Headmasters... a much despised class!

The relationship which began as a marriage made in heaven (Anil Kumble’s influence over the early, brattish Virat Kohli in the RCB squad where he was made a young captain in anticipation of his India job is well known), is heading for a divorce in hell.

The Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble combine has spelt success. So, the difference of opinion between them is all the more intriguing.   -  PTI

Football has super coaches, so do basketball, hockey and other team sports. Cricket, by its nature, abhors super coaches. Not even Bob Woolmer or John Buchanan could claim to exist on a higher plane than the captains of the teams they coached. Cricket has super captains — increasingly judged by results, but equally classified by the manner in which they mould assorted individuals into a team or inspire a modest bunch to perform above themselves.

Like most things in cricket, the figures tell only a part of the story.

Yet, figures are important. A coach who loses consistently will soon be out of a job. It is convenient for a captain like Virat Kohli to state blandly that “When you have results come your way, the contribution is from every part of the team. Everyone works hard equally if not more than the other person (sic).”

Anil Kumble: Under the microscope all the time

So if players alone are responsible for victories (and, one presumes, defeats as well), why have a coach at all?

For decades international cricket survived without coaches. The guiding philosophy was articulated by Tiger Pataudi, who said, “If you are good enough to play for the country, then you are good enough to sort out your problems on the field.”

Captain-coach combination: Forging a winning combination

Within a couple of generations, the game had become more professional, the stakes, monetary and otherwise had grown, technology had begun to churn out enormous amounts of data, the inputs from an expanding support staff had increased, and it became difficult if not impossible for one man, the captain, to store everything in his head. Teamwork was needed both on and off the field.

Things had also gone terribly wrong in the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly partnership.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

The backroom boys sifted through everything, discarded the chaff, kept the wheat and funnelled the information to the captain. It was sensible and practical. The captain was left to make his own decisions on the field of play, leaning on the coach or the Chief Operating Officer (COO) to keep him updated. The captain remained the CEO, and was acknowledged as such. Buchanan used another analogy, calling the coach-captain relationship “almost like a marriage”.

In the ideal team, it doesn’t matter who has a brilliant plan that makes the difference, who contributes the crucial idea in a meeting. Group dynamics in a cricket team are different from those in a corporate office. But when a captain suggests however subtly that the good ideas were his, or that the team might have performed just as well without a coach, it means trouble.

Perhaps the word “coach” is a misnomer, and that is what sometimes causes confusion. International players might be justified in thinking that they do not need a coach at that stage. The coach is ideally a friend, guide, philosopher whose job is to ensure that individuals play to their best ability and teams are greater than the sum of their individuals.

At the Mysuru Literary Festival recently, Javagal Srinath made an astute observation. “Every player is his own coach,” he said, or should be — the team coach merely facilitates that process. “My role is to make myself redundant,” Buchanan had once said.

But the process of making oneself redundant is never easy. Coaching the Indian cricket team involves dealing with the superstars of the team, the superstars of the BCCI, the superstars of the media as well as the public, who express themselves in brickbats and sometimes with the mentality of rioters on the street. Dissatisfaction manifests itself in dangerous ways.

History is no guide when it comes to coaching India. You can be a cricketing genius or a coach with an enviable record; you can be highly qualified or a fresher; young or old; you can be an Indian or an outsider. But none of this matters unless your “likeability factor” is high.

The players have to like you, the media have to feel involved. Officials want regular acknowledgement that they are the bosses.

From Bishan Bedi in 1989-90 (he was known as the “cricket manager”), to Anil Kumble, no one has found the perfect mix. When Indians are appointed coaches, foreign coaches look the more attractive. When foreign coaches are given the job, there is a wave of support for Indian coaches. Yet, the most successful and best-liked of the coaches have been the foreigners Gary Kirsten and John Wright. Indians who make the players work are quickly dubbed “headmasters” by the superstars.

Those who let the players be, like Wright, realized that with the talent available, India were bound to win often enough to keep their jobs safe. “When we won, they sent a limousine to pick me up from the airport, when we lost, I had to find my own taxi,” Wright said of the system in which the coaches work.

Yet even the mild-mannered Wright was once frustrated enough to grab Virender Sehwag’s collar and shake him up when he felt the Indian star was not working hard enough. Greg Chappell, temperamentally at the opposite end of the scale from Wright, is one of the finest thinkers of the game, but his stint as coach was marked as much by his own ego-driven folly as by the run-ins with skipper Sourav Ganguly. Where Wright kept his feet above local politics, Chappell dived right into it.

And so to Kohli-Kumble. And that word again. Headmaster. It was applied earlier to Bishan Bedi and occasionally Kapil Dev. Yet, ironically, the Indian team is led by a fitness freak who makes a fetish of being physically fit, eating right and eliminating everything that interferes with his game. Kohli might have been expected to encourage the Kumble method.

The successful Australian cricket coach John Buchanan’s philosophy was simple. He wanted to make himself redundant.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

The relationship which began as a marriage made in heaven (Kumble’s influence over the early, brattish Kohli in the RCB squad where he was made a young captain in anticipation of his India job is well known), is heading for a divorce in hell.

Should captains be allowed to choose their coaches? Rahul Dravid suggested Wright, Sourav Ganguly brought in Greg Chappell (and it still soured), and now Kohli seems to be influencing the route the Cricket Advisory Committee should take.

The latest row is almost a replay of the one some years ago when England captain Kevin Pietersen went public with his dissatisfaction with coach Peter Moores. That coach was seen as a “headmaster” too, although I am not sure the word was used. Taskmaster was the word. Pietersen resigned, Moores was sacked, and a new chapter had been written in the captain-coach saga.

Fletcher, Moore’s predecessor, had seen the coach as a “consultant”, somewhat similar to the manner in which Kumble’s predecessor Ravi Shastri (called the “Technical Director”) saw his role.

No team, whatever the coach’s designation or the captain’s inclinations, can afford a rift between the two.

The coach’s tenure is dependent on the captain’s approval while the reverse is not true. It is not an equal marriage, but divorces can still be handled with grace, something missing from the current situation.