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Then and now: The coach is what the team is

Mumbai city news: As cricket has become bigger and richer, we have also become obsessed with the star quality of coaches, and especially when it comes to former India players

mumbai Updated: Jul 13, 2017 23:04 IST
Ayaz Memon
The tugs-and-pulls that made Shastri’s reappointment traverse a bumpy route of “no”, “maybe”, and finally “yes” is a comment on the power struggle between factions within the BCCI, the Committee of Administrators and Cricket Advisory Committee.
The tugs-and-pulls that made Shastri’s reappointment traverse a bumpy route of “no”, “maybe”, and finally “yes” is a comment on the power struggle between factions within the BCCI, the Committee of Administrators and Cricket Advisory Committee.(HT)

Caught up in another assignment, I couldn’t be at the BCCI’s headquarters in Wankhede Stadium on Monday evening, when Sourav Ganguly grappled with the media on the whys and wherefores of selecting the new coach.

It was a press conference Ganguly might look back on and wonder if he could have tackled differently. On Monday, he announced that the appointment of the coach had been deferred; less than 48 hours later, Ravi Shastri was back in the post he had lost to Anil Kumble last year.

The tugs-and-pulls that made Shastri’s reappointment traverse a bumpy route of “no”, “maybe”, and finally “yes” is a comment on the power struggle between factions within the BCCI, the Committee of Administrators and Cricket Advisory Committee.

So after weeks of drama and suspense, Shastri regains his position even if it comes with strings attached in the shape of consultants Rahul Dravid (batting) and Zaheer Khan (bowling).

“These are champion cricketers and their inputs are invaluable,” he said from London, where he is holidaying with his wife and daughter. Shastri returns to Mumbai over the week-end “all charged up to be with a bunch of fabulous young blokes” for the assignments ahead, but tired about facing the media all over what he believes is “just a job”.

At the core, coaching is indeed another regular job in the cricket ecosystem, though not imbued with the same importance as in sports like football and hockey. But in the Indian context, over a few decades, it has acquired a whole different dimension and profile.

As cricket has become bigger and richer, we have also become obsessed with the star quality of coaches, and especially when it comes to former India players. The selection process, the contenders, their reputation in the game,the relationships between captain and coach is a matter of public interest. In India, this means a billion plus experts and critics, which explains the cacophony.

Added to this is an ongoing argument over who is more important – the captain or the coach. As more high profile former cricketers apply for such jobs, the debate gets sharper.

All of which takes me back almost 25 years when India had its first full time coach in former captain Ajit Wadekar. His appointment came on the eve of the tour to South Africa in 1992-93 sans any brouhaha.

There was no Cricket Advisory Committee then. The BCCI headquarters then was was an unkempt office from where policy decisions were relayed through press releases.

Wadekar had no support staff to talk of. The coach was a one-man unit in charge of training, mentoring, and even diplomacy as happened on the then highly sensitive (politically) tour of South Africa.

Before Wadekar too there had been former players who had been ‘cricket managers’, on an ad hoc basis: ML Jaisimha to Sri Lanka in 1985, Chandu Borde (Pakistan, 1989), Bishen Bedi (England, 1990) Abbas Ali Baig (Australia, 1991).

The terms of endearment were different. If memory serves me right, Wadekar was paid as much as the players got for a tour— about Rs1 lakh for three months. The chief coach today can earn as much as Rs5.5 crore per annum.

While this reflects the exponential growth in Indian cricket’s finances and perhaps also explains why selection of the coach has become so competitive and newsy, fundamentally, the cricket coach’s job hasn’t changed.

Whatever the hoopla around the selection, his importance is defined only by what the team achieves. And while he may seem terribly important given the texture of the game, the coach is the most easily dispensable.

Who knows this better than Shastri, for whom life has turned a full circle in a year?