Ravi Shastri’s selection as team India coach marred by power battles
Making a movie on how the chief coach of the Indian cricket team was selected this time would tax the combined genius of Shyam Benegal, Manmohan Desai, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin.
How do you treat a subject of deep gravitas, which becomes a multi-star cast potboiler, then swiftly turns into a suspense thriller and climaxes in slapstick comedy?
So, at the end of two hectic days, Ravi Shastri was named coach, with appendages this time in consultants for batting (Rahul Dravid) and bowling (Zaheer Khan). But it was the drama preceding the announcement that is more compelling.
On Monday, at the headquarters of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in Mumbai, the cricket advisory committee, or CAC (Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman in person, Sachin Tendulkar via teleconference), interviewed five applicants for the job previously held by Anil Kumble.
After the interviews were completed, Ganguly held a press conference which, in hindsight, he might wish he had handled differently. Essentially, he announced the selection of the coach was being deferred. The plot picks up pace thereafter.
By Monday evening, Vinod Rai from the committee of administrators (COA) jumped into the fray, asking the CAC to announce the coach that night itself, sending the BCCI scurrying helter-skelter. On Tuesday, Ganguly, still in Mumbai, said he would speak to Rai, explaining the CAC’s position. By mid-afternoon, however, it was leaked that Shastri had been made coach. Newswires started humming with stories and queries.
This upset Ganguly, as it did the BCCI members who were then engaged in a special general meeting in Delhi. Acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary took time out to say the coach had not been finalized.
From Mumbai, Ganguly flew out to Kolkata, reiterating that the matter was still under discussion in the CAC. But by the time he landed in his home city, acting secretary Chowdhury was drafting a press release that Shastri had indeed been made chief coach!
That the script should be so bumpy and end in farce is perhaps symptomatic of the problem that has engulfed Indian cricket administration, what with multiple power centres at play—the BCCI, COA and CAC—often with Machiavellian cross-purpose intent.
At the core, however, is the power and functioning of the CAC. When deferring the decision on Monday, Ganguly, said this was necessitated as the CAC wanted to speak to Kohli, before taking a final call. He also added that there was “no hurry’’ and that the coach could be named even after the tour of Sri Lanka starting 26 July.
Considering the hurried manner in which the applications for the coach’s post were originally sought, one would have thought that time was of the essence. Such elasticity (the Sri Lanka tour ends only in the first week of September) was baffling.
If Kohli’s buy-in was imperative, the CAC could have met on 17 July, when he returns from the US. Also, it begs the question why he couldn’t have been engaged via videoconference. In the information age we live in, such infirmity seems terribly incongruous.
Ganguly’s explanations were shrouded in homilies and obfuscation. That the CAC and captain have to be on the “same page” obviously stems from the Kumble fiasco, but is hardly a revelation. Moreover, that coaches have their own methods which the captain should be aware of was labouring a puerile point.
Ganguly highlighted that presentations by all the candidates were excellent. While this would have made decision making difficult, this is precisely where a high-powered advisory committee has to live up to its task.
Some conspiracy theorists say that all three members of the CAC had different preferences, leading to a deadlock. Others say that the CAC wanted to apprise Kohli of Dravid’s and Khan’s roles. Whatever the truth value of such stories, the rigmarole was unedifying.
And the fundamental question remains: If the captain has to resolve the vexing matter, why keep him out of the deliberations in the first place? Indeed, why then should the CAC exist?
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.