The hunt that isn't
John Dyson was perhaps never a contender for the India job, but his appointment as coach of West Indies means India have only Bangladesh for company as a team without a regular coach after the World Cup, which marked a mass resignation of international coaches.
It would be another matter if the Indian board had taken a stand on not wanting a coach, but as of now the issue is in limbo. Officially the search for a coach is on, but the men who matter at the BCCI are heard to wonder what the fuss is all about. "It seems to be a bigger issue with the media. Coach ka kya zaroorat hai?" a senior board official recently asked one journalist, and he wasn't joking.
The confusion isn't limited to the administrators alone. The players themselves aren't sure what kind of coach they need. In an ideal world the players should not have a say in choosing their coach, for as one former Indian coach put it bluntly, it's "a bit like inmates choosing their warden". But with Indian cricket that has been the case for a while now: Rahul Dravid identified John Wright, and Sourav Ganguly recommended Greg Chappell. This time round, in the absence of a perceptible push from any player or players, the board has been happy to sit on the fence.
It's obvious that after their experience with Chappell, which left several of them feeling threatened and insecure, many players are in favour of a "soft" coach. "Of course you need a coach," said one player who did not want to be named. "See, when there are 16 people in a squad, plus fielding and bowling coaches, there are bound to be many different opinions. You need someone who can be a good man manager, someone who can take responsibility and help make decisions. But you need a coach who is looking out for the best interests of the boys in the side." This is not a solitary view, and it should be viewed in the light of the experience the team had with Chappell.
All Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's one-day captain - and he might even get the job in Tests, in the interests of avoiding a split captaincy - would say when asked about the issue was: "We are looking for a coach." He'd begun by saying he left it to the board to find a coach, but added this as a parting shot, now characteristic broad smile plastered across his face.
The nearest someone came to being appointed coach since Chappell left was Graham Ford, who mysteriously did an about-turn after reportedly accepting the job before India left for the England tour in June. Ford, too, was a candidate scoped out by the players; a committee appointed by the board, comprising Sunil Gavaskar, S Venkataraghavan and Ravi Shastri, only picked him from a shortlist of three that included John Emburey and another candidate who was not identified.
An important reason why India must have a coach - and a permanent one, not a cricket manager who is appointed on a series by series basis and de facto plays the role - is that Dhoni is young in the job and needs someone to help him find himself as a captain. Although the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid can help him to an extent, he needs to rely as little as he possibly can on these men, for he must be his own captain.
An important reason why India must have a coach is that Dhoni is young in the job and needs someone to help him find himself as a captain. Although the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid can help him to an extent, he needs to rely as little as he possibly can on these men, for he must be his own captain
The coach's job doesn't end with merely planning strategy. One of Duncan Fletcher's big successes as England coach was that he fronted up to the media when it came to tough situations, shielding Michael Vaughan, his expressionless face giving little away. In India public memory is especially short, and the media can be unforgiving.
As Dhoni attempts to build a young team, at a time when three genuinely great players for whom there is no immediate replacement are on their way out of the side, the need to have a coach is even greater. Now this is not to say that Venkatesh Prasad (bowling coach) and especially Robin Singh (fielding) are not doing a good job. The manner in which they plan practice sessions and run drills has come in for praise from the players. "There was a game in the Twenty20 when a batsman used the pace of the ball to flick it. Irfan Pathan waited, took one step, dove to his right and stopped it one-handed," recollects a player. "At that time Jonty Rhodes, who was sitting next to the players in the dugout, was so impressed with the technique, he came up and spoke to Robin." But while specialist coaches can work with skills, the buck has to stop with one man.
The BCCI is adamant that it has done what it can to find a coach. "We invited applications in September but did not get any outstanding candidates from either India or abroad," said a board source. "What are we supposed to do, just hire someone for the sake of it?"
No, that's not what they should do, but the committee appointed to select a coach should be doing its own work, speaking to players and coaches in places like England and Australia, looking for the right man for the job. But two members of the committee are increasingly busy with media work, and the third is apparently on vacation in America.
The BCCI, however, cannot afford to come up with excuses. At the end of the day, with the BCCI it boils down to a question of will - as it does with most issues. If Lalit Modi can get Chappell down to Rajasthan, who barely avoided relegation to the Plate League, and Shastri can get Dav Whatmore to the National Cricket Academy, then why can't the BCCI find a coach for its national team?
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo