Reflections on the Ranji Trophy December 15, 2010

Coaching the coaches

Indian cricket needs coaches who are experienced and not degree holders without any coaching experience

Former England fast bowler Frank Tyson once made a very telling remark about coaching. He said most of the coaches followed a single school of thought, which was, "I coach the way I played".

Tyson became the Director of Coaching at Victoria after migrating to Australia, and conducted fast bowling clinics in Mumbai and coaching courses at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. Tyson revealed that quite a few coaches, until they did the courses, confessed to him that they believed in the "I coach the way I played' maxim, which probably has spoilt the technique of many a cricketer.

Come to think about it, this school of coaching is ludicrous. Imagine Virender Sehwag or Krishnamachari Srikkanth as coaches. They know only one way of tackling bowlers and might advocate the same approach. Everyone can be a good critic, but very few cricketers can be good coaches. In a way, coaching is an intuitive gift; it can't be taught or acquired, which is why a good player doesn't necessarily make a good coach.

India's cricket coaches from the 1960s to the 1980s rectified problems without the help of video camera or software. Discerning eyes were their chief tool and they would then use the appropriate drill to perfect the technique. Many old-school coaches in India believed in tough measures to get things done. Sachin Tendulkar's coach Ramakant Achrekar would actually spank boys hard, but his wards knew that he meant well. He had an eye for talent and, once he identified a talent, he never let it go to waste.

He believed in match practice. For him, the only way a kid could learn was by sorting things out in the middle. We've all heard the story about how Tendulkar would ride pillion on Achrekar's scooter and hop from one friendly match to another at Shivaji Park maidaan. By the time Tendulkar turned 15 he was a pro at reading and tackling situations.

The scenario changed quickly when too many self-appointed coaches entered the field and relied too heavily on gadgets. The entire Indian coaching system is in disarray now. Kids start playing at the age of eight or nine and by the time they are out of their teens they have gone through dozens of coaches. Mind you, not all of these are qualified to coach. Since there is no accredited coaching system and no professionalism, anybody and everybody feels authorised to coach and considers himself an expert in India.

The consequences are quite extreme. Let me give you an example. In the late '80s former India captain Nari Contractor's son Hoshedar, a promising fast bowler, showed tremendous potential as a teenager. But three experienced coaches with different mindsets insisted on his following conflicting theories that eventually ended his career early. One coach (from his college) would be at pains to explain the importance of swing, the other (with the Mumbai Cricket Association) would make him jump in the last stride and the third (the BCCI's chosen coach) wanted him to stick to speed at the cost of the swing.

Normally, a good coach would not change any natural aspect of a player's game or his intuitive techniques. They would be more concerned with the scoring of runs or taking of wickets. Some of the modern coaches today, with a degree in coaching, tend to fiddle with techniques for the heck of it. Now, two of the most instinctive parts of the game are centred around a batsman's 'grip' or what is called the bowler's 'gather'. They will always differ in every cricketer but unfortunately, modern coaches tend to tinker with these for no good reason. This does not mean that modern coaching has no benefits.

Like what's done with biomechanics for example. Now biomechanics answers the 'why' aspect of a batsman's technique but tends to be totally misunderstood by most coaches. What happens now is that players are forced to change their techniques to fit in the biomechanical theory, rather than their individual biomechanics used to benefit their game.

Mumbai batsman Ajinkya Rahane was forced, while at the under-15 level, to change his stance and grip by the NCA batting coach. Fortunately Rahane returned to Mumbai and reverted to his original stance and grip. He has now scored 4500 runs at an average of 67.

Traditionally - as summarised in under "Role of a Coach" in various international coaching - there are six styles of coaching methodology: Autocratic, democratic, casual, intense, egoistic, and professional.

An autocrat is one who believes 'Do as I tell you. No questions asked. No answers given'. They don't believe in positive communication but they act tough. Some former cricketers act as coaches even when their appointment has been made as team manager. One such person was banned by the BCCI last year for misconduct. Funnily, he has continued to travel with the team and only last week, during an under-19 match, was reported for a level 2 offence (carrying a one-match ban) by the match referee for misconduct again. Ironically the coach represents the association that has won the Best Association award of the BCCI.

A democratic coach believes in asking the entire team about the decision so that if the decision boomerangs he is not blamed for it.

A casual coach is just not bothered.

An intense coach is so overwrought with anxiety that he doesn't let the players enjoy the game.

An egoistic coach doesn't tolerate his players seeking advice from others.

A professional coach plans systematically and implements the plan with some method.

Sadly Indian cricket has majority of coaches who are autocratic, casual, egoistic and intense.

It is obvious that the NCA has to think again on how the coaches are trained and taught. Though the coaching courses at the NCA started a decade ago, how is it that 130 chuckers were identified in the last two years? Something is basically wrong with the system. It is more intriguing when the BCCI has handed over eight cameras to each association, which hires a video analyst for entire year. The coaches are also trained in handling the cameras. The BCCI has spent around Rs 2.43 crores (Rs 9 lakh x 27 associations) in giving away cameras, digital video recorders, silicon coach software and other electronic gadgets. Fantastic, but is any association asking their coaches to use it in junior cricket to remedy batting or bowling (action) flaws.

Indian cricket needs coaches who are experienced and not degree holders without any coaching experience. It may be difficult to change the coaches' mindsets immediately but their coaching has to be performance-oriented, rather than based on their coaching qualification. Experience is one commodity which is not available in the market. A few years ago a first-class cricketer from a South Zone association passed the Level B and C examinations within a month. It makes no sense. The better thing to do is that even after clearing the various levels of examinations, no coach should be handed over a certificate for a minimum of two more seasons. During that time he should assist the main coach at the junior level ( for level B ) and senior level ( level C ).

There are around 1500 NCA qualified coaches. There is a need to re-grade them. Indian coaching needs the best expertise to give it the right direction.

Makarand Waingankar has spent four decades covering the grassroots of Indian cricket . He tweets here