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The Uneasy Terrains of A Captain and A Coach

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Tim Richards, a celebrated lyricist, once introduced John Wright, coach of Indian cricket team, as the man ‘who put the cones out, then brings them again just before the play starts.’ It’s indeed a very unflattering description of a coach, which every captain would love but a coach would hate to the core! Watching a sulking Kumble sitting all alone and a frowning Virat fielding in the deep, when Pakistanis were hitting Indian spinners all over the Oval Park in the Championship final, brought memory of Sir Richards’ sardonic observation of the coach and the captain!

The Kohli-Kumble spat, culminating in to a split has anguished all the past cricketers, including Gavaskar and Bedi, who otherwise do not see eye to eye. Ganguly, who is the unwritten leader of the troika of Sachin, Laxman and him, is understandably diplomatic. Kohli is a batting phenomenon and has the potential to establish Indian cricket at the top of World Cricket, in all formats. Dhoni is a fading light. However he can be becalming presence, and a big asset for the Indian team and Kohli. To be fair to Virat, he has always leaned on Dhoni, at critical moments. But the role of coach is a different challenge! As Michael Clarke wrote recently on the role of the coach vis-a-vis the Captains: ‘In a crunch situations, it will be the captain who will have to put up his hands up in pressure situations.’

Now that Kumble has quit as the coach one of the debates swirling in this country is whether to have an Indian coach or a foreign coach? Sehwag who has put his hat in the ring thinks that an Indian coach would be preferable, as it will preempt ‘communication problem’. This is indeed hilarious just as his batting was uncluttered and unorthodox. Commenting on Sehwag John Wright, who coached Indian team from 2002-2005, wrote in his book ‘Indian Summers’ how he had once pulled up his collars for playing a reckless shot at a crucial moment of the game in 2004. John wanted to send a stern message to all players that playing a ‘natural game’ cannot be a subterfuge for an ‘irresponsible shots’.

Both John Wright and Gary Kristen have really contributed handsomely for the dizzy heights that Indian cricket has reached; playing in the process a quiet role in tandem with charismatic leaders like Saurav and Dhoni. In particular their role in improving work ethics and discipline in the Indian team has been immense. Greg Chapell, who had a controversial stint as a coach writes in a book by Malcolm Knox that in 2005 the team’s training ethic was appalling. His message was to ‘commit to excellence, lift the work rate, get the players fitter, and motivate them to be the best’. It is to the credit of Dhoni and a supremely fit Virat, that the Indian team has inculcated these core values remarkably well. That’s the reason, Indian pace attack is no longer a one man show but of a pack of pacers like Yadav, Bumrah, Sami and Bhubaneswar, who invoke the memories of Pakistan of 1980s. But they need to nurtured and used at the right moment. Virat committed a real harakari, first by opting to bowl first on a docile pitch with a clear sky in the final, and inexplicably preferred Pandya over Yadav. One wished, he had taken Kumble on board on these crucial decisions, instead of being somewhat petulant and ostrich like in his approach.

Cricket, as a game, is larger than life and is all about charismatic character that donned the cricketing firmament. Alan McGilvary, the legendary broadcaster, reflecting on the Australian team who had beaten the West Indian team at their best in 1975 had written: “I traveled with teams from Bradman on and never saw a team that had more discipline, more unity, and more desire. They were the real Australians.” This Indian team has all the potential to be the pied pipers of world cricket. For this to happen the coach and the captain have to be in sync and have the kind of relationship that the Queen has with the Prime Minister; a friend, philosopher and guide. A foreign coach would be a better option. We should coax Kallis to be the Indian coach; he will be an asset to the batters on seaming wicket and give useful tips to the bowlers as well. The uneasy terrain of coach vs. captain would then be more mature and friendly!

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