Ravi Shastri’s reappointment as chief coach of the Indian cricket team was widely anticipated, which makes it surprising that it should have evoked so much skepticism about how the decision was reached.
Some have argued that the process was rigged, some others that since the outcome was known why go through a charade. But such criticism is churlish, shortsighted and more than anything else, demeaning of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC).
One can debate the choice made by Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shanta Rangaswamy. But I am loath to believe they would be party to ‘fix’ Shastri’s selection: unless, of course, they have become diabolically pliable!
Interestingly, on the same day that he was pushed into second place by Shastri for the post of Indian coach, New Zealand’s widely regarded Mike Hesson also lost out on becoming Bangladesh coach to South Africa’s Russell Domingo!
Earlier, coaches were appointed directly by the establishment. But as cricket has become richer and stakes have gone up for everybody — more so with the proliferation of T20 cricket — so has obviously the need for coaches and extensive support staff.
It’s pertinent to note that there are several coaches - Hesson, Tom Moody, Phil Simmons, Mickey Arthur, Lalchand Rajput among them — now looking for assignments, whether in T20 leagues, domestic cricket in different countries, or being attached to some international team.
Free-market dynamics enable coaches to ferry their expertise to various shores, much like players now ply their T20 skills across the several leagues that have come into existence. A coaching assignment with a country — especially a major power like India — of course, is the acme.
Having coaches at the international level — as distinct from those who mentor and nurture young talent — is a fairly modern phenomena, going back no more than four decades, and with mixed success so there is no clear template on making a choice.
The prestige, power and money that come with the coach’s post today also makes it highly competitive. The threat of subterfuge and nepotism rises because of these factors and a structured process of selection — with as much transparency as possible — becomes imperative.
Imagine if the COA-BCCI had made an ad hoc decision to retain Shastri. It would have invited rancour and objections from aspirants in the Indian system itself. Even if the outcome is largely known, the process is mandatory for long-term value. If used on a flip-flop basis, it becomes meaningless.
That the CAC has been riddled with problems in the recent past had less to do with the concept, and more with the fact that the eligibility criteria for members was ill defined. This led to the disbanding of the earlier CAC comprising Ganguly, Tendulkar and Laxman amid bitterness.
One aspect where I thought the CAC was defensive, however, was in saying that captain Virat Kohli’s preference for Shastri as coach did not influence them. In my opinion, that should be the clincher in any such selection.
Because there is so much on the captain’s plate in the modern game, the coach must be his biggest ally. Not just in providing technical and tactical inputs as and when necessary, but more importantly managing dressing room dynamics adroitly for optimum result.
The acrimonious relationship between Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly left Indian cricket beleaguered and reeling for a fair, highlighting how important it is for a coach and captain to have a rapport — without, of course, one becoming a flunkey of the other.
If Kohli has a strong comfort level with Shastri, it is an advantage for him and the team. But as they begin a fresh innings together, it is also important they benchmark what they want to achieve over the next couple of years.
Results show India as the most consistent team across formats in the past couple of years. And yet the team has failed in showing an upward spike at crucial moments to win titles. That, as Shastri and Kohli should know, is the essential difference between leaving behind a fine record and a formidable legacy....