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England hire Buchanan, Australia's 'mad professor'

John Buchanan
Buchanan led Australia to a record 16 straight Test victories

By Sam Sheringham

England's cricketers had better get their thinking caps on because the coach dubbed "the mad professor" is about to set them some very important homework.

Former Australia coach and schoolteacher John Buchanan, whose off-the-wall methods have drawn a mixture of praise and derision, is to join up with the England camp this week to provide insights ahead of this winter's Ashes series.

Hired as a consultant by the England & Wales Cricket Board, his brief is to provide coach Andy Flower and his men with information about the Australian players he once mentored and the secrets to success at the five venues where Andrew Strauss's men will attempt to cling on to the famous urn.

"He's part of that extra 1% that might help them win a match or two," Mike Gatting, who captained England to their last Ashes success on Australian soil in 1986-87, told BBC Sport. "Let's hope it will help the England team."

COACH'S CORNER
Born: 5 April 1953
First-class career: seven matches, 160 runs
Coaching start: Oldham; Cambridgeshire
Authored: 'If Better Is Possible'
Worst moment: sacked as coach of Kolkata Knight Riders, June 2009
Nickname: Mad Professor, Ned Flanders

Buchanan, who also provided assistance to England prior to their successful 2009 campaign against their bitter rivals, coached Australia to three Ashes victories and two World Cup triumphs in a remarkable period of success between 1999 and 2007.

But his tenure is also remembered for some unorthodox coaching methods that led to fall-outs with senior players and much mockery in the English media, who dubbed him the "mad professor".

During the 2001 Ashes tour to England, Buchanan's handwritten memos to his players, based around the teachings of fifth century Chinese warlord Sun Tzu, were leaked to the newspapers.

At other times, players were encouraged to recite poetry and give lectures on subjects ranging from wrestler Hulk Hogan to the Bee Gees to boost their confidence.

Legendary spinner Shane Warne was among his fiercest critics, constantly repeating his belief that good players did not need a coach and ridiculing Buchanan for holding an army-style bush training camp in 2006.

The following year, Warne described his former coach as a "goose" with "verbal diarrhoea".

But not every member of Australia's all-conquering side of the 1990s and early 2000s share Warne's views.

Former opener Justin Langer is far more positive about the man he refers to by his nickname 'Buck' and believes he could be a great asset for the England team.

Shane Warne
Warne has been a constant critic of his former coach Buchanan's methods

"I always enjoyed working with him and he made an excellent contribution to the team," Langer told BBC Sport. "His strengths lay in his management of the group and in his vision for the group and the future.

"He copped his fair share of criticism but, in the end of the day, most visionaries do.

"Much has been made of his training camps, use of various methodologies and technologies but, for me, he used these to continually challenge the group.

"Great teams can fall into the trap of complacency but, besides the 2005 Ashes campaign, he never allowed this to happen.

"Leadership isn't a popularity contest but he is a respected leader of Australian cricket who played a big part in that golden era."

Buchanan helped England in a consultancy capacity last summer but it is anticipated he will take on a significantly bigger role this time round.

As a player, he took part in only a handful of first-class matches but quickly established a reputation as a thinker with a Masters degree in sports administration.

From the start of his coaching career, he focused on computer analysis to arm his teams with as much information as possible, making his name at Queensland, where he guided the side to their first ever Sheffield Shield titles in the 1990s.

But a season at Middlesex in 1998 proved disastrous as they slumped to their lowest ever position of 17th in the old County Championship.

"John had some very good ideas but he was probably more used to working with an older side than a young one," said Gatting, who was playing for Middlesex at the time.

606: DEBATE
dkscotland

"We did a lot more specific drills in training, which were fine, but perhaps some of his thoughts may not have been conducive to the younger element."

Buchanan's involvement with the England team for a second time is sure to raise eyebrows down under but he is not the first Australian to defect to the old enemy.

Bowling coach Troy Cooley helped hone the four-pronged pace attack that fired England to the Ashes in 2005, while former Australian wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh headed up the ECB's national academy between 2001 and 2005.

Current England bowling guru David Saker is also an Australian.

"Seeing John in an England tracksuit will be strange but then, after seeing Rod Marsh in the same uniform a few years ago, nothing surprises me anymore," said Langer, who believes players, not coaches, hold the key to who wins this winter's contest.

"When it all comes down to it, England and Australia can have the best coaching staff in the world but, when Shane Watson or Simon Katich face James Anderson and Stuart Broad on the first morning in Brisbane, that will count for nothing.

"What will matter is who has the greatest skill and character to win the contest and who has the courage to face up to their opponent and to handle the pressure synonymous with Test cricket and, in particular, Ashes cricket."



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see also
England appoint ex-Australia boss
08 Aug 10 |  England
Buchanan to take on England role
10 Jun 09 |  England
Buchanan reveals coaching creed
17 May 07 |  Australia


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