fall for failures and defeats.
Granted, the sacking of football managers generally, especially the sacking of Mourinho, can be viewed as necessary, straightforward, standard, and even logical, but it is not the same story when it comes to cricket.
It’s complicated and difficult to justify on this side. For instance, the sacking of Samuels from his position in the Jamaica Scorpions cricket team cannot be hinged on a quantified amount of fault or blame on his parts for the below-par results of the team.
It’s easy to point fingers at the coach and make him the fall guy for the failure of a team in any sport – that’s like the price coaches were always going to pay from the moment they took the job – but can we really pin the failure of a Jamaica team packed full with senior professionals with international experience pursuing a victory target of 117 runs, with two days to go in the game, and gets bowled out for 65 on any one man?
Really, what kind of tactical and technical advice is the coach expected to give to these senior pros? What would a man like Samuels have to say to players in the mold of John Campbell, Jermaine Blackwood, and Andre McCarthy? How could he possibly affect their approach to such a basic task? Think about that!
Having thought of those, the conclusion does offer some credence to the notion that coaching in cricket is somewhat overrated, especially at the senior level. In reality, by the game’s very nature, the bulk of the responsibility is shouldered by the ‘experienced’ fielded players, with the on-field captain offering the only significant form of tactical support.
That is to say, coaches can do very little when a bowler begins a spell, or a batsman gets started on an innings. In such situations when the game is well underway, coaches can typically be seen holed up in the dugout or curled up in the dressing room balcony several meters away.
In such a context, the coach has little or no effect on the way a bowler decides his approach, line of attack, variations, or adjustments. Nor would they have any way of affecting how a batsman compiles runs in his innings.
For most other sports like football and basketball, the effects of coaching are more relatable and tangible than in the case of cricket. The coaches in these sports have the luxury of adopting a hands-on approach and potentially affecting proceedings on a play-by-play basis with a flurry of tactical instructions and adjustments. This is mostly not the case in cricket as managers essentially take the backseat and the team goes into ‘auto-pilot’ mode.
The redundancy of coaching in senior-level cricket is also highlighted by the efforts of the Windies team of the late ‘70s, through the ‘80s, and into the early ‘90s, who became world-beaters and dominated the sport for nearly two decades without a coach.
It might also help to know that the idea of full-time, high-profile coaches in international cricket is still a relatively nascent reality and the jury is still out on whether it is a necessary endeavor or just a superfluous undertaking.
It is my personal view that coaching at senior level cricket has little impact on the fortunes of the top teams. It matters very little who sits in the dugout or the balcony of the dressing room as long as the players can lay claim to a certain level of technical and professional experience level.
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