There is a reason team managements, cricket experts and people more qualified than a humble columnist have always emphasised on the need for continuity and consistency. There is reason also why teams which have been on a winning streak have an aura, a swagger, almost an air of invincibility.
Look no further than the Royal Challengers Bangalore's unstoppable ascendency in this season's IPL: There is so much confidence in the way they are going about their business, that it comes with a sense of inevitability now.
Now pause to think if the RCB were to suddenly do course correction two days before the IPL final and replace the team's head coach Daniel Vettori with a member of bottom-dwelling Kings XI Punjab's backroom staff. Team India's decision to appoint Sanjay Bangar as head coach for the tour of Zimbabwe is along similar lines.
Under previous coach (or Team Director, as it were) Ravi Shastri, the team had enjoyed one of the most successful runs in Indian cricket history, winning its first Test series in Sri Lanka in 22 years, becoming the first team to whitewash Australia in any format Down Under (3-0 in a T20I tournament), defeating South Africa at home in a Test series for the first time in a decade, etc. In addition, the team also reached the semi-final of the World T20 on home soil.
Barely two months since the T20 extraveganza, Shastri finds himself yelling out 'Kemon acho Kolkata?' (How are you, Kolkata?) at the IPL toss ceremonies. And it wasn't like Shastri himself wasn't interested in staying on with the Indian national side. Though he had admittedly never confirmed his future plans following the IPL, which comes to an end on Sunday, he did tell the New Indian Express this week that he would like to continue “if the BCCI was happy with my performance”.
On the other hand, we have Sanjay Bangar, the man who masterminded Kings XI Punjab's steady stay at the foot of the IPL table this year. They were never expected to do very well, but even by KXIP’s own standards, 2016 must be a particularly stellar achievement.
A year in which the form book and team pedigrees mattered for little, where almost all teams upset/annihilated/squeezed past (choose as per correct usage) everybody else, where even home and away records were upset, Bangar’s KXIP decided fairly early that they quite liked the bottom spot and weren’t about to budge.
Reward for this is elevation to the biggest job in Indian cricket: Head coach of the national team. To say it boggles the mind is like saying Indians are somewhat fond of cricket. To be fair, Bangar is also the same man who led KXIP to the IPL’s runner-up finish in 2014. Back then, many had praised the former India all-rounder for his tactical acumen and the ability to get the best out of a decidedly modest squad.
But that was two seasons ago, and KXIP have finished at the wrong end of the table in both seasons. Moreover, their success then was mainly driven by the big-hitting genius of Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, more than the shrewd strategising by Bangar.
However, even assuming the wise men in charge of BCCI wanted to reward Bangar for that showing, they should have done so back then, not now. The India head coach’s position became vacant following Duncan Fletcher’s stepping down in July 2014. That was about two months following the stupendous IPL by KXIP everybody remembers even to this day.
The time was ripe to have rewarded him with a better option then. But they chose to go with Ravi Shastri, and make Bangar his assistant. Two extremely underwhelming IPL editions later, Bangar is now made India head coach. The mind is well and truly boggled.
However, even that is not the main point. The appointment of India’s head coach isn’t an individual hiring; it comes with a set of backroom staff. A head coach also means his own support staff: Bharat Arun and R Sridhar, who served as the bowling and fielding coaches respectively, have also been relieved of their duties.
All of which might have perhaps made sense if the BCCI was thinking about this with a long-term view in mind. But considering it is primarily only for the 10-day tour of Zimbabwe and the BCCI is still entertaining applications from full-time managerial applicants, this does seem unlikely.
Bangar is almost certainly an ad-hoc appointment for an ad-hoc tour; India will almost certainly have a full-time coach for the West Indies tour, and it will almost certainly not be Sanjay Bangar. But while most of us will barely pay much attention to the events in Zimbabwe and can afford to switch on and switch off, it’s a wee bit more important for men whose jobs depend on this. Arun and Sridhar for one. Bangar himself for another. What is the point of this, he might later wonder, when a little-known tour of Zimbabwe is the only mention on his CV.