Ever since John Wright became India’s first truly professional coach, in nomenclature as well as in functioning in 2001, the job has acquired much prestige and significance in the country. Though there are many, including former Australia captain Ian Chappell, who believe that a coach’s job is very peripheral and he has little role to play in a team’s success, nations seek former players to help create a harmonious atmosphere in the dressing room that could make a difference between victory and defeat.
A captain, who is effectively the supremo in cricket, unlike say in football, where the buck stops with the coach/manager, needs helping hands to assist and guide him to get the best out of his men. Since cricket, unlike any other sport, is played for days together just to finish one match, the mental conditioning of the players becomes of vital significance.
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A coach, if not a wise, sound, stable character, who has a holistic understanding of the game and the men who play it, can be a disaster, as Greg Chappell was in the Indian context. What is more vital for the fabric of a team is not how good is the technical knowledge or tactical acumen of the coach but his man-management skills, where he gels well with the captain instead of being a speed-breaker. A dressing room has to resound more with laughter than sullen faces. It cannot resemble a graveyard, no matter what odds the team is playing against.
These aspects become even more significant when someone of Virat Kohli’s explosive temperament and dominating personality is at the helm. Like the Indian team’s experiment with an astute strategist Anil Kumble showed, it is hard for two strong personalities to co-exist in peace when they share a decision-making job.
Kohli has made his choices clear. He finds working with Shastri a profitable exercise, where the coach is in perfect sync with his world view. Both find each other a comfort, helping each other in improving the team’s working atmosphere without getting under each other’s skin. It is a symbiotic relationship that Kohli and Shastri believe has helped Indian cricket achieve new heights. They are the No 1 Test team and would have retained their No 1 status in one-day cricket had they won the World Cup.
Is that enough? Should the world’s “best” team as far as rankings may go, be satisfied with a semifinal finish in World Cup? Has this Kohli-Shastri combination reached the tipping point where the levels of comfort are hurting instead of helping the team to grow?
These and many other such questions need to be addressed before the three-member committee of Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shantha Rangaswamy arrive at any decision on the new coach’s appointment. One is not sure so far, who the other contenders are. Which are the other names from international cricket who have applied for the job, will also be a factor in deciding if not Shastri, then who?
Kohli has been among the most powerful captains India has ever seen. His clout and hold over those who run Indian cricket at the moment was obvious when India threw out Kumble as coach because Kohli was unhappy with his style of functioning. He was instrumental in getting Shastri a second term and now he wants him for the third time as well.
The moot point, once again is, will the committee that will choose the coach oblige or will they spread their search net wider and, may be, seek inputs from other members of the team as well. When a player is too close to an event or a person, he may miss out on the larger picture and may not realise that a fresh set of inputs could be of greater help than those already in operation.The committee has a tough job at hand and have to finally grapple with a much larger question: Will it be prudent to go against Kohli’s wishes?