In my previous column, I had argued that marquee names from Indian cricket would not make a formal application for the post of national coach owing to the fear of rejection in a competitive scenario.
I’ve been proved wrong. Ravi Shastri and, more interestingly, Sandeep Patil have thrown their hat into the ring. These two apart, I understand a few other former Indian players, including Lalchand Rajput and Vikram Rathour, have also applied. There is no indication of Rahul Dravid, widely touted for the post, being in the mix though.
The deadline set by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is 10 June, and as you read this piece, it could be that the list of candidates has swelled up because of a late flurry. Once some major names decide to take the plunge, others get encouraged too and drop defensive postures. (At the time of going to press, former fast bowler Venkatesh Prasad had also applied for the post.) It is not known, however, whether there is any overseas candidate in the fray.
The original advertisement from the BCCI inviting applications wanted candidates to know Indian languages (presumably Hindi), which was certainly a constraint. That was hastily revised, to being able to “communicate effectively”, and leave the door open for foreigners too. In the quest for transparency in the process, this was important.
As M.S. Dhoni explained on the eve of the team’s departure to Zimbabwe, players today don’t find understanding English “a big barrier”, even if verbal skills in the language are a limitation.
“There are also other players who take the initiative to help anybody in the team who does not understand (English),” he added. But Dhoni also put forward a qualification for a coach.
“One of the most important things, I believe, is that he (coach) should understand our culture. More than the language, the one who understands our upbringing and culture will be better with us,’’ he said. This is a telling comment by somebody who has been at the helm for almost nine years.
In the past, there have been successful overseas coaches, like John Wright and Gary Kirsten, and I wonder whether Dhoni’s observation reflects the thinking within the BCCI currently and tilts the pendulum in favour of a desi coach.
Which brings me to the two leading applicants, Shastri and Patil. Ordinarily, Shastri’s reappointment (he was team director for almost 18 months till the Twenty20 World Cup this year) should have been easy.
During his tenure, India have reached the 50-over World Cup and T20 World Cup semi-finals, won the Asia Cup (played as a T20 tournament this time), won a One Day series against England in 2014, beaten Sri Lanka in an away Test series (after 22 years), and beaten South Africa in a home Test series.
The 0-2 defeat in Tests against Australia and the failure to qualify for the final of the One Day International Tri-Series in 2014-15 were the setbacks during his stewardship, but overall, Shastri’s record stands tough scrutiny. He also seems to have the support of most players.
I reckon that he was expecting to be given an extension, which is why he applied late, with just a few days to go for the deadline. But he has done so with a caveat: that the support staff which was with him—Sanjay Bangar, B. Arun and R. Sridhar—should also be retained.
How the BCCI responds to this is open to speculation. Also, with options now available, salary would be a consideration, if not a key determinant, given that the board is cash-rich. Shastri’s opportunity cost—he has been a front-line commentator—would be high.
Barring some dramatic late developments, Patil, a fellow Mumbaikar, is projected as his main rival. The two played a lot of cricket as teammates in the 1980s, both domestic and international, and are good friends too.
Patil has past experience as coach. He has mentored Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh and Railways in domestic cricket, was in charge of the Indian team in 1996 and of the Kenyan side that reached the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup.
“I have always enjoyed coaching and helping players,’’ says Patil, who believes he has something to offer. But his decision to apply was entirely unexpected, and has heated up the race for choosing the coach.
Interestingly, Patil is still chief selector and ratified the teams chosen for the tours to Zimbabwe and the West Indies. If he does get appointed as coach, he would be in charge of the team he (along with fellow selectors, of course) has chosen and could create a sticky situation for the BCCI. But the board will be pleased that the call for applicants has, at the least, evoked a good response. It provides them options and, most importantly, will also keep the Supreme Court, seeking transparency in all matters, happy.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.