Game of trust

Why the Clarke-Arthur combine failed where Kirsten-Upton succeeded

A pleasant Colombo evening brings with it ample options for a visitor. On one such evening, during the 2008 tour, Zaheer Khan headed out for dinner after a gruelling day of practice. But after he stepped out of the elevator at the Taj Samudra, the evening didn't take the planned course.

Once in the lobby, India's No 1 pacer was cornered by the team's new mental conditioning coach, Paddy Upton. A regular on the supper-speech circuit and at corporate seminars, author of a weight-loss book and bearer of a Masters degree in sports science and cricket coaching,Upton was never short of words. On this occasion, he kept up a stream of questions. The South African just loved long, casual chats. Unconfirmed reports say Zaheer had to be content with room service that day.

Subsequently on that tour, players would hide or change course to avoid a man who was merely doing his job, which was to get under the skin of the Indian cricketers to read their minds. Those were the early days of scepticism in the Gary Kirsten-Upton era. Dodging Upton was but a natural resistance to change.

In recent years, physics, biology and chemistry have been dedicated chapters in coaching manuals. Corporate concepts of leadership have crept into sporting arenas. Brain-mapping experts have found their way into the locker room, trying to deduce that elusive winning psychology. For most athletes, who would have looked down on the academically inclined since their schooldays, this wasn't acceptable. To be dictated by ideas borrowed from the suit-wearing world wasn't easy either.

This ingrained resentment among the stars of the sporting world has triggered several coach versus player conflicts. Australia has been fertile ground for such differences, the most famous being the very entertaining and very public war of words between Shane Warne and John Buchanan. In a charitable mood, Warne called Buchanan a "very average cricketer turned innovative coach" who over-complicated issues and lacked common sense. At other times, Buchanan was a "goose", prone to regular bouts of "verbal diarrhoea".

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