Boys will be boys. They won’t love a tough taskmaster. They won’t love a disciplinarian. They would be uneasy working with someone whose achievements are significant and someone with a strong personality. That’s why the likes of Anil Kumble and Greg Chappell won’t ever have it easy getting popular among players. Now, if the players are gelling well and doing fine as a team then why bring in a source of disruption in the form of a coach with the tendency to control? Why not let boys be boys so long as they deliver on the field?
Kumble’s performance as a coach, going by the showing of the Indian team under him, has been impeccable. Five successive series wins in a year is no small feat for a coach. But then the captain of the team Virat Kohli can stake claim to the same feat. Unlike football, where the coach overshadows the captain, he is a much reduced figure in cricket. It’s the captain who leads the team and takes all important calls on the field. The team’s victories and losses are credited to him. The coach is more of a backroom boy providing useful feedback to him and playing a role in keeping the team in the right spirit.
That’s one reason why strong personalities with the inclination to having a say in important team decisions are less than suitable in cricket. If the captain is also a strong personality, then conflicts are inevitable. That appears to have played out between Kumble and Kohli. This is throwback to the high tension between coach Greg Chappell and senior Indian players about a decade ago. The latter wanted to be control in every way, right from the physical fitness regimen to be followed by players to on field decisions. It did not help that he was brusque in his manner and allowed little space for dissent.
The Kumble-Kohli conflict may not have the same intensity of a Chappell-Ganguly showdown but the conditions that aggravate equations between two strong leaders remain the same. It basically comes down to the coach trying to overstep his limits and the captain not willing to yield an inch of his turf. It helps that Kohli has proved to be a good team leader, commanding the loyalty of his teammates and the respect of decision-makers in Indian cricket. It’s a battle where the coach is fated to stand isolated. He might survive for sometime by pulling the strings, the way Chappell did, but without the team backing him, he is not expected to last long.
Now, does the coach need to impose his vision or ideas of the game on the team? To put it differently, does the coach need to have a vision at all? In cricket, it does not look tenable. It’s the captain who plays in the middle with the team and he is thus the best judge of the situation unfolding. For him it is more a matter of responding smartly to a given situation than following a game plan decided by the team think-tank.
Moreover, most players at the national level, particularly seniors, don’t need to be reminded repeatedly what they are supposed to do by the coach. It is bound to lead to bruised egos and conflicts. If a flaw has crept up in a batsmen’s technique leading to his failure with the bat, then the batting coach could intervene, and the bowling coach could intervene when a bowler is not doing things right. The fielding coach plays his role when it comes to fielding. The job of the main coach should be to oversee the other coaches, besides keeping the team members in fine fettle. He must not interfere either with their game or the way they bond as a group.
For this, it is essential that vibes between the coach and the players are cordial and without ego frictions. It always works well when the captain leads in the decision-making process, while the coach provides helpful input in an unobtrusive fashion. It’s finally about the comfort level they share. The Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), which is looking into the matter, must be mindful of that. After all, all of them — Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman — have the Greg Chappell experience to fall back on.