When it comes to batting advice, it’s hard to go past Sir Donald Bradman. And some words of wisdom he had for Wagga coach Warren Smith are timeless.
“He said, ‘Sonny, this is what you do – you keep the ball on the ground and you can’t get out,” Smith recalled.
At a time of soul-searching in Australian cricket, Smith says it’s easy for batsmen to be confused by expectations.
A pressure-easing win for the Test team against South Africa last weekend avoided a rare home series whitewash. But Australia’s recent habit of batting collapses means it will take more than one victory to arrest concerns of a disturbing decline.
Smith is an esteemed local junior coach and the batting coach at Sydney club Mosman.
He says common sense, not science, is the answer.
“It’s the most simple game I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.
“Why do people get on the computer and say here’s how to play a cover drive? I throw him the ball and teach him to use his feet. I’ve got no time for bowling machines because you become a robot. I throw hundreds, thousands of balls and watch. It’s all about footwork.”
Smith is unashamedly old school in his approach.
Not for him the risks of a David Warner-style.
“In the first dozen runs, he’ll give you a chance,” Smith said.
“It might go for six but it’ll go in the air. And it’s no use if after an hour you’re 3-15.”
Occupying the crease is more important than chasing runs, Smith tells his pupils.
“At Mosman, they’re philosophy before I got there was to go 6, 4, 3,2, 1,” Smith said.
“I said you go go 1, 2, 3, 4, 6. They weren’t getting enough ones. The more ones you get for your innings and your team, the more games you win.”
But the Warner effect packs a punch, not least in entertainment. The Test debut of opener Matt Renshaw highlighted the challenges and expectations in the Twenty20 era.
Renshaw’s introduction was to face South Africa and the pink ball for the last 12 overs of the first day (night), under lights.
He and Usman Khawaja were hailed for showing grit in surviving til stumps.
By the end of the Test, the Queensland newcomer was under pressure for his slow-scoring 34 not out to guide Australia to victory.
“Okay, he missed a lot of balls but what he did when he had to go out there with Khawaja – that kid had to go out there and do 12 overs of the toughest stuff,” Smith said.
Smith is also a fan of another new face, Peter Handscomb, who scored a half-century on debut.
Renshaw is likely to make way for Shaun Marsh when Test cricket returns in a fortnight. But before then, Australia plays three one-dayers against New Zealand, highlighting another bug-bear for Smith about Australian cricket.
“I don’t think they know what they’re doing,” he said.
“It’s at the top. Some of these blokes have got to go.”