New Delhi: While Indian team is busy playing a seemingly meaningless series in the Caribbean, their ‘Coach ki Khoj’ is on. Although, it looks unlikely that someone can replace the incumbent Ravi Shastri, almost half a dozen candidates have thrown their hats in the ring.
Earlier, this search used to happen once every four years but of late this has been happening every two years ever since Duncan Fletcher departed. Among all the candidates who have come on record, Phil Simmons is least likely to make the cut as he doesn’t have the stature of a Shastri or a Tom Moody.
However, will it be a gamble worth taking on considering the fact that former West Indies coach has a T20 World Cup win under his CV?
Since, India will be preparing for two back-to-back T20 World Cups (2020 in Australia and 2021 in India), can they even think of separate coaches for different formats?
“I feel that the role of coaches in cricket has evolved over a period of time. An international cricket coach is relatively a new phenomenon in world of sports,” says former Australia coach John Buchanan, who masterminded their back-to-back ODI World Cup wins in 2003 and 2007.
“Certainly, a captain runs the show on field, no doubt about that, but cricket is a game of stops unlike most of other sports-ball by ball, over by over break, lunch break, drinks break and so on. So, a captain has the capacity to sort of stand back and look at the game and make decisions unlike other short form games where coaches make tactical decisions.”
Buchanan argues that as we move towards the shorter formats of the games, T20s, there are lots of various tactics, statistics and information coming after every ball. So, in that case a good coach can relay the vital info to the captain quickly. Smart teams and smarter coaches will realise that and evolve along the way.
Most people still believe and fiercely argue that coaches at best are managers, who are generally responsible for ensuring a better team culture, harmony within the dressing room, unburdening the captain from unimportant activities which can sometimes drain them unnecessarily.
National team vs T20 formats different ball game?
The contrasting coaching CVs of both Buchanan and Gary Kirsten are an eye-opener. Both were applauded internationally but failed miserably in the IPL.
Kirsten who was credited for India’s 2011 ODI World Cup win failed to achieve a successful result in the IPL either with Delhi or currently with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Not too long ago, Buchanan was humbled in the first two seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL). “Those were completely different scenarios (coaching KKR and Australia). Certainly, I could not achieve what we did without the players we had with Australia,” the Australian said.
“Ultimately, it’s very important for any coach to set up a process. Sometimes (regardless of the best process set up by a coach) results do not do justice. At times, a process has been set up by one coach but credit goes to the next coach,” says a coach, on the condition of anonymity, who has worked in the IPL.
Opinions may be divided on attributing credit to a coach or support staff but there is almost a sense of unanimity among the coaching fraternity that no matter what, they will always be evaluated purely on results.
“When you win it’s not the coaches who win the game and similarly it’s not the coaches who lose the game for the team. Yet, ultimately, one will be judged by results since that comes with the territory,” says Ashok Malhotra, the former Bengal coach.
If one goes by statistics alone, no one comes closer to Anil Kumble in Test cricket. Ravi Shastri has a great record in T20 Internationals (T20Is), while Kirsten of course was the 2011 World Cup winning coach.
None like Kirsten!
Gary Kirsten was contemporary of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Kumble and yet there was never a noise in the dressing room. His stint was most remarkable. Kirsten signed off in style with a glorious World Cup win in 2011.
From October 2008 to June 2011, under Kirsten and Dhoni India played 11 Test series (home-away) in 33 months and didn’t lose a single one! No wonder, this is the pinnacle of the Test aspiration. There was domination in ODIs along the way too. More than quarter of a century playing ODIs and despite being World Champions in 1983, they were never a consistently dominant team.
Merely on three occasions India had won three consecutive series/trophy. However, the best phase of ODI cricket came when this generation created history by winning 5 consecutive series/trophy in a 13 month period under Kirsten-Dhoni partnership (August 2008 to September 2009). During this period, India first time defeated Sri Lanka in a two consecutive ODI series in Sri Lanka and also its first-ever ODI series triumph in New Zealand.
When Gary Kirsten suggested Duncan Fletcher’s name to the BCCI as his successor in 2011, a lot of people were surprised. Since quitting the post of head coach of the English team in 2007, Fletcher was hardly in circulation in international cricket coaching market.
However, former Australia captain Greg Chappell is someone who is considered the most disappointing coach in the history of India cricket.
“There is a limit to what a coach can do. Obviously, you understand that in a coaching business if a team is not winning it’s generally coach’s fault and if it’s winning it’s (because of) good players. That goes with the territory. All you can do is to support the players and much like the players you have to believe in yourself,” Chappell said, to this writer a couple of years back when he was in India with a developmental squad from Australia.
Having spent a couple of tumultuous years with the Indian team, Chappell certainly knows a thing or two about coaching and its pitfalls in India.
“I think it (coach) is a support role, you understand that your role is to support the captain and the members of team, help them to prepare as best they can,” argued the former Australian captain.
Perhaps, this is the role Shastri is playing right now with the Indian team and that is why the captain is so happy with his presence.
“If the captain is the chief executive, Fletcher is a business consultant, always on hand to advise but rarely giving a lead.” Same can be said about Shastri.
Domestic credentials have no value in Indian cricket
Despite India being a powerhouse in world cricket, cricket coaching especially that of the national team is something where Indians haven’t made their mark as yet. Or it seems that they have not been able to decode it as yet.
Despite having a structure of 37 first class teams in domestic cricket; coaches from India are not in great demand worldwide. Forget the offers from abroad, many of them are not considered good enough in their own country.
Former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad had applied for the role of head coach of Sri Lanka’s national team in past. He was also in contention for the role of bowling coach for Australia in 2011 when Troy Cooley decided to move to Centre of Excellence.
Apart from Prasad former Test player Lalchand Rajput who has coached Afghanistan and Zimbabwe and Canada T20 too has applied once again for India’s head coach position.
In the meanwhile, former players like Sairaj Bahutule, Subrato Banerjee, Sanjay Bangar , Debashish Mohanty and Sunil Joshi among others are now trying their luck with the various Ranji teams.
However, the likes of Chandrakant Pandit, Paras Mhambrey, Manoj Prabhakar and many others haven’t gone to the international level in spite of showing some fine results in past in domestic cricket. Joshi was part of Bangladesh team as an assistant bowling coach.
It is quiet ironical that splendid work done by Wright and Graham Ford for Kent, Duncan Fletcher for Glamorgan or Mickey Arthur for Western Australia is easily noticed by the world media but there are no takers for the likes of the Debu Mitras and the Tarak Sinhas of India.
Mitra whose protégé included a certain Sourav Ganguly has done a remarkable job with the Saurashtra cricket team in the last couple of years.
“The question I suppose is similar to the Australian soccer culture. You don’t find many Aussies coaches working abroad or premier soccer leagues across the world. I am not too sure if domestic structure for coaches in India is as strong as it is for the player’s development,” says Buchanan, who is statistically the greatest ever coach in the history of the game.
Finally, before the Kapil Dev led Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) starts the formal process on 16th of August, they must think on the following points as two of its members are former India coaches.
What makes a coach successful?
A supportive captain, a group of senior players, an able chairman of selectors, strong backing from the BCCI president (John Wright and Gary Kirsten)
What is a recipe for disaster?
Being too media friendly and outspoken, confronting captains directly (Greg Chappell).
What India can learn from England, South Africa and Australia? Can India ever think of appointing someone like John Buchanan and Russell Domingo, seemingly low profile domestic coaches but highly effective? (Lalchand Rajput and Robin Singh).