Explaining India’s shift from foreign to home-grown coaches
- Bharat Arun’s role in changing NCA’s syllabus; Shastri’s success; BCCI nudging former players to coaching have contributed to the change.
It is hard to think of a recent instance when the appointment of a new head coach of the India cricket team has been as seamless as Rahul Dravid’s. The former India captain was reportedly the lone applicant for the job and his appointment was a foregone conclusion long before confirmation arrived on November 3. None of the usual foreign names was in the fray. Nor was there any protracted drama that usually comes with the territory of getting the coveted job.
Dravid, who will have to get accustomed once again to being under incessant public gaze, will be flanked by bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, batting coach Vikram Rathour and fielding coach T Dilip as India make a fresh start following Ravi Shastri’s departure. And as another all-Indian support staff takes the hot seat, it is worth acknowledging the progress that Indian coaches have made.
There was a time not too long ago when India had a strong fixation for foreign faces in the coaching staff. It began with New Zealand’s John Wright taking charge in 2000, and he was succeeded by Greg Chappell, Gary Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher over a 15-year period. After the 2007 ODI World Cup debacle, which marked the end of Chappell’s polarising tenure, there was a phase when Shastri, Chandu Borde and Lalchand Rajput travelled with the team as “manager” on different tours. Those appointments, however, were on an interim basis until Kirsten stepped into the role in 2008. Even though India went on to remarkably win the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup in 2007 with Rajput at the helm, the coach from Mumbai was not offered a full-time gig.
Perhaps, the experience of the 1990s when a flurry of Indian coaches had little success—especially outside the country —convinced administrators that the team needs a foreign hand or hands. After the match-fixing scandal rocked Indian cricket in 2000, Wright duly stepped in and steered the team out of choppy waters with skipper Sourav Ganguly by his side. His largely successful tenure as coach had a massive imprint on the Indian psyche and perhaps gave the impression that foreign coaches were better equipped.
Change in mindset
Former India team manager Sunil Subramaniam, who served in that role from 2017 to 2019 when Shastri was the coach, says that the “white-man syndrome” and doubts whether Indian coaches have enough knowledge are firmly in the past.
“Our system is mature enough now that we can have home-grown coaches. Earlier, we had a white-man syndrome and doubted whether we had enough knowledge. Now that is out of the window. We have the knowledge now. All we need to look for is coaches who are good communicators from within the system,” he says.
Apart from serving as India manager, Subramaniam — a former left-arm spinner who played for Tamil Nadu —also has the necessary coaching credentials from the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. He recalls how the coaching syllabus at the NCA was a carbon copy of the Australian manual when the centre was established in 2000. The credit for the evolution of the NCA course, according to Subramaniam, goes to former India bowling coach Bharat Arun and Rajput.
“Arun played an integral role. We have outgrown their syllabus and adapted the courses to what we are as cricketers or coaches in India. We got our own material out from 2010 or 2011 onwards. It simplified the coaching syllabus. Arun was the catalyst. He was the guru of the coaches in India. Rajput also played a role at NCA,” says the 54-year-old.
Rajput says: “I would like to credit the BCCI that it is now trusting Indian coaches and giving full support. In the last 4-5 years under Shastri, India have been the No. 1 team in the ICC Test rankings. So we have now seen that India can do well under our own coaches. If there is no opportunity, where will our coaches go? I don’t see any reason why we should go for foreign coaches. Our coaches are as good as foreign coaches and are delivering the results.”
Rajput concedes that there was an unfavourable perception about Indian coaches. When he was NCA director, a concerted effort had to be made to foster Indian coaches.
“It has gone through a process. The NCA, where I was coaching director, stressed that we should develop our own coaches and that is why we started having Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 courses. The results are there for everyone to see now,” Rajput says.
The prevalent mindset back then meant that Rajput’s own coaching stint with the Indian team turned out to be a brief one. “There was a school of thinking then that foreign coaches are better. In hindsight, you can say that I could have been given a longer run. But it wasn’t to be.”
Subramaniam also credits Shastri for the turnaround. Apart from being an unabashed fan of Shastri’s man-management skills, he praises the former coach for standing his ground and getting Arun on board when he was appointed team director in England in 2014.
“Shastri got Arun in as bowling coach. It would have been very easy for him to get in foreign support staff. Why are we giving so much importance to foreign coaches? He was the guy who saw through it. Our system is such that we needed someone of his stature to see through it,” Subramaniam says.
Fast track courses
The BCCI, acknowledges Subramaniam, is also doing its bit now by encouraging recently retired players or those coming towards the end of their career to take up coaching.
In March this year, NCA conducted two fast-track Level 2 courses for international cricketers and those who have played over 75 first-class games. Some of the attendees included Wasim Jaffer, Abhinav Mukund, Vinay Kumar, L Balaji and Robin Uthappa.
“I believe we have some of the best coaching talent in the world and these courses conducted by the NCA will greatly benefit not only those that have participated in it but also the next generation of cricketers who will be coached by these coaches,” current BCCI chief Ganguly said in a release at the time.
Uthappa, who turned 36 recently, feels that the backing of Indian coaches for the top job also spurs upcoming coaches to chart their way forward in the system. “It gives a lot of motivation to upcoming coaches,” he says.
“Coaches have always been more skilled in India, but communication maybe has been a barrier for Indian coaches in the past. Our fascination with foreign coaches has subsided because we have seen what Indian coaches can produce. Tournaments like the IPL have helped. We have been ready to go with Indian coaches for quite a while now,” says Uthappa.