Kerala sack coach P Balachandran mid-season
Former India seamer and Kerala bowling coach Tinu Yohannan has been given the team's charge, and M Rajagopal, the coach of the state's Under-23 side, has been named assistant coach
Kerala coach P Balachandran has been sacked midway through the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season after the state association felt the team's performances had fallen short of expectations. Former India seamer and Kerala bowling coach Tinu Yohannan has been given the team's charge, and M Rajagopal, the coach of the state's Under-23 side, has been named assistant coach. There has also been a major overhaul in the team, with four players - senior batsman Robert Fernandez, wicket-keeper Nikhilesh Surendran, seamers U Manukrishnan and MD Nidheesh - being axed from the squad. Instead, five players from the Under-23 team - Fabid Farooq, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Salman Nizar, Akshay Chandran and KC Akshay - have been picked for Kerala's remaining matches against Goa, Andhra, Tripura and Services.
Kerala are one of two teams in Group C that have not yet registered a win after five rounds of the tournament, despite securing a first-innings lead in four of their five games. With 12 points, they are fifth in the standings and still in contention for a place in the knockouts, but the Kerala Cricket Association felt the time was apt for a change.
"It isn't [a kneejerk reaction]. For the last six or seven seasons, we are coming close but still missing out a place in the knockouts," a KCA official told ESPNcricinfo. "We cannot spoil one more year."
According to the official, the association's cricket development committee - which includes the chairman of the senior selection committee, K Jayaraman, and former cricketers KN Ananthapadmanabhan and Sunil Oasis - was not on the same page with Balachandran when it came to team selection. "Balachandran is a good human being, but we need results," the official said. "When the junior teams are performing creditably, senior teams are not living up to their expectations. We want to reward good performances. That's why we have brought in five youngsters."
Balachandran, who took over from Sairaj Bahutule as coach, said he was surprised by the decision. "I am not disappointed or upset though," Balachandran said. "After the Haryana match, I got a message from the secretary [TN Ananthanarayanan] saying that my services were no longer required. I said 'fine'. I did not ask for the reason.
"Last year, our team did well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the association gave good support. I don't have any grievance, because I have done my work. The association expected more from me which I couldn't deliver; I keep it as simple as that."
Balachandran also admitted the signing of three professionals - Iqbal Abdulla and Bhavin Thakkar from Mumbai, and Jalaj Saxena from Madhya Pradesh - at the start of the season had possibly raised KCA's expectations of the team.
The KCA official said the decision to rope in professionals indicated the association's desperation for a better showing this season.
"We wanted an aggressive approach, that's why we brought in some guest players," the official said. "But, if they are going to be on the losing side all the time, it will affect their morale as well."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun