Gautam Gambhir, BCCI and coy India coach applicants | Crickit
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Gautam Gambhir, BCCI and coy India coach applicants

BySharda Ugra, New Delhi
May 28, 2024 08:21 PM IST

It is arguably the most high profile job in world cricket, but mushrooming of T20 leagues also makes it an interesting exercise, writes Sharda Ugra.

The deadline to apply for men's senior team head coach's post is now over. Last week, there was a flurry of well-wow-thanks-but-no-thanks-but-what-nonsense-we-are-not-even-asking noises. Ricky Ponting said he had “one on one” conversations about the position but at this point in time the job of India’s coach “probably doesn’t exactly fit into my lifestyle”.

India captain Rohit Sharma with Kolkata Knight Riders mentor Gautam Gambhir during a practice session (PTI) PREMIUM
India captain Rohit Sharma with Kolkata Knight Riders mentor Gautam Gambhir during a practice session (PTI)

Justin Langer said he is “out of contention” following KL Rahul’s sound advice re: pressure and politics. Plus CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan, who said he had a “feeling” that CSK long term coach Stephen 'Anna' Fleming wouldn’t want to be involved in coaching for “nine-ten months” a year.

ALSO READ: 'Desh ke liye karna hai': Gautam Gambhir, Jay Shah's conversation as BCCI's search for next India head coach almost over

This was all before BCCI secretary Jay Shah issued a statement, “neither I nor the BCCI have approached any former Australian cricketer with coaching offer.” Reports circulating in “certain media sections,” he said, “are completely incorrect”.

Shah reminded us that finding the right coach for the team was “a meticulous and thorough process.” BCCI was “focused on identifying individuals who possess a deep understanding of the Indian cricket structure and have risen through the ranks. It's crucial that our coach has an in-depth knowledge of our domestic cricket framework to truly elevate Team India to the next level.”

Don’t know about you, but sounds like Gautam Gambhir to me. About whom neither BCCI nor Shah have denied approaching, sounding out or chatting one-on-one.

Since the mushrooming of T20 franchise leagues, the post of head coach for national cricket teams has evolved. From one man in charge of everything into a multi-format compartmentalisation which simplifies time management issues and home-away balance.

Uber gurus do still exist with Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh in Andrew McDonald, Gary Stead, Chris Silverwood and Chandika Hathurasinghe. But elsewhere duties have been split between Test and white-ball coaches like in England (Baz McCullum - Matthew Mott), South Africa (Shukri Conrad-Rob Walter), West Indies (Andre Coley-Daren Sammy) and Pakistan (Jason Gillespie-Gary Kirsten). Afghanistan under Jonathan Trott play very little Test cricket.

The most uber of these global uber gurus would no doubt be the head coach of the Indian team as the in-charge of the most widely followed national team in world sport. Even if you include the Brazilian football team which doesn’t play quite as much year-round as the Indian cricketers. Then the job is also the highest paid in the sport, Rahul Dravid’s annual salary is said to be ranging between 10-12 crore and infinity.

The power and the glory of the job notwithstanding, a clear-eyed SWOT analysis of the position of Indian men’s cricket team head coach would feature a handful of entries for Strength (money, player talent) and Opportunity (bootcamp, man management training, air miles) categories. The Weaknesses and Threats are be considerably more crowded.

Granted, former Indian players won’t be amused by this SWOT because the pride they would feel working with a group they once represented is beyond our cynical comprehension. Naturally they will look at the job differently.

But for coaches from outside India, the SWOT analysis is fairly clear-eyed. They choose between two extremes. An extremely high-paying, year-round headache circus or a few months a year under a demanding, cold-blooded but largely-organised set-up?

Mahela Jayawardene, whose name has also come up as Dravid’s successor, is at the moment global head of performance for Mumbai Indians. This includes their five-time title winner IPL team and their other teams in the franchise leagues in the UAE (MI Emirates), South Africa (MI Cape Town) and the US (MI New York).

The difference between being an IPL coach and Indian head coach is a time, chain-of-command and attention issue. How much time is required on the job, who do you report to and what is the degree of media fuss must you deal with. The Indian team is one of the most widely travelled in the world, its chain of command while extremely clear, does not organically take to professionalism or efficiency and the 24x7 media fuss covers the entire gamut between considerate and cuckoo.

The job description of the Indian men’s team head coach requires being based in Mumbai. This time it comes accompanied with an astonishingly generous three-plus years tenure – July 1, 2024 to December 31, 2027. No India coach has had such an uninterrupted clear run. Not Gary Kirsten who started on a two-year contract in 2008 March. Not even Ravi Shastri who was India coach for four and a half years, across two terms. India’s first overseas coach John Wright spent most of his four and a half years from series to series at first, and then seasonal extensions. With BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya telling him before the 2003 World Cup that if India didn’t finish No.1 or 2 that was going to be the end of their meet chats.

The new coach’s extended three-year clear run means that possible dud results can be bypassed and personnel change at the top of BCCI won’t matter either. This is high-level succession planning. Particularly handy as Jay Shah’s two uninterrupted terms as BCCI secretary end by October. Which is meant to be followed by a cooling-off period, but regulations can of course be re-amended.

Regardless, BCCI’s process to finding a successor for Dravid has been meticulous and thorough. All bases need to be covered which is why BCCI application process was simplified. Anyone could apply on a Google Form link off the BCCI website. More than 3,000 applications came through that large-hearted, open-access Google form, with many candidates, real and unreal.

Someone on X filled it in Harbhajan Singh’s name with the best of intentions. Others as cricketing stars and politicians. A group of podcaster buddies were quick to apply in their own names - including Mayur, a US-based software professional who believes he can be the India cricket team’s first Zoom coach, an out-of-the box approach previously never considered. It's also being rumoured that ChatGPT went sentient and put in his/her/their application too.

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