Mohinder Amarnath was one of the four final contenders for becoming the coach of the Indian cricket team in 2005. Even before losing that race to Greg Chappell, he said to a TV channel: “If you think that because someone is fair complexioned, and has a different kind of skin, it makes them better, then even I would start applying Fair and Lovely so that my complexion also becomes like that.” His wisdom on the application of technology to the game of cricket was even more profound: “I don’t have a laptop. I only have a lap.” If anyone could make the best case against appointing a former Indian great as the coach, unfortunately it had to be former Indian great Amarnath. Unabashed plain-speaking has its virtues but not when combined with an arrogant sense of entitlement and a parochial mindset.
Nearly 16 years after Kapil Dev’s exit under the shadow of a match-fixing controversy, Anil Kumble has become the first Indian to rise to the position of Indian cricket team coach. And it has now been more than a year since Rahul Dravid took up the responsibility of mentoring the India “A” and under-19 teams. One also keeps hearing the names of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra floating around for the position of bowling coach. The upshot is: India now has a fresh pool of cricketers who have retired in recent years and are ready to render their services to Indian cricket.
Some of them are also opting for administrative responsibilities. Sourav Ganguly, for instance, is currently serving as president of the Cricket Association of Bengal. Kumble served his state cricket association and the National Cricket Academy before applying for the position of head coach of the Indian team. Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman serve on a cricket advisory committee that was given the responsibility of selecting the coach.
What makes these freshly retired cricketers better than the generation of Dev and Amarnath? While it is not possible to compare the coaching records of Kumble and Dravid—the former has just assumed his role—to that of Dev and his contemporaries, two quick observations can be made. One, the generation of Kumble and Dravid is the first in India to have been trained by foreign coaches. Two, the teams that Kumble and Dravid were part of went on to achieve much bigger things than any Indian team in the past.
While the record of foreign coaches has been mixed—there has been a Chappell for a John Wright, a Duncan Fletcher for a Gary Kirsten—the rigour and professionalism introduced by them in Indian cricket is unmistakable. Before Wright came in 2000, Indian fielding standards, barring a few exceptions, were pathetic, senior players frequently truanted from training sessions and the dressing room was open to anyone who could cite some VIP connection. Wright changed it all. It was eventually Kirsten’s tenure during which the Indian team achieved the pinnacles—winning the 2011 World Cup and attaining the numero uno rank in Test cricket for the first time, in 2009—but the more basic problems were first tackled by Wright.
The likes of Wright and Kirsten had the services of excellent professionals among their support staff. The contribution of Eric Simmons as a bowling coach, Andrew Leipus as a physiotherapist and Paddy Upton as mental conditioning coach cannot be discounted. Both Wright and Kirsten understood the evolving nature of the game and therefore engaged themselves in holistic preparation of the team. Occasionally, Wright would avail the services of the sports psychologist Sandy Gordon and Kirsten would employ the world famous adventurer Mike Horn to deliver inspirational talks in the run-up to the finals of the 2011 World Cup.
This is not to say that Indian coaches have been a complete failure. Ravi Shastri has done a good job in the last 18 months, albeit as a filler. Most people forget that the coaching staff during India’s victory in the inaugural World T20 in 2007 comprised Shastri, Lalchand Rajput, Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh. Away from spotlight, less-known names like Sanjay Bangar and R. Sridhar have made important contributions. Individual cricketers like Tendulkar and Dravid have had excellent coaches—Ramakant Achrekar and Keki Tarapore, respectively—in their formative years.
While India has a great bench strength of freshly retired, battle-hardened players, it does not automatically translate into coaching success. Coaching is a different ball game altogether. But the home-grown options are better than ever before.
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