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It’s remarkable how often Sunil Gavaskar—with his immeasurable on- and off-field cricketing experience—tends to make correct predictions. Before the 1999 World Cup final, when a reporter asked him who could be Man of the Match, he said without batting an eyelid: “Shane Warne”. A correct call, of course. This week, Gavaskar predicted his former India teammate, Ravi Shastri, will be the frontrunner for the post of head coach of the Indian team. We will soon know if the Little Master has got it right again, as the BCCI is set to announce the winner on July 10—also Gavaskar’s birthday.
The BCCI-appointed Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, is scheduled to conduct interviews based on a possible shortlist of names that the BCCI would forward to it, and choose the chief coach for a two-year term, ending with the 50-over World Cup in 2019. But before that, there is the matter of the cricketers’ minds. BCCI CEO Rahul Johri is scheduled to be in Jamaica to discuss the matter with captain Virat Kohli and the team.
Shastri entered the fray late—much like Anil Kumble last year—only after Kumble pulled out and BCCI extended the deadline for applicants. The CAC had wanted him to continue, but Kumble quit, citing differences with Kohli.
Kumble was immensely successful as India’s coach, but his pullout has given another lease of life to Virender Sehwag, Lalchand Rajput, Tom Moody, Dodda Ganesh, and Richard Pybus—the original applicants. After the deadline extension, Shastri, and former West Indies player Phil Simmons, who last year guided Windies to the ICC World Twenty20 title and also coached Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, have also applied for the job.
But Shastri seems to be the favourite. As experts say, why would he enter the competition if he wasn’t confident of his chances? It will be interesting to know what made Shastri change his mind after deciding against applying when the BCCI first advertised the post in May. It is quite possible that Shastri has got some assurance—his rapport with, and backing by, Kohli could be a deciding factor. But then, Shastri has had an embarrassing experience related to coaching the Indian team. Last year, CAC member Tendulkar was reportedly in Shastri’s favour when Kumble was picked, before apparently going with the tide, while Ganguly’s opposition to his former teammate is well-known. Apparently, Laxman too had supported Kumble. This time around, with Kumble out, Shastri might sail through. Even if Ganguly again opposes Shastri’s candidature, it might not be enough to stop Shastri from being appointed by the three-member committee.
Among the other candidates, Sehwag and Moody are said to be really in the race, though the low-profile Rajput, who has served as India coach in ODIs/T20s, also has impeccable credentials. The BCCI had appointed Shastri as the Team Director of the national side in 2014, at the end of former Zimbabwe captain Duncan Fletcher’s tenure. Then, when BCCI advertised the post last year, it was widely expected that Shastri would easily get an extension, given how well the team was said to have responded to his aggressive approach. But Kumble dramatically came into the picture. The BCCI handed him a one-year tenure to test him as he had no experience of coaching a national team. But even though Kumble was immensely successful—it has to be said that most matches in the last one year were played at home—he had to make an inglorious exit.
Lalchand Rajput and Tom Moody are also in the running
Reading the clear writing on the wall, Kumble made a dignified exit even after getting an extension. In his detailed June 20 tweet announcing his resignation, he disclosed that the BCCI told him that Kohli had “reservations with my ‘style’ and about my continuing as the head coach”. He also admitted that his partnership with Kohli was “untenable”, despite BCCI’s attempt to “resolve the misunderstandings”. Kumble must be deeply hurt at the turn of events, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. All he would tell Outlook is: “I have moved on....”
Despite the world talking about the Kumble-Kohli rift, the BCCI, true to its tradition, continued to live in denial mode. It later stated that it told Kumble about the dislike Kohli had for him only on June 19, a day after the Champions Trophy final and, crucially, after the CAC had given him an extension. Surely, with rumours swirling about the discord even a month back, the Board could have told Kumble about the gravity of the situation before.
Madan Lal, who had a bitter experience as India coach in 1996-97 and wasn’t given an extension, says there’s more to Kumble’s resignation than meets the eye. While supporting Kumble’s decision to withdraw, he feels the BCCI handled the matter poorly. “First of all, Kumble was the BCCI-appointed coach and the Board had appointed a committee (CAC), which chose the coach. The captain should have an opinion in coach selection, but not a big say. But if a coach is not liked by a captain or players, what would he do with the team? Look what happened with Kumble; nobody resigns just like that. Nobody knows the real reason for his resignation,” says Madan Lal.
Gavaskar had also openly supported Kumble. “What happened to Anil Kumble was sad, very sad indeed. The cricket legend was humiliated.... No top player will want to throw in his hat after what happened to Kumble. It is clear that the Indian players want people who sit back and do nothing rather than go-getters who get results,” Gavaskar wrote in his column. The coach’s job is a high pressure one. Sandeep Patil, who had applied for it last year but wasn’t even called for interview, says: “Every post of responsibility brings pressure with it. Without the pressure, it doesn’t work.... It’s not that pressure is there only in sports.” Patil had a forgettable stint as India coach in 1996.
Despite expectations from millions, the India team coach isn’t given enough power, unlike football coaches in the world’s top national and club teams, says Madan Lal. “A football coach is much more powerful...he also has a say in offering salaries to players. The team is run by the coach, and the Board of Directors give him a free hand.... The expectation in Indian cricket is huge, but not greater than that on a European football coach. In football, a coach selects players and could draw a million-dollar salary,” he says.
While the chief coach of the Indian cricket team is set to be announced on July 10, the BCCI has confirmed that Rahul Dravid would continue as India A and India under-19 coach. After the former India captain was caught in a conflict-of-interest zone, the BCCI had asked Dravid to choose between this job and that of IPL franchise Delhi Daredevils’ Mentor. Dravid chose to serve the nation, and gain more experience and possibly take another crucial step towards becoming the senior team’s head coach in a few years. But before that, the BCCI will have to put the current riddle of the coach’s appointment to rest, as the fight is quickly becoming Ravi Shastri vs The Rest.