One of the best cricketing sides ever - the Aussies of the '90s and early 2000s were coached by John Buchanan. Buchanan was known for his innovative coaching methods which he tried to bring to the fore as KKR head coach in 2008 with Brendon McCullum as captain. Here's the former Aussie coach talking about different topics in this interview. Excerpts:
How would you assess your stint in IPL as a coach?
It wasn't that successful in terms of results, and therefore I would have liked to have been involved a lot longer. Nonetheless, it was an incredible experience to be involved with the first two stanzas of the IPL. It was a new game, new format, and new way of presenting the game. So all in all, it was a pretty exciting experience.
You were the one who first to see Brendon McCullum's potential as a leader during your KKR stint. What is your take on Brendon as KKR’s coach?
I am sure Brendon will bring to coaching the same sort of storm approach that he brought to the game as a player and as a captain, as a leader, as a batsman. He likes to take the game on, chances his arm, takes a bit of risk. He certainly backs all his players to the hilt. It gives him that opportunity to do the same. He was a well-respected team person as well as a captain. So I think he’ll bring all sorts of traits to his coaching. It's certainly a different role from being a player and being a captain. I am sure he has a fair bit of learning to do. If he shows the same aptitude and adaptability as a coach as he did as a batsman and a leader of a team, I am sure he will make some reasonable success.
What is the role of a head coach in a team, when you have batting, bowling and fielding coaches?
Effectively, a head coach these days is operating with two teams, an on-field team and an off-field team, needs to be able to and bring them together and head in the same direction. That is certainly one of Brendon's strengths. I think he would be able to bring it to the standards as a head coach’s role demands.
In a franchise-based tournament, the coaches interact with the player for a limited period. Do you think skill-based coaching is tough in such a short period?
Yes. Look, coaching is all about relationships. Relationships with the people that you're dealing with, whether it is players, support staff and then owners. Relationships take time to build. One of the advantages that Brendon has is that he comes into the IPL, well known and well-respected, with great credentials as a player and a leader. So that will automatically give him a nice head start. He is the type of person that is very approachable and backs everybody around him. So I think he will be certainly well liked by everybody in the franchise. My understanding of Shahrukh Khan, when I was coaching in 2008-2009 was that, they were keen to build something very special over a period of time and gradually they're doing that. In professional sport these days if a coach or a team is not winning, then the coach is replaced quickly. This works against the whole possibility of achieving something very special to your vision.
How is coaching in T20 different from Test match or ODI coaching?
In T20 cricket, the main thing is to get clear on having some sort of strategy around the game. It requires very good and quick decision-making because it's a short period of game and there really is no general stopping time. Not only by coach and support staff, but by the players who are on the field and having to make those decisions very quickly, whether about batting, bowling or fielding. Therefore, the key is being able to adapt and adjust your skills quickly to suit whatever the situation is in the T20 game.
Any modern coach especially in the T20 format, has fascinated you?
I would not say that now, because I tend to feel at this stage, T20 cricket is still somewhat of a lottery. I don't think any team or any coach or indeed any players or captains have really worked out exactly what will give them a competitive advantage to win a majority of games.
What impact T20 cricket have had on cricket in general?
It brought a range of skills to the game. From a batting perspective, for example, batsmen now play anywhere between 270 and 360 degrees on the ground. They can bring that skill to Test cricket and One-Day cricket whenever they need to. Bowling-wise, there is greater variety from bowlers now. They had to develop skills other than just the core skill. We also see some incredible fielding these days.
Coaches like Greg Chappell and you, were too rigid to get into Indian culture while the likes of John Wright, Gary Kirsten and Stephen Fleming have embraced Indian way of cricket. What’s your view on this?
In terms of whether Australians understanding Indian culture or people understanding different cultures, there is always a difficulty in doing that. I think one of the things that Australians probably do differently than a Kirsten or a Fleming is that we are all straight shooters. We generally tend to say it as we see it, which can sometimes be taken as being abrupt, direct, or rigid. But in fact, it's probably quite the opposite. It is just the way the words are directed and communicated.
How do you mange superstar players and game changers like Gayle, Pietersen, Warne in the team, who can sometimes be troublesome to handle?
Sport is about winning. There is no other way around that. You want those game-changers in your teams to win games. However, they do bring some other baggage with them that needs to be managed and in my mind that can be done, if it is a collective effort. But as soon as those individual game-changers lose their ability to win games, then often are the first people to be ejected from a side. They find it very difficult not to be the centre of attention, not to be the person who is going to be either given the ball, given the opportunity to win a game. So firstly, yes, have them in. Secondly, manage them well. Thirdly, if they don't win games then it's time they exit.