The Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) and by extension, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has bowled a googly at Ravi Shastri, saddling him with a support staff of their choice. How well he plays it will determine not just his innings but, importantly, of the Indian team.
The CAC and BCCI did the right thing by giving captain Virat Kohli the head coach he was comfortable with. But did they allow the head coach similar latitude?
Instead, they seem to have dictated whom he could work with and named Rahul Dravid, as overseas tours batting consultant, and Zaheer Khan, as bowling consultant.
Dravid and Zaheer are big names who were leading purveyors of their respective fields, batting and swing bowling. Dravid, in particular, has the credentials to become the head coach in the not too distant future, considering that he has cut his coaching teeth with IPL franchises and India 'A' and Under-19 teams.
But forcing the duo on the head coach is akin to cramping him and forcing him to spend a lot of time and energy in trying to form a cohesive unit within the support staff. Surely something is amiss here.
Typically, head coaches bring their own support staff, people with whom they would have established rapport over the years.
The Indian set-up too followed a similar pattern, irrespective of the nationality of the head coach. For instance, Greg Chappell brought in Ian Frazer; Gary Kirsten had Paddy Upton and Eric Simmons; Duncan Fletcher engaged Trevor Penny and Joe Dawes; Anil Kumble retained Sanjay Bangar but did away with B Arun and said he’d handle the bowling coach’s job himself.
This being the case, and accepted norm, it is rather surprising that the CAC’s choice of support staff, however impeccable their credentials might be, is being thrust on Shastri.
Of course you can’t fault their choice of support staff, except that it was not their brief to go beyond head coach.
Somebody like Dravid is an invaluable asset to Indian cricket. His expertise can be put to maximum use among aspiring cricketers, rather than being deployed on settled, senior batsmen. In fact, in this fast-changing cricketing world where hundreds of competitive matches are being played every year, Dravid might well have been the ideal person to spot emerging talent and give it the boost required.
Instead they have asked him to report to Shastri, curbed his utility and wasted an asset that could have been better utilised.
The same could be said of Zaheer. He has to work as per the directions of the head coach when in reality he could be better off honing the skills of emerging fast bowlers.
Incidentally, amidst all these diktats for choice of support staff, what happens to all the years of experience and expertise gained by Bangar? He was reckoned to be good enough to step in as head coach during the series against the Windies but is now being unceremoniously sidelined overnight.
Bangar has been the batting coach under Fletcher, Shastri and Kumble. Surely he must have garnered enormous expertise in coaching and handling international cricketers during the period. Why is all that expertise now being suddenly cast to the wind?
The parting shot or twist that the CAC has given the issue might well end up working wonders. But that’s not the point. The disappointment is with the apparent lack of process and an inexplicable urge to be dramatic with even simple chores.
The CAC was asked to identify the head coach and they could well have done just that and left the choice of support staff to him. Instead, as one senior journalist tongue-in-cheek remarked, the three CAC members each selected one coach: Sachin Tendulkar – Shastri, VVS Laxman- Dravid and Saurav Ganguly- Zaheer! This, he referred to, was “Indian ishstyle” selection.
The brunt of the shenanigans of the CAC will have to be borne by Shastri. His work load would increase to the point that he’d first have to strike a rapport with his own support staff and demarcate their areas of operation even before he pays attention to the team.
Alternately, may be, a scenario is being thrust on him to trigger a resignation? Hopefully seeds are not being sown to undermine their own head coach’s role and promote divergent groups within the team.
Shastri is a smart cookie. He had re-invented himself many times in the past: from spinner to all rounder to opening batsman and later, after his playing career was cut short by a troublesome knee as a media professional.
His ability to adapt saw him excel as television commentator, analyst, National Cricket Academy coach and even as administrator in IPL. Hopefully, he will see this as one more challenge and move on. But those who have played silly petty games with Indian cricket must ask themselves if they are really working for the betterment of the game.