There was no coaching programme in India when John Wright took over as the coach of the national team in 2000. There were no qualified coaches then. Whoever were there, had graduated from NIS Patiala, where there was a one-year or a two-year course. The most common thing was to rely on your experience as a player. Frank Tyson was the first person to introduce the coach education course in India at the NCA. Apart from a private institution in Mumbai, Tyson conducted Level I and Level II coaching programme at the NCA.
Then in 2005, there was Level III programme for the first time, which sort of became an eye-opener for our coaches. Until then we always used to think playing and coaching are the same. But they are poles apart. It was the start of the coaching revolution in India because after this the NCA appointed Dr Kinjal Suratwala to run the coach education programmes.
It was also the time I completed my Level I and Level II courses and Bharat Arun was already a faculty at the NCA. After the initial years, plenty of players started showing interest in these courses because they believed it was essential to become a professional coach. Experience as a player was not proving to be enough. You needed this education to improve coaching styles, which included communication and body language, among other things. And by 2007, we started seeing good cricketers turning out as qualified coaches. Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad were part of the 2004-05 batch and subsequently, they went on to become a part of the Indian team’s support staff from 2007 to 2009.
The biggest change though happened in 2008 when then NCA chairman Ravi Shastri brought in Dav Whatmore as the director. He was the first one to bring in the system of 1:4, 1:5 coaching ratio to all national camps. He didn’t believe in two coaches running the show because you were not going to focus on everyone. Instead, for every four-five players, there was one coach. So if the camp had 30 players, there were at least six coaches. By this, not only were the players getting adequate attention, but even the coaches were getting adequate opportunities. And I too happened to be one of them. The best thing about the coaching system was once you clear Level III, you were given the opportunity to educate those who enrolled in coaching programme. And I undertook around 100 classes between 2008 and 2014.
These coaching programmes were made for Indians. At Level 1, it used to focus on coaching methodology, technical and tactical, role of a coach, basics of the coach. Level II involved a little bit about biomechanics involved in batting, bowling and fielding and learning topics like handling crisis, player management, periodisation and planning, physiology, fitness tests, managing administrators and selectors, and conflict management. And Level III is advanced where skill acquisition is given a lot of importance. Knowing a subject is easy, but it is nothing if we are not going to put it across to the players. Today, we see a lot of former players and even current players showing active interest in taking up these courses, which shows how integral it has become in the cricketing ecosystem. Even though Level II can do the job, they are enrolling for Level III.
That is what helped us get into the Indian team too. It is the pathway to the national team as far as coaching is concerned. If players have domestic cricket as a roadmap for making it to the Indian team, these programmes are the ones for coaches. Experience of playing high-level cricket alone is not enough because the skillset that is required to be a coach is totally different. This is why for Arun and I, the six weeks spent at the NCA, where we did India Under-19, India A, Challenger Trophy, Irani Cup, camps with Indian teams, were very helpful. It was a proper grind for me before I got into the senior national team. It was an ideal progression.
And it is the case even now as Rahul Dravid has preferred to have Paras Mhambrey and T Dilip with him. It ensures we are better prepared in terms of method and analysis. More than anything, you get to know the players too because you are monitoring them from state level to international level. And it gives an equal opportunity to everyone—whether you played cricket at the highest level or not. For someone like me who never played international cricket to be coaching the Indian team was not possible if not for these changes.
But the system allowed me to become the first one to do so. Now there is Dilip, who has not even played club-level cricket but has been made the fielding coach of the India team. It just shows how much these system tends to help Indian coaches, who have shown over the last seven years that we are second to none. That the BCCI too believes in Indian coaches shows how much we have progressed in the last 20 years. The next focus should be on empowering the grassroots coaches because they are the ones who will shape up the blossoming talents. While the top eight Indian coaches are on par, if not better, with foreign coaches, we can’t say the same about grassroots level coaches.
The grassroots coaches in Australia, England and New Zealand are much more advanced because of their programmes. So we need to take science and coaching manual to the grassroots coaches too, who handle the academies and camps. If their quality improves, the players they produce will also be much better. If they are not able to do the course in English, we should try Hindi, Marathi, Tamil or Telugu or whatever the regional language is. I believe this is the way forward to empower Indian coaches because if the grassroots is strong, the tree will always be strong.
The writer was the fielding coach for India under Ravi Shastri