With India’s greatest match-winner, Anil Kumble, throwing his hat in the ring, the race for India’s coaching job is becoming interesting.
Sources confirmed to this columnist that Kumble, who helped India win more matches than any other player, has applied for the job. Not only as a player, but even for the short duration he led India at the fag end of his career, Kumble was outstanding as a leader.
What is even more significant from the perspective of the coaching assignment is the fact that Kumble was considered an excellent communicator by his teammates, someone who would understand the problems of the players and go out of his way to sort them out.
For Ian Chappell, the outspoken former Australian captain, a cricket coach is so irrelevant his utility is no better than that of a bus (coach) that drops the team to the ground. This view is shared by many in the cricketing fraternity, who believe a national team does not need a coach but a man-manager who can keep the tempers of the players in check, give a voice to the timid among them, and mould a bunch of talented but disparate characters into a cohesive unit. In short, it’s a job better suited for a psychologist than a man who can correct technical flaws of the players.
Kumble would understand this better as he was part of the team that was coached by Greg Chappell. Greg, a true great of the game, reduced some of the best players of the team, and that included Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly, into such self-doubting individuals that it started affecting their performances.
The list of applicants for the new coach, which should be finalised before the tour of the West Indies, may possibly have one or more formidable names, including a few foreign players. However, the names that have surfaced so far are those of Indian players, and Ravi Shastri will be a strong contender.
Shastri didn’t do a bad job as director, which effectively meant he was managing the Indian team. His relationship with the players, especially with the man who matters the most in the Indian team, Virat Kohli, was fruitful.
Among the others, the most interesting is that of Sandeep Patil, whose explosive hitting had excited a generation that followed the game in the seventies and early eighties. Patil’s blistering 174 at Adelaide, after having been hit on the head by a Len Pascoe bouncer in the 1981 Sydney Test, or his hitting six fours in one over from Bob Willis, are awe-inspiring feats and are still remembered among the most memorable moments of Indian cricket.
Whatever the choice, the Indian board would be well advised to remember that it needs to hire a man-manager and not someone who can just impart technical skills to our prima donnas.