Mumbai have reappointed Vinayak Samant as their coach in controversial circumstances just before the start of the upcoming domestic season. Samant was retained after former Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni, who served them from 2011 to 2014, turned the offer down following disagreements with the Mumbai Cricket Association's (MCA) ad-hoc committee, primarily over the remuneration offered to him.
Kulkarni claims that when he was initially interviewed in May for the post by Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of the MCA's Cricket Improvement Committee (CIC), he was offered a remuneration of INR 24 lakh for one year, from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020, as posted on the MCA website. However, Kulkarni says, the MCA delayed his appointment and sent him a contract in mid-August with an offer of INR 14 lakh, valid from September 2019 to March 2020, which he turned down.
"I told them I won't accept the contract like this if you reduce the amount from 24 to 14 lakh, there's no chance" Kulkarni told ESPNcricinfo. "It's not my mistake because I was ready to take up the job on 1st June. The delay was from their side."
Kulkarni was also unhappy that the MCA made this and other changes in the contract without consulting the CIC. Karsan Ghavri, a member of the CIC, said this was unacceptable.
"The ad-hoc committee [of the MCA] cannot overrule a decision which has already been made by the CIC," Ghavri told mid-day. "They should have had a meeting with the CIC to discuss the issue [after Kulkarni did not agree to MCA's contract terms]. If this is how MCA is going to function by taking their own cricketing decisions, then I don't wish to be on the CIC. I am going to resign in a couple of days.
"We [CIC] held several meetings, each lasting for nearly five hours, to interview coaches and support staff for the junior and senior teams. [By appointing Samant] they have not just treated CIC badly, but also the coaches and support staff."
Kulkarni said there were more changes in the contract he was eventually offered, which didn't make sense to him.
"When I was the Mumbai coach in 2011, the daily match allowance was INR 10,000," he said. "Now, nearly 10 years later, they are offering only INR 5,000 per day. The amount should have actually gone up, there is no common sense in this."
According to Kulkarni, the MCA also reduced the number of leaves offered from 60 to 15 per year and changed "many other" terms and conditions which he "was not ready for". Kulkarni said he turned the offer down on August 20.
Last week, the MCA then went back to Samant, who had also applied for the post in May as he had been appointed only for the 2018-19 season last year. In that season, he helped Mumbai lift the Vijay Hazare Trophy but they then went downhill and failed to qualify for the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals, and couldn't make the final in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
"Among the main drawbacks last season was that we didn't have many pace bowlers and established spinners," Samant told ESPNcricinfo. "We were banking on only a couple of bowlers out of whom Tushar Deshpande was unfit in the second match. To win matches outright, you need to take 20 wickets. And if you don't have the bowlers to pick up those wickets, then you're going to suffer. Then that adds further pressure to the batting which was not up to the mark."
Samant started working with the team in Mumbai on Tuesday and will travel with them to Nagpur on September 4 with a 15-man squad for the Bapuna Cup, a pre-season tournament for which they are trying several fringe players. They have named Suryakumar Yadav captain for the tournament as they want to groom him as a leader for whenever regular captain Shreyas Iyer is unavailable because of national duty. Mumbai are also going to try out 19-year-old Arjun Tendulkar, a left-arm quick, before the domestic season begins.
"We want to try him and see how effective he is. I saw Arjun at the MPL (Mumbai Premier League), he bowls very well. He bowls quick and is very accurate," Samant said.
"We're looking to make Surya the captain in Shreyas' absence. He's a very good captain. Surya has had some issues in the past but we're backing him again and grooming him for captaincy."
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo