The great coaching merry-go-round
When RCB finished last in IPL tough questions were asked about the captain and coach. Now, answers are finally coming. Coach Gary Kirsten has been shown the door for poor results. This is Kirsten’s second duck—his previous coaching innings with Delhi was equally disastrous. That an outstanding pro can suffer such a brutal fate is distressing. Kirsten has exceptional credentials; he played 101 Tests and coached India to a World Cup. Indian players rate him very high.
He isn’t the only coach going through extraordinary churn. Mike Hesson, so successful in New Zealand, has parted ways with Kings XI Punjab but has bounced back as RCB’s director cricket. Jacques Kallis/Simon Katich have been sacked by KKR, but the latter has another chance as head coach with RCB.
That IPL is exceedingly tough on high profile coaches is nothing new. T20’s volatility, and intolerance of private investors seeking instant returns, has grounded big names in the past. When team performance sinks, something has to give and as the captain is too valuable. It’s an easy call, the axe falls on the coach.
It seems world cricket is going the IPL way with coaches suffering unprecedented carnage. Post World Cup, especially in India’s neighbourhood, there is bloodshed. Pakistan declined Micky Arthur an extension because Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a change. Arthur, who coached South Africa for five years and Australia for three, left a disappointed man.
In Bangladesh, Russell Domingo takes over from Stephen Rhodes, their seventh coach in eight years. Domingo is familiar with the coaching rollercoaster, having spent four years with South Africa. Sri Lanka cricket, caught in turmoil, decided it had had enough of coach Chandika Hathurasinghe, who had served Bangladesh for three seasons before this assignment.
In this crazy musical chairs, Ottis Gibson’s case is a classic. His career started with England as bowling coach from 2007-10. After that he moved to the West Indies (2010 -2014) before returning to England (2015-17) and finally taking another U-turn to become head coach at South Africa in 2017.
This appointment came with a unique challenge—Gibson’s contract mentioned winning the 2019 World Cup as a key deliverable. Sadly for him, South Africa failed to make the last four.
Only South African Richard Pybus can match Gibson’s journey across international teams. Spectacular success in South Africa’s domestic cricket led to his appointment with Pakistan where, in a bizarre sequence over many years, Pybus was selected/sacked four times. Even during this chaos, he did stints in Bangladesh and the West Indies where too misfortune struck—Pybus lost his job seven weeks before the World Cup.
In all this churn, there are some notable survivors. Ravi Shastri remains India coach, apparently beating his nearest rival by a close margin. England’s Trevor Bayliss, reaping the rewards for winning the World Cup, will be Sunrisers Hyderabad head coach.
Bayliss is a trend-setter because, citing his success, other Test teams are willing to trust coaches with modest playing experience. Arthur, Pybus and Hesson did not play any first-class cricket, the same with current national coaches Domingo (Bangladesh) and Nkwe (South Africa). New Zealand’s Gary Stead (5 Tests) and Feiffer in the West Indies (6 Tests) are lightweights compared to Langer and Shastri.
Another reason is the role has changed and coaches are supposed to be less technical gurus, more man managers tasked with maintaining peace in the dressing room.
Cricket experience is a desirable, not essential, qualification, and the new job requirement is best summed up by Shastri: You trust in God, and for everything else there is data.
Following the example set by India and Australia, others are increasingly looking to appoint local nationals to senior coaching positions. New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa have already gone down that path, so could Pakistan with Misbah. Only England chooses to swim against the tide, keeping faith with foreign talent since Peter Moore was in control 20 years back.
PS: Fortunately, coaches have an afterlife. Kirsten, released by RCB, is head coach at Cardiff in England’s Hundred. Tom Moody, released by Sunrisers, will take over a similar role at the Oval.
The writer is a senior sports administrator. Views are personal