Peter Breen talks to the Australian coach Terry Jenner about Irish cricket and his role in Shane Warne's career.
THE grit, steel and determination of the Australian sporting psyche is perhaps best epitomised by what Greg Chappell said to Terry Jenner when the latter fell, bleeding from the head, having been struck by a short ball from England fast bowler John Snow at the Sydney Cricket Ground. As the ball careered away softly, the wounded batsman was confronted with Chappell's gruff but immortal line, 'There was a single in it'.
Apart from being one of world cricket's most renowned coaches, history will record Jenner as the man who found, nurtured and unleashed Shane Warne onto the international arena. And Jenner brought his considerable expertise to bear on the next generation of Irish spinners during recent stays in Dublin and Belfast.
It was a great opportunity to witness such a leading light at work but it also afforded Jenner a chance to assess the state of the game here. His conclusion: we're too nice. "Being in Ireland is just beautiful because I've met some lovely people," he says. "Australians are lovely people too, but when they cross the white line onto the field, they aren't so nice. Australia have gone through their troughs ... I can recall, sadly, a time when Australia were easy-beats and that's when they set the academy in place, changed their structure, worked at it and now they don't want to let it go. If Irish cricket is to progress, contentment with finishing second will have to be overcome. "Nice guys finish second."
Following the disappointment of not qualifying for next year's World Cup in South Africa, Jenner believes it's make or break time for the game here. "If World Cup in 2007 is the ultimate goal, then you've gotta have some little wins along the way, stepping-stones if you like. The key is to set achievable goals."
A willingness to change, already shown in the appointment of South African Adrian Birrell, is "one thing which I think was a good move. I think that Adrian brings that South African determination and work ethic and I guess the old saying 'a new broom sweeps clean' means he will ultimately have his own squad as the future unfolds".
But he sounds a note of realism: "Sad as it may sound, people who've been around for a while will have to make way for the exuberance of youth."
Jenner is enthused by North County Cricket Club's development of an indoor centre of excellence, especially given the nature of our climate. "My understanding is that it has rained all summer and so fellas wouldn't have done that much work because of the fact that they don't have the necessary facilities to do it. So, better facilities, better results."
Ireland would do well to adopt the Australian mantra: 'vision without action is a daydream and you're allowed to daydream but action without vision is a nightmare'.
"When you get up to the senior side, I mean you seem to do alright at junior level, it's a matter of putting a bit of fire in their belly. In other words, if you just think that four or five years will pass, somehow or other the 'we'll get there' mentality sinks in, you'll find that it never actually happens. But if you dare to dream, which you can, and then don't act until you've thought it through, the reality is that you will make up the ground that you want to make up". And so it was that on a run of the mill training session in 1991 that international cricket was revolutionised. Jenner picks up the story: "Shane Warne came into my life at a time when I needed some sort of a lift. He was a gift to me from God. I was coaching some leg-spinners and the kids I was coaching didn't seem to have any great prospects and the experience wasn't very uplifting for me.
"I was then told of another kid who was coming the following week who I might like, 'He's a bit hard to handle but he gives it a tweak'. Warne arrived, walked across the ground to where I was working, shook my hand and at that moment a bond was formed. We were like a couple of lost souls that joined. He needed me, which was terrific for me and I certainly needed him.
"He had an enormous gift that could have gone to waste because he did have a fairly 'comme-ci-comme-ca, see how she goes, she'll be alright mate!' approach to things and there was a need to change, to be more determined to do well. It was a case of, one day he woke up and decided the talent he had just could not be wasted. He worked very, very hard and lost a lot of weight. And in 1993 when he bowled that first ball to Mike Gatting, he reinvented test cricket and rejuvenated spin bowling. For the last ten years, along that path, we've been a team in lots of ways. He doesn't need me now as he did in the earlier days (but) when problems crop up, he contacts me."
Jenner recounts a meeting at which former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, a man who led his country as aggressively as he batted for it, offered Warne a momentous lesson in self-discovery. "The captain (Ian Chappell) bowled leg-spinners as a young bloke and understood how to treat them. The first of many talks that Shane had with him was over a breakfast table when I asked Ian what advice he could give. There was a hush and I remembered thinking, 'Wow, how good is this gonna be?', when he delivered an answer that wasn't what I expected. 'The best piece of advice that I can give you is to know yourself, know yourself'.
"He meant know what you can do and fulfil that. Don't live to other people's expectations. That's why I hate the word 'potential'. Potential is an ugly word because it's what other people think. " It is widely believed that history is cyclical. Though Australia are currently the benchmark in several international sports, it was through Chappell's astuteness in learning from the then familiar English resolve of the 1970s that England, among many others, must now attempt to reclaim lost ground.
"The ability to make average cricketers believe in themselves and play to their maximum helped us win in the West Indies in '73 (2-0). We won against a terrific batting side. Our bowling attack of Hammond, Walker, O'Keeffe and Jenner had not enjoyed great success. They (the test victories) can go down to the captain because he had us believe in ourselves, set positive fields, knew when to defend and he learned a lot of that by watching England.
"The knowledge that I gained from others over my career (spanning 131 matches, with 389 wickets at an average of 32.18, including 9 tests) I shared with him (Warne). What I gave him most was understanding, undivided and unrestricted time and encouragement, friendship, the freedom to let him go. There was never a dumb question ... A true friend is someone you don't see every day of the week or every month of the year, but when you meet them you just know that he/she's your true friend. We're like that."
He continued: "My admiration for him is so high because of what he's done for test cricket and that can never be forgotten. Test cricket was definitely waning before he came along. I never forget to tell him that when he's on a downer. I say, 'Mate, when you bowled Gatting you changed cricket and don't ever forget that'. Every nation now wants to find the next Shane Warne, but someone like him comes around only once in a lifetime. I'm just glad he did in mine."
There are many lessons that Ireland can learn from the success of our Antipodean friends. Most significant, though, are the hunger, drive and insatiable appetite that remain as the quintessential trademarks of Australian sport. Jenner's recent visit will undoubtedly bear fruit. Though the universal task of finding the next "Warne" gathers momentum, the moral lessons learned may well hold greater relevance.