Over the last decade, one job in international cricket that has seen a major rise in profile, especially in cricket-obsessed India, is that of the cricket coach. The change in perception on the role of an India coach has been evident by the huge interest surrounding the issue of who will be Greg Chappell’s long-term replacement. Both Chappell and John Wright’s appointments were covered in gory detail, as was everything they did.
So we thought we’d give you a bit on how this role became what it was, from some of the people who’ve been part of that evolution.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
It's a trend that began in the 1990s, after the rise in popularity of the limited overs game propelled the development of specialist ODI players and spurred commercialisation. With more games being played for a larger audience, cricket as a game grew, and so did the coach's profile.
"The change began in the 1990s, when associations would appoint coaches instead of managers for the team. That in turn happened because the game had changed a lot," says former India opener and director of coaching at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, Lalchand Rajput.
It wasn’t always this way. For former India coach Madan Lal, tips on bettering his cricket invariably came from seniors in the side. “They were the ones who helped us correct our technique and advised us on how to play better. They were the coaches for us.”
HOW ROLES HAVE CHANGED
But the advent of packed calendars and the introduction of new formats saw the coach's role diversify. A coach now is expected to essay various roles in the dressing room, that are far removed from his traditional roles.
Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy-winning coach Pravin Amre, incidentally, in his first season as coach, said a coach “had to play many duties. He has to be a selector and a motivator; and while handling top teams, he has to focus on the dressing room atmosphere. It’s a more stressful job than it was, but it's also an important one and it certainly has more accountability than ever before.”
Madan Lal, interestingly, given that he was India coach and when asked recently, said he wouldn’t mind getting the job, said he believed the role of the coach was highly overrated. "Finally, the players are responsible for the performance on the field. It is very unfair that the coach is criticised for everything, because he cannot play. At the international level, you don't need someone teaching you how to play, you need someone capable of good man management.”
This line of thought and the high profile nature of the job, also led to incidents that made for interesting anecdotes. Like when John Buchanan, possibly the coach of what is arguably the most successful cricket team ever, wrote a letter to his team after they had been at the receiving end of one of the most stunning defeats in cricket’s history --- they had lost to India in the Adelaide Test. “I love each and every one of you but, like my own family, you thrill, you frustrate, you anger...” Buchanan wrote in December 2003.
The letter, leaked to the Australian media, said a lot more. The leaking of the letter caused somewhat of a crisis in the Aussie camp and he came in for some flak, but the Aussies, recovered from their shock, regrouped and went on to thrash India in Melbourne and though they nearly lost the series in Sydney, 10 months later they were back in business.
Lal, by the way, echoes a point made by greats like Ian Chappell and Mike Brearley. The former has on many occasions said that international teams do not really need a coach, as at this stage, stars cannot really learn cricket.
HAS IT BECOME EASIER?
South Africa and Australia could have fielded two teams at the World Cup, one their regular cricket team and the other, that of their support staff. Fitness trainers, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, administrative managers, media managers, strength trainers, bowling and fielding coaches etc, are all part of the staff that provides the coach with inputs.
Rajput believes it helps a coach to have such staff at hand. "Cricket has become so intense that a coach may not have the time to look into, say, a bowler's action or his line. That's where a bowling coach comes in handy.
The presence of computer analysts, trainers, physios means more inputs for the coach, who can use that for strategy and tactics."
If this is indeed the case, then why has the BCCI, the richest body in international cricket, taken so long to come around to the idea? A first round exit from the World Cup has pushed the Board into appointing a bowling coach and a fielding coach, though how long both of them will stay is anyone's guess. The BCCI has bandied around with the idea of a psychiatrist, though nothing concrete has happened. Given their record, there is every chance that nothing might in future too.