Who will be the next Indian Coach?

Who will be the next Indian Coach?

It’s an Indian cricketing debate that seemingly will never end. The Indian coach vs foreign coach argument goes on and on and will endure whoever is in charge. And in the discussions the most important aspect is often overlooked. For, strictly speaking shouldn’t the best person be the coach of the Indian team irrespective of his nationality? But hardly anyone wants to take that objective, balanced view. An Indian coach is better say some while others pitch for a foreigner. The topic has been endlessly debated ever since John Wright took over as the first foreign coach in late 2000. Till then an Indian had always been in charge from Bishen Bedi in 1990 to Anshuman Gaekwad who filled in as a stop gap in 2000 following Kapil Dev quitting midway through the year after being accused of match fixing allegations. In between we had Abbas Ali Baig, Ajit Wadekar, Sandip Patil, Madan Lal and Gaekwad besides Kapil of course for varying periods. Wadekar was the man most associated with the post having been in the hot seat for almost four years. But then somewhere along the line talk about hiring a foreign coach surfaced largely because the Indian team didn’t go through a very successful run in the 90s. Test victories had become rare – except for the predictable wins at home - and three World Cup campaigns had floundered. Mohd Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar were the captains during the decade but somehow they escaped scrutiny and much was made about the coach’s inability to inspire the team to greater deeds. I well remember the mood of optimism when Kapil Dev took over as coach in mid- 1999.

 

Tendulkar had just been reinstated as captain following a dismal World Cup campaign in England under Azharuddin and it was felt that this was the magic combination that would wield the wand and work wonders for Indian cricket. The truth of the matter was that the Indian team went from one disaster to another in ODIs while the tour ‘Down Under’ in 1999-2000 resulted in a 3-0 rout. The one plus point was a hollow Test series victory at home against New Zealand by an unflattering 1-0 margin. Midway through Kapil’s two-year contract came the allegations of match fixing and his tearful rebuttal on television and all this marked a premature end to his unhappy reign. This was the time when the chorus for a foreign coach became more vehement and given the dismal record during the decade the idea didn’t seem a bad one. “What’s there to lose, we can’t do any worse’’ was the general refrain as we waited with more than usual interest to see who would be appointed as India’s first foreign coach. Among the names being mentioned John Wright soon emerged as the front runner and given his impressive credentials as a coach with Kent the former New Zealand captain was a worthy candidate. And during his tenure the Indian team’s fortunes took an upsurge with a number of creditable feats including the greatest victory in a Test series at home – the fabulous triumph over Australia in 2001 – and a berth in the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa.

 

How much of the success could be attributed to Wright’s handling of players and situations is a moot point but thereafter the feeling was that a foreign coach was the panacea for all of Indian cricket’s ills. So much so that the Indian cricket fan even overlooked Greg Chappell’s turbulent two-year tenure during which the former Australian captain, who succeeded Wright, did much to damage Indian cricket due to his egoistic nature and divide and rule tactics. Gary Kirsten was a whiff of fresh air and under him Indian cricket saw better days culminating in the World Cup triumph in 2011. Following this it would have to be a bit of a letdown whoever took over from Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher’s uninspiring tenure predictably enough saw more downs than ups. And so started the Indian coach vs foreign coach debate all over again with the team’s mixed fortunes giving enough ammunition to the pro-Indian coach line-up. But there was a strong lobby that wanted to continue with a foreign coach and not unexpectedly all sorts of names started doing the rounds. What queered the pitch in the meantime was the rise of Ravi Shastri in Indian cricket. The former Indian captain had served short terms as Indian coach in the interim between the regular coach’s appointments and made it clear that he would not mind a greater role in running things as far as the Indian team was concerned. No one could question his qualifications for Shastri has a shrewd cricketing brain and has kept abreast with changing trends. The debatable point was whether he could spend that much time with the players given his media commitments. Even with Fletcher continuing as coach Shastri was appointed team director and once the former’s contract was over and he left the scene it was clear that Shastri was the big boss – at least until a new chief coach took over.

 

Meanwhile Shastri was given three assistant coaches all Indians and it was clear that there was prevailing wind blowing in favour of having an Indian as the next coach. It was now left to the BCCI to take a decision in this regard – whether to appoint an Indian coach or pick a foreigner from the number of names cropping up almost every day in the media as also on Shastri’s future. But the Board caught in the manifold problems of its own making kept procrastinating before taking the easy way out. They appointed Shastri as a team director till the World T-20 to be held in India early next year besides retaining the three Indian assistant coaches R Sridhar, B Arun and Sanjay Bangar. So at the moment no one really knows whether the next coach will be an Indian or a foreigner. That has not stopped the experts from airing their views and there is little doubt that the general mood favours a return to an Indian coach. Sunil Gavaskar set the ball rolling by talking about the “abysmal work ethic’’ of the team under Fletcher while Dilip Vengsarkar has always favoured an Indian coach as he is convinced that the players are more comfortable with them. Also whoever is appointed must enjoy a good rapport with Virat Kohli who obviously is going to be India’s captain across all formats ere long. So who will be the next coach? Will it be Shastri whose title is surely a euphemism for chief coach? He and Kohli get along well though their talk of aggression all the way is a worrying factor. Or would Rahul Dravid be a better choice? He has already proved his worth as coach of the India A team and perhaps the time has come for him to be elevated. No one can question his credentials and he could be the man to reign in Kohli whenever required. Dravid’s appointment could just be the right balance that the Indian team needs at the top though a mellowed Sourav Ganguly is not without his admirers.





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