Saqlain Mushtaq’s Linkedin profile reads ‘cricket coach, freelance’. Ever since the Pakistan off-spinner retired, he has had a flourishing career as a freelance coach, guiding national teams and counties for a short period and moving on. His resume boasts of coaching teams like the England Lions (Centre of Excellence), Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh, Middlesex and Somerset. And yet it’s only been eight years since Mushtaq has retired from first-class cricket.
Currently, Mushtaq is reported to be travelling with the England team as a spin consultant for their home tour of Pakistan that will last just over two months. Though such short-term appointments are a norm in franchise league cricket where the likes of Wasim Akram mentor Kolkata Knight Riders for only the two months of IPL, it is also becoming a trend in international cricket.
In fact the number of such consultants is on a rise. On Wednesday, Muttiah Muralitharan was announced consultant of the Australia team that is in Sri Lanka for a Test series starting later this month. Last month, Muralitharan was in Kolkata for around a week as part of his Vision 2020 contract with the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), monitored personally by president and former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
Freelance cricketers like Kevin Pietersen ply their trade in different franchise leagues. But it becomes a completely different thing when a retired player is hired by another team to plot the fall of his former mates. There are certain perks of such appointments. Coaches are not getting tied down by binding contracts of national teams and instead offer services for a specific duration or a particular tour on their own terms. This way they not only allow a fairer division of their time between family and career but also become more mature by supervising different teams in the same year.
From the cricket associations’ perspective, it seems they want to pull all stops to ensure a favourable result. That shows in the short-term appointment of Muralitharan who was once at the centre of a huge storm in Australia 17 years ago for a no-ball row with umpire Darrell Hair. With time, cricket has become more professional and this shows how past doesn’t matter when it comes to making the present count.
But there have been naysayers. There was a raging debate last year when Mahela Jayawardene worked with England ahead of the World T20. Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews however backed Jayawardene at that time. In fact two months later when Sri Lanka toured England, Mathews openly said that he was expecting to get some tips from Jayawardene since he was no longer involved with the England team.
“When it comes to international cricket there are no secrets to be honest,” Mathews had said after landing in England. “I think we have a lot of video footage, they have video footage of us as well, so there are no real secrets. When you get on the park you know what they are up to and the plan for this, and we get to know it. But there might be a couple of tactical ideas that Mahela can predict. I’m pretty sure that guys like Mahela and Sangakkara will always come and help us,” Mathews was quoted as saying.
India too are not new to this trend. Their first such memorable short-term signing was during the tour of Australia in 2003 when they roped in Bruce Reid as the bowling consultant. A left-arm pacer of great repute whose career was cut short by injury, Reid joined the India team that had three left-arm pacers at that time --- Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and a young Irfan Pathan. That historic series ended 1-1.
When Michael Hussey joined the South Africa team during the World Cup last year, he was slammed for joining the ‘enemy camp’. “Since it became public, there has been a bit of criticism and I think that’s because the Australians have real respect for the South African cricket team and they see them as one of the big threats in this tournament,” Hussey said. “We want a strong world game and we want strong competition, and I don’t have a problem working with other teams,” he said.
The fear of vital information being shared with the enemy camp was always there. That is why football coaches still insist on closed training sessions nowadays. Cricket is a different ball game after the advent of franchise leagues. Nothing’s a secret, especially when it comes to the players. Coaches too, are treading the same path. Once a successful coach of KKR, Trevor Bayliss now is with the England team. So when England will come to India later this year, they are sure to benefit from Bayliss’s extensive knowledge of the grounds and even some of the players he has seen from close during the IPL. At the end of the day, it is more technical information that normally discussed, with notes on some of the players. With more coaches choosing the freelance way, cricket could only go on to become more tactical, competitive and a riveting watch.