Indian news October 15, 2009

Prasad and Robin sacked from coaching roles

Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh have been sacked from their respective positions of bowling and fielding coaches with immediate effect. A terse one-line release, issued on the eve of the Diwali festival, did not offer any explanation for the decision but a board official said the reason was the team's performance in the last two tournaments (the ICC World Twenty20 and the Champions Trophy).

Prasad, the former India new-ball specialist, told Cricinfo he had not been notified by the Indian board (BCCI) about his axing. "I have been not been informed about this but if this is true, I am deeply disappointed and hurt," he said. "I have no doubt that I have done my job for the Indian team to the best of my abilities. I will try to contact the BCCI and find out what I did wrong that has led them to take this decision."

The decision was taken by the BCCI's office-bearers on Wednesday and confirmed by the president and secretary, the official said, adding that the captain and coach were not part of the process. The vacancies, he said, would be filled shortly.

Prasad and Robin, it is understood, were working without a formal contract and on a retainer payment basis, but both had alternate jobs: Robin recently signed up with Mumbai Indians, and Prasad with Chennai Super Kings.

The two have been part of the coaching staff since the tour to Bangladesh just after the disastrous World Cup campaign in 2007. There hasn't been much improvement in India's fielding standards over the last two years, and there have been some embarrassing moments in the past few months. That makes it a concern for a team aspiring to become the best in the world and the board's decision on Robin is plausible.

Prasad's axing, though, couldn't have been that straightforward, especially on a day Praveen Kumar thanked him for helping him grow as a bowler at international level. It seems he has paid the price for the dip in Ishant Sharma's form, and a general depletion in the fast-bowling reserves. The BCCI is also understood to have been unhappy with him airing his views in the media repeatedly. Prasad has also been criticised in various quarters - former India swing bowler Manoj Prabhakar being the latest - for asking the bowlers to cut down on their pace.

Indeed the fast bowlers, with their additional baggage of poor fielding and fitness, have been India's main worry in the limited-overs game. It seems a long time ago but it was only last year that Prasad was being given credit for the bowlers' extraordinary show in Australia and in the home Tests against the same opposition, when they would start getting lethal reverse-swing as early as the first hour with the new ball.

The apparent paucity of fast-bowling reserves has to do with the recurring injuries to the fast bowlers too: Zaheer Khan is currently out, Munaf Patel is exasperatingly injury-prone, Sreesanth has had problems besides physical fitness to sort out over the last few years, and RP Singh has spent time out due to injury too. And it is common knowledge that the rehabilitation, the training schedules and fitness tests of injured players are not always communicated to Prasad - or any national coach.

Ishant's decline has been almost spectacular, from being one of the most exciting fast bowlers in the world to a point where he is being considered lucky to still be in the team. Sources close to Prasad claim Ishant's downward spiral began during the IPL, when he got into a few bad habits - bowling away from the stumps and losing his head and wrist positions. Coming on the back of a remarkable first season, the second-season blues have put him under extra pressure. The major criticism against Prasad here is that he hasn't been able to identify and arrest the technical flaws early enough. Ishant, experts point out, has lost the big off-cutter and the wrist position, and has started breaking away to his left just before getting into the delivery leap, and has consequently lost pace too.

Which brings us to the other criticism: that Prasad has encouraged bowlers to cut down on pace in favour of discipline, and a few surprise deliveries, notably the slower legcutter. Praveen, though, thanks Prasad for a valuable addition to his repertoire.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo