The Jon Coates Column
Scotland put belief in science
THE last three men to coach Scotland have all been believers in the creed that cricket matches can be won by adherence to modern performance theory.
Or, in other words, men who talk a good game. Peter Drinnen was forever going on about “pathways”.
Traditionalists around the country cackled and sneered but, at the time, we had no idea that this introduction was just a mild appetiser, a mere clue as to how technical cricket coaching was about to go.
Pete Steindl, a long-haired, baseball-capped candidate whose previous career highlight was coaching the embryonic Scotland women’s team, was an underdog in the race to succeed Drinnen in 2007.
He talked himself into the job with the aid of Powerpoint, blowing the minds of his interviewers with a very clear, exhaustively-prepared and convincing presentation. In practice, he was a rookie, so Adi Birrell was hired part-time until he was ready to go it alone.
Grant Bradburn, after arriving in Scotland in May, immediately came across as a thinker. A student of the game, but more centrally a student of the science of performance.
I have only had one conversation with the New Zealander but it’s possible he has more sports science-speak in his repertoire than his two Queenslander predecessors put together. Now, there is room for a disclaimer here.
When we in the media talk to coaches they know they are talking to the media, and they talk accordingly. It is possible that come across differently in private. But if they have any sense, in the confines of an interview they are watchful and wary, because it has been known on the odd occasion for answers to be misinterpreted.
If any of my colleagues are looking for a soundbite out of Bradburn they might be left hankering for the days of Andy Moles, Tony Judd and even back to the last bastion of old-school coaching methodology, Jim Love.
In their preference for hiring “performance” gurus to coach Scotland’s elite players, Cricket Scotland are only following the doctrine of sportscotland, who would consider any alternative to be borderline prehistoric.
But the jury remains out on the application of this policy in Scottish cricket because none of these men has yet figured out how to make the national team win more games than they lose.
And so to Ireland, where two plain-speaking individuals have successively, over the course of a decade, helped the national team to win a lot more games than they lose, and generally lose well when winning has been beyond them.
There are numerous reasons for that, many of them easier to pin down as contributing to results than the style of coaching perpetrated in the background. Just because Birrell and Phil Simmons as coaches are high on instinct, low on theory, the type who wouldn’t know a learning outcome if it struck them between the eyes, we will never know if Scotland would have been better off with that ilk in charge.
There are other reasons for Ireland’s purple patch and Scotland’s poor run, and the synchronised emergence of talent is the main one. Ireland’s talent stocks are still the envy of the associate world, and one victory out of three for Scotland this week might, depending on the overall balance of the games, be construed as a success for the visitors.
Trent Johnston, though, has been predictably difficult to replace, and Scotland have more weaponry in their top order than ever before, so this series is no foregone conclusion. For Bradburn, it will be the last time in the build-up to the World Cup that he cannot pick from a full hand. Ditto for Simmons.
The county players will be fully available for the preparatory trip Down Under, and then the World Cup assignment itself. Not that their county form in August will fill spectators who saw a weakened Scotland get bullied by New Zealand A with hope.
As Bradburn pointed out when we spoke, these players now have 15 matches in which to jostle for selection, all of them 50-over matches. Undoubtedly the three matches that will supply them with the keenest competition will be the ones held on the new ground at Malahide.
Bradburn acknowledged as much… in a roundabout way. I then asked him if results mattered to him this week, expecting to hear something along the lines that performance indicators were more important. In a roundabout way, he did concede that he wanted to raise a team that could learn to win together.
That won’t happen this winter, of course. Scotland will lose more games than they win, and it will be interesting to see whether they can remain free-spirited enough to believe that one or two of the games that really matter, in late February and early March, are within their grasp.
To date, it must be remembered, no coach, old school or new, has managed to inspire the cream of Scottish cricketers to achieve a win that would register on the world scale.
No amount of theory can obscure this unfortunate truth.