Anil Kumble is not the first Indian cricket team coach to be dumped unceremoniously. Nor will he be the last, unless BCCI comes up with a worthwhile process in selecting, grooming and replacing coaches. Of course technically Kumble had stepped down from the post but that should not gloss over the fact that it had become "untenable" for him to continue.
Could things have gone worse if he had not resigned and instead gone to the West Indies? Yes!
May be the team would have refused to attend meetings called by him; Or ignored him in the nets; Or the captain might have conducted team meetings while keeping out the coach!
Within the realm of Indian cricket anything was possible and thus Kumble’s stepping down was the right thing to do. The surprising aspect was that he did not quit earlier, when news of insurmountable differences between him and the captain was doing the rounds in media and elsewhere.
Kumble would have seen this crisis coming months ago and it is therefore astonishing that an intelligent, sensitive person like him could not take steps to diffuse it immediately after the Australia series and during IPL. Instead the relationship festered and came to a head before the Champions Trophy and culminated in this unpleasant stepping down on the eve of the West Indies tour.
There is little point in apportioning blame either to him or the skipper Virat Kohli. This sort of controversy has been dogging Indian cricket for ever so long and the list of former coaches who had to step down or were eased out reads like a who’s who of Indian cricket: Kapil Dev, Bishen Singh Bedi, Ajit Wadekar, Anshuman Gaekwad, Madan Lal, Chetan Chauhan, Ashok Mankad, Ravi Shastri, Sandip Patil, Kumble, et al.
For good measure there are a couple of foreigners too who were eased out; Greg Chappell and Duncan Fletcher come to mind readily.
The Cricket Advisory Committee of Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, besides Kumble himself, would know a thing or two from their playing days about easing out cricketing legends.
They also know that in any tussle between coach and players, it is the latter who would prevail, almost always. And that’s the way it should be. Cricket as a sport is unlike football, hockey or basketball where the coach is the supremo. In cricket the captain is boss on the field and off it and a coach needs to have the ideal man management and persuasive skills to convince the captain that they are both on the same page. That is the only way he can forge team spirit and take the team forward.
The lack of camaraderie and team spirit between Kumble and Kohli did not stop India from winning the home series. But the fact that even winning could not drown out cries of the rift within was probably as serious as the issue could get.
Having said that, cricket aficionados would do well to remember that playing the game and coaching or administrating or commentating or umpiring are different skills. A great player need not make a great coach and vice-versa.
For instance Ramakant Achrekar was a highly reputed coach credited with coaching outstanding cricketers including Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Praveen Amre. But he had hardly played any worthwhile cricket. Not even for Bombay, if truth be told. But who will grudge the fact that he was an extraordinary coach who had the rare ability to spot and groom great talent?
Of course coaching an international team as divergent as India is trickier business. Achievements as a player would be no guarantee for success as a coach. This is why it is imperative that a process to identify and groom a coach is by itself as important as selecting talented young players.
Ideally, a coach should have cut his teeth with first class teams before being put in charge of India ‘A’ and India Under-19 teams. He has to be sensitive to handling talent and adept in wielding carrot and stick at different times, to different boys and in different situations. A three-year stint with youngsters would help him get off his high horse (presuming he has one) and get real in coaching. It would also help him understand team dynamics from a coach’s point of view.
That 3-year stint would thus better prepare him to handle the main Indian team and all that goes with it. It would also look after a succession plan for coaches. Additionally he could accompany the best of under-19 or India ‘A’ players to the main team and understand them better in the process.
Along the way the Board could come up with its own rewards, retrenchment, replacement policy and stick to it.
Until then this piece meal system of appointing and sacking coaches at a whim and fancy will be standard fare for Indian cricket.