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In cricket, captain before the coach

india Updated: Apr 06, 2007 17:57 IST
Imran Khan
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The most important question that the cricket boards and teams in India and Pakistan have to answer at the moment is: what is a coach? We are not talking soccer or basketball, so he is not the most important decision-maker. The uniqueness of cricket is the fact that it is a game in which the captain has more power than in any other team sport.

So, we have to ask ourselves what the role of the coach is in such a captain-dominated sport? The answer has to be that he helps the captain plan strategy, and he should complement the captain by being strong in areas where the captain is found wanting. For example, a laidback, defensive captain like Inzamam-ul Haq needed an attacking, aggressive coach like — dare I say it — Greg Chappell. In cricket, the man in the middle, the man who leads by example, has to be the captain. If we understand that the coach is nothing more than a sounding board for the captain, an assistant strategist for the team, and a trainer for the players, we will not get into the situation we are in.

Since the coach cannot play for the players, he can only be pulled up for strategy. The Indians did not play well against Bangladesh; when the players under-perform, even an excellent strategy will not help. I would say that it is harsh to blame Chappell for India's exit. The only disagreement I have with him would be his reluctance to play five bowlers. But beyond that, I don't think India were victims of poor strategy — they just did not play well enough.

India and Pakistan have many things in common, lack of originality being one unfortunate example. Perhaps it is our colonial hangover, but we feel that if a concept is working for England or Australia, it will work for us too. Instead of obsessing about coaching, we need to ask ourselves this:

Is Australia winning all the time because of their coach? Clearly, the answer is no. They are winning because they have exceptional talent that emerges from a fiercely competitive domestic setup, and because they are led magnificently by Ricky Ponting, who leads by example.

Cricket in India or Pakistan will not succeed unless changes are made in the domestic competition. I hear ridiculous moves are afoot in the PCB, with schemes like Under-13 camps being planned. Such moves are misguided and akin to treating cancer with Disprin. India are no different, spending too much time apportioning blame and thinking about the next coach.

Whenever you are in a crisis, objective analysis is the only way forward. What India need to do is restructure their domestic cricket so that the best talents play keenly-contested games on good wickets. As far as the coach is concerned, they have to decide who is the best man to captain the team, and then decide who can help him best. They need not hire a foreigner for devising coaching drills — any Indian cricketer who has played the game can do that. The only reason to look outside is if one wants to find a person of stature who can bring his experience into making India a better team. However, his role should be clearly outlined so that a personality clash among players does not arise. In cricket, the coach is a gimmicky concept imported from other sports. If he must exist, his role should be to assist the captain — nothing more, nothing less. This is what the BCCI has to remember while charting the road ahead.