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A suitable man

India's new coach needs to be trustworthy, committed, and inspirational

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
There was a time during my playing days when we would not know who the coach was till the eve of a Test. That 'coach' would last one Test until he was replaced by another one for the next game. In those days, the BCCI would distribute the coaching job like pedas. The purpose and effect of both was quite the same.
In those days, the coach would also be an administrative manager, a selector (he would be an important member of the committee that selected the final XI) and a bag man rolled into one. Strangely it seemed an enviable job, which many illustrious names in Indian cricket took up with great enthusiasm.
The baggage bit was slightly uncomfortable for some. But then came Ali Irani, the officially appointed physio, who willingly took on the responsibility of making sure the right bag reached the right room. The overburdened manager was a relieved man.
All this wasn't too long ago; it existed till the early 90s. Things have changed dramatically since - for the better, I must quickly add. Today the appointment of an Indian coach is preceded by four weeks of national debate. A high-profile committee is appointed to help the BCCI make the difficult decision.
But I wonder sometimes if the coach's role is overestimated, especially as we now know, thanks to John Wright's parting statements, that the coach rarely has a voice in team selection, and that if a captain is strong, the coach's role in on-field activities is also limited.
But I do believe that for teams like India and Pakistan, the selection of a coach is a very important decision. Both teams have a history of performing brilliantly when guided well, and when the men in charge are trusted.
Bob Woolmer and Wright had to do nothing special when they took over. Their mere presence assured their teams of fairness, and that merit would be the only criterion for selection. It is a common refrain: "The best thing about our coach is that he has no agenda."
When Pakistan were in India recently, though they finished the better team, I thought they were very poor strategically, especially when Woolmer did nothing to stop Inzamam-ul-Haq, who seemed intent on losing winning games. Then, while talking to players, I realised that Woolmer's greatest contribution as coach was the trust between him and the players, and the harmony in the dressing room. That's the foremost reason for Pakistan's success today. The team trusts the coach and captain.
Trust is where local coaches fail. The players believe, thanks to past experience, that a local man will have an agenda. I really think past coaches have done some irreparable damage in this regard. It is easy to understand the reluctance of the Pakistan Cricket Board and the BCCI to look backwards. What if that seed of suspicion is sown again? India and Pakistan have historically been emotionally charged, temperamental teams. I do believe the most important reason why foreign coaches are preferred, though it will never be spoken about publicly, is that they are trusted more. Simple.
By the time you read this, India will have their new coach. Whoever he is, here are my expectations of what he needs to do at this juncture:
Inject the side with energy
Since the Asia Cup, India have been sluggish. The energy we saw during 2003 is missing. Fresh legs, or rejuvenated ones, are the need of the hour. Two above-average fielders in the team is just not good enough.
Take decisions without emotion
Names, past records, and emotions should not come in the way of decisions. If a lesser name is of more value to the team, get him. Flexibility will be imperative for India. Practices that have been successful in the past will need to be abandoned if they stop yielding results. Recent numbers are all that matter.
Handle seniors sensitively
Highly successful senior players are ageing or losing their edge for other reasons, and are fragile today. Just because they have experience does not mean they can solve their problems independently. They too need help. The new coach should not be overawed by these players and should be brave enough to extend a helping hand. He will be surprised how eagerly that hand will be taken.
Put the fast bowlers back on track
The mystery of the millennium: why do young Indian fast bowlers lose their pace after they have played a season or two for India? Reviewing training methods may not be a bad idea. Frequent breakdowns hurt the individual as well as Indian cricket.
Coaching India can be a thrilling assignment. (How will Wright handle this sudden lull in his life after five years? I have no doubt he will miss it terribly.) All that's expected of the new man is a simple, honest commitment to Indian cricket.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar