Dawn of a new century saw, John Wright, the former New Zealand opening batsman taking over as the first foreign coach of the Indian cricket team. New to the country, Wright went to seek ‘guru-mantra’ from his old India friend late Raj Singh Dungarpur who knew Indian cricket inside out. Dungarpur’s cryptic reply was- ‘Be patient with India, India will be patient with you’. John Wright followed this advice to the ‘T’ and went on to forge one of the most effective partnerships with the Indian cricket. Sourav-Wright duo made Indian team a battle hardened warriors on the foreign soil. On the contrary, Wright’s successor Greg Chappell was impatient with his ideas with Indian cricket and a man in hurry. In his regime, Indian cricket had tumultuous times. Great player in his heydays, Chappell had forgettable time as a coach. While the hunt has been on for the new coach for the Indian team, from 2000 to 2016, Indian cricket have traversed a long distance.
John Wright broke Indian cricket’s inhibition with a foreign coach. The unprecedented scale and scope of the cricketing talent in the country enamored him. Greg Chappell was an aberration. Gary Kirsten saw virtues in Indian patience and made the world realise the tenacity of the Indians. Kirsten famously said after 2011 world cup victory: ‘I would go to war, with Dhoni by my side’. Duncan Fletcher’s un-impressive tenure broke Indian cricket’s fixation with foreign coaches. “He’s is a good manager of nets, but an awful man manager”- a senior Indian player once confided. Former Indian player and team India director, Ravi Shastri in his brief tenure re-enforced that Indian coaches can be equally professional and effective if not more. From inhibition to fixation for a foreign coach, Indian cricket has attained the standards and confidence where indispensability of a foreign coach is a thing of past. India, finally, is in the look-out for a coach, who could be a real value
addition to the confident team.
What should be the criteria?
Firstly, with the retirement of cricketers of pedigree like Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar— one after another, Indian cricket was in the transition phase. MS Dhoni has almost anchored the team out of these transient waters. But everything beautiful in the life comes to an end one day. Perhaps, it gives way to something more beautiful. Leadership in sports has got a self-life and Dhoni’s leadership of Indian cricket is nearing its end. ‘Virat Yug’ in Indian cricket is an idea whose time has come. Indian cricket now has to think in terms of Virat Kohli, being the captain of the team in 2019 World Cup. The new coach should be a facilitator in the process to take the team to the goal envisioned by him. The new coach should be ‘main hoon naa’ (I am there!), calming and re-assuring factor, whenever the captain looks out for any solution and support.
Secondly, for the national team, you don’t require a coach who tutors you on the basics of the game. For this, you have specialised support staff, comprising batting, bowling and fielding
coaches amongst others with the team. Rather, you require an excellent man manager— who creates a congenial environment within the team so that the talented bunch of youngsters actualises their potential for the team cause. Former Australian player Shane Warne said: “Coach was simply the vehicle you travelled on to the match. You need some sort of man manager more than a coach. International players know how to play. You don’t need a coach getting too technical.” Solidly backing Warne’s view former India stumper Vijay Dhaiya says: ‘In 1983, when Indian team won the world cup, the team had no coach then, but Ram Singh as the manager. In 2007 when we became T20 world cup champion, again India was without a coach, but had a team manager in Lalchand Rajput.’ Naturally, the new coach should be more of an excellent man manager, than an encyclopedia on the technicalities of the game.
Thirdly, from Chappell, Ambrose, Richards to Kapil Dev, often great cricketers have turned out to be major disappointments as coaches. The very nature of the game demands that the captain is the actual leader of the team on and off the ground, and the coach- however great player in his era may be- is just a solid supporting hand. Besides, as great badminton player and now a renowned coach Pulela Gopichand adds: – However great player you may be in your playing days, while taking fresh guard as a coach, you should remember that you are starting from the scratch. One should lock his aura as a player in the cupboard”. Lastly, the new coach should have a world view on the demands of the modern cricket. The game has changed over the years and so are the mental and physical demands from the players. So, one of the desirable criteria should be that the candidate should command respect and excellent rapport with the team at the same time.
Keeping these criteria in mind, Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil, Anil Kumble and foreign Australian player Stuart Law are the front runners for the job. Shastri shares an excellent rapport with Captain Virat Kohli and the team and has a fair idea of the demands of international cricket in his varied experience as cricketer, commentator and team director.
Sandeep Patil has got treasure trove of experience as dashing Indian
batsman, coach of Indian team and then Kenyan team—taking the minnows of world cup semi finals, director NCA and currently an effective and non-controversial tenure as chief selector of BCCI. If Patil beats Shastri in the context of heaviness of his curriculum vitae, the latter edges him out in terms of rapport with the young Indian team.
In comparison of these two, Kumble has been a better pedigree as an international cricketer by miles. In his brief tenure as India’s captain, his leadership qualities were admired by peers. The area he loses out is lack of formal coaching experience with an international or a national side. Stuart Law has an understanding of the conditions in the Indian sub-continent and is sincereon his job, but when compared to the credentials of the Shastri-Patil-Kumble triumvirate, he has lots of ground to cover.
The new coach will be selected by a committee comprising of three contemporary great leaders and thinkers of modern cricket in the world- Ganguly, Laxman and Tendulkar. And the choice has finally narrowed down to one of the three Indians listed above— purely on merit and their standing. n
(The writer is a senior sports