Cricket Australia is hoping an increase in elite coaching will boost the performance of its intellectually disabled men’s side and attract new players to the sport.
- Cricket Australia is increasing support for the men’s intellectually disabled team
- Players will benefit from elite coaching and paid training camps
- The team has existed for 15 years
The Australian team has just completed a nine-day training camp in Brisbane in preparation for a global competition later this year.
It is the first time the camp has been run with the players having their expenses paid to fly across the country to stay in Brisbane.
“The cost of traveling to competitions around the country is considerable,” Cricket Australia’s national talent manager Greg Chappell said.
“We fund all our youth programs and development programs, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be done for the intellectually disabled as well.”
The ABC’s 7.30 program was given inside access to the camp, which featured one-on-one net training, practice matches, community events and sessions with a dietitian and sports psychologist.
Chappell said the investment in the team would pay dividends.
“I think it makes a big difference, getting to interact with other players that are at an elite level is really important,” he said.
“More important still, is the confidence that they gain from seeing their game improving.”
Tasmanian leg-spinner Justin Nilon said it was inspiring getting to practice on Allan Border Field.
“It’s a surreal feeling to be honest, when you walk through the gates you know there’s been so many great players,” Nilon said.
“Cricket is leading the way [in funding of disability sport], so it’s really good to show other people and show people we’ve got ability over disability.”
Receiving professional coaching is a big step up for the promising leggie, who taught himself how to bowl spin by watching Shane Warne videos online.
“I went to YouTube and typed in Shane Warne leg-spin tips and learnt myself from those videos,” Nilon said.
His teammate, all-rounder Josh Waldhunter, is autistic and intellectually disabled.
It is his first time making the 14-man squad, a feat that required constant perseverance.
“It’s a dream come true, if you told me last year that I’ll be putting on the green and gold I’d be like, ‘Nah probably not’,” he said.
Waldhunter left school in Year Nine and almost quit cricket for good after a negative experience playing for his schoolboy team.
“I guess fitting in with the kids, they didn’t really understand how I learned and they kind of made fun of me,” Waldhunter said.
A significant positive change
The intellectual disability side has existed for almost 15 years.
The increased support from Cricket Australia is a significant positive change and recognition more funding is needed to compete with the elite English teams.
In the past some of Australia’s best players could not afford to travel internationally for important tournaments.
Coach John Lonergan said his players were highly skilled cricketers, many of whom play club grade cricket.
But he said each of them had different challenges based on their intellectual disability, which could impact how quickly they developed a complex skill.
“Some present with autism where they have trouble sometimes interpreting some messages and tend to be a bit binary in their discussions,” he said.
“Some have an acquired brain injury where they had been a car accident or something like that.
“The key thing is the key messages and tips that will resonate with each player.
“Some, you need to be very prescriptive and also hold information back rather than trying to overload them.”
Boyd Duffield can find understanding complex instructions a challenge, but that has not stopped the opening batsman excelling out in the middle.
On a 2017 UK tour he made an unbeaten 50 against England.
“I was excited when I got that 50 that day, I played the shots I can and staying in there for the whole 40 overs,” Duffield said.
His coach said Duffield’s autism may help him block out the pressure.
“In Boyd’s instance, his autism can be quite binary,” he said.
“Boyd, he just sees the ball come and he just has to hit the ball, so the amount of coaching I have to do with Boyd is pretty minimal and he will often tell me that.
“That enabled him to face a bowler in England who was bowling very quick, probably over 120 kilometres an hour, and simply hit him through point and Boyd felt that was just a normal thing to do.”
Duffield’s hero is former Australian captain Steve Smith, and he said getting to wear the green and gold just like Smith had been a huge confidence boost.
“It is a great achievement and a privilege,” Duffield said.
Being supportive when things don’t go to plan
The coaching staff has a big focus on player welfare to ensure they are not being too hard on themselves when they make mistakes.
One of the team’s mantras is supporting others when things do not go to plan.
7.30 saw this during a practice T20 match, when despite making a big score the previous day, Duffield was bowled for a low score.
As he walked from the field his teammates provided immediate encouragement and close friend Nilon gave him a high five and comforted him.
“With these players, they tend to create a lot of pressure totally unprompted,” Lonergan said.
“They put a lot of expectations on themselves, sometimes slightly unrealistic, so we have to manage and monitor that.”
The team is gearing up for a major tournament in October called the INAS Global Games, in which they will take on rivals England and South Africa.
The tournament will take place in Brisbane with more than 1,000 intellectually disabled athletes taking part.
Chappell said the tournament would be a great reward for the players’ hard work and a chance to measure themselves against the best in the world.
“They’ll see what the England guys are capable of. And knowing some of these guys with their competitive instincts, that will encourage them to want to lift their standards,” he said.
“I have no doubt that these guys will equip themselves pretty well.
“Recognising that there are others out there who have achieved a higher level will only encourage our guys to want to want to get better.
“It can only be good, not only for the individuals, but communities.”
Nilon is clear about what he wants.
“Definitely a gold medal, I’d to love to be standing there with a gold medal around my neck,” he said.