Foreign imports ruled the roost for a long time, bringing in much-needed benefits, before the BCCI brought in Ravi Shastri as director.With many improvements among Indian staff, the board may not look abroad.
IN 2000, when A C Muttiah was the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), something new happened in Indian cricket.
Match-fixing had done its share of harm and one of India's most prominent cricket names, Kapil Dev, who was the coach of the national team stepped aside because his name was dragged into the controversy. The Azhars and Jadejas had gone. Sachin Tendulkar relinquished captaincy and Anshuman Gaekwad, who had been Kapil Dev's predecessor, became his successor in just over a year's span.
Then came one of the biggest moments in Indian cricket. Raj Singh Dungarpur on behalf of the players proposed to Muttiah the idea of bringing in a foreign coach. The request from the players was understandable. Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman were a talented bunch, who needed a different kind of guidance to evolve into better cricketers and thereby complement the likes of Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, who by then were already there. That Dravid had spent considerable time in Kent playing county cricket and picking the brain of John Wright helped India zero in on a candidate. When BCCI first advertised for the coaching job, three candidates were shortlisted: Wright, Greg Chappell and Mohinder Amarnath. Chappell was the frontrunner, before his huge pay demands eventually paved the way for Wright.
In his book, Indian Summers, published after he left the job, Wright chronicled what he encountered on his first day in office. Butlers serving tea to players before a training session and physio Andrew Leipus having to manage a long queue of cricketers who wanted their fingers taped. There was much casual jogging. Then it began to change. One regular in the team then recalled the incident, speaking on condition of anonymity: "Before John came, there used to be practice sessions, but some of the seniors did their own thing and the youngsters didn't know what to do. John changed all that. He and Andrew made the training sessions more intense. The rigour was new to a lot of us and John pushed us hard. I remember a camp in Bengaluru just before the series against Australia in 2001. It was the most rigorous camps I'd encountered. One senior player started begging John to relent and all of us laughed about it. But later we understood what Wright brought in."
When the choice was Wright
Before Wright came in, BCCI had never given much thought to the coach's role. He was selected on the basis of reputation or the reigning power play in the board. Ajit Wadekar was officially India's first coach, followed by Sandeep Patil, Anshuman Gaekwad and Kapil Dev. But all of those appointments were made without looking at the long term.
One BCCI official who interviewed Wright and other candidates for the post in 2001 says, "I remember that when Dungarpur expressed the need for a foreign coach, a few eyebrows were raised. It was a huge gamble and a lot of former cricketers were against it. Back then, the BCCI was not the professionally run setup that it is now. We had certain flaws, and there were rumours of the Indian coach favouring certain players, and the match-fixing scandal had just rocked our boat. At that time, the only way to get people back to watching cricket was if the team won, and it was decided that a foreigner should be brought in to make this team a world-class unit. And that is what Wright did."
After Wright, Chappell -- whose stint is more remembered for the wrong reasons rather than good -- Gary Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher occupied the spot till 2014. Then one day N Srinivasan, the then president of BCCI, had enough of the team's poor performances abroad, and turned to an Indian - Ravi Shastri - to rescue the team. Since then, Shastri, with a support staff of Sanjay Bangar, Bharathi Arun and R Sridhar, has guided the team to two World Cup semifinals, a first Test series win in Sri Lanka in 22 years, an away series victory against South Africa.
Read Anshuman Gaekward's column: It takes time to get players into confidence
The NCA Contribution
Now the BCCI is again on the verge of naming a new coach. Most of the top contenders are Indians. The desi names haven't cropped up all of a sudden. The tide has been turning gradually, a change made possible by the various programmes conducted at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. The programme, started in 2004, has so far supplied the national team three support staffers, and a number of trained coaches to various first-class sides, apart from sending Sreedharan Sriram to join Australia's support staff as Darren Lehmann's assistant.
Says R Sridhar, who has been India's fielding coach since 2014, "I think it all comes from BCCI. Coach development, physio development and strength and conditioning development courses have given Indians fair knowledge of what can succeed at the highest level. Today we are second to none. A lot of former cricketers who played at the highest level now realize coaching is different from playing. They want to learn the art and method of coaching. In the last 18 months, the Indian team has been under Indian coaches and has had more than reasonable success. It motivates other Indian coaches as well because now they believe they can do it too."
Sridhar's rise is a classic example of how BCCI's programmes have helped Indians acuire the finer nuances of coaching. Prior to their elevation to the national team, Sridhar and Arun worked at the U-19 level and even tasted success in the U-19 World Cup. There was a time when most Indians looked to England to get coaching certificates, but the scene is changing now. Both
Sridhar and Arun, thanks to their time at the NCA, helped shape most of the current top-flight players, something that give them insights into the players' mentality.
"There is a lot of evolving data that is pertinent to Indian conditions. One has to learn the science of coaching and other things like player-management, communication and personality skills. You learn about nutrition, first aid, anatomy, physics. It is very comprehensive," says Sridhar.
But the cricket coach's role is changing again, thanks to T20 tournaments. Before advertising the coach's job this month, BCCI did speak to various cricketers - mostly foreigners - but most of them refused, citing T20 commitments. There was a point when BCCI president Anurag Thakur said the board might have to appoint different coaches for different formats because candidates were being non-committal because of India's packed cricket calendar. "Finding the right person for the job hasn't been easy. Earlier, a lot of candidates were knocking on the door, but now most of the big-name coaches have lucrative T20 jobs in hand. Even though we have received 57 applications for the post, the big names aren't among them, except the oddone," sources in the BCCI say.