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Players call the shots when it comes to coach selection

Columnist Amrit Mathur backs the idea that players are more powerful than the coach.

cricket Updated: Nov 02, 2017 08:41 IST
Rahul Dravid,Virender Sehwag,Imran Khan
Virat Kohli (L) was instrumental in the hiring of India coach Ravi Shastri.(AFP)

Rahul Dravid explained the India team coach selection controversy in one short sentence. The players, he said, are more powerful than the coach.

That players (read captain) appointing the coach is a harsh reality of Indian cricket. Assorted cricket legends have realised India’s coaching role is a risky snakes-and-ladders game. You may not need ‘setting’, to borrow a word from Virender Sehwag’s lexicon, to survive but there is no denying the Indian team coach holds office under ‘pleasure’ (read mercy) of the captain.

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Over the years, the role of the coach has evolved. Initially, traditionalists ridiculed the idea and Imran Khan/Ian Chappell/Shane Warne and KP thought a coach was useful only for going to the ground from the hotel. Cricket was strictly captain’s territory --- he took all on-field calls though some said SMG/Ganguly/Dhoni’s clout extended beyond the boundary into selection committee meetings.

When teams first appointed coaches, this became a convenient post-retirement job for eminent past players. John Buchanan, however, defied this trend to coach Australia for eight years despite a modest first-class career of seven first-class games in which he made 141 runs and did not take a wicket.

With increased focus on ‘professionalism’, teams went overseas to hire the best and today England have an Australian coach and South Africa have appointed a West Indian. Playing cricket ‘at the highest level’ is no more an essential eligibility requirement. Mike Hesson, New Zealand’s coach for the last four years, has no first-class cricket experience.

Same was the case with Russell Domingo, former South African coach. Trevor Bayliss (England), Nick Pothas (Sri Lanka), Micky Arthur (Pakistan), all current Test team coaches, have not played Test cricket.

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Coaches today are more managers than technical gurus. They organise nets and build team culture to create the right environment for players to express themselves. The coach is friend, elder brother and mentor rolled into one.

India appointed foreign coaches in the hope an outsider would be free of bias and deal the same cards to everyone. Successive foreign coaches (John Wright, Gary Kirsten, Duncan Fletcher) stayed low profile and adjusted to Indian cricket’s culture which gives special privileges to cricketers. Greg Chappell refused to understand this reality, no wonder star players joined hands to take him out.

But a lot has changed for coaches in India since. Indians (Shastri and Sanjay Bangar) are with the Indian team and top stars (Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble) work in the IPL as ‘mentors’ where, interestingly, they enjoy far greater clout than a conventional coach!

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All Ranji teams have professional coaches with annual salaries ranging from 15-25 lakhs. The champions in this business are Chandrakant Pandit (currently with Vidharbha), Lalchand Rajput (Assam) and Bhaskar Pillai (Delhi coach) who have all handled multiple teams. But the master mover is Dav Whatmore, coach of Kerala, the only foreigner in charge of a domestic team.

Whatmore’s impressive CV includes stints with the Test teams of Sri Lanka/Bangladesh/Pakistan and Zimbabwe apart from Lancashire in England and KKR in the IPL.

When Dravid explained player power he omitted that players also have the upper hand with domestic umpires. Star players always get the benefit of the doubt in close decisions, as umpires, like car drivers on a highway, understand it is better to be safe than sorry!

(Amrit Mathur is a senior cricket writer and has been involved with the Indian Premier League in official capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are personal).

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 08:24 IST