Pat Riley, celebrated basketball coach of the New York Knicks, has this to say about the evolution in sporting outfits: "They go from nobody to upstart. From upstart to contender. From contender to winner. From winner to champion. From champion to dynasty." In a game where the '80s West Indies team was the nearest to a dynasty, the Indians, probably, figure somewhere between an upstart and a contender.
But in Mohali, Kapil Dev, the new coach of the Indians, has come with a bcci brief to help kick them out of the Neanderthal age. With such a high-wattage coach, the bosses hoped some winning momentum could be relayed on to a team that has a media swarm chasing it even when it has a reputation of getting its backside bruised on the field. To give his wards a taste of him before they could get their brain circuitry organised, when the team reached Chandigarh on October 8, Kapil took the coach straight to the stadium even before checking the luggage in at the hotel.
Two days later, the team crashed to 83 all out in the first innings of the first Test against the Kiwis. A splendid reception for the new coach. Players say they didn't see him smile that day. Not a bit. His harangue began on the bus itself. The gist: "Stop giving excuses. Like the pitch was bad or umpiring unfair. Start taking the blame."
On reaching the hotel, Kapil gave his wards 15 minutes to assemble in his room. There they got more of the same. Philosophy about what he wanted from them. Apparently, Sachin kept nodding in agreement to whatever the big man had to say. This till 10.30 pm when they broke up for such minor matters like dinner. At the top of the list of goals - to dismiss the Kiwis around the 200-run mark.
The Kiwis didn't get much more. But so enraged was Kapil with the first knock collapse he kept making cryptic comments even as the Kiwis got out. When Craig Spearman perished to a Kumble full toss, he said: "Look, what kind of team is this? Their players are getting out to full tosses. And you guys scored 83!" Later, when Devang Gandhi and Sadagopan Ramesh set up a good opening stand in the second essay but were going slow, he sent a message to Ramesh through 12th man Harbhajan Singh. The essentials: "Tell Ramesh not to play so slow. There are nine other batsmen waiting. I'll recall him and send another. It's not his debut. It's Gandhi's."
By the end of the second day's play, all doubts were clear as to who the boss will be for the next two years. There was praise too. For Srinath after his six wickets: "You brought us back into the match." He returned the compliment in the press: "Kapil's the best thing that's happened to Indian cricket." When Dravid finished in the 80s on the third day, Kapil greeted him with a bottle of jam. With a 'well done Jammy'. With Sachin, Kapil was more solicitous. He gave him the how's-your-back types as the team went unwinding.
Meanwhile, he was busy establishing order. At Mohali, no one was allowed in the dressing room. The players had expressed reservations about all manner of board officials and selectors making the dressing room their vantage point. Chairman of selectors Chandu Borde reportedly got a cold shoulder when he went in once. His other orders? Stop autograph-seekers and those who want moments with the players after the day's play. His instructions to the police: "Nobody is to be allowed and if any of you do, I'll talk to your superiors." It put Kapil's friend, a government officer, in a dilemma as he had to oblige his commissioner by taking his children for autographs and a snap opportunity with Dravid. The media too wasn't spared. To begin with, one-to-one interviews are banned.
Of course, this gutsy approach was missing in the reign of 'Clint Eastwood' (called so by the players for his cavalier approach to coaching, black glasses and Panama hat) Anshuman Gaekwad. Says a selector: "Do you think Gaekwad would've had the guts to drop Jadeja? Kapil did it even though everyone knows how close they are. He's ruthless when he has to be fair. And going into a match with three debutants! No other coach would have that kind of guts." Or even the kind to send a message through Harbhajan to Ganguly, when the southpaw was piling on quick runs: "Tell him even if he gets to 80 or 99, I won't delay the declaration for his 100."
Splendid. Kapil's both a friend and a father figure. After the fourth day, a cake was cut in the dressing room for Ramesh. The players sang 'Happy Birthday'. Ramesh cut the cake and gave the first piece to Kapil. Sachin carved one out for Ramesh. Then Debashish Mohanty picked the whole thing up and plastered it on Ramesh's face. Splendid again. It shows the players are happy, something visibly absent during Azharuddin's stint as captain.
Kapil's also an extrovert. Says selector Ashok Malhotra: "He can mix with everyone. And, two of our best match-winners ever are at the top - Kapil and Sachin. If they can't do it for us, then none can." Kapil's reason for taking the plunge are sound. Says ex-spinner Maninder Singh: "I met him in Delhi after he accepted the offer. He said we keep saying the board should involve cricketers. Now that they were doing it, it was a challenge I couldn't refuse. He said it wasn't something he could do, say, five years later as his body might not be willing." Adds ex-Test player Atul Wassan: "Kapil comes to everything with a lot of energy. Look, how he improved at golf. While playing, he might not have been able to help his colleagues much since he had his own game to think about. It isn't so now."
But, there's some finger-crossing, presuming that things might not jell between Kapil and Sachin. Can two swords rest in one scabbard? Cricket's never had such a captain-coach combination that can rival the voltage these two bring to the job. In his second stint as captain, Sachin would've been unrivalled as boss. That isn't quite so with Kapil in the fray. Says a selector: "There might be a point in what you say. But why not reverse it and think what a shield Kapil will be for him and the team." True.
Also true is Sachin's commitment to the game where his equations will be secondary. Said a player during the World Cup about him: "This guy's amazing. His wife had broken the news to him about his father's demise. Two of us were standing outside his room. He came out and told us to sleep early as we had to play Zimbabwe the next day. And when he arrived at Mumbai, the first thing he asked was "what happened?".
Now, with a mental make-up like that, egos are just minor pin-pricks and perhaps would not fester even in a benign manifestation. And, of course, there's also the view that Kapil's going to be the boss because Sachin will let him be one.