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Shastri or Kumble - who will it be?

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Inda_cricket_advisory_panel_Sachin_Tendulkar_Sourav_Ganguly_VVS_Laxman_Ravi_ShastriBy the end of this week, Indian cricket should have a new coach. Now, there are no assurances when it comes to any decisions the BCCI makes. But this particular one could herald the end of an era, or rather, the onset of a new one.

Since the turn of the millennium, Indian cricket has been shepherded by foreign coaches. John Wright, Greg Chappell, Gary Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher are those illustrious names in history. They will be remembered forever for the umpteen highs and lows in each of their individual reigns.

Of course, when it comes to measuring success and failure collectively in all these years, it can be said India has a 50-50 record with foreign coaches. As such, it is not a surprise that there has been a lot of talk about having a homebred coach once again. Spearheading this movement is Ravi Shastri, whose time as team director marked a significant change in the physical and mental demeanour of the team.

Never mind the ‘ability to speak Hindi’ clause, the Fletcher experience and the subsequent revival of the team under Shastri resulted in a lack of interest in and from foreign coaches. The likes of Andy Flower, Jason Gillespie, Kirsten (again), Mike Hussey, Stephen Fleming, and Daniel Vettori were keenly associated with the job. Yet, none of them have filed applications and are happy doing what they are currently busy with.

Sure, there are foreign names in the fray – Stuart Law, Andy Moles and Tom Moody, are among the few said to have applied. But they are a firm departure from the sort this high profile job usually attracts. Simply said, the odds are heavily in favour of a long-term Indian head coach for the first time since Kapil Dev quit in the spring of 2000.

Anil_Kumble_India_cricketSo, who is the favourite? Why, Shastri, of course. But it is Anil Kumble who has emerged as the surprise contender. How do the two measure up against each other?

Let’s start with Shastri. To say that his term as team director was a definitive success isn’t easy. Out of 11 Tests played under him, the Indian team won five, drew three and lost three. They won in Sri Lanka and against South Africa at home, and held their heads high with a 2-0 loss in Australia. In the limited-overs arena, the Men in Blue made the semi-finals of the 2015 ODI World Cup in Australia-New Zealand and the 2016 World T20, again at home.

Rising from the depths of the tri-series prior, reaching the finals Down Under thereafter was a good achievement. Meanwhile, MS Dhoni’s team really should have won the T20 crown on home soil. As such, these results under Shastri are finely balanced overall, but his more important contributions have been in the area of communication.

No, this is not about his chest thumping in front of the media. It is his vocal presence in the dressing room that has helped this young bunch grow in confidence over the past 18 months, reflecting his own demeanour. He has been brash at times, like when he defended the spin-friendly pitches during the South Africa series or cheerleading while India suffered yet another ODI series loss, this time in Australia earlier this year.

But his words have also worked wonders at different times – the Test series in Australia in 2015-16; helping the team rise from the depths of the preluding tri-series and make the semi-finals of the 2015 ODI World Cup. His foremost role in this manner was when MS Dhoni announced his Test retirement. Shastri was quick to point out that he was still very much the man to lead India in the ODIs and T20Is, thus nipping in the bud any illusion about disharmony as Virat Kohli slipped quietly into the Test captaincy role.

All of this, though, is still abstract. Coaches or team directors are often judged by their results. And the aforementioned record doesn’t do enough justice to his tenure. This is where Kumble steps in. His coaching inexperience is diminished by the fact that Shastri himself has never coached any team either and was, officially, only the team director.

At the same time, the former leg spinner has enjoyed mentoring stints with Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, which should be a bonus, even if they don’t satisfy the BCCI’s criteria. Clearly though, this shortcoming is being ignored as Kumble becomes a significant player in this race for the coaching position. And why not, for he has been there and done that, been part of every situation possible through the nervous nineties, the golden era and then, until the very end of the last decade when Indian cricket won everything there was to win – Test number one ranking, the 2011 World Cup, and the 2007 World T20 prior.

Is it any surprise that Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly want him at the helm of affairs, in an attempt to replicate that same success in the years to come?

But will they go the final step and indeed pick him? Or will Shastri surge ahead once again and enjoy the BCCI’s blessing? We should know soon enough.

 

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