Given the drama preceding the selection, Anil Kumble pipping Ravi Shastri to the post of chief coach of the Indian cricket team understandably made big news. But much of the reaction in the media (including former players) — of despair or jubilation depending on point of view — was over the top.
Selecting the cricket coach was not a political election. While they ended up being rivals, both Kumble and Shastri are from the same ‘party’ as it were, and therefore on the same side in the larger scheme of things.
From my meagre knowledge of both, Shastri would be deeply disappointed at being passed over, but won’t spend days moping about it; Kumble, while delighted, won’t waste time in gloating and would have got down to work asap.
Given their sense of professional commitment, I’ll go further to say that it would surprise me if these two don’t share notes and experiences about the team and players, what works well for whom etc, going ahead. Shastri’s 18-month tenure was highly productive and in the normal course of things, his retention would have been without fuss. But Kumble’s formidable credentials made it impossible to ignore him too.
Admittedly, this conundrum threw up a major challenge for the BCCI and its cricket advisory committee comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman. But that’s where the test lay.
Two marquee cricketers, both former captains, were involved. This necessitated robust diligence, which is what the BCCI claimed it aimed for this time. Instead, what transpired showed up old failings on transparency and powerplay. This is not to dispute Kumble’s prowess as a cricketer, and the multifarious roles he has performed in the game after retiring. His achievements are massive, his insights are keen and incisive and hopefully his impact as coach will be rewarding. But how the selection process transpired, and more particularly the tenure given to Kumbe, shows up clearly internecine tugs-and-pulls in the Board.
To recap, the BCCI received 57 applications and pruned this down to 21 was presented to the cricket advisory committee. This did not include, according to unconfirmed reports, Kumble’s name since he did not have prior coaching experience which the BCCI had made a prerequisite. That this rule was bent (if the reports are true) to accommodate Kumble is not such a major issue in my opinion.
The clause of having previous coaching experience was restrictive and silly. Most marquee names in Indian cricket wouldn’t qualify. For argument’s sake, if recently retired greats Viru Sehwag and Zaheer Khan wanted to be coach, they would have been disqualified. But what if they did not apply because of this restrictive clause not knowing it was not cast in stone?
The bigger issue in my opinion is that the scrutiny process was faulty. Some applicants made presentations and were interviewed in person, some by Skype. From the advisory committee Tendulkar was on holiday and did his interviews through video conferencing while Ganguly wasn’t even present when Shastri made his case via skype from Thailand!
The entire process was loose and makeshift rather than robust. For such a pivotal position, surely a window could have been found where the entire advisory committee could meet all candidates in person.
My biggest miff however is that Kumble’s appointment is for just one year. This reflects division in the BCCI over the selection, and damagingly leads to a lack of faith in in the appointee. Surely the BCCI should have backed the coach fully, with at least a three-year term leading to the 2019 World Cup. That would have given Kumble more elbow room, rather than live under the pressure of producing ‘instant magic’.
To create a hardy environment with an emphasis on winning can take a while. In sport, anything can happen. If for whatever reason the team stumbles, it seems to me both shortsighted and unfair that the coach should be judged summarily within a span of just a year.
Interestingly, Kumble’s presentation to the advisory committee, which by all accounts was highly impressive, was a five-year plan with a special focus on the team doing well overseas. Yet in the next year, barring the 4-Test series against West Indies in July-August, India will play only at home! It is clear that the BCCI wanted to push through the selection of the coach before its next hearing with the Supreme Court beginning June 29. Unfortunately by missing out on sound practice and diligent process it has demonstrated just why the intervention by the SC was necessary.