Time to radically re-evaluate the Buchanan legacy
Former Australian cricket team national coach John Buchanan is leaving his wooden spoon IPL franchise, the Kolkata Knight Riders.
This was no surprise to the cricket fraternity, not least former leg spinner and noted wine buff Stuart MacGill, who’d heard on the cricketing grapevine that Buchanan’s departure was a near certainty.
Buchanan’s main critic down the years has been Shane Warne. But it’s the thinking man’s leggie, MacGill, who’s unleashed the most stinging criticism yet of Buchanan, in the July issue of Alpha magazine.
Specifically, MacGill accuses Buchanan of butchering Australia’s chances in the 2005 Ashes by completely failing to analyse the England team or English conditions.
“I’d suggest that John Buchanan failed to prepare the team in any way that was relevant to the series,” MacGill says.
“We were caught up in our performances, and that’s something that John really went on and on and on about. He’d say ‘we’ll take care of us, we’ll control the controllables’, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be aware of what’s happening on the other side of the fence.”
MacGill’s key grievance is that Buchanan spent too much time on the inner-workings of the Australian players’ minds, and almost none on the hardly trivial matter of their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.
Buchanan has a website, where he proudly announces himself as a former “coach of the best cricket team in the world”. The site has a blurb for his recent book If Better is Possible. It contains a section on scouting the opposition. Talk about irony. Anyway, on the site Buchanan explains: “There is a mix of principles which connect through everything I do, and while that encompasses such things as vision, planning, organizational culture, stretching beyond boundaries and so on, essentially, at the core of it all, is consideration of the individual.”
In 2005 Australia stumbled to a 2-1 series loss with no enemy dossier. It was a bit like going to the races without a form guide.
If English cricket had been in its traditional shambolic state, the ostrich approach would still have been hard to justify. But this was an undeniably strong England team. By mid 2005, England had lost just one of its previous 18 Tests. In all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, batsman Kevin Pietersen and swing bowler Simon Jones, it had three of the most devastating talents in world cricket. Yet still, it appears none of this was enough to prod Buchanan’s curiosity.
“Kevin Pietersen completely slipped under the radar despite the fact that I’d played with him for three years at Notts,” MacGill says.
“Over half of the Australian squad of 25 contracted players had played county cricket, and we all voiced concerns that we hadn’t discussed the English players.
“A member of the squad [who is now a senior player] even approached me and asked when we were going to analyse their players.”
All of which begs the question: apart from skills sessions and gym workouts, how exactly did Buchanan prepare the Australians?
“Well, before we went on the tour we spent four hours in a meeting room in Brisbane working through Edward de Bono’s thinking hats or whatever they were,” MacGill says. “That’s what we did.”
“Expecting big fast bowlers to translate Edward de Bono into trying to deal with a batsman who’s strong outside the off stump, well, I’ll leave the value of that to you.”
For the record, MacGill played none of his 44 Tests on the ’05 Ashes tour, and was injured in Buchanan’s infamous “boot camp” before the 2006/07 Ashes series in Australia. So accuse Australia’s favourite wine-lover of sour grapes if you must.
But there’s no doubt that John Buchanan’s overall coaching record is now under serious review by the wider cricket community, especially after the Knight Riders’ woeful IPL season, when Buchanan experimented with a rotating captaincy, infuriating fans, officials and players alike.
Talk to any retired cricketer from Australia’s decade-and-a-half of world dominance, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any real love for Buchanan. Delve a little deeper and you’ll find some genuine resentment.
The fact is, cricket fans have long suspected that Skippy the Bush Kangaroo could have coached the likes of Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Ponting to the top of cricket’s tree – and cricketers themselves are now starting to say as much.
A charitable précis of Buchanan’s eight year reign as Aussie coach is that he became a man-manager in an age when cricket’s professionalism was booming. That he did for players’ mental development what the cricket academy does for their physical skills. They do say cricket’s mostly played in the mind, after all.
A less charitable assessment would be that he crammed players’ heads with new-age corporate-speak, befuddling them with recycled, dog-eared old quotes.
“Sportsmen are not renowned for their ability to sift through mounds of paperwork or get a great deal out of a PowerPoint presentation,” MacGill says.
“That Sun Tzu is a good read, but applying The Art Of War to a match of cricket… I don’t get the links. It’s a red ball, hit it.”
Buchanan has a website, where he proudly announces himself as a former “coach of the best cricket team in the world”. The site has a blurb for his recent book If Better is Possible. It contains a section on scouting the opposition. Talk about irony.
England just appointed Buchanan as a consultant. Anyone want to back the Aussies to reverse the ’05 result?
The July issue of Alpha magazine goes on sale next week
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