Mad Professor sinking with Riders

John Buchanan had a reputation as a bit of a ‘Mad Professor’ when he was head coach of the Australian national team but you could hardly criticise his record. The only question people could legitimately ask, is: “Was it his record?”

Or did it belong to the players? Shane Warne’s view was that Donald Duck could have coached Steve Waugh’s team to Ashes whitewashes and consecutive World Cup wins, even Daffy Duck, for that matter. Others suggested that ‘Buch’ had a quiet influence behind the scenes which was critical to the team’s success but too subtle for the likes of Warne to even see.

Now, his tenure at the helm of the Kolkatta Knight Riders is a chance to prove the detractors and doubters wrong. Or right.

At the inaugural IPL auction last year Buchanan showed a courage lacking in most other Franchises when he bid for – and bought – Shoaib Akhtar. Given that the Pakistan speedster has never committed to anything or anyone but himself in his career, is an injury-risk on the Flintoff scale and was banned at the time for the umpteenth doping/disciplinary indiscretion, it was a bold move by the ‘Prof.’

It flopped.

But that didn’t put him off this year although his gambling took a different form. Instead of rolling the dice on an unreliable but known performer who has at least won games, he targeted an unknown who hasn’t won anything since the under-17s.

Moises Henriques is an all-rounder with 10 first-class games worth of experience and batting and bowling averages of 23 and 38 respectively. He was so shocked at being called into the Australian T20 squad earlier this season he said: “I was speechless for 15 minutes. I haven’t had the season I wanted, I’ve been disappointing and inconsistent.” Hardly a roaring cheer of self-belief and confidence.

Yet Buch reckoned he was a bargain at $300,000 as the ninth international player in a system which permits only four to play. Never mind. At least Buch has got it right with his coaching staff.

True to his reputation as a visionary, he planned for eventualities that other coaches couldn’t see, let alone understand.

Buch knew that there’d be a bit of inclement weather around in SA at this time of year and, heaven forbid, games might be shortened to even less than 20 overs per innings. What if a place in the semi finals, or final, was at stake in a crucial game at the end of the tournament and it came to down to a Five-Five match? Aha! Buch would be better prepared than anyone else – he would have a coach for each over!

That’s right. The Prof has four assistant coaches. That’s FOUR. They are Matthew Mott (assistant coach), Andy Bichel (bowling coach), Wayde Seccombe (wicket-keeping coach?) and Brad Murphy (wasn’t he also a wicket-keeper…?)

There are also four fitness and physio people, at the last count, but not a psychologist in sight despite Buch’s decision to pour paraffin onto a smouldering squad by sacking Ganguly as captain and appointing Brendan McCullum whose greatest successes have come precisely because he was unencumbered with leadership responsibility.

Finally, there is one aspect of the Knight Riders affairs which Buch really can’t control. When owner Shahrukh Khan said before the tournament began that his team “may not win all the time but we’ll have the most fun…” many would say the writing was on the wall. As it probably is now for John Buchanan and his merry men, too.

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