Wayne brings in a new world

The leaders of England's Championship are learning the Australian way
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wayne Clark was in Perth, West Australia, idly contemplating his future as coach of the state's cricket team when Darren Lehmann telephoned to ask if he would be interested in coaching Yorkshire this season. Lehmann himself had already been offered the job and turned it down, but he found Clark in a receptive mood. The whole transaction took a week. It took Clark longer to grasp what he was in for.

He was replacing Martyn Moxon, who had walked out in high dudgeon. He was joining a county whose attitude to county cricket is a combustible mixture of expectation and frustration, and there was tension in the dressing room between the captain David Byas, the old sweat and the resident star player, Darren Gough.

Clark has taken all this in his stride. He was watching Somerset dent Yorkshire's Championship progress by scoring 371 for 2 on the first day at Bath last week without visible vexation. What concerned him most was Somerset's strategy. He has already observed the habit in the Championship of batting the opposition out of the game before trying to win. He was afraid that Somerset's captain Jamie Cox, an Australian himself, might succumb to the negative. Clark himself belongs to the Australian branch of the School of Positive Thinking: "In order to win a game, you have to be willing to put yourself in a position in which you could lose," he says.

Yorkshire have won four of their four-day games this summer, lost one and drawn one, and they head the CricInfo Championship. But Clark will not permit speculation: "I don't want to hear the word 'Championship' mentioned. What we've got to do is get our process right, the skills, the preparation. Then the result looks after itself," he says.

The use of the word "process" defines Clark as the very modern cricket coach. He denies the idea of the coach for a start. "You've got to be a manager. I'm there to provide the resources for the player, not necessarily fix his problems myself." This is the Duncan Fletcher mould, and it is taking root in English cricket.

Having reached the age of 47, Clark had never set foot in England before this spring. He had opened the bowling with Jeff Thomson in Bobby Simpson's Australian team in the late-1970s and took 44 Test wickets at an average of 28.72. Clark became a stalwart in local cricket in Perth but when he retired he deserted the game completely, taking a sales manager's job in Alan Bond's Swan Brewery. He moved on to buy a liquor store and a grocery business. He was on the way to becoming an entrepreneur, which is what businessmen in Perth do.

But the State team had not forgotten him and when a serious outbreak of factionalism broke out in 1994-5 he was offered the coach's post. "They wanted me not so much for coaching as for my management skill," he says. Whatever he calls it, his team won the Sheffield Shield two years in succession. Clark has now signed up for the job with Yorkshire for three years. "The important thing I can bring here is better communication, working one-to-one with players so they can improve their skills and their mental approach." Management skill means knowing how much change an organisation can take.

John Buchanan, the current Australian coach, was cold-shouldered by the senior pros in his year in charge at Middlesex: "He tried dramatic change, but you've got to realise you can't change the system. You've got to decide how you can work with it, and get a five or 10 per cent improvement in the players." His philosophy is simple: "You put the team first." His method is no less so: "If they don't, they probably won't play."

He arrived with few illusions. Tom Moody and Justin Langer are in the West Australia dressing room so there was plenty of advice to be had. "My expectations were not great. I knew there was a lot of cricket and that it is hard to motivate players. My main job is to try to keep them fresh and to retain enthusiasm. It's been easy while we've been winning, but it is going to get harder."

Clark is enthusiastic about central contracts because the rest the players take between Tests, but they mean that he has lost Gough, Vaughan, Hoggard, plus Sidebottom. Craig White is recuperating in the Yorkshire team and, Clark reports, is still struggling with his back. Bowlers keep on turning up (Stephen Kirby took 7 for 50 on his debut last week). But he had been forewarned about the batting.

There are new faces in the team this season. Scott Richardson (23) was opening at Bath. Gary Fellows (22) has been scoring runs, and Matthew Wood (24) is back in the team after breaking a bone. Lehmann continues to score heavily, but he is now allowed to fail, and David Byas is back in the runs.

Clark never experienced the Headingley wicket at its worst, but he understands it is the reason why young Yorkshire batsmen like Wood found it hard to establish themselves. There was no stability in the line-up and confidence became rare, "The main thing is getting belief in themselves," says Clark.

A good start to the season has included a reduction in the tension between the captain and the star: Byas is no longer so angry; Gough is less cocky. When Clark arrived, the body language between the two was distressing. Clark notes a big improvement ­ when Gough returns to the team.

Clark's judgements are delivered without flamboyance. He has a long face that could look lugubrious if he did not smile readily. He is a mercenary, attracted by the reward as well as the challenge. "All our blokes are looking to come over here and better themselves. It's good money, especially with a weak Australian dollar."

What Yorkshire get is an emphasis on work ethic and team ethos. This is the language of Australia's cricketing morality, and the success it brings is changing English cricket. It is a form of Australianisation, and Wayne Clark is part of ­ his word ­ the process.