Ever since the glorified designation of chief national coach came into Indian cricket’s lexicon, speculation and controversy have stayed closely associated with the high profile appointment.
The only difference in the last two appointments is that the three icons in the selection committee today appear to have differed on the names and eventually it was left to the seniormost of them, namely Sachin Tendulkar, to handle the situation, though Ganguly spoke for them.
What led to a spate of speculative media reports is the appointment of two high-profile consultants — Rahul Dravid for batting and Zaheer Khan for bowling. Some saw these selections as tying head coach Ravi Shastri’s hands behind his back and then asking him to function. Actually, it has been clarified that Shastri has no objection to their presence in the dressing room.
The Cricket Advisory Committee was miffed at media reports and the members jointly poured their pain and unhappiness in it and wanted the Committee of Administrators (COA) and the board to clarify the position.
The appointment of coaches and other lucrative jobs started after the 1987 World Cup victory as some vocal members of Kapil’s Devils started grumbling about not being suitably rewarded by way of any post-retirement sinecure.
The liberalised cricket board also found it a convenient tool to buy silence of all those with potential to be a nuisance. Some were made national selectors, recognising their stature, and some others were simply accommodated as chairmen of the Grounds and Pitches Committee and managers of national junior teams.
Then the board created more positions like the match referees in domestic cricket to make retired state cricketers and umpires happy. Then there were those 20-odd cricket scouts under the Talent Resource Development Scheme (TRDS) with former captain Dilip Vengsarkar as its first chairman.
The scheme soon lapsed into a kind of racket for TA and DA billing, though it did unearth a couple of promising players, the most famous being Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Shantakumar Sreesanth and Suresh Raina.
Some former players have even been sent as coaches to the newly developing cricket nations under the International Cricket Council (ICC) promotional programme.
Former BCCI secretary Jayawant Lele famously quipped that the coach’s job is nothing but to give former cricketers a paid holiday and make money for a couple of seasons.
Lele even fought in the board for making his Baroda city-mate Anshuman Gaekwad national coach, more to keep the former India batsman away from the politics of the state association. It’s a different matter that Gaekwad did a decent job as coach.
The most influential of the former cricketers to become important cogs in the board’s administrative wheel are Sunil Gavaskar and Shastri. Ironically, not too long ago, the two were on the interview board to select the national coaches and also prevail upon them to join.
That’s why, perhaps, he preferred to become a team director and not a coach when he was roped in to deflect criticism over India’s miserable overseas showing under an overseas coach.
Gavaskar smartly looked at long-term comfort by becoming a commentator and combined it with positions like chairman of cricket committees of the board and the ICC, besides heading his event management company. Barring a short stint as stand-in coach when Ajit Wadekar had to be hospitalised in Sharjah, he scrupulously said no to the coach’s job.
Once New Zealander John Wright became the first overseas coach of the team, followed by Australian great Greg Chappell, South African Gary Kirsten and Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher, the players started getting used to the arrangement. But there was heartburn among the former Indian cricketers, more so because of the fat pay packet the foreigners bargained for and got.
The overseas coaches insisted on bringing their own support staff and that made things even worse. So when Shastri took over as director, he roped in as his support staff players with whom he had played or knew.
Now that he has been brought back after being unceremoniously removed last year to bring in Anil Kumble as part of board politics, he has already started calling the shots without looking like doing it. After apparently agreeing to Dravid and Zaheer Khan as consultants, he still wants his trusted Bharat Arun of Tamil Nadu to take care of the bowling department.
Shastri must be a relieved man to hear that Dravid and Zaheer will joing the team overseas, only if required. It can safely be said that the two will be called to England and Australia to share the blame with the coaching staff, if things go wrong.
Dravid’s appointment makes sense as in the next couple of years there will be a few juniors under his charge as junior India coach making the senior team and his presence will give his wards confidence. Likewise, the pacemen in the squad and some outside have operated alongside and under Zaheer’s tutelage.
The last of the appointment has not been heard, but one can safely assume that Shastri, Dravid and Zaheer have played enough cricket to know how to get along in a team game.
All of them are there in the interest of Indian cricket.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])