Planning for the 2007 World Cup received a real boost with the 2005 Ashes loss against England. It made all of us – Cricket Australia, the players and support staff – take stock of what had happened. More importantly, the result tilled the soil of change.
Cricket Australia freed up the purse strings somewhat to allow much needed support resources to be directed towards the team. Players took greater responsibility for the outcomes of the Ashes, showing that a dented and bruised pride (that is, pride in their performance as individuals and collectively as the Australian Cricket Team) is a powerful catalyst for drawing together a unit which had in some ways been disjointed for the previous six months.
And it made me stop and ask myself three important questions:
- Can I still make a difference with this team – not just an incremental impact, but something significant?
- Even if I believe I can, do I still have the energy, motivation and desire to keep driving change?
- Do I still have the respect of the players, at least the vast majority of them?
If my answer to any of these questions had been ‘No’, I wouldn’t have re-signed after the Ashes and made the commitment to stay with Cricket Australia until the end of the World Cup in 2007. By then I knew that after completion of the World Cup, which would be a culmination of a lot of travel, tours and three major tests including the ICC Champions Trophy and the 2006–07 Ashes series in Australia, I would have to answer ‘No’ to questions one and two. Hence, at the end of the World Cup in the West Indies in April 2007, it would be time for retirement.
So once we had played the super series against the Rest of the World in late 2005, the vision I wanted Cricket Australia, the players and support staff to buy was the concept of the Big Three.
The concept of the Big Three
- the ICC Trophy which we had never won,
- the 2006–07 Ashes which we were seeking to regain and
- the World Cup, which would give us three World Cups in a row.
The concept was about elevating this period in Australian cricket to an unprecedented level, such that whatever I asked for was provided. That meant coaching staff for the team, new equipment, a camp that would physically and mentally challenge all contracted players, some radical training clothing produced by our new sponsor, Adidas, for display at the World Cup, schedule changes to allow for targeted preparation for the three majors instead of minor matches or tournaments, and for players to gear themselves for the long term as well as short term – that is, to understand that the bigger picture will sometimes get in the road of the need to deal with the present.
I didn’t achieve everything I wanted – a continual source of frustration in my role. But I think I did achieve a certain elevation of urgency, necessary for this period in Australian cricket history.
With this in mind, I presented my vision for the One-Day International (ODI) team – to arrive at the World Cup as the ‘best-skilled team the world had seen’. Therefore, everything that we did as a team – technical, physical, tactical and mental skills training – was designed to chase this dream.
While this planning and preparation was underway from October 2005 to April 2007, we had to deal with a home-and-away Test series against South Africa, a Tri-series against Sri Lanka and South Africa, a further series of ODIs against South Africa in South Africa and, finally, a Test and ODI series against Bangladesh on its home patch. We survived this period pretty well – we won seven of eight Tests and drew the other, won the ODI Tri-series, lost the ODI series in South Africa after losing the final match at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg even after making the world record total of 434, and then won the ODI series in Bangladesh.
There was time to gather breath before our next engagement in August 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – the DLF Cup Tri-series against India and the West Indies.
But plenty of wheels were turning behind the scenes with deliberations on selections. We were trying to project forward to the World Cup and decide the type of game/strategy we wanted to use, and therefore the type of players we would require. On top of that there was the continual revising of budgets and plans for all the resources (people, equipment and scheduling), and constant thinking about all the permutations and combinations that would influence our World Cup performance.
As I said the concept was the Big Three, so before entering the final phases of World Cup preparation, we had the ICC Champions Trophy in India to negotiate, and then the ‘minor’ matter of the Ashes to deal with from late November to early January.
We climbed both those mountains successfully.
Then it was time to shift our full attention to the one day team and what we needed to do to get our selves ready for the World Cup. As with all projects there is a need to:
- have a clear vision and stick to it
- deal with the present, although there is always a risk it may be compromised by the future
- keep everyone within the team clear on what is being done, even though they might not agree with it
- absorb the inevitable external criticisms.
Our overall objectives for the final training period before departure for the World Cup were:
- finalise our 15-man squad by providing all possible players with a last chance to make selection
- undertake some additional physical work so it would provide a better base for the World Cup
- establish our preferred playing strategies
- ensure our entire squad was as physically and mentally prepared as could be expected prior to leaving
- rest key players where necessary through the lower priority tournaments of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia and the Chappell–Hadlee Series in New Zealand
- have our game tested to identify where there were weak points so these could be addressed leading into the Cup.
By adopting these methods, we did compromise our playing performances through both home ODI series. Players were lethargic at times due to increased travel (where we provided for extra time at home), and an increased workload coming into a game. Key players were not played at times as their selections were certain for the World Cup, while those who were trying to press their claims were given additional opportunities. We suffered three serious injuries to Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Brett Lee (which ultimately ruled him out of selection) and a number of less serious but nonetheless concerning niggles to Ricky Ponting, Stuart Clark, Shane Watson and Glenn McGrath, despite taking all precautions.
Coming next, Part 4