Transcript: Couch Talk with Mike Young

Couch Talk Episode 57 (play)

Guest: Mike Young, Former Australia fielding, current fielding coach of Kings XI Punjab

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is the former fielding coach of the Australian national team, and currently with the IPL franchise, Kings XI Punjab, Mike Young. We will be talking about his transition from his Baseball roots to Cricket, the new philosophies he brought in to improving fielding skills, his experiences of coaching International players, and also about the Youth Clinic he is holding in Maryland shortly.

Welcome to the show, Coach!

Mike Young– It’s great to be here. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

SJ– It’s my pleasure! You were a baseball lifer, appointed as a fielding consultant by Australia cricket team in 2000. How and why did that move to cricket come about?

MY– I was in Australia, I’ve been there for several years. I’ve coached their baseball team there in the Olympics and I did professional baseball in the opposite season. I lived in Queensland and, John Buchanan was coaching the Queensland team, later to become the Australian coach. We became friends. Long story made short, he came to me and asked if I can transfer over. We had some discussion; I worked out with the Queensland team. We made some adjustments and added some new things, and brought me over. Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were pleased. And they asked me if I would continue in full time capacity. That is how it kicked off.

SJ– Did you have to deal with any issue of credibility- as a person coming to cricket without ever having played it, also from a different sport background (Baseball), and perhaps more significantly you being an American?

MY– A little bit of that. But, not large, because by the time I was into cricket, I was in Australia for 20 years, almost. I had gained a bit of success in baseball and some reputation, in Australia. So, people knew who I was. I was also conscious that I was not involved in cricket; it would’ve been inappropriate of me to come in and say “You got to do it this way, you got to do it that way.” I didn’t do that. If I had done that, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. I had a lot to learn, I took a lot of time, I asked a lot of questions. I had great people to talk with, like Ponting and Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer – great friends of mine, and Adam Gilchrist – they assisted me along the way. I picked up on it. It just took a while.

SJ– When you joined the Australian team, they were already hailed as being one of the two best fielding teams in the world – the other being South Africa, with Jonty Rhodes. What were your initial impressions on the skill levels and fielding techniques, and what were the areas you thought you could significantly improve in what they were doing?

MY– Right away, you could see that the athletic talent was there. But, I felt there was a lack of a real strong aggression to go for it, to throw the ball more. There was a conservative nature involved not only with Australia. But with all this athletic talent, we just got a little more aggressive. Ricky was amazing, because not only is he a great fielder, because he rated the team depending on how they were fielding. That is the energy factor. To have him supporting everything that I was trying to get done went a long way, as you could appreciate. It was just a matter of getting them believe in their athletic abilities and then just go and lay it out there.

After that, we had Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke the young fellow, apart from Ponting, Hayden etc. I was very fortunate to have the athletes I had to begin with.

SJ– Were there any specific aspects – technique or skill wise, you brought in that wasn’t prevalent in the cricket community?

MY– We talked a lot about their throwing mechanics. They didn’t do a lot of throwing. There was a lot of arm soreness and stuff. We worked on that a lot. The biggest thing for me was footwork. Your feet are everything in fielding- how quick you move your feet, your first step reaction. Sometimes, the guys on the boundary, they get lost out there. We only see on television the outcome, we don’t see what caused it that he missed it only be a foot. It is usually because they get a late break on the ball.  We worked on that kind of stuff.

Basically chasing in pairs, working a lot as a unit I brought in some different terminology to make it fun and exciting for them- “hunting in packs” etc. I brought in the fielding gloves. Now guys were catching with gloves. I got a little bit of hassle on that one, because the guys thought that was crazy.  The reality was that when they were catching at the close quarters like in the slips, the ball is hard. Of course, when they were doing the drills, they couldn’t smack up at a brand new ball.

I felt that yes, we are not going to use gloves in the game, but we got to get something on so you can work on your reaction time. For me, that’s what it was all about. Now, you see guys all over the world wearing hand-gloves. It was fun to see these things take shape. it was just that, not that I was doing things better, just that I didn’t know the nuances. I had the opportunity. I didn’t grow up with the game. I didn’t know the tradition. So, I was able to be a little more innovative in my mind.

SJ– One of the things when you grow up with cricket is walking in with a bowler. I had read that you were actually surprised when you said that you were surprised to see the bowler walk in and you said, “You can just walk the last few steps and save your energy!”

MY– That’s right. I said that many times in interviews. I see guys like Gillespie and these guys walk in 12 steps in and when they are in their finishing steps, they would be upright and I didn’t understand that. And they would walk back and walk in every ball in a test match. They must’ve walked an extra 5 kilometers or miles, and get tired. And I asked a question, and they said “You have to walk in with the bowler.” That was the answer, and I asked them what the reason is. How is it going to make him a better player, how is it going to make you win? I didn’t really get an answer, except they kept saying “You walk in with the bowler.”

The one thing they did do was that they always seemed to stop at the same spot. As long as you know what spot you are going to end up at, why don’t you just let the bowler run up further before you start? And then take a couple of steps, and when you take those couple of steps, you are in a balanced position. Otherwise, you might just walk down the street. The guys looked at me and said that it made sense. Some compromise was made. I remember Jason Gillespie used to take a lot of steps. He said “Young, it is a routine for me, a comfort thing. I’m massive on that.” If it makes you comfortable, you do it. But why don’t we try to wheel it back? Instead of 12, let’s do 10. In a few years, he had come down to 6. That would have saved him a lot of steps, which would’ve otherwise been wasted effort.

SJ– There is a question from a listener- Navneet. He wants to know the differences in fielding challenges – how are they different in cricket and baseball, the challenges to the players themselves and as a coach inculcating the good habits?

MY– I can tell you now, I’ve said this before and I’m happy to say it all again, to me personally fielding in cricket, especially slips fielding in Test cricket is one of the most difficult thing to do in sports. We are talking about guys who are out there 5, 6 or 7 hours going “up down, up down” in hot weather. The average slip fielder, or say, the leading slip catcher only gets 2-2.5 catches per test match. They could be out there for two full days in hot weather, and that is phenomenal.

Then of course, they have to dive in to the left or right, or make one hand catches. Then they drop a ball, while I’m amazed when they even catch one because I know how hard it is. And the announcers are like, “Oh, he should’ve caught that one!” I think to myself that you guys are harsh! For me, let’s be honest, we can’t go past that.

In baseball, they use baseball gloves. I love Baseball. I grew up with Baseball. I did a lot of professional Baseball. I have been in Olympic games. But, it has come to the point where the gloves are so big that baseball players have become lazy. They can catch a baseball without good mechanics. They just throw their glove out there. We all know that in cricket, you can’t do that. The ball has got to stick in your hands. So, you have to be more conscious of what you are doing, have a good technique and look the ball in. The cricketers are the best catchers of the ball on the planet.

SJ– Who would you say is the best slip catcher that you have seen, in or outside Australia, in the last 12 years that you have been associated with cricket?

MY– That’s a tough one. But, I’ve said it many times, and I say it again – Matthew Hayden. Yes, he was a great catcher, so was Ponting. There were a lot of them. The reality is when you are 6’4”, 220-230 pounds and have to get down low to catch some of the balls that he had to catch. That is a heck of an effort. Hayden did it better than anybody. He was good, I’m not going to say he was better, but he was as good as anybody.

Also, Ricky Ponting (I’m going to bring up more Australians only because I was with them more). Ricky Ponting’s catching reaction time is very good. He has such quick hands. He doesn’t have big hands, his hands are small, but boy, they stick to his hands. He is tough, and his concentration level… That is the difference between Baseball and cricket. Those guys in baseball, they come off the field, then bat, then come off the field and take field. There is always time where they can take their minds off from fielding. We don’t have the luxury in cricket, do we? That’s one difference.

To answer your question- Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith – those guys are pretty good.

SJ– In terms of all around fielding – close in, within the circle, or outfield – who would you rate as the best all-round fielder? Ricky Ponting has to be up there…

MY– Ricky Ponting is up there. But I tell you, for a space of about 2 years, in both ODI and T20 later, without any question in my mind – Andrew Symonds. He was, and everybody in cricket would agree, a big man, extremely accurate with the throws, and if the ball hit his hands, it would stick. He was the best overall athlete that I saw in cricket =. From 2006 to 2008, he was better than anybody on the planet.

In saying that, I appreciate that when I came in, Jonty was going out.  He is a good friend of mine, we spend a lot of time talking fielding, he and I. He’s shared things with me, asked me questions, and vice versa. I can’t say that I saw Jonty play in his prime. So, I won’t make comments on that. But, I saw him on TV, and I saw a lot of his film work, and I can tell you that it is hard to get anything past Jonty Rhodes, isn’t it?

SJ– The 1992 World Cup was his.

You brought up the point on T20. These days there are so many franchise-based leagues all over the world, especially with the IPL, where you are with Kings XI Punjab. What is the impact of T20 leagues on the need for cricketers to be agile and sharp? I’m sure you have seen a tremendous increase in the fielding abilities in the last 12 years…

MY– From day 1, when I first saw T20 before the IPL, before the BBL and other leagues, when I saw T20 played for the first time, I was with the Australian team, and I told everybody there – “This is your future, this is the future of cricket.” I love Test cricket. I’m not saying Test cricket isn’t good. I’m just saying, in our society, people don’t have time to sit everyday. This is the society, we have to admit, where people want to see something happen right now. In T20 cricket, the fun thing is the athleticism that has shown out. Everything is quick. You can’t be slow in T20 cricket and be successful. That is a lot of fun to watch happen. And it has transferred over into One Day cricket.

It will be hard for anybody to say that T20 has not been successful. There are some adjustments that still need to be made, there are quite a few. But the reality is, it has been extremely successful to do so well in such a short period of time as it is done.

SJ– As a fielding coach, how is your approach to the players, getting them ready for the day- in a T20 game, or a one day game or a Test match? What are the drills, and how do you get the boys prepared?

MY– I believe you asked what is the adjustment that has to be brought when shifting from T20 to one dayers to Test back to T20 etc?

It is hard. It is hard especially when guys are going from tests to T20. It’s a little easier when you go from fast to slow form of the game, than when you have to ramp it up. But it is hard. You will always have some all-around cricketers who play all forms, but you notice that a lot of guys who play test cricket do not play T20 for their country, like Michael Clarke, and there are quite a few of them. It is also because of the work load. There is One Day cricket, T20 cricket, Test cricket, there is a lot of work load.

Here we are, in the USA, and I’m a massive fan of the potential of this country and I have told many people about it for many years. The reality is that T20 is the only way to do it here. I think anybody who is listening will agree to that. We may all like Test cricket, and I know we do, because we are cricket followers. But, for the people of the USA, there is no way they are going to watch that extends to five days. You have to grow up with it.

SJ– When I talk to other Americans, they say that golf has 4 day long championships, and every other week there is a tournament going on and people watch it. It is not the time span that is stopping the audience from getting into cricket. What do you say to that?

MY– I think that is a totally different situation. One Test match is not a tournament. Golf is actually 4 [rounds] of golf. They play 18 holes, 4 different times. You are actually watching 4 games of golf. And the outcome is determined by those 4 games. Whereas, in a Test match, it is just one match which takes 5 days to go through. And people don’t understand that. You and I understand that, and have to be careful. We understand test cricket and the nuances and the difficulties in getting a team out twice. That is hard in an environment of a sporting society where the longest game that is played lasts about 3 hours. So now, we are going to ask them to watch something that lasts 30 hours, give or take some time from that number. That is a learning curve.

I have such belief in cricket in this country, I know it will work. But we have to do it right, land make it exciting.

SJ– You are going to be leading the USA Youth Cricket Association sponsored youth clinic for kids in Kingsview Middleschool, Germantown, Maryland. What are you going to impress upon the kids about?

MY– I talked to Jamie Harrison, who runs the show out there. He said that we are going to train coaches, which is a good idea. I will be there for 1 or 2 days but the coaches are there for who knows how long. If we can get a few things across, then hopefully they can carry it on and maybe we can have some continuity. Going out there, I’m not sure what is going to happen. I’ve never done it before. I’ve done many clinics, but never one here. I’m excited about the opportunity that they are willing to bring me out there to do it and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m trying to gain as much knowledge as I can about cricket in America.  For me, quite frankly, in the USA, if I want to continue my coaching, this is where I want to be. I’ll have to see how that pans out.

SJ– One thing in terms of professional sports in the USA – NFL, NBA etc., you see a lot of infusion of technology. For example, in Baseball, you have fielder range, statistics etc.. We don’t see that use of that kind of statistical knowledge on fielding capabilities and efficiencies of cricketers. Are there things that go on in the background about how you evaluate a fielder’s performance in the field on that particular day?

MY– When I was into cricket for the first time, I was in the field and sitting on the boundary because you get a better angle on plays. People saw this, and there were big stories about it. It was only because I didn’t know. I asked John Buchanan if I can go out there and watch the game. He told me that there is no rule against it, there is no law that says you can’t do it, as long as you stay of course outside of the boundary. So, I did that, and before I did that people bring out all these stories and asking the questions. It’s only because it was something different. It does help a lot, though.

When I got into the game, I asked what seemed to me as a pretty natural question – who holds the record for most direct hits? There is no record. I was blown away by that. We, the cricket community that I’m a part of, say things like “Catches win matches” which is a direct indication that fielding is a very important thing in the game, but then we don’t credit players doing those things. That is mind-boggling.

All the people who are listening to this, if they look at the stats for world cricket, they will have all the stats. There are 8 or 10 on batting- on highest run rate, this and that, most runs scored, highest average etc. The same with bowling. But, fielding? Catches taken. That’s it. Just, catches taken.

I believe, like in T20 to start with, there is no reason why shouldn’t have a tab on errors in fielding in cricket. Why shouldn’t we have errors counted in cricket? If a guy drops a catch, and they get an extra run out of it, then we should have a -1 against the fielder. We can work out a plan, but we don’t. We talk about fielding being important, but we don’t have parameters and lines of demarcation that you can use to say “Yes, that guy is the best!” So, people would look up and know.

We look at Jonty Rhodes and say that he was a great fielder. We can say that because we actually have seen him do things. He would make great plays, which means he is a great fielder. But if you go to a country like the USA and if people ask you “Who is the best fielder?” and you say “Jonty Rhodes”., he would reply “Oh okay, let me see how many times he caught the ball etc.” We don’t know that. We only know form TV that he was a great fielder.

Those days are over, we need to take this seriously, and make those adjustments. This is something that America can do. As we start cricket here, and I know that people have been playing cricket here for some time. I know how many people are playing here, I have done a lot of home work on this. We have an opportunity at the USA to tweak the game and do some exciting things with the game.

I believe there should be a designated batsman in cricket. There is no reason not to have one in T20 cricket. Why can’t we have some guys coming in and out at different times? I don’t want to make the game trivial, by no means. I’m a massive traditionalist. Reality is, let’s look at ways to have fun with it and see if we can do something with it for our cricket. That cricket, in general, is our cricket. I think, then all of a sudden there would be a lot of ideas from all the people out there, a lot of people know about cricket in this country. If some of those ideas are put into play we would be leading the way. The next thing you know, the ICC will take it up and hear the USA coming up with some good ideas.

SJ– Another listener, Mahek, he wants to ask you – How do you evaluate a player’s ability? For every dropped catch, do you assign him the runs that the batsman made? Do you allocate points to fielders that effect direct hits, whether or not that is a run out? Or for diving catches, etc?

MY– To answer the question – yes. I’ve got a chart that I do. It’s not a complicated chart. I can go to a player and say “Look at this. These are the balls you got two hands, these are the ones you got one hand to.” Of course, we have to understand the difficulty in doing that. We can’t just do that like I said. Some of the commentators out there look at fielders who dive and get two fingers to the ball and they say he put it down. They didn’t put it down. One must look at it and be objective, and tell them “On this play, that is what you should do. You should make THAT play. You dropped the ball and cost us a run.”

To answer that question- yes, I do keep stats on that. When you are coaching players, you must know that not every player is the same. You must take into consideration what they do well and what they don’t. Unlike in Baseball, in cricket we play different positions. We move from mid on to mid off, and all of a sudden, we move to deep fine leg. All these different positions need different skill sets. Those are things that make things a little bit more diverse and difficult. That’s okay. There is a gentleman from New Zealand, who does a real nice job with this.

Everybody has their idiosyncrasies and how they do it. Everybody does it. It just has to be conducive to the team you are working with.

SJ– Julien Fountain [Pakistan’s fielding coach], who is working with a company based in Chennai who have their own fielding specific statistic and analytical software. As we go forward, does that sort of thing become a more commonplace in cricket?

MY– It is going to happen. I have heard a lot about Julien Fountain, I haven’t met him yet. It’s going to happen, and they are doing it already. Again, it has to be conducive to the coach employing it and the players. I’m not a fan of just putting data into a software program. I’m not saying that this Is a bad software program, I’ve not seen it. I’m saying, I’m not a guy who will generalize a software program and say “that is it!” I don’t like my mind work that way. I want to be open. This software program might offer that, I don’t know. I don’t want to say that if you do this you are good, and if you do that you are bad. I think that you have to look at the athlete. There is a lot more when you evaluate an athlete than just numbers.

SJ– On that note, Coach, thanks a lot for coming on the show. Wish you good luck with the Youth Clinic in Maryland!

MY– Thank you! And, thanks to everybody who is listening. It’s been a real pleasure!

SJ– It’s my pleasure too, Coach!

Download the full episode here.

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman