Specialist coaches with a professional manager could be the answer April 4, 2007

How about a team to coach a team?

The demands of modern cricket, and the Indian system in particular, lend weight to the idea of a coaching team with a professional manager



Perhaps India was not ready for Chappell, or perhaps Chappell didn't have it him to coach India with all its complexities © Getty Images

One of the most tumultuous chapters in Indian cricket has come to an end with Greg Chappell ruling himself out of contention for the Indian coaching job. Perhaps he merely pre-empted the inevitable; it was difficult to see how he could have carried on. The differences between him and many of those whom he was to manage had become far too wide and far beyond healthy.

Passions are running too high at the moment to attempt an objective assessment of his tenure. Perhaps India was not ready for Chappell, or perhaps Chappell didn't have it him to coach India with all its complexities.

His letter has simplified the matter for the BCCI to a degree. It has removed one of the many inconvenient questions confronting the board. It should not, however, serve as a convenient escape route. Chappell had his faults but Indian cricket, and the cricketers in particular, would be living in delusion if they convince themselves that he was the problem. To comprehend the magnitude of the problem read S Rajesh's fine analysis of India's batting in recent times. Sanjay Manjrekar has pithily pointed out that Chappell held up a mirror to Indian cricket.

Chappell's final report shouldn't be dismissed as the rants of a bitter coach, because it's likely to contain some home truths. Not confronting the truth and not owning up would only keep Indian cricket in the comfort of darkness.

So what now? The sentiment is building up towards a homegrown coach. Even the players, who were so opposed to the idea a couple of years ago, are open it to now. Mohinder Amarnath's name has cropped up again, as has Sandeep Patil's. Some board members are even proposing the name of Sunil Gavaskar, who has so far kept himself away from contention.

Do India really need a coach in the traditional sense? In fact, is there a single definition for a cricket coach?

But nothing would be more disastrous than an Indian being appointed for the sake of it. It is fashionable among former players to speak mockingly of laptop coaches but no country can afford a coach lacking in contemporary thinking. A return to status quo would be a step back to the dark ages.

Here's a thought, though: Do India really need a coach in the traditional sense? In fact, is there a single definition for a cricket coach?

Over the years, coaches have defined their own roles according to their own beliefs and abilities. Some focus on technicalities, some are theorists, some are man-managers and some believe in being facilitators. Bob Woolmer was one of the finest batting coaches, John Buchanan is a man of ideas and John Wright believed in creating the right environment for his players. No single coach can ever hope to fulfill all the requirements of a modern cricket team.

Given that a foreign coach is bound come up against the system in India and get both frustrated with and hampered by it, why not consider appointing a team of specialists? Many countries are moving towards specialised coaches integrated into a unit. Troy Cooley worked wonders with the English bowlers, Jonty Rhodes is busy cranking up the fielding of the South African team yet another notch and Mike Young has done so with the Australians.

India need help in all three areas of the game. The batsmen have consistently struggled to come to terms with pace, bounce and swing. They have a young and impressionable pace bowling attack which is now led by Zaheer Khan, himself returning from a break, and no one needs help more urgently than Irfan Pathan. John Wright has often spoken about how much the pace bowlers benefited from the presence of Bruce Reid in their camp during their successful tour of Australia. And India are among the world's worst fielding sides, regularly conceding 20 to 30 runs in one-day cricket.

Money is not a concern and if the board is sincere about it, they can find the best professionals from the global pool of talent. This team can then work with a manager of stature and proven integrity, an Indian who can help them negotiate the system. Someone who can be both link and a shield. Someone tough and uncompromising. Someone who can relate to Indian players, who is above petty politics and regionalism, and wholly committed to the idea of winning.

Step forward Ravi Shastri.

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Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine