Qantas Tour of South Africa
Gilchrist's wise words to ease Paine
Ex-Test skipper offers advice to incoming captain and his group of shell-shocked players ahead of fourth Test
29 March 2018, 05:37 PM AEST
Adam Gilchrist, the previous Australia wicketkeeper to take on leadership responsibility for the nation's Test team, has shared some heartfelt and deeply personal insights for Tim Paine as he prepares to lead a scarred and shaken player group into a new era.
Gilchrist today expressed his deep disappointment at the actions of banned captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and rookie Test opener Cameron Bancroft that he claims were "stupid, irresponsible and caused a lot of damage to the game".
But the 46-year-old, who played 96 consecutive Tests from debut to retirement and led Australia in six Tests when Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were absent through injury, also explained he had forgiven the suspended trio and called for them to be supported through their trauma and be given the opportunity for redemption.
Gilchrist said he has spoken directly with men's team coach Darren Lehmann, who he described as "a very, very close friend" in recent days and although he's not had a chance to communicate directly with newly-appointed Test skipper Paine, he revealed what advice he might offer to him and the shell-shocked team he's about to take charge of.
"I'd sit down and maybe get the group of players that's going to go out on that field (against South Africa at Johannesburg on Friday) to express, if they can recall, two things," Gilchrist told Melbourne radio station SEN today.
"(Firstly) what made them play their first game of cricket, what it felt like, what was the buzz?
"Was it the ball hitting the middle of the bat, the ball going past the outside edge and hitting the off-stump?
"And then maybe also ask them what it felt like when they received the green piece of fabric (Baggy Green cap) that has the coat of arms on it, and get them to articulate that and remind each other of why they started and what it felt like to represent your country.
"They've just got to bottle that and jam that right deep down inside their heart, and not let that go.
"And just let them know that if ever they do need to make a decision, to run that decision by that little bottle you have sitting down inside your heart and let it be the barometer as to whether it's a good decision or a bad decision."
Gilchrist said that after his conversation with Lehmann, who was yesterday exonerated of involvement in the ball-tampering plot that led to the unprecedented suspensions, he felt very comfortable that his former Australia teammate had no prior knowledge of the scandal.
He also claimed that at no stage during his decorated 12-year international career, in which he became regarded among the most influential cricketers worldwide, did he feel under such pressure to win that he or his teammates would have contemplated breaching the game's laws.
He said there was no excusing the lapse in judgement the three banned players displayed, and noted that Lehmann – in an emotional media conference yesterday – had acknowledged that the team culture developed under his leadership needs to change.
While admitting that he was not privy to the information gathered in the Cricket Australia investigation that led to the sanctions, Gilchrist noted that the three players who had been interviewed individually corroborated Lehmann's story.
And that it appeared from the findings of that inquiry – under which Warner received the toughest penalty in that he has been ruled out of holding any future leadership role within an Australia team – that the vice-captain was integral to the events that unfolded.
Warner, who had not spoken publicly since the controversy began last Saturday, broke his silence today by issuing a single tweet as he travelled home from South Africa.
"These guys have made very, very foolish – I can't say naïve (decisions) because two of them are very experienced cricketers, and are leaders," Gilchrist said.
"Bancroft is a bit newer to the (international) scene, but I have no doubt he knew what the rules were and knew he was taking on a pretty dodgy road in doing so.
"Darren Lehmann – I'm talking about one of my very, very closest friends here – has come out and said that they (the Australia men's team) need to change.
"He's realised that attack-dog mentality and the manner with which they are going about the game has got to a boiling point, and they must change.
"I totally think that's right. I think it has got out of control.
"It seems – and I want to stress that in any quotes taken out of this – it seems David Warner has taken on too much of a reign with his personality and the way he plays it, and that's controlled the manner in which the team has gone.
"It's had a big effect in this outcome."
However, Gilchrist also aired his concerns about the broader culture that now exists within professional sport and what he described as the "team performance" ethos whereby talented players are groomed from an increasingly young age to meet unrealistic expectations.
He cited the example of 28-year-old Smith, whose precocious cricket talent led him to leave school before he had completed his secondary studies and who has been immersed in the professional sports 'bubble' virtually ever since.
While Gilchrist noted that time can heal most ills and it was impossible to predict if Smith might one day return to the national captaincy when the two-year moratorium on that happening elapses, he felt it would be "unlikely at this stage … very unlikely".
But he added that part of any post-mortem from the current scandal should include an examination of the system that transforms talented youngsters so hastily into professional athletes, and the negative impacts that can have on the emotional and moral development of individuals.
In addition to handing down the penalties to Smith, Warner and Bancroft, Cricket Australia announced it will conduct an independent review into the conduct and culture of Australia's professional men's teams with details of that process yet to be finalised.
"I think that in the modern game, there's an element of high performance that has gone mad," Gilchrist said today.
"I don't like the term particularly.
"It's not just cricket – this is across all sport – we want to fast-track our talent and … maybe this is where that expectation is coming from for quick results and success.
"Given the money and investment going into it, and for the money they (players) are earning, we absolutely expect success and high standards, so the two do collide eventually.
"That's part of what CA need to have a look at, and work out are the systems in place in the way we introduce younger players?
"Is this pathway right, and are we allowing younger players – when they come in – to learn the art of decision making?
"We all make plenty of decisions every day, and you hope you make more right than wrong.
"I'm not sure our system in cricket, a high-performance system, right from the moment these guys enter … is allowing them the chance to grow and develop and evolve at a natural pace, and learn the knocks and the ups and downs and the decision-making.
"There's going to be more cases of mental health issues in sport.
"The system is just trying to fast-track young people into situations where they don't know how to make the right decisions.
"And it's going to be a regular pattern, I fear, if it's not addressed in a really sensible manner that takes away the greed and volumes and excess, and just gets back to the origins of why you play sport.
"It's because you love it."
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.
Australia squad: Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test South Africa won by 322 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage