The race to become Indian coach - which seemed to be a one-horse issue till recently - has suddenly come spectacularly to life in the days preceding the all-important meeting in Bangalore to decide the next coach. Dav Whatmore was, till recently, virtually the only candidate in the fray but in the run-up to Monday's selection meeting Graham Ford, the former South African coach, has emerged as the No. 1 choice of the players.
What's more, Cricinfo has reliably learned that Ford has written to the Board of Control for Cricket in India expressing both his interest and availability for what is thought to be the toughest coaching job in international cricket. A senior board functionary who does not work out of the Mumbai offices of the BCCI - to where the letter of interest was sent - denied any knowledge of Ford's interest, asking only, "Who is Ford? We have not had any communication with Ford." However, Niranjan Shah, the board secretary, later confirmed that they had indeed received an application from Ford.
With the BCCI and its top brass neither advertising for the post of coach nor doing any research on the ground about the availability or interest levels of coaches around the world, it fell to the players, who are most directly affected by the coach, to get their act together. Cricinfo has learned that the playing group got in touch with more than one potential candidate, obviously on an informal basis, to check on their availability. John Wright was spoken to, but his mind was already on the Australian academy job, and Tom Moody had committed himself to Western Australia.
The players then tapped into their own network - players from other countries, some old contacts from their time in county cricket in England - and the name of Ford figured prominently. South African cricketers including Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener and former cricketer Jonty Rhodes had plenty of positive things to say about Ford.
It now remains to be seen if the players, the board, or the former cricketers in committee prevail in the meeting that will be held in Hotel Ashoka on Monday evening. Some sections of the board are firmly behind Whatmore, while others felt that it was the players who should have the most say in the matter. However, the players are not represented in the seven-man committee - comprising Sharad Pawar, the president, Niranjan Shah, the secretary, N Srinivasan, the treasurer, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, S Venkataraghavan, the former Indian captain, and Mohinder Pandove -that picks the coach. This means that it will fall on Shastri, one of the former cricketers on the committee, to speak for the players. Having recently spent a close to a month with the players in Bangladesh as the cricket manager of the team, Shastri has the confidence of the players and vice versa.
What is certain to add spice to the meeting is the opinion of Sunil Gavaskar, an influential figure in Indian cricket at all times. Gavaskar has made his preference for an Indian to get the job fairly clear in the past, and in recent columns he has sharply questioned Whatmore's credentials. However, while it is tough to predict exactly whom Gavaskar will nominate for the job, no one should be surprised if he goes with a left-field suggestion, perhaps someone like Sri Lanka's Arjuna Ranatunga. Although Ranatunga has no coaching experience at this level, he is among the shrewdest tacticians in the subcontinent, and Gavaskar might just place a premium on this.
Shah, who did not want to commit on who was a frontrunner for the job, told Cricinfo that Whatmore had "a good chance" of landing the job. Srinivasan, though very much his own man and a strong one at that, is someone who is willing to listen to sound logic, and will weigh all the arguments before him and then take a decision on whom to back. Venkataraghavan is another who will not be fazed by the reputations of those making their cases. But, his name has recently been linked to the very job Shastri is relinquishing, that of cricket manager, and this means he might be in a bit of a delicate situation. Pandove, who has little stake in the matter, political or cricketing, is another one unlikely to strongly oppose or support any one group. Pawar, as always, has the power to over-rule everyone in the group. But, if indications on the ground are anything to go by, Pawar may have no need to over-rule those who want Ford as India's coach.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo