The Indian coach selection saga culminated in a dramatic climax over the last couple of days. After several reels of betrayals, speculations, conspiracies, and suspense, Ravi Shastri, the savior who had made a late entry way after the interval but had everyone betting on him since, was declared the head coach of the Indian team for at least two years.
The surprise package was the appointment of new bowling consultant, Zaheer Khan and batting consultant for overseas tours, Rahul Dravid. The role of current batting coach Sanjay Bangar is not clear yet, but given his rapport with most of the players in the team, he is expected to be around with the team.
Many are seeing this development as a balancing act to restore credibility to the selection process. After the unceremonious exit of Anil Kumble, Indian cricket needed to restore some credibility and the inclusion of legends like Zaheer Khan and Rahul Dravid will definitely go a long way in doing that. Large sections of fans who felt disconnected with the team after getting the impression that the current setup doesn’t respect its legends may now find it easier to get behind the team again.
But beyond the emotional and political reasons, the appointment of Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan shows a lot of cricketing sense and far-sight. The duo already shares a good rapport after spending several years playing together and last two years as think tank of Delhi Daredevils team.
Zaheer Khan was often hailed as the bowling captain when MS Dhoni was captain of the test side, especially on overseas tours. He was in charge of talking to the fast bowlers and setting their fields. It was a common sight to see Zaheer with his arm around the shoulder of a younger fast bowler like Ishant Sharma.
Coaching and mentoring comes naturally to Zaheer. Of course, it goes without saying that Zaheer was the craftiest fast bowler India has ever produced. He started out as a genuine pacer and continued to develop his skills throughout his career. Conventional swing, reverse swing, contrast swing, seam movement, he became a master of it all.
There was a period in Indian cricket when Zaheer was the go-to bowler for his captain both in India and abroad. In every condition, against every batsman, Zaheer had a plan, the only thing that held him back at times was his own fitness.
It isn’t the first time Zaheer’s name has been suggested for the role of bowling coach. Given the mentoring role he was playing in his playing days, it started almost immediately after his retirement from international cricket. Last year too the role was offered to him, but it is believed the talks didn’t materialize over remuneration issues. But Indian cricket isn’t going to let go off Zaheer Khan easily and for good reasons.
India will be playing a lot of overseas test series in the coming seasons and appointment of Rahul Dravid as batting consultant shows they are serious about winning overseas. Much like Zaheer, no other candidate suits the role better than him.
BCCI has been trying to persuade Dravid to be a part of coaching staff for a while but he never seems interested in taking a full-time role in coaching the senior team. There isn’t a better person in world cricket than Rahul Dravid to teach batting technique and temperament. The passion and commitment Dravid has shown in coaching India’s A and U19 team only make his credentials even stronger.
The skeptics among us may point out that now there are even bigger egos to be managed in the dressing room that already had an issue with having too many legends and superstars in it.
It appears Ravi Shastri’s primary role in this set up would be to manage and oversee all affairs of the Indian team. He may be working more like a Team Director just like his last stint and let people like Zaheer, Dravid, and Bangar handle technical aspects of coaching. It’s not dissimilar to how Andy Flower successfully functioned as Team director in England and had specialist coaches for each department of the game. Given how the game is evolving in every department in all three forms of the game, it is sensible to follow this specialist approach rather than having one person acting as a know-all.
The coaching staff now has candidates from everybody’s wish list. Kohli got the head coach he wanted. Rest of the fans got the dream team of Zaheer and Dravid. Just seeing them around in the Indian dressing room wearing those India colours again is going to give Indian fans goosebumps.