What the India coach saga tells us
For all the BCCI's love of "process", the process of appointing a successor to Anil Kumble for the post of Indian coach, must fall into the broad area of what is described as shonky practice.
There are many colourful side stories. Virender Sehwag was being egged on to throw his name into the mix way back in May? No way. Was the deadline really extended so Ravi Shastri could apply again? Such cynicism. The application by an enraged fan with zero cricketing background - an engineer from Burdwan, Bengal - was the most fitting response to the absurdity of it all.
The plain facts are these: the deadline for applications was midnight July 9, and until the evening of the 9th, there was little clarity on the date of the meeting to pick the coach. July 10? July 11? The 12th of never? It was finally confirmed the meeting would take place on July 10, and the BCCI's Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) interviewed five candidates - via video conference? ESP? - in four hours and arrived at the decision to keep their decision at bay. Maybe the shortlist of candidates was nano-listed to a few chosen names based on astrological charts?
There appears to be no evidence on hand about a number of players informing BCCI officials or others even verbally about a widespread difficulty in adjusting to Kumble's style of functioning. The only fact available is that the issue came to light from a text message received by a BCCI official that was shown to the committee of administrators. It is from this SMS that the "process" of advertising afresh for a coach appears to have been set in motion. A pillow fight between five-year-olds would contain far more rational due process.
The announcement to do with the coach's appointment came with one certainty: the incoming candidate would need the approval of Virat Kohli, with a stipulation that he get along with the new coach. Or rather, in Sourav Ganguly's words, that coach and captain be "on the same page".
That matters have come to such a pass, where a captain and coach must be told by the elders to be nice to each other, offers a clue that the team, or rather its leadership core, needs to be told what the job of a coach is really about.
The position of India coach, in the true sense of the word, has largely been vacant following the fading away of Duncan Fletcher after 2012, and Shastri's appointment as a director of cricket and man in charge of inspirational speeches and general merriment. It is possible that Kumble's approach of organised, focused method, and his likely stern demands on fitness and commitment, might have appeared like an alien arrival to his captain.
In this mess stands the Cricket Advisory Committee: team-mates of applicant Virender Sehwag, Kumble, and in one case, even Shastri. They, mighty cricketing names, appear to have walked up, or been led up, the garden path. To a place where captain Kohli, many years their junior in cricketing experience, seized control of the decisions they took, and due to whom the BCCI managed to sideline Kumble, an individual with vast playing experience and first-hand knowledge of Indian cricket administration.
The decision to hold back on announcing the appointment of a new coach could be an expression of the CAC's need to wrest back its authority and reputation. In the first year of their job, particularly in the matter of Kohli v Kumble, they did appear outmanoeuvred. To start with, when the decision to advertise the coach's post again was taken, it is not known whether Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were consulted in the first place, or if when it was taken, they raised any objections to it, arguing that their candidate of choice deserved to get an extension. When things came to a head last month, it is not known if the three sat down with Kohli and Kumble, minus BCCI officials, honorary or paid, in an attempt to talk through the issues at hand.
The CAC trio and Kumble were part of a dressing room full of the usual arguments, shouting, bitching and moaning, but what rang louder was the laughter of success and achievement. It was their generation (with Kumble as discreet leader) that went to the board asking they be put on retainer contracts. They were to ask for better, professional coaching, from overseas if necessary. When that particular alien arrival came to pass, they put up with John Wright's demands, and he theirs. It helped that back then it was a wider leadership group, one adult counterbalancing the other - a fact missing in Kohli's squad, which Kumble's presence was meant to rectify.
The CAC will remember their own histories and know that their former team-mate has been thrown under the bus, and that due to a combination of circumstances it is they who find themselves in the driver's seat. Delaying the coach's appointment and telling Kohli that there can be no more hissy fits between the appointment of the next coach and the 2019 World Cup is the only way the CAC could take control of the wheel again.
To be fair, Kohli's team today is competitive, gifted with skills, and a few visible laggards notwithstanding, largely fitter than previous generations. They have the ability to become the country's most successful squad across formats and conditions, the best ever to play for India: dominance over competitiveness, everywhere, every time, in every ICC event; the team that establishes a standard for the rest of the world to follow.
It would need an energetic generation of self-starter senior players to internalise the idea as a mission, and for them to fire up successive generations. It would require charting out the best use of personnel at hand from now, for the tough away tours to South Africa, England and Australia; ensuring that a wider, sharper pool of bowlers comes to maturity; working in sync with support staff at the A-team and Under-19 levels to push through talent that needs to be picked; sorting out injury and fitness issues for high performers. It is what coaches keep an eye on, when no one else is thinking that far ahead. It is part of their job description and the KRAs they are assessed on.
Oh but wait, we were left debating how Kohli and Kumble couldn't get along because of what? Not cricketing ambition surely. At their last formal meeting about the issue in London, there were three other men in the room along with Kohli and Kumble - BCCI secretary Amitabh Chaudhary, CEO Rahul Johri, and cricket operations in charge MV Sridhar. The three would have known for sure that both Kohli and Kumble had the best interest of Indian cricket at heart. If both desired an identical end, surely the officials could have worked towards negotiating a common means to get there.
The people of authority in the room were a former high-ranking police officer, aged 54; a senior television executive, around 49; and a 50-year-old BCCI cricket operations manager. Each of whom you expect must know that while a captain leads on the field, in the boardroom, wiser counsel must prevail. Yet, whatever transpired in that meeting and after it, most regrettably, the superstardom of the 28-year-old captain appeared to have carried the most weight.
PS: A final aside. Kohli did speak eloquently of the "sanctity of the dressing room". Anyone working in Indian cricket will tell you that the idea of the sanctity of the dressing room might have a lovely worshipful ring to it, but that's about it. When it serves their interest, everyone leaks. From within the sacred dressing room and outside it. Not directly, if it's too messy, but through a range of messengers - first-class team-mates, former players, officials, PR managers, agents, journalists. "Sanctity of the dressing room" usually pops up when sanctimoniousness is being leaned on after a thorough, deliberate or accidental, airing of dirty linen. This is why we ended up where we did on Monday.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo