Wanted: A new coach for Indian cricket

The ideal coach for the Indian team, irrespective of nationality, would be an individual, who knows how to tap the team’s resources, cope with prima donnas, survive public scrutiny and brave the media’s questions while still largely staying in the background. He should also maintain a fine rapport with the skipper.

Daniel Vettori, the coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, seems to be Virat Kohli’s favourite. The Indian Test captain admitted that he spoke to the New Zealander about the India coach slot.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Just as Virat Kohli’s prolific run in the current Indian Premier League (IPL) has caused a tremendous buzz, the summer is also agog with speculation over the probable coach for the national team. The contracts of Ravi Shastri, the erstwhile team-director, and other members of the coaching staff — Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun and R. Sridhar — having ended in March, questions are being raised whether these men will get another stint.

Understandably, press conferences during the IPL have probed this subject besides delving into the usual template of victories, defeats, batting exploits and bowling nuances. Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid, to name a few, have been asked the ‘Are-you-keen-to-coach-India’ query. The legends offered politically correct answers without committing themselves.

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Incidentally, Kohli, the man whose bat seems as broad as a barn door for harried bowlers, was asked about his reported chat with the Royal Challengers Bangalore coach, Daniel Vettori. Kohli admitted that he did speak about the India coach slot with Vettori but added that he had spoken to others too.

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The search for the individual, who will sit on the hottest seat of the support staff, is still on, and the usual whispers about whether India needs a homegrown coach or somebody from beyond the seas have surfaced. At times, these back-and-forth arguments become warped, as patriotism and nationality cloud perspectives. However, it cannot be denied that among the happy pictures that adorn Indian cricket in its storied history, one, many wouldn’t forget, pertains to a man, jumping up from his chair, arms flung skywards and with delight shimmering on his face.

That humid night on April 2, 2011, when the ecstasy from the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai instantaneously rippled through Marine Drive and to the rest of the nation, then India coach Gary Kirsten’s unbridled joy in the pavilion was a sight to behold. The South African was thrilled with his wards; there was this visible sense of accomplishment and soon he was one among the boys, trying to escape champagne being rained on him. There was no ‘We-are-Indian-but-he-is-South African’ vibe. It was all about a goal achieved, thanks to the right team and a near-perfect backroom engine run by Kirsten.

 

Ever since John Wright assumed coaching duty and forged a fine partnership with skipper Sourav Ganguly, the last decade and a half has witnessed eminent former players from overseas landing in either Mumbai or Delhi and sailing through immigration counters, and almost immediately addressing the media. Wright, unassuming but effective, helmed a strong unit and the acme was the great Kolkata Test (2001) where V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid staged perhaps the greatest Houdini Act ever in Indian cricketing lore, as Australia was humbled.

Wright was known to let off steam by setting out on his evening jogs, though, once in a fit of exasperation, he is supposed to have grabbed Virender Sehwag’s collar. But when the great Greg Chappell succeeded Wright, the coaching stakes became higher. The Australian was presumed to be Moses, who could part the sea. The Indian team and the media rode the wave, but once equations between him and Ganguly soured, the fault lines became evident.

If Wright patiently picked up the nuances of India’s cricket culture, Chappell was accused of foisting the blunt ways of Australian methods in which a spade was called just that — a spade. Chappell did find the equilibrium with new captain Dravid — both men were known to share an introspective and intellectual air. The team did well in terms of away-series victories, but when someone like Sachin Tendulkar said that he felt hurt by some of the insinuations that came his way in the Chappell era, the tide had turned.

Kirsten, more Wright in his demeanour, stepped in and struck a symbiotic chord with the team that was now morphing into being M. S. Dhoni’s men. The World Cup triumph and India’s ascent to number one in Tests were all feathers in his cap, and when he bowed out, Kirsten walked away with dignity.

Duncan Fletcher succeeded Kirsten and was promptly saddled with a squad in the throes of transition. Some wins were eked out but the copybook was blotted with defeats in England and Australia, while Dhoni’s captaincy came under the scanner.

Subsequently the stopgap arrangement of Shastri being the team director took shape and India made progress. It has led to a few virtually wrapping themselves in the Tri-Colour and plumping for Indian candidates for the coach’s post. Patriotism aside, over the last decade many former Indian cricketers have passed the coaching standards at the National Cricket Academy and have cut their teeth on the senior team as well as State outfits. It would be prudent to recall that India’s former bowling and fielding coaches, Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh respectively, did a fair job.

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The politics in the BCCI scuttled their growth, but there is a belief that qualified Indians can do the job and credit is also due to Bangar and Arun, who made Shastri’s job a touch easier.

At the other end of the spectrum, foreigners are supposed to have no regional bias, which may mar Indian coaches. But some would say that a Dav Whatmore is more Asian in his attitude and prone to be clued into internal politics ever since his association with India’s neighbours.

In a sense, the pros and cons cut both ways. Ideally, it would be prudent to pick a man — or men — not based on passports but on pure ability.

The much-maligned IPL does offer enough glimpses of coaches getting over regional or city biases and goading their wards. Dravid from Bengaluru has no qualms in guiding Delhi Daredevils, and like him, most treat their vocation as a professional endeavour. Stretching it further, Australia’s former spearhead Jason Gillespie, who has played in the Ashes, is happily mentoring Yorkshire inside England.

The ideal coach for the Indian team, irrespective of nationality, would be an individual, who knows how to tap the team’s resources, cope with prima donnas, survive public scrutiny and brave the media’s questions while still largely staying in the background. It is a trait that men like Wright, Kirsten and Bangar share. Importantly, whoever it is, maintaining a fine rapport with both Dhoni and Kohli is a non-negotiable trait so that the fracas like the one between Chappell and Ganguly does not surface again.