WINNING AN EVENT such as the World Cup requires many things to come together simultaneously. Some are controllable and some are not. And within what is controllable, there is a need to prioritise what is more important at different times to keep the project on track.
One of the controllable factors is experience and how it can be used beneficially for the current event. The experience of competing in such a tournament means that some players and some support staff have an understanding of the winning, the hard work, the travel, the boredom, the controversies, the media speculation, the highs and lows of team-mates, the humour, the life education that is involved.
This experience was brought to bear on the planning of the early part of the tour, as the previous campaign had shown us that a good start to a tour through training, playing and coming together as a group helped significantly in our early progression through the tournament. The idea of tournament progression is not to be playing at your best from the first game, because this is unsustainable for the eight or nine weeks prior to the finals. Rather, the team needs to isolate games for which it aims to play as well as it can, so that, through a gradual process of winning and improving, the momentum and confidence builds as the team progresses to the most important games at the back end of the World Cup.
In 2003, we had set up our base in the little university town of Potchefstroom, in the country just outside the bright lights of Johannesburg. Here we trained well; we had most of a small hotel to ourselves and had it functioning for our purposes, and we set up our commitments to each other for the tour. We identified that the first two games of that tournament were crucial as we played Pakistan then India. Both teams were potential semifinalists. We managed to get across the line against Pakistan and then demolished India, so our quest for the trophy had begun according to plan.
For 2007, we were allocated the sleepy little island in the Grenadines called St Vincents – possibly better known for its link to the nearby island retreats of some of the rich and famous such as Oprah Winfrey and Mick Jagger than its rating as a world cricket destination. The Sunset Shores resort – with a taste of calypso licence to the word ‘resort’ – was our home for the first ten days or so, and where we would play our warm-up games. We had sent our assistant coach, Dene Hills, ahead in January to ascertain what we needed to do to make this stage of the tour (and our next two island stops) more comfortable and more practical for our needs. St Vincents was to be our new Potchefstroom. It is here that puttin’ the pieces together really began, with everyone getting used to the pace of the Windies people, and beginning to deal with the vagaries of training and movement around the island.
Experience also determines how individuals and a team cope with distractions and expectations. Those who have been around the international scene for a while know that one of the potential distractions is the stories that the media write. It is something over which we generally have little control, but there is no doubt that it has an impact on a player, coach or team when the media ravenously, if not factually, pursues a story.
Routines and maintaining good personal habits for physical training, diet, rest, recovery and rehabilitation are essential for players to perform well on tours. And while we place faith in the majority of players having the best intentions in this regard, there are many location and logistical obstacles to this occurring. Hence we have a support structure around the team to eliminate most of these hurdles. These include a personal trainer, physiotherapist, masseuse, security officer, local liaison officer and media manager. For an event such as the World Cup we looked carefully at the most appropriate time for the team’s partners and families to be part of the World Cup campaign. This was early in the tour in a beautiful resort called The Marriott in St Kitts. And while there is no prohibition of partners joining their husbands or boyfriends, experience shows that it is preferable at the business end of the tour for everyone to have one clear focus – playing their best cricket.
Controversies are always part and parcel of such an event, which has the attention of at least the cricket world. In 2003, the Australian team faced one of the biggest stories with Shane Warne pulling out of the event the night before our first game due to a positive drugs test for using diuretics. In 2007, the World Cup was marked by the huge logistical problem of moving teams around the islands, but then was plunged into crisis with the death of Pakistan’s coach, Bob Woolmer, immediately after their loss to Ireland and early elimination from the Cup. Bob’s death was one of the saddest days for cricket and elite sport.
Preparation and team cohesion are two other very important factors that can be controllable and are always at the forefront of our priorities. In terms of preparation we constantly monitor:
- the training needs of our squad (not as scientifically or with as much fine detail as football teams) and how we can most effectively and efficiently provide those needs
- the schedule and how best to structure our skills work and additional physical training
- the opposition we are to play
- the venues on which we are to play.
Our preparation in this tournament included warm-up games against Zimbabwe and England in St Vincents, plus our first two games of the tournament proper against Scotland and the Netherlands.
With regard to team cohesion there was a need for me to recognise that:
We did not arrive in the Windies as the best-skilled team the world has ever seen; however, we were still a very skilled team.
- We had many first-timers at the World Cup and some player such as Shaun Tait, Brad Hodge and Brad Haddin, had not been part of the ICC Trophy team.
- Everyone, apart from our security officer and masseuse, had been part of our pre-season boot camp.
- We had a much bigger and more diverse support team to the playing squad.
Consequently, my first meeting with the team was to outline a framework for the tour. I developed an acronym, S.P.O.C.E., that stood for:
S smart, needing to be smart in everything we do on and off the field to allow us to bring our full resources and talents to each game.
P preparation, ensuring that we are fully prepared technically, physically, mentally and tactically for each game.
O one game, dealing only with the game we were to play in order to play as well as we can, and begin to develop a winning confidence and momentum in the tournament.
C camp, bringing the lessons learnt, the disciplines and the values we shared during boot camp.
E enjoyment, making certain that we all spent time enjoying the tour, the Windies, the wins and each other’s company.
My mind was still foggy when I put this acronym together as was pointed out to me by one or two team members as I could have used SCOPE or COPES, but then I explained that was not ‘spoce’ to be the case…
During this first part of the tour we did not have a full strength side: Andrew Symonds was still rehabbing his shoulder injury, along with Matthew Hayden who was nursing a broken toe and bruised instep. Adam Gilchrist was left in Australia so he could be with his family for the birth of their third child. Stuart Clark was a late addition to the team once Brett Lee’s ankle injury ruled him out. The younger contingent of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait were all trying to make every post a winner and give themselves the best chance of being part of the ‘First XI’. Ricky Ponting had not held a bat for a couple of weeks as he had not gone to New Zealand. Throw in the Sunset Shores resort, a couple of not-so-good training venues and plenty of adjustment to the pace of getting things organised, and the ‘new Potchefstroom’, the 2007 version, was not really working as well as it could. There was a kind of relaxed tension circulating through the team, and this needed addressing before we left the island. So, I called for a team meeting and barbecue the night before the England game.
relaxed tension tissue fibres
Previously, I had been shown a fort that overlooked the harbour and so decided this was to be the venue of the team meeting. We would then adjourn back to our hotel where I had the hotel prepare a traditional Aussie barbecue. At the meeting, I had the team explain to me what the purpose of a fort was – essentially to keep out invaders – and related this to things we had to deal with like distractions, controversies and lack of discipline. Secondly, a fort is designed to protect those things that we value – friendship, loyalty, hard work and honesty.
Each player and support staff then told the group, as we nestled into one of the battlements of the fort, what they wanted to keep out during our tour, and what they wanted to keep in. These were our commitments. We briefly talked of England and what we wanted to take from the game the next day. I then presented Shane Watson with our first team award of the tour for his skill-execution during the Zimbabwe match, and finally gave everyone a team t-shirt for the tour.
Matthew Hayden took charge of the cooking when we returned and the night had achieved what was needed at this point in time, which was to lay the foundations of the tour and cement team cohesion.
- Ignore experience at your peril.
- Allow experience to provide guidance in handling expectations, distractions, controversies and maintaining routines.
- Preparation is the passport to success.
- Team cohesion is a long-term activity with long-term benefits.
- To properly deal with what the present is throwing at you, prioritise key decisions and actions.
Coming next: Part 6 Final
The Stuff of Legends