On Wednesday, Mohinder Amarnath, who has, in theory, a 25% chance of becoming India's new coach, made a fine pitch for himself on the television channel, NDTV Hindi. "Agar aap samajhte hain ke kisi ka rang gora hai aur chamdi alag kism kee hai to vo behtar hai, to mai bhee Fair and lovely lagana shuru kar deta hu ke mera rang bhee waisa ho jaaye." ("if you think that just because someone's colour is white and his skin is different that makes him better then even I will begin using Fair and Lovely so I can make my colour like that"), he said, when asked about the trend of all Asian teams appointing foreign coaches. He didn't believe he should be India's coach because he was the best possible candidate, just that he was Indian. When his views on the use of technology were sought, he replied, with a straight face, "I don¹t have laptop. I only have a lap."
The sad thing is that Amarnath has been projected as a serious contender for the role of coach, for all the wrong reasons. At his best as a player, he was among the world's best. He had guts and gumption and a versatile technique. But his experience as a coach is limited - he was with Bangladesh over five years ago, and even that lasted barely a few months. His stint with Rajasthan was anything but noteworthy. He has no proven record, no demonstrable skills. Then why is he such a hot pick?
The biggest problem with India's ongoing search for a coach is that the real questions are getting clouded by a sense of misguided nationalism from a clutch of former players and sections of the media. The question everyone interested in Indian cricket should be asking now is, what kind of coach is needed to give the Indian team the best possible chance to reverse the slide they are in, and play to their potential? Instead the question many people are asking, sadly, is, who should be the man to replace John Wright?
In firmly inculcating a sustained work ethic, bridging the gap between established stars and keen newcomers, and underscoring the importance of preparation, Wright has hinted at what is needed - a professional in the dressing-room. Pride for Indian cricket is not likely to come from hiring an Indian coach, but from a winning team. What the Indian team needs now is someone to build on the values that Wright inculcated, and bring in fresh ideas. India must go with the man with the best knowhow and aptitude. Nationality is irrelevant.
For reasons best known to themselves, the board-appointed committee to choose the coach, including three former India captains in Sunil Gavaskar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Ravi Shastri, included Amarnath and Sandeep Patil in their four-man short-list along with Greg Chappell and Tom Moody. Someone suggested the committee had thrown a couple of Indians into the fray simply to send out the right signals.
The media, who rightly slammed the BCCI for dragging its feet on the appointment of a coach, and decried the lack of professionalism in the board, has a bit to answer for. While no journalist has been silly enough to bring up the Indian v Foreigner issue directly, too many publications have provided pulpits for out-of-work former cricketers to expound their one-eyed views. The lack of sophistication in some of the arguments put forth beggars belief. "How will a foreigner understand our culture? How will our players communicate with a foreigner?" people ask, suggesting India are hiring someone for a tricky diplomatic posting, rather than a straightforward cricket coaching job.
In this desperate clamour to turn the issue away from what it really is - finding the best man, at the moment, to coach the Indian team - the issue has become one of confused patriotism. Are we, the land of Kapil Dev and Gavaskar, of Bishan Bedi and Tendulkar, incapable of finding one of our own to coach the cricket team? Sometimes, just as the best man for a job can so often be a woman, one of our own can come from outside. And the players, the ones who wear the Indian badge literally and figuratively on their sleeves, seem to have understood this. In fact they are demanding a foreign coach, even if they can't agree on a name between them.
With no obvious Indian candidate in sight, the panel is believed to be suggesting a compromise - a two-man team. If the past is any indicator - Gavaskar served as consultant while Wright was coach - then such experiments are best left untried. Any team member - senior or junior - you speak to about that arrangement will tell you that Gavaskar's presence served no fruitful purpose, and only confused matters and eroded the confidence of the coach.
Chappell has maintained a graceful silence despite a slew of half-truths and plain lies being circulated in the media to impede his chances of landing the job. Patil, the one Indian who might at least be worth looking at on the basis of his hands-on involvement in coaching at various levels in recent times, has not granted one interview since being short-listed. Moody, the favourite among senior members in the team barring Ganguly, declared he was the right man to take India to the next level. Then Amarnath did exactly the same thing. It's hard to say whether Moody can deliver on his promise if given the chance, but there is reason to believe that Amarnath could take India to another level - one step lower.