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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The coach conundrum

Shane Warne once famously mentioned that the coach he knew was the one that transported the players from the cricket ground to the hotel. Ian Chappell has also sort-of agreed to Warne's view recently. But, this area is one that is causing a lot of heartburn to the Indians of late.

Since the debacle at the World Cup, Greg Chappell has long gone home and probably already decided on his next assignment. But, the Indian team is still without a coach. It is in a stage that it does not even know where to look for. The Board is to be blamed for such a situation. But, they are not alone here - the Senior and ex-players of the team are also equally responsible for the fiasco.

Dav Whatmore was the first person who was declared by the media as the next coach - as though only formalities of signing the agreement with the Board was remaining. Whatmore also went through the motions of answering the various TV Channels about the challenges that he would face, etc - without knowing what was in store. There were reports that the Senior players had also conveyed their agreement of the selection of Whatmore. Ravi Shastri (one of the members who were faced with the (dis)honor of choosing the next coach) had met Whatmore during the Bangladesh tour and was quite happy with what he heard and saw.

Once he arrived for the meeting with the 7-man committee, it seemed that he did not have any chances at all!!! On the very day when his announcement as coach was expected to be done, two other names came to the front. Whatmore was rejected by the committee. Apparently, Sunil Gavaskar had given enough hints in his column during the Bangla series, about the lack of Whatmore's strategic inputs. Obviously, since he was a major constituent of the committee, the front-runner's chances receded. Just to show that he is not against the selection of a foreign coach, he proposed the name of John Emburey. John had a very poor record in his entire coaching career. He was nowhere near getting selected for any post that was worth considering. Then, why was he chosen? Just to ensure that the fingers pointed towards Sunny were snubbed.

It was evident during the meeting that Graham Ford scored in all respects over John, during the face-to-face meeting in Chennai. Ford would have got a taste of what to expect, when he landed in India for a couple of days. This would have ensured him to think twice on accepting the opportunity once it was offered. Added to it was the complication of his wife's health (though one wonders how he agreed to come to India in the first place). The other factor that could have irked him was the tenure of his post (1 year only). The schedule for the Indian team this year is probably the toughest of all, with tours to England, Australia and series against Pakistan included. Considering the opposition and the Indian team's brittle nature, this would be a tough ask for any coach, let alone Ford. The only advantage he might have got for his troubles coming to India, would be a hike in the salary from Kent, maybe. John Emburey rejected the post even though he was not even offered, officially. He was nowhere in the rat-race, to start with. He seemed to be a mere puppet in the whole drama that was enacted.

What happens now? The Board has chosen Chandu Borde as the team manager for the series of Ireland, England. They will try to look out for any capable candidates in the meantime. Sunny will bring up the topic of Indian coaches again, in various forums. But the question is who? Is there any coach from the Indian soil, who has proved his worth with any team? The only name that comes to mind is Sandeep Patil. But, there is no mention of him. Why? Because the senior players are not willing. All the others are probably in the "John Emburey" league of things. It is no easy task - of coaching an international cricket team. Gone are the days of just arranging nets and giving pep-talk to junior players. There is a new science that has evolved in coaching a cricket team. And the Indian ex-players have not displayed any proof that they are capable of performing the job. There are few choices now, since most of the other teams are also coach-hunting these days. So, the options that are left for the Indian Board will be very few and not so qualitative as one could have expected.

It is very difficult to visualize where the next coach would come from. But, it is clear that he would have to satisfy the 7-man committee setup by the board as well as the group of Senior players in the Indian team. That is going to be a challenging task - probably even more than the actual task of coaching the national team.
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