August 27, 2000

The coach crisis: Is a foreigner the answer?

The unsavoury incidents in the recent months exposed a lot of shortcomings in some individuals as well as in the working of the BCCI. One of the aspects that stood out like a sore thumb was the lack of transparency in the system. With the controversies erupting one after another, one would expect the BCCI to come out openly about the decisions made in its meetings. If the reports are anything to go by, statements are contradictory with regard to the decisions made by the BCCI. A case in point is the retention or expulsion of Kapil Dev.

The exchange of volleys between the BCCI and Kapil Dev has as much substance as some of the Bollywood movies. Kapil Dev wants to stay on but the BCCI has hinted he may not be upto it given the circumstances. The BCCI is shopping around for a foreign coach to revive the team and thereby the image of the game. Looking around is all right but it is absolutely essential for both the nominated coach and the BCCI to clearly know their respective functions. It will be worthwhile to analyse whether the Indian team needs a foreign coach in the first place. But in turn one should also look into what the coaches over the years have done during their tenures.

Bishen Bedi, the first coach, appointed in 1990, ran into trouble with both the then captain, Azharuddin and the BCCI as he made some statements to the press which were factual but deemed controversial. After the tour of England, Azharuddin politely told the BCCI that there was no need for a coach. The BCCI acceded to Azhar's request for a short time before resuming the practice of nominating a coach from the 1992 World Cup in Australia. Since then the Indian team had a coach supposedly to work out strategies and to look after all matters relating to cricket.

Ajit Wadekar, who has held the post for the longest duration so far, was a very shrewd operator and he knew the system well enough to get what he wanted. To be fair, he was good at man management and he dominated the dressing room in his own way. He was also fortunate to have the full co-operation of Azharuddin and Gundappa Viswanath, the chairman of the selection committee. Wadekar's exit was rather a messy one after the debacle in the semi-finals of the 1996 World Cup.

Patil succeeded Wadekar and it was a shame that he did nothing but try and please the officials of the BCCI. It was ridiculous that he praised the BCCI for replacing him with Madan Lal. His attitude obviously did not go well with the boys and it is needless to say that they were pleased to see him go. If Patil was termed as a BCCI's man what followed during Madan Lal's tenure was beyond words. Madan might have been a fighting cricketer during his days but his skills in communication and planning were as good as mine are in cardiac surgery.

Gaekwad stayed with the team for two years and he also had the assistance of Bob Simpson. Gaekwad may have many grouses but the fact that he chose to stay on gives him no excuse at all for the very ordinary performance of the team under his guidance. The Indian team failing to qualify to the semi-final stages in the 1999 World Cup ensured the termination of Gaekwad. The millenium season started with high expectations as Kapil Dev was appointed as coach for the 1999/00 and 2000/01 seasons. Unfortunately, Dev only reaffirmed the adage that a great player need not be a great coach.

Results-wise the "desi" coaches may have fallen short of expectations but on the other hand various checks and balances also hampered them. The coach was not even given reasonable powers in the selection meetings. All charges and counter charges produced nothing but bickering between all the people concerned. Now if a foreign coach is appointed it will be interesting to see what demands are made by him and to what extent the BCCI will give in. The payments terms will also be of great interest, as our own coaches over the years could not even dream of asking for their terms.

In the event that a foreign coach is appointed, there are a lot of issues that need to be looked into. Will a foreigner understand the cultural differences and will he be able to deal with players from diverse states? Will the entire team understand what the foreigner has to say? Will the foreigner be able to carry on with his duties without any interference? Will the foreigner remain objective without becoming a part of the system? Will he be given a free hand in selection matters? What will be the ancillary services provided to him?

Only time will provide the answers for all these issues. But if the foreigner is given just about everything he asks for, then why can't one of our own be given the same treatment? Obviously everything will hinge upon the results produced but I for one don't think that somebody with more credentials than Sunil Gavaskar is being talked about as the prospective candidate. He has got what it takes to be given the job, even under the terms he wants for the job.