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Old August 19, 2011, 07:07 PM
firstlane firstlane is offline
Join Date: March 8, 2010
Location: Melbourne
Posts: 2,838
Default The Argus Review (Australian Team Performance Review) and its effects.

As a developing cricket nation we can learn a lot from this example, I think. Enjoy your reading.

The Argus Review

A different type of clean sweep

"I was thinking of putting in a recommendation that we put in a Zimbabwean coach and get four South Africans into the side," Don Argus joked to the media as he explained his review into Australian cricket. After the polite laughter died down, Argus clarified that no, his panel hadn't in any way copied the structure of England, the new No.1 Test team.

Could've fooled us. From the creation of a new general manager of team performance (see Morris, Hugh) to the appointment of a full-time national selector (see Miller, Geoff), to a review of central contracting (Australia award 25, England only 11), the similarities between the Argus review and the Schofield report, which came after England's 2006-07 Ashes disaster, are striking.

And so they should be. As much as Australia's players and coaching staff would hate to admit it, England are now the benchmark. The 3-1 Ashes drubbing last summer was just as embarrassing as the 5-0 whitewash inflicted on England four years prior, probably more so given how familiar Australia had become with success at home.

The only clean sweep in Australian cricket right now has come from the Argus broom. Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, is gone. Greg Chappell, the national talent manager, has been dumped from the selection panel. Tim Nielsen, the coach, must reapply for his job, and could well be out of the picture by the Australian summer.

That's on top of the existing personnel changes since this time last year: a new captain, a new bowling coach, a new fielding coach and a new team manager. And just for good measure, David Boon quit as a selector and Simon Katich was axed during the off-season.

The departure of Hilditch was the most widely expected change. When his panel didn't offer Katich a new contract this year, Hilditch was asked about his future as the chairman of selectors. His response was: "I'll just keep doing it until someone wants me to stop." Australian fans had been asking him to stop for years; now the powers that be have done so.

Not that Hilditch has been sacked per se, but his role has been made full-time and he has previously made it known he is unwilling to give up his day job as a solicitor. His five-year tenure since replacing Trevor Hohns as the chairman of selectors in April 2006 has been tumultuous, and ultimately unsuccessful as the team slipped to No. 5 on the Test rankings.

During those five years, Australia handed out a new baggy green roughly once every second Test; 23 debutants were used in 50 matches, compared to 14 debutants in 66 Tests in the previous five years. The rebuilding process after the departure of champions like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden was fraught.

Hilditch's panel had particular trouble with the spin position, choosing 12 Test spinners during his five years at the helm, which could soon become 13 if Nathan Lyon makes his debut in Sri Lanka next month. Under Hilditch, the panel made a critical mistake by not choosing a spinner for the final Ashes Test at The Oval in 2009, when the England offspinner Graeme Swann used a dusty pitch to take eight wickets, and the defeat cost Australia the urn.

The following Ashes series wasn't handled any better. They picked a 17-man squad for the first Test at the Gabba, which gave England a clear indication that the Australian selectors weren't confident who were their frontline players, and then they axed the established and consistent Nathan Hauritz on the eve of the series. Hilditch exacerbated the problem when he said after the series debacle that the selectors had "done a very good job".

Whoever replaces Hilditch - Rod Marsh and Hohns are among the possibilities - should learn from his mistakes. Plan for the future and stick with new players for more than a couple of matches. Don't take crazy gambles on the eve of a major series, like picking a one-day specialist such as Xavier Doherty for the Ashes based on the flawed logic.

And don't unsettle the players. That's one of the criticisms that has been levelled at Chappell, who according to the Daily Telegraph was banned from the Australian dressing room while the team was batting, such was his disconcerting influence. Like Hilditch, Chappell won't be part of the new selection panel.

Nielsen may or may not be. He must reapply for the new coaching job, which includes a position on the selection panel, and if the buck stops with the coach, he could be in trouble. The new mentor will have the task of directing coaching strategies all the way down Australia's pathway. Given the concerns raised over the past few months by Ricky Ponting and Langer about the standards of domestic cricket, it's a vitally important role.

England didn't get all of these issues right straight away. After 2006-07, Peter Moores was made coach but was gone soon enough. Not everything will fall into place immediately. But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. By accepting the advice of Don Argus, Cricket Australia is at least heading in the right direction.


Hilditch gone as chairman of selectors

Cricket Australia has effected sweeping changes in the running of the national game, from the top-most levels, while ratifying several key recommendations from the Argus review. It decided to appoint a full-time national selector, ending Andrew Hilditch's tenure as Australia's chairman of selectors, and also removed Greg Chappell from the selection panel, while asking the coach Tim Nielsen to re-apply for his job.

The Argus review was set up to investigate Australia's team performance following their Ashes debacle last summer and its wide-ranging investigation has pointed to problems at every level. At the top are the selectors, and the review has recommended a five-man selection panel with a full-time chairman and two independent selectors, while the captain and coach have also been given increased responsibility and will become selectors.

The national talent manager, Chappell, won't be part of the group. Jack Clarke, the CA chairman, said the newly-created position of national selector would be a full-time role and had therefore ruled out Hilditch, who also works as a solicitor in Adelaide, although Clarke was unsure whether Hilditch would apply to stay on the panel as one of the two part-time selectors.

"The position is a full-time role," Clarke said. "Andrew is not available to work full time. He has just started up a new legal practice so he is not available to apply for the role. I haven't spoken to Andrew about [whether he wants to stay on the panel]. He's certainly unavailable for the top job."

Hilditch said in a statement: "I fully support the recommendation of the review panel to appoint a full-time chairman of the national selection panel and the appointment of the captain and coach as members of the panel. It is a structure I supported as appropriate when interviewed by the review panel and I think it will serve Australian cricket well going into the future.

"They were always going to be difficult years as chairman with the exodus of so many great players but I have given it my all and always acted to the best of my ability to achieve the best outcome for Australian cricket. Once the new head selector is appointed I look forward to spending a lot more time with family and friends and my growing legal practice. It has been a privilege and an honour to serve Australian cricket."

Nielsen and Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, will immediately be made selectors for the ongoing tour of Sri Lanka, while Chappell, who is with the team as the selector on duty, will temporarily remain in the job while the new structure is finalised. However, Nielsen's future is uncertain, with the coach's position to be expanded to become a more senior role, leading the overall coaching strategy for Australian cricket, and he is not guaranteed of getting the job.

"Coaching the Australian team is a tough job anyway with the travel and that sort of thing," Jack Clarke said. "It's going to take some additional time and skill sets to put a strategy for the whole of Australian coaching. We need to align the coaching so that there's one philosophy which the head coach has got to be able to articulate and get that through to the state coaches and all other coaches in the system.

"Tim can apply for the job and he may well get the job. But it's a different role, and in a restructure, you don't just give someone the job in a new role."

Another key change will be the appointment of a general manager of team performance, who will report to the CEO and oversee coaching, selection and the Centre of Excellence. The position is similar to the role Hugh Morris now fills for the England team, a job the ECB created after the Schofield Report into their disastrous Ashes series in 2006-07.

In his opening remarks, Clarke conceded that Australian cricket's custodians had more or less sat on their hands towards the end of an era of great success, and had not been proactive enough in dealing with the looming problems posed by the retirements of great players and the change in the Australian team's profile.

"It is clear with the wisdom of hindsight there are some issues that could've been addressed earlier. The right time for fundamental change to structures and processes is not always easy to pick, particularly with a system that has worked so well for so long," Clarke said.

"Sustained on-field success may well have masked some problems - in a sense we were victims of our own success, and if you won in a certain way you were probably less likely to change your ways. However it is quite clear the world has moved on, and a system that once worked is now in need of change. In doing this we have not taken a short-term approach, looking for scapegoats or applied band-aids to problems.

"It might be argued we should've done more to replace the great players who retired recently, having said that it is not easy to replace players the calibre of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden and others of the era."

Paul Marsh, the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association, commended CA and the review panel for their thoroughness.

"I commend Cricket Australia and the Argus review panel for their thoroughness and transparency," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "The players want to see Australian cricket back at the top as much as anyone, and we are glad to see that desire shown so strongly in the review."

CA directors were handed an executive summary of the Argus review findings at the conclusion of the first day of Thursday's board meeting, before Argus led a detailed presentation to the board on Friday morning. The recommendations stemmed from a most exhaustive review undertaken into the drastically waning fortunes of the Australian side, culminating in an Ashes defeat that included an unprecedented three innings hidings.

Australia are fifth on the ICC's Test rankings, and are in danger of missing out on a place in the inaugural Test match World Championship, to be held in 2013. The team is in the midst of a tour of Sri Lanka, the first Test assignment for the new captain Michael Clarke, and players and officials - including Chappell, the selector on duty - were briefed on the review findings before public discussions commenced.

Chaired by Argus, the review panel included the former captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, plus Malcolm Speed, formerly the chief executive of Cricket Australia and more recently the ICC. Speed's CA successor, James Sutherland, sat in on the process as an ex-officio, non-voting member, but interviewees were allowed to request his absence if they felt uncomfortable discussing problems in front of their current boss.

A total of 61 interviews were conducted, across a spectrum that included players, coaches, officials, media and other well-placed observers. Senior figures from other sports were also consulted, including the multiple-premiership winning Australian Rules football coach Mick Malthouse.


Taboo broken as Australian coach empowered

Australian cricket has confronted one of its great taboos by handing selection duties to the national coach, an enormously powerful role not performed since Bob Simpson was removed from the national panel in 1994. At the time the incoming captain Mark Taylor felt that Simpson exerted too much of an influence over Australian cricket as a prominent coach and selector alongside the less conspicuous captaincy of Allan Border.

But now, as members of the Don Argus-led review into Australian cricket, Taylor and Border have recommended that the coach be part of a new panel of five that will also include the national captain, Michael Clarke. Among a raft of drastic changes to the structure of the national program, this one spoke loudest for how much times and attitudes had changed.

The incumbent coach, Tim Nielsen, and Clarke will immediately take on selection responsibility while on the current tour of Sri Lanka, but a new senior coach will be appointed in due course. Australia's vastly experienced fielding coach, Steve Rixon, and the Western Australia coach, Mickey Arthur, are both expected to express interest in the position.

"In my time in cricket administration it is probably the biggest chestnut, there's been a change of view on whether coaches and captains should be selectors many times," Cricket Australia's chairman Jack Clarke said. "I think the three captains on there probably would've had a certain view at one stage, interestingly they all came to the view to make that person accountable and the structures are all about accountability. To make those people accountable they need to be selectors, and the board accepted that."

Argus, who spoke as much of corporate dictums as cricketing ones, said the matter of communication between the selectors and the players had been so poor as to necessitate the formal inclusion of the coach and captain in the process.

"One of the things that came up was the communication between the players and the selectors and I'm sure you've heard that, and what we've done is to try to get adult conversations going around the panel of the selectors and the players," Argus said. "Normally communication solves most insecurities, and if we achieve that, that'll be a huge step forward."

The increased influence of the coach and captain closely mirrors the power wielded by the England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, architects of Australia's Ashes defeat last summer. The coach's broader role is also similar to the model now popular globally and at state level, though the Australian set-up has continually differed from this due to the strongly divergent views over Simpson's time in charge. Argus denied that the England model had been a major influence, preferring to conclude that it simply reflected the best and most functional model for high performance and accountability.

"I got an email overnight from a good friend of mine in England and he said 'now that we're No. 1, would you like some input into your report' and I said 'as a matter of fact I was thinking of putting in a recommendation that we get a Zimbabwean coach and four South Africans into the side'," Argus joked.

"The answer is no, it had no bearing on it. I had a look at that [England] as a passing phase, but if you have a look at the structure and you have a look at the corporate structures of high performance organisations around the world, you'll find some similarities."

Greg Chappell, the selector currently on duty in Sri Lanka, will be stripped of that role but is welcome to continue as the national talent manager, a position now far less powerful that one he had fashioned over the previous 12 months. It is unclear whether or not Chappell will elect to continue in his modified position.

Tensions between Chappell and the players bubbled under the surface during the summer, and Sutherland admitted that there were times he too was not welcome in the dressing room. Famed for wanting a free hand in whatever role he takes in cricket, Chappell must now adjust his methods and concentrate on talent identification, or move on.

"In terms of whether Greg is happy or not, that's something you can ask him," CA chief executive James Sutherland said. "I've spoken to him ahead of these recommendations being handed down. So he understands what the board has recommended and what it has adopted in that respect, and we will go on from there.

"He may well have some decisions to make himself about that, but that's really in his hands. It was a brief conversation, I had a lot of people to speak to today, I was delivering a message to give him an update, he hasn't seen the report, so he needs time to digest that.

"It was seen as important that there is a segregation of duty between the national selector and the national talent manager, such that the national talent manager was no longer a selector. Nothing to do with personality, purely a structural decision that best divests accountability."

Accountability was a major theme of the day, as CA sought to change a structure that had clearly lost its edge and effectiveness across years of success, leaving it quite unprepared to deal with the aftermath of that era.

"The lack of accountability and the objective of really performing was something that wasn't in the jargon that was coming through, and that's from what I'm used to outside, so that's an outsider's view," Argus said. "If the national team can concentrate on starting to get a winning culture going again that's a good start, and it doesn't need to be distracted by all the noise about selection and other stuff that they read, I'm sure that unsettles them. This gets the structure settled down and they can concentrate on what they do best. That's really what it'll be all about."

Clarke and Sutherland also emphasised that the search for the head coach, full-time chairman of selectors and general manager high performance would all be global ones, with no preference for local or internal candidates.


Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field

Australia's cricket team has become a prized example of mismanagement, non-performance, inadequate succession planning, poor team culture, and a glaring lack of accountability. Its pathway from club cricket to the first-class arena has become muddled, beset by a wrongheaded incentive structure, a poor format and a similar waft of the unaccountable.

So says Don Argus' report into the sharply declining performance of the nation's cricketers and their support network, in a document every bit as ugly and confronting as the Ashes loss that hurried its commission. While the recommendations of the Argus review panel were dramatic and immediate, the detail of the report is so damning as to make them look reserved.

The most galling passages concern the reasons for the poor performance of the Australian team, and the failure of a seemingly bountiful, well-paid side and support staff to adequately address even the most basic of issues since a succession of retirements pushed the XI into a new phase.

Australia's captain Michael Clarke said on his entry to the leadership that Australia's basics had to improve. The review quantifies exactly how much, pointing out the national team had shown an inability to adhere to many of the most basics tenets of the game.

"The evidence from the Ashes and other recent series is that our basic cricket skills are lacking in key areas, in particular: For batting; batting for long periods; batting against the moving ball; our approach to playing spin; general batting technique in some instances," it read. "For bowling; building pressure; bowling to an agreed plan; spin bowling and captaincy of spin bowling; swing bowling, including generating reverse swing. For fielding; overall fielding, especially catching; General athleticism; this has extra significance as in the panel's view fielding standards reflect the attitude and professionalism of the team.

"For our overall approach; Building batting and bowling partnerships; General game sense/match awareness and cricket expertise, including the ability to problem-solve during the course of a match."

Ironically for a team that has had a baseball-based fielding coach for numerous years in Mike Young, the review suggested that greater measures of fielding needed to be taken for this aspect of the game served as both a reliable way to improve results but also a strong barometer for the team's wellness.

"For catching and fielding specifically, the panel recommends introducing explicit measurement of catching and fielding efficiency for all first-class and international players and teams," the review said. "These should also feed in to player rankings/performance incentives.

"One simple measure would be catches taken as a percentage of chances created. Chances could be weighted by difficulty if required. The same could be done for run-outs. Measures of this nature have been standard practice in baseball and other sports for decades and should become standard in Australian cricket."

In addition to the many problems of skill, the panel also highlighted inconsistencies in selection and the failure to consistently promote or demote players on the basis of performance. Simon Katich alluded to this problem during his furious response to being dropped from CA's list of contracted players, a decision that defied fairness and most logic.

"It is critical that superior performance is rewarded at all levels," the report said. "Players must earn their positions in the time-honoured way of making runs, taking wickets and showing that they are ready to play at the next level. At the same time, potential cannot be overlooked: there must be room for some intuition in selections. Players must be held accountable when they are not performing. This has been an issue in recent years."

For Clarke, the greatest problem he has been charged with confronting is the building of a much improved team culture, which promoted greater trust and leadership by example. As a way of measuring this, Clarke and his deputy Shane Watson will be pushed to foster more frank "adult conversations" while undergoing a process of mentoring themselves.

"Another theme to emerge from the interviews was the lack of a strong culture in the current Australian team," the review said. "There was also negative commentary about the broader culture in Australian cricket. The attitudes reported are quite different to those needed to be successful at elite level. Remedying these issues is clearly critical, and requires immediate and concerted effort.

"The team's leaders need to be made aware of the situation and their roles in creating it. A 360-degree feedback process is needed, followed by "adult conversations" with each individual spelling out how they are perceived and, where necessary, agreeing required changes to behaviour as part of an overall development plan (skills, physiology and psychology).

"Senior players including the captain and vice-captain should receive mentoring by an external professional at least every 6 months and at least for the first 2 years of their tenure. The captain should also actively seek and use the counsel of his vice-captain, which is an important role and should be more clearly defined.

Armed with this awareness, senior players and staff must lead by example. They must perform strongly on the field but also role model the desired behaviours and enlist the other opinion-shapers in the group to do the same. They must also increase the level of trust and honesty within the group."

The term "adult conversation" was used several times in the report, and again by Argus while discussing its release. The message was as clear as the report itself - time for the Australian cricket team to grow up.

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