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Coach, don't encroach


Inda_cricket_advisory_panel_Sachin_Tendulkar_Sourav_Ganguly_VVS_LaxmanHow exactly must a coach conduct himself? Are there injunctions in some unwritten rulebook? Or must he learn on-the-job by observing and understanding the admixture of personalities that a cricket team essentially is? Must the end-results matter more than the means? Or is it the other way round? Is it important that the captain gets along with the coach and vice versa? 

The answer to the last question, of course, is a big YES! This cannot be taken for granted. Square pegs in round holes cannot work in tandem towards a common goal. Think of Professor Dr Raghuram Rajan who was roped in as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and could not get along well with the head of the country, the economy of which he ultimately pulled out of the mini-abyss it was sinking into. Think of Kumble and his rapport with Kohli and the ultimate fallout. Such things happen all the time, and we know that very well. Perhaps they happen more in our country. 

While one storm has been replaced by a mini-storm and it may still be days (or weeks?) before one can say that all is quiet on the coaching-front, it seems apt to refresh our memories by going down the ‘coaching lane’.

It started in 1990. Before that, there used to be a team manager, and he, along with the captain, ‘managed’ things. Bishen Singh Bedi kicked off the trend in 1990, serving as coach for one year when Azharuddin was captain. Bedi was recently in the news, feeling ‘sorry’ for Kumble and taunting Ravi Shastri (both Kumble and Shastri were in the side when Bedi was coach). Do you know why Bedi was sacked as coach? He said, in disgust, that the entire Indian team must be dumped in the Pacific! As if he won all the Test matches he captained in the 70s! 

Bedi was followed by Abbas Ali Baig, serving as coach for the same period of time as Bedi. Baig’s contract ended in 1992, after India failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the World Cup (which Imran Khan’s Pakistan eventually won). Ajit Wadekar, who took over from Baig in 1992, had a relatively longer contract as coach (till 1996); with Azharuddin as captain, without controversy. 


Sandeep Patil (readers would know him better as the previous chairman of selectors), had a very short stint as coach. Know why? Captain Tendulkar did not like the fact that he rebuked Anil Kumble for playing an irresponsible shot which cost India a match against the Aussies. 


In came Madan Lal, who lasted for one year, and again served during the pleasure of the cricketers. He was a bit hasty with his judgement of Azharuddin as being afraid of playing fast bowling. Absence of technical inputs was the reason why Madan Lal’s tenure as coach was aborted. This had also been the reason furnished in the case of Baig by Azhar and Co. 

Anshuman Gaekwad, one of Sunny Gavaskar’s many opening partners, had a relatively non-controversial stint as national team coach for 2 years. This was when Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Tendulkar imparted a lot of solidity to the Indian batting line-up, with Srinath and Kumble strengthening the bowling attack. 

Then came Kapil Dev towards the end of Y2K…when Tendulkar took over as captain from Azharuddin in his second stint. His coaching style, reportedly, was not to the liking of many cricketers on the team. Besides, Manoj Prabhakar, in a sting operation, defamed Kapil Dev…and that drew the curtain down on his stint as coach. Kapil Dev was the last in this series of Indian coaches, ever since Bedi started off in 1990.

The fascination for foreign coaches led to New Zealander John Wright (2000-2005), Australian Greg Chappell (2005-2007), South African Gary Kirsten (2007-2011) and Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher (2011-2015), encompassing the next decade and half. The tumultuous two-year period when Chappell was coach is very well-known, and Tendulkar has named and shamed him in his autobiography, giving a detailed account of all that transpired.  

Kirsten by far was the most-admired and with Dhoni as captain, India scaled great heights. While Kirsten’s stint ended with the World Cup victory in 2011, the period under Fletcher did have its ups and downs, before Shastri took over in 2015 (followed by Kumble coming in last year) which contributed to the turnaround. This coincided with Dhoni stepping down as captain and Kohli taking over the reins. 

But nature abhors stability, and as entropy can never decrease, what was expected to be a wonderful combination (Kumble-Kohli) started showing cracks before Kumble decided to hang up his coaching boots and quit. After Kumble bid goodbye (interestingly, while rebuking him was the reason Patil had to quit in the mid-90s, castigating someone in the dressing room brought things to an unceremonious end for Kumble in 2017), Bangar (who was the batting coach under Shastri and Kumble) stepped in as interim coach before Shastri was reinstated.


Of all the head coaches Team India has had (14 in all till date), Bedi, Wadekar, Kapil Dev, John Wright, Greg Chappell, Duncan Fletcher, Ravi Shastri and Anil Kumble have been captains (over 50% of them). They have, all taken together, played 835 Test matches and 1198 ODIs. 


At first there was no national coach. Then there was one. And then gradually, over time, batting coaches and bowling coaches appeared on the scene. Quite a logical thing, I would say. If you hire a head coach and he is a specialist batsman, how can one expect bowlers in the team to listen to him? 

If Kohli and Kumble could not see eye to eye, even though the unit had a batting coach, imagine what could have happened if Kumble provided technical inputs to the batsmen. Generation X had problems with baby-boomer coaches…and Generation Y would have problems with the Generation X coaches…is not this what we call a generation gap? 

What happened when Bedi was coach has happened again and again and again…..so, appointing a coach is after all, just trial and error…taking shots in the dark.


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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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