It’s holiday time in the Garaway household. We are now on our annual “coaching holiday”.
I indulge myself in reading books on my kindle whilst listening to the sea lap up against the shore in St Lucia.
The book that I am flying through presently is the latest offering from Matthew Syed.
“The Greatest” continues Matthews quest to understand what makes certain people achieve incredible levels of success in sport, business, the arts and life in general whilst the rest of us paddle against the tide.
Matthew’s books are easy to follow, provocative, incredibly well researched and for me ask many questions of my present coaching practice which in turn helps me to become a better coach in the future.
“Bounce”, “Black box thinking” and “The Greatest” are all certainly well worth a read whether you are a player, parent or a coach.
In one section Syed writes about the relatively untapped notion of “invisible genius”.
Generally in sport, the most valued performers are the fastest, the iconic player, the goal scorer, the winger who dots the ball down for a try, the high scoring forward in basketball or the quarterback in American Football.
These are the players who are awarded Best Player trophies, receive the majority of headlines or are the names that people sing about in the stands. They do the things that are easy to measure, simple to to quantify and which clearly demonstrate their value to the team.
In my time with England, we had Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen who took the role of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the England cricket Team of that era.
They pair won the awards, stole the headlines and were incredible cricketers in their own right. Without them, England would not have won the 2005 Ashes, that is for sure.
Syed recognises that in Lionel Messi, Barcelona have an incredible talent who is featured in every preview on TV and discussed in bars all over the world ahead of each La Liga fixture.
They also have Andres Iniesta patrolling the midfield, creating space for himself and others, spotting angles of attack that simply pass others by and creating opportunities for the likes of Messi to bag a mountain of goals each year.
Occasionally, Iniesta grabs the headlines as he did by scoring the World Cup winning goal in 2010 for Spain against Holland but in the main, much of Iniesta’s work is as invisible to my eyes as it is to many football followers around the world.
His peers describe him as the best player in the world, even better than Messi, yet he rarely receives a nomination for the FIFA Balon d’Or award each year.
Back to England in 2005
We had a couple of Iniestas in the 2005 Ashes winning team.
Ashley Giles displayed invisible genius in so many ways. This lead to him being the target of criticism from journalists in the lead up to most England Test matches and spectators wondering what kind of hold he had on Duncan Fletcher when it came to selection.
Ashley didn’t have a hold on Fletch at all, his peers recognised that Giles was the glue that sat behind the firepower of England’s fantastic fast bowling group of Harmison, Flintoff, Jones and Hoggard. Ash would bowl tightly from one end whilst Micheal Vaughan rotated his four-pronged spearhead from the other end.
It was a formula that took England from Test Match dummies to Ashes Winners within 2 years.
That was one element of invisible genius which went unnoticed by many yet was hugely appreciated by his fellow bowlers. Ash also played so many key innings for England, he was everyone’s favourite batting partner as he mixed determination, bravery and fun together in a very special way.
On most occasions, he played selflessly for his more fluent partner at the other end with the most famous example of that coming in the partnership with KP at the Oval in that infamous series.
But he also took on the senior player role in other key innings at crucial times of matches.
Who got England back on track and then hit the winning runs in the 4th Test of that series at Trent Bridge? Giles was that man and it was incredibly reassuring to see Ashley walking to the middle when a major collapse looked likely to deny England the victory they had worked so hard for in the previous 3 innings of the game. He only got 7 not out that day but they were the most important 7 runs in England cricket history.
Marcus Trescothick was another invisible genius.
His ball shining abilities and determination to understand as much as he could about keeping the ball in shape for longer was as important to the likes of Hoggard and Flintoff as Ashley Giles’ supporting overs.
Hoggard and Jones benefitted hugely from the work that Tres put into the ball. As well as Jones bowled in the 3rd & 4th Tests of that series he was only able to have as big an impact as he did as a result of the ball being in prime condition each time he started his spell.
Trescothick was the ball shiner and when he played we knew that our bowlers would be in the game for longer periods of time as attacking forces.
Our invisible genius quest
So what are the invisible genius bits of cricket that we need to start recognising and rewarding?
- Ball shining so well that your bowlers are in the game longer.
- Running 40 yards to back up the bowlers end only for the ball to be thrown to the keeper.
- Creating “stolen run” opportunities for your batting partner through your awareness and quick thinking.
- For getting to the bowlers end stumps and acting as a “bowlers end keeper” even though the ball isn’t thrown to your end.
- Bowling up hill and up wind to allow your main strike bowler to have the ideal conditions for him to effect the game.
- For learning about how your team mates tick so that you can prepare them with specific and relevant words to help them to perform more optimally when they enter the playing arena.
- For being the guy who runs 20 metres to support someone who has just rushed a pick up on a elementary run out opportunity.
There maybe more that I could learn about. If you have on then please share!
It’s great to have Flintoff’s, Messi’s, Ronaldo’s and Pietersens in your teams as they produce spell binding and “obvious” genius to help create match winning opportunities for their teams.
But it’s now also the time to support, encourage and develop some of the “invisible genius” elements within our players that are equally important to the overall success of any team.
- Which players are the Iniesta, Trescothick and Giles of your cricket team?
- What “invisible genius” criteria can you recognise and promote in your day to day coaching practice in order to to support and inspire these crucial types of cricketer?
Lastly, start reading Matthew Syed books. They are all truly brilliant.