Virat Kohli wanted Ravi Shastri as head coach. He got him. Shastri wanted Bharat Arun as bowling coach in his “core team”. He got him. To paraphrase the Leicester City Football Club anthem (apologies for drawing a football analogy), dilly-ding, dilly-done. The Indian cricket team is now ready to embark on a journey towards a brighter future, with no scope for excuses. At his unveiling as the new Indian team head coach, Shastri spoke about how he was “very clear” about his “core team”. “I was in England and watching tennis. I was very clear in my mind what my core team would be,” he said, when asked about the confusion over the Indian team’s support staff. All’s well that ends well. Then again, the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, had spoken to the head coach before finalising Zaheer Khan and Rahul Dravid as bowling and batting consultants, respectively. The Indian cricket board had sent a press release accordingly before making a U-turn. The Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA) described the CAC as “recommendatory” after hailing the cricket committee.
“The Cricket Advisory Committee has made its recommendation regarding the coach. It is a comprehensive recommendation covering all aspects of the coaching requirement of any team. They have applied themselves to the cause at hand with dedication and commitment. This is exactly what we had expected from a committee of such distinguished cricketers. On behalf of all interested in ‘Cricket India’, BCCI and the COA, I thank them for the service so willingly rendered by them. We accept their recommendation in totality,” the cricket board release said, adding: “Now that they have made the choice, we sincerely feel that the new combination will steward the team to number 1 position in the World Cup.”
The subsequent turn of events—setting up a committee to discuss the support staff issue with Shastri and acceding to his wishes—diminished the CAC’s stature and authority considerably. Make no mistake, Shastri’s demand of having the support staff of his choice was perfectly legitimate. It’s an accepted custom in sport that head coach brings in his own core team of assistants. But professionalism and proper leadership in the BCCI could have avoided this flip-flop. “The shameful treatment of Anil Kumble has now been compounded by the cavalier treatment of Zaheer Khan and Rahul Dravid. Kumble, Dravid and Zaheer were true greats of the game who gave it all on the field. They did not deserve this public humiliation,” noted historian and former COA member Ramachandra Guha posted on Twitter.
Now, coming to the CAC’s choice of Zaheer as bowling consultant—and a CAC member insists that the former India fast bowler was contracted for 125 days per year—it looked an excellent selection despite the former India pacer’s lack of coaching experience. He mentored the young fast bowlers in the Indian team before moving to Delhi Daredevils after his international retirement. Yes, the CAC overstepped its brief by choosing the consultants. The committee’s job was to pick the head coach. But the cricket committee’s letter to the COA suggested that the three legends of Indian cricket made their recommendations only after having discussions with the authorities. It’s a matter of conjecture if the bowling coach/consultant selection eventually became an ego clash between two individuals who had long ceased to be the best of friends.
Now, about Kohli’s preference being given precedence over everything else in terms of appointing the head coach… Kumble became the persona non grata in the dressing room because his style of coaching was presumably an antithesis to the way the team wanted to function, especially off the field. Kumble’s man management was old-school that hastened his departure. All said and done, he made a huge impact in players’ development, let alone India’s five successive Test series wins under his charge. Ravindra Jadeja accounted for 71 scalps in 13 home Tests last season to become the No. 1 bowler in the ICC rankings. R Ashwin regained his mojo and returned with 82 wickets at 25.28 in 13 home Tests last term. Mind, unlike the season before, when India had laid out virtual minefields for the home Tests against South Africa, matches against New Zealand, England and Australia last winter were played on pretty fair pitches—Pune was an aberration.
Kumble threw young Kuldeep Yadav in at the deep end against Australia at Dharamsala, when a shoulder injury had ruled Kohli out of the Test. A callow chinaman bowler replaced one of the best batsmen in world cricket and team captain; an extreme rarity in Indian cricket. But the then India coach had the courage of convictions. He unearthed a serious talent; a potential match-winner in the long run. Kumble also contributed significantly in Cheteshwar Pujara’s improvement as a batsman. No disrespect to Shastri. He did a commendable job as the Indian team director from August 2014 to March 2016. But now that he and his captain have all the bases covered, India must reach the next level. Shedding the poor travellers tag should be a priority and the team will get an opportunity in this regard in South Africa a few months down the line. The days of slipping under the excuse of following a process should be over. It’s now the results that matter.