To coach or not to coach

Room at the top

Their recent run of success shouldn't obscure the fact that India require a head coach - and soon, writes Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

August 21, 2007

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Dravid has used the experience of team-mates like Ganguly well, but there's no denying he needs someone to share the burden of leadership on a more consistent basis © AFP
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"Undefeated after Chappell," bellowed a hack shortly after India's historic series win at The Oval. Following Greg Chappell's exit after the World Cup debacle, India have won two Test series - one of them admittedly against Bangladesh - and six one-dayers. A solitary defeat against South Africa in the first match of the Future Cup remains the only blemish.

Victory no doubt brings its own aura, but this India side looks like a team. The "divisive" senior players are nowhere in sight. What instead has been on view is camaraderie and a unity of purpose. It is early still to pass judgment on the coaching abilities of Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, but it can be said that they have been matey, almost soothing figures compared to Chappell who was strong and dominating. There is a relaxed and open air to the dressing room now.

Both Prasad and Robin were part of the team until a few years ago. Both played under Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and have immediately caught the pulse of the team. Both, players feel, know the extent to which they can push each cricketer and understand the pressures of playing for India. The bowlers' workloads were carefully handled in the series so far - India, remember, had only three frontline seamers and couldn't afford injuries to any. Greg King, the trainer, has gelled well with Prasad and Robin, while the venerable Chandu Borde, the manager, has chipped in with the odd piece of advice.

When he was standing at mid-off to the fast bowlers, Rahul Dravid had sounding boards in different parts of the field. Ganguly has been relied upon to assess pitches. Tendulkar, the vice-captain; Ganguly, the former captain; and VVS Laxman, the man who might have made a good captain, have chirped away in the slips. Anil Kumble, who has been strangely forgotten in the captaincy debates, has voiced his thoughts from gully. Dravid hasn't wasted the wealth of experience around him; he has solicited advice and weighed up options.

What happens in a couple of years' time, when India may have to do without five of their big guns? Don't they need someone who can get the next generation up to speed?

Insiders admit it has been a while since they saw the older players so chipper. Throughout the last year the seniors in the side were divided over Chappell, but his exit has had a healing effect.

Youngsters have been carried along. Not only have the senior players weighed in with their performances, they have also taken up mentoring roles. Dinesh Karthik has spent evenings with Tendulkar, the "greatest cricketer" he has seen; Sreesanth, overawed on the first morning at Lord's, has been "inspired" by Ganguly.

Inevitably this has prompted the question: do India really need a coach? Does any international team? The longer India's winning sequence lasts - and they start favourites for the seven-match one-day series against England - the louder will be the calls to stay without one. There is a view that the current set-up could deliver consistent success, and that an outsider coming in would mess up plans - which is a different tune from the one the players seemed to be unanimously singing a couple of months ago.

Current success will back up the argument, but the immediate present should not be allowed to obscure the big picture. While it will be tempting to maintain the status quo, the recent run of success won't have changed a few ground realities. The Indian administration and the team will do well to ask themselves a few questions.

Are India completely aware of the requirements of the modern game? Do they possess the creativity and vision needed to build a team for the future? Does the captain need someone to share his burden with? Do the current coaches need someone to guide them along?



Having been part of the team, Venkatesh Prasad knows the pressures of playing for India. He also knows how much he can push each of his bowlers © Getty Images
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It's one thing to bask in the present but one needs to keep an eye on the future. A relaxed atmosphere is important but is there a risk of it getting too relaxed? Also, what happens in a couple of years' time, when India may have to do without five of their big guns? Don't they need someone who can get the next generation up to speed? Where does one look for leadership then?

Dravid himself, as ever, takes the measured view. "We've had some good success on this tour, but it will be too simplistic to say it's because we haven't had [a coach]," he said. "There are other factors that have gone into us playing well. You can't just focus on the coach.

"Sometimes you're in the team and looking at it from one perspective. People from outside can look at a team and see the direction it's going in. They must provide some intelligence and input as well."

India likely don't need another Chappell, who thought rocking the boat was the best way to steady it. But they perhaps need another John Wright. A quiet back-room worker, in tune with the requirements of modern game, strongly wedded to work ethic, who can be both friend and guide. Cricket will remain a game where the captain is the central figure, but the pressures of the modern game require him to have a sounding board, and someone to share the responsibilities and the attention. Particularly when things are not going well.

The captain knows what he expects of his bowlers, the bowling coach knows what they're capable of. RP Singh shouldn't need to go to Leicestershire to find out what his technical faults are; the problem should be diagnosed back home. A technically sound head coach to liaise between the two would serve the purpose. The position must be filled by a professional who prefers not to be seen but is a trusted man-manager. He needs to understand the players, yet crack the whip. It's hard to say if there is anyone who meets all these requirements, but if he does exist, India need to grab him. The earlier the better.

Should India appoint a head coach? Tell us what you think.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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