Newsmaker: Captain’s coach

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Many years ago, in 1985, as the gleaming Audi 100 stood outside the boundary ropes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia – it was the prize for the winner of the ‘Champion of Champions’ title in the Champions Trophy tournament – Ravi Shastri swore that he would be the one to drive away with it. The determination he showed throughout the tournament, delivering time after time as frontline batsman and wily bowler, finally got him his prize.

As cricketing moments go, it ranks among the most memorable ever for Indians. Shastri was a youngster then, without even a driving licence to drive his new Audi. But that tournament showed he could be dogged and strategic, and had the stomach for big challenges.

The nearly month-long drama surrounding the selection of a new cricket coach culminated on expected lines on Tuesday, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hiring former all-rounder Ravi Shastri for the job. It will be his third stint with the national team for 55-year-old Shastri, who has been appointed for a two-year period that ends after the 2019 ODI World Cup.

Even as the three-member Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) sat down to pick the new India coach, backroom chatter left few in doubt that Shastri was the front-runner for the job. And when the CAC, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, said on Monday that it would announce the new coach’s name after a discussion with Kohli, there were few doubts as to who would be the skipper’s pick.

On second thoughts, even though he was snubbed by the same CAC last year when Anil Kumble was picked as coach, it appears that Shastri’s return as coach was inevitable. Read this. Kumble never got on with Kohli. Kohli got on famously with Shastri. Kohli never made it a secret that Shastri was his choice for Team India coach. Other players said it was always tough going with Kumble. Ganguly said that Team India was always the captain’s team. Now, join the dots.

Yet, there was a bit of drama left. While the CAC went ahead and named Shastri as the man in-charge, it also somewhat clipped the new coach’s wings by appointing former India star Zaheer Khan as bowling consultant and batting icon Rahul Dravid as overseas batting consultant.

There is perhaps a back-story to this. Ganguly has had issues with the cricketer-turned-commentator in the past. When the BCCI advertised for the coach’s job for the first time ever last year, Shastri was the favourite. That was before Kumble threw his hat in the ring. Shastri’s exit was followed by a public spat with Ganguly, whom he accused of not being present during his interview. Ganguly, in turn, retorted that had he been serious, Shastri should not have attended an interview while holidaying from Bangkok.

Though Shastri has now hinted that he and Ganguly have buried the hatchet, saying there was “mutual respect” amongst them, the Bengal southpaw reportedly had reservations about Shastri’s appointment all along. As per reports, Ganguly was finally convinced about Shastri by Tendulkar, who wanted the team’s wish to be respected.

But there was further twist in the tale. Just when Ganguly looked to have taken the lead in this game of one-upmanship, BCCI came to Shastri’s rescue after the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (COA) pointed out that the CAC had exceeded its brief in picking the support staff for the Indian team. Without mentioning Rahul or Zaheer’s name, the BCCI said in statement on Thursday: “The recommendation for Ravi Shastri was made on the merit of his presentation and the vision that he projected. After taking the decision on his selection, the CAC consulted him and decided on having batting and bowling consultants on overseas tour-to-tour basis, as per the requirement of the team.”

This was a reversal of its earlier statement in which the BCCI had clearly said that Zaheer was being appointed bowling consultant and Dravid as overseas batting consultant, alongside Shastri. Add to that Zaheer’s own comment – that if the CAC never had the mandate to pick him, why did it?

As things stand now, Shastri can pick his full-time support staff, with Zaheer and Dravid continuing in their roles as ‘oversees’ consultants.

Considering that a lot of cricket will be played during the period Shastri has been assigned for – India will tour Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and Australia, along with a host of home series and the 2019 World Cup in England – it would be interesting to see how the team management utilises the services of the two high profile consultants.

All these recent developments towards building a sizeable coaching unit for Team India leads to one question. With India already having on board the experienced Sanjay Bangar and R Sridhar as batting and fielding coach, respectively, and Shastri likely to rope in Arun as the bowling coach, where does the former all-rounder’s expertise come in? What could he probably pick as his role alone? One may wonder that with such strong backroom staff already in place, add to that the availability of legends like Zaheer and Rahul on tour-to-tour basis, wouldn’t it have been appropriate to have Shastri as the mentor, or team director?

Fortunately, the man in question too seems to know where the red lines are. Talking about the duties of a coach at the top most level, Shastri recently said in an interview: “At the highest level, cricketers are more or less settled. So is it more to do with working on their mental strength, helping build their confidence, helping them stay organised in their daily activities as against tinkering with their style of play. It’s not about ‘tutoring’ them about everything and telling them what and what not to do. There’s very little coaching at the highest level.”

The thing that could work in Shastri’s favour is his image of being a ‘captain’s coach.’ According to various individuals from the BCCI and the CAC, one big reason behind the fallout between Kohli and Kumble was ‘who was the boss.’ Shastri has time and again said that he believes it’s always the captain’s team and it is the leader who calls the shots. With Kohli being an emotional person always keen to make a mark in his team’s efforts, in Shastri he will find a confidante who can further inspire him to stretch his limits.

Known as players’ man and astute man manager, Shastri was considered a shrewd tactician during his playing days. It is true that going by coaching credentials, Shastri may not come across to many as the right choice for the India coach’s job. But he is essentially what Indian cricket needs at the moment.

aritramukhopadhyay@mydigitalfc.com

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