When it comes to cricket and the Ashes, Australia was playing a foreign game with a foreign approach, writes Greg Cary
Malcolm Gladwell has written an outstanding book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Tackling Giants. Fans of previous works, including Outliers, Blink and Tipping Point will not be disappointed.
His latest uses as its starting point the classic story of victory against the odds and how David won that epic encounter. He goes on to argue that “David’s” of all persuasions have prevailed far more regularly down the years than previously thought – when they fought on their own terms.
To play Goliath at his own game, on his own field at a time of his choosing leads to defeat in the vast majority of contests. Play to your own strengths and wins against the odds become far more common place.
I was reading Gladwell’s book as Australia went ruthlessly about regaining the Ashes. A series that had begun with the home team carrying sling shots had quickly seen the roles reversed. Old Goliath had been vanquished physically and mentally and was down for the count. How had this happened so quickly and comprehensively?
There are many technical reasons and the home ground advantage should never be underestimated but, as with most things, attitude had much to with it. Ours and their’s – and this is where Gladwell comes in.
For some years Australia was playing a foreign game with a foreign approach. Much of that had to do with Cricket Australia hiring a foreign coach. This is not to lay all the blame at the feet of Mickey Arthur, but it is to recognise that his approach, for this team (and country) was all wrong.
Many of the players speak of being treated as schoolchildren under Arthur’s regime. Too much focus on theory and too much reliance on technology. The ridiculous “homework” episode in India was less about player discipline than it was the ignorance of officials. Likewise the “rotation” selection policy that created an atmosphere of instability. How do you create a sense of ” team” when you are never quite sure if you are going to be in it and, if so, who your team-mates might be.
All this and more resulted in a team playing from a fear base and that’s never a good place to start – anything. New coach, Darren Lehmann, recognised what needed to be done – get back to enjoying the game and playing it in a way that would make that possible. Happy players, confident of their places in the team, were suddenly aiming their rocks at a giant they knew not to be as tough as previous performances had allowed him to think.
The return to the squad of uber-aggresive fielding mentor, Mike Young, has been applauded for the obvious improvements in an area of the game that reflects better than most the team dynamic. Much more than that, however, is the steel that the Chicago born former National Baseball Coach instills.
For better or worse he has never been known to take a backward step, and that is a direction we had too often been headed. Although (a long time ago) a foreigner, his approach wasn’t. In fact, it is what has always worked best for Australian teams. Lehmann and Michael Clarke both knew what had been missing.
I’m not a big fan of some of the exaggerated and occasionally ugly sledging we witnessed at times, but be assured that it was a pivotal part of the plan. David knew Goliath could become unbalanced when challenged. That he was at his best when he could control the environment. Take that from him and suddenly he was viewing the world from a different perspective and became strangely vulnerable.
As we go about our daily endeavors this year and confront the various challenges that come our way, make sure you have the slingshot packed.
And know how to use it!