WINNING FALSELY

Part 4.
(part 5 next – Calypso Licence on a Sleepy Isle)

wins against poor competition

how do you deal with false success?

After winning our first four games of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia comfortably, I knew we were gaining a false impression of where our game was at. Simply, New Zealand and England were not providing us with the competition we needed. So I said this publicly, as much for our players as well as hopefully inciting some reaction from our opposition. I needed our players to know that our results were inflated and that other teams around the world would be much tougher.

We won three of our next four games, but New Zealand improved significantly with the inclusion of a few of their regular team members, and so too did a resurgent England. In fact, England won the two finals games despite us being in winning positions in both. Having batted first in Melbourne, we were unable to sustain the start we had and could not restrict the run chase. While in Sydney, we were able to rectify our defence somewhat to keep England to a very gettable score, but then our batting disinteg­rated at the top, leaving us well short of their total.

We travelled to New Zealand without Ponting, Gilchrist, Michael Clarke and Symonds to play a concertinaed three-game series – and we soon lost Lee. We had also brought Watson back into the series, knowing full well he was below match readiness, but thought that these matches would be invaluable preparation for him in the weeks ahead. By this time New Zealand had their full squad, had been at home for nearly two weeks and were ready to use these games as their final preparations for the World Cup. For our part, we wanted to arrest the losses and return home with that winning feeling again.

New Zealand’s preparedness and the loss of key players, as well as the crammed travel and playing schedule, all contributed to us losing all three games – even though for two of the games, we were again in winning positions. But the biggest contribution to these losses, as well as those in Australia, was that in at least three of the five games we didn’t maximise our batting totals, while in four of the five cases our bowling defence didn’t make consistently good decisions and/or execute those decisions.

Now it was certainly not in the grand plan to head to the World Cup losing five games in a row. It was certainly not intended to give all other contenders for the World Cup a boost, seeing Australia being beaten. And the performances were certainly not designed to give the perennial critics like Ian Chappell, Bobby Simpson and other former Test players extra space in their newspaper columns for their normal vitriol.

We returned from New Zealand battered and bruised. Egos were damaged. The chairman of selectors, Ricky Ponting and myself had a series of phone calls wondering whether our over¬all objectives had been correct. Our administrative bosses were ringing to consult me immediately after we lost games – calls that reverberated the single question: ‘What the hell is going on?’

However, despite the spate of lost games, I still believed we had achieved a lot of what was needed to take us to the World Cup. And this was my constant message publicly and privately.

My real concern, though, was the injuries. Brett Lee was out of the tournament – one of our leading strike bowlers, an outstanding athlete and a more than capable hitter. Taking Andrew Symonds to the World Cup was a big gamble with the risk that his shoulder would blow out again. Michael Clarke was still carrying a worrisome hip injury, which prevented him from specialist throwing practice and impeded his bowling. Matthew Hayden had a broken toe and badly bruised instep, compliments of his record-breaking last innings in New Zealand.

The old pro, ‘Pidgeon’ McGrath plus counterpart Stuart Clark were both having continuing niggles – the product of age and the effects of bowling and travel on the body by the end of a long season of cricket. It effectively meant that the vision of arriving at the World Cup as ‘the best-skilled team the world has ever seen’ was no longer possible. If we were to wrestle other teams for this World Cup, rather than dominate, then we would need to be very smart about using the skills we brought.

But I knew we had done the planning. I knew we had done our preparation. I knew we had the skills in the team to perform very well. I knew we had the leadership in Ricky, Adam, Glenn, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds. I knew we had ‘gamers’ in Haddin, Hodge, Clark, Clarke and Hogg. I knew we had match-winning potential in Watson, Johnson, Bracken and Tait.
I knew we had an excellent support team for the playing squad.
So I left for the World Cup a little shaken and not surprised by where our weaknesses had been exposed, but very excited about trying to pull all the pieces together in time to make the semi-finals. If we could get there, then anything could happen!

KEY MESSAGES
1. While not totally ignoring all the noise that surrounds the preparation for a major project, make sure your filters are working overtime so that you can stick to the plan.
2. Spend time keeping other significant stakeholders on track as well, since they will be subject to the same or similar noise invasion as you.
3. The present may need to be compromised or sacrificed for the final outcome of the project.

Coming next, Part 5

Calypso Licence on a Sleepy Isle