India team-selectors communication gap raises questions on team manager
- Unlike in the past, the role of Team India’s administrative manager on a cricket tour has shrunk with several responsibilities handled with specific departments.
Does Team India need a manager? The drama around the Indian team’s request for replacement openers in England and the silence from the Indian selection committee is a communication issue because mails were received but not read and not answered. It also brings into focus team selection. If Abhimanyu Easwaran is not good enough why was he picked and sent to England? There is a third issue too, about the role and need of a team manager.
In the past, a manager had his hands full. As head of the delegation, he represented BCCI and on foreign tours handled ceremonial duties (of public speaking, deciding dress code for official functions, accepting social functions) and single-handedly coped with the administrative side to make arrangements for travel/hotel/food/refreshments/allowances and managing injuries. Not to forget cricket activities where he convened selection meetings,supervised nets and coordinated with the host cricket association for many other things.
On my first stint as manager to South Africa in 1992 I had one more urgent task to attend. The playing conditions for the tour hadn’t been finalised and the first task on landing in Durban was for vice-captain Ravi Shastri and me to sort this out with Ali Bacher, head of South Africa cricket. In a longish meeting we agreed on the TV umpire deciding line calls—first time in the history of Tests. The significance of this was felt when TV cameras claimed the first victim—Sachin Tendulkar run out by inches in the first Test following a referral. On that tour, the support staff consisted of coach Ajit Wadekar, physio/trainer Ali Irani and me. Ali and I took on additional duties, helping the team with fielding drills and hitting high catches.
Compare that to now. In England, the Indian team manager is assisted by three coaches, two physios, two trainers, two masseurs, two throw-down experts, a logistics person and two from the media team. This is when every minor detail is settled in advance by the two boards and cricket tours are in a way pre-cooked. Compared to the era of 1992, teams nowadays are on cruise control and there are two people whose workload has reduced. One, the media manager who is almost redundant because players are under a gag order; not allowed to interact with the media except for mandated sessions like pre- and post-match interviews. And there is little opportunity for friendly chats and ‘off-the-record’ comments. BCCI strictly controls player access to the media, and with Covid and bio-bubble restrictions, the media manager has little to do.
What is needed though is a production team to create visual content which can be shared with fans. With the growth of social media the focus now is to directly engage with fans and bring them closer to action. The Aussies did this brilliantly by allowing cameras into their dressing room and tour selection meetings during the last Ashes tour. IPL teams follow this model of brand building, capturing behind-the-scenes action to connect with fans. With these developments traditional barriers are being dismantled and the sacred privacy of the dressing room is a thing of the past. Which means guests are invited into cricket areas which till the other day was out of bounds.
The manager’s utility has shrunk to an extent he is almost superfluous. Most administrative matters are signed off in advance. Travel and logistics is the responsibility of a dedicated resource. Finance is not an issue anymore because players are provided cash cards and their allowance is topped up directly by the BCCI’s accounts team in Mumbai. The manager is not involved in selection because this is decided by the captain/coach and the touring national selector. The cricket part is looked after by the coaches and support staff. The manager’s job is restricted to distributing match tickets, arranging hospitality for guests and generally looking busy. There could be the occasional Match Referee enquiry but that can easily be handled by the coach.
In the present case of asking for player replacements, it appears the manager wrote to the chairman, selection committee. The protocol is communication from team to BCCI should be addressed to the CEO or BCCI secretary.
The writer is a former India team manager and long-time cricket official
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