When Indians coach Indians...

SUNIL GAVASKAR, Chairman, NCA, and V. V. S. Laxman interacting with Under-15 trainees, at the NCA recently.-K. MURALI KUMAR

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has established a scheme to train Indian coaches.

Mr. Elliott, my history lecturer at Durham University, taught me well. He drummed into my head the maxim that the British Empire was founded on the principle: "England for the English - plus everything else it could lay its hands on!"

Utterly ruthless! And now it seems that one of England's former colonies learnt the Mother Country's merciless lesson of triumphal greed only too well — specifically in the realms of sport. Australian cricketing achievements in the past few months have raised Ricky Ponting's side to the top of the Test and One-Day-International rankings.

Captain-batsman, Ponting stands unrivalled in universal esteem, the world averages and strike rates. His bowlers, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne are pre-eminent in their specialist disciplines. All around the world, Australian cricketers are the flavour of the month — eagerly sought after and recruited by first-class and club teams alike. Say that you are Australian — a coach or a player — and people fall over themselves to enlist your services! Test countries and English county teams queue up to sign on Aussie coaches.

Tom Moody inscribed his `John Hancock' on the dotted line for Sri Lanka. Dav Whatmore preceded him in Colombo, and then moved on to Bangladesh. Greg Chappell tested the coaching waters in Brisbane and Adelaide and then hitched his wagon to India's star.

Cricket fields and practice nets around the world now echo with the coaching boast: "this is the way we do it in Australia!" It is an irritating — but not an idle conceit. England snatched the Ashes from Australia's grasp in 2005 — but only by its fingernails and a handful of runs — and then, in part, merely by emulating Aussie Coach John Buchanan's scientifically slanted training methods.

England's Zimbabwean mentor Duncan Fletcher demanded antipodean levels of fitness from his side. He emphasised fielding agility, embraced game and skill analysis — in his side and its opposition — showed his team the value of psychology and adopted the antipodean ploy of switching the momentum of a match: attacking when the opposition expected defence and withdrawing to defensive positions when an assault was anticipated. Then he went one better with an overload of specific skill instruction from specialists like the renegade Aussie bowling coach, Troy Cooley!!! He triumphed and the Ashes were England's!

In recent times, India has profited from Australia's example, importing expertise from men like the Perth-based psychologist, Sandy Gordon. It also employed Kiwi John Wright as coach: a man who introduced greater success into the Indian cricket consciousness by steering a middle course for his side between the western world's hard scientific approach and the east's more individualistic and subjective employment of skills. As a result, over the past year Ganguly and Dravid's men have demonstrated, that whatever England and Australia can do, India can do if not better, at least as well.

The West Indies Board of Control followed an unorthodox trail. It signed on Bennett King, a coach with stronger affiliations to rugby league than to Queensland's winning Pura Cup team. He was an assistant, a disciple and the successor to John Buchanan at the 'Gabba — well able to follow in the tall Australian's coaching footsteps when the latter took over the reins of the national Test team. He had that important qualification — he is Australian! But his cricket background was sketchy and that lack of experience — as the coach of a nation whose Test successes depend largely on the natural talents of its players — was a fatal flaw. I have no doubt that King's fitness, psychological, agility and tactical organisation is immaculate. But his reign as West Indian coach has turned out to be one of the most unsuccessful periods in the history of Caribbean cricket. It is a classical example of "the Singer not the Song" being the important ingredient of Test match success.

There has been many a good tune played on a coaching fiddle the world over — some as Australian as "Waltzing Matilda." But there were not always enough qualified fiddlers — or coaches — to get the message across.

The Board of Cricket Control for India learned this lesson late, and perforce, more quickly than most. Of necessity they set about establishing a coaching scheme to train Indian coaches — based on the model of the Australian National Coaching Accreditation Scheme and the ECB's coaching plan. It had the express purpose of gaining expertise and reciprocal recognition for its coaches from the International Cricket Council. For the past four years, the Indian National Cricket Academy in Bangalore has been running Level 1 courses, India-wide to educate mums, dads and primary school teachers in how to teach the basic skills of cricket and the enjoyment of the modified game. Recently the NCA has expanded its programme with the addition of 60 and 100-hour courses at Levels 2 and 3. The Level 2 courses are intended to produce coaches for clubs, senior colleges and elite youth sides at national, zonal, and provincial standards. The Level 3 seminars are designed to prepare coaches for the responsibilities of instructing zonal, Ranji Trophy, senior association and national teams.

In the longer, future term, qualified Level 3 coaches will be taken to High Performance and Professional levels of expertise by means of enrichment seminars.

The ultimate goal of this concept is to make India cricket self-sufficient in terms of coaching, thus dispensing with the need for foreign coaches, to produce a race of coaches with the technical expertise commensurate with their status at international level, with international reputations the equal of any in the world, and matched by person-management skills.

Some such coaches of Test potential have already attended Level 2 and Level 3 NCA seminars: former Test players and young coaches of promise, the likes of Venkatesh Prasad, Arshad Ayub, Lalchand Rajput, Robin Singh, "Jo" Joshi, Paras Mhambrey, Balwinder Singh, Javagal Srinath, Kenia Jayantilal and Karsan Ghavri. In my association with the NCA training programmes for coaches, more than 60 potential elite coaches with first-class and international playing experience have qualified as Level 2 or 3. These are the men many of whom could be guiding the Test destinies of Indian and other international sides in the near future!

Finally, I would see this coaching exercise as having the additional advantage of introducing to the Indian cricket scene, at the highest level, coaches with empathy for Indian culture; men whose methods incorporate more aspects of Indian attitudes and philosophies into the production of Indian cricketers.

The mystique of Mushtaq Ali's batting wristiness, "Fergie" Gupte's prodigious powers of spin, Erapalli Prasanna's dipping loop, and Azharuddin's leg-glance — these are all waiting around the coaching corner, ready to be explained to Indians, by Indians!