Cricket coaches are literally crawling out of the woodwork. The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s call for applications for the post of Indian team coach has attracted no less than 57 aspirants. Everyone, from former India captains to legends to selectors to mere players has thrown his hat into the ring in the hope of raking in mega bucks and basking in the limelight for the next couple of years.
Some applicants have not coached any team, not even their state or junior sides. But they hope that the Board will overlook this anomaly while identifying the best man for the job.
The intriguing question is: who is the best man?
Great cricketers do not necessarily become good coaches. On the contrary they could be a liability.
For instance, Sachin Tendulkar is on record that he was disappointed with Kapil Dev as coach. “During my second stint as captain, Kapil Dev was the coach and I had high expectations of him in Australia," Tendulkar wrote in his autobiography. "He was one of the finest cricketers to have played for India and one of the best all-rounders of all time,
“I have always maintained that the coach’s job is an important one, for he is in a position to play a key role in formulating team strategy. Who better than Kapil to come up with options for me during a tough tour of Australia?
“However, his method of involvement and his thought process was limited to leaving the running of the team to the captain, and hence he did not involve himself in strategic discussions that would help us on the field.”
This disappointment with great cricketers in not confined to India alone. West Indies’ gifted all rounder Franklyn Stephenson acknowledged Curtly Ambrose as one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. But he also reckoned he was “the worst cricket coach ever.”
One theory as to why great cricketers don’t make great coaches is that they come to the job with giant egos and this does not go down well with current players. For the latter, self-esteem and self confidence are paramount to success and they need a coach who will pump them up. However ex-greats struggle to get down to doing this and hence fail the individual and the team.
India had similar issues with Greg Chappell as coach. Nobody doubted his greatness as a player or even as an astute thinker of the game. But he failed to carry the team and get it to see his point of view.
Later, much later, his contention of having a huge pool of reserve players was appreciated. But by then it was too late. He had burnt his bridges with key players and that cost the team plenty.
On the other hand, some of the best international coaches have been average cricketers or very low-key personnel.
The best examples are Zimbabwe’s Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower, Bob Woolmer, Australian John Buchanan and South African Gary Kirsten.
Buchanan, a non-Test cricketer, had played just seven first class matches for a poor batting average of 12.3 and as coach had his share of praise and criticism.
Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting who were at the helm when Australia won 15 and a record 16 Tests on the trot respectively, showered him with praise and said that he was an integral cause for the outstanding success of the great Australian teams of the late 1990s and 2000s. But Shane Warne rubbished his coaching, saying that he had a knack “to complicate simple things”.
Warne believed that Buchanan’s tenure coincided with Australia having a great set of cricketers and his coaching had nothing to do with the success.
Zimbabwean ex-cricketers Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower met with astounding success as England coaches. Fletcher inherited a terrible English team and was subject to excessive criticism from the media who could not digest a Zimbabwean coaching the England national team.
Fletcher, who coached England and later India, stayed away from the media, hardly gave any interviews and quietly went about plotting victories for his team.
In 2005 he became the first England coach in 18 years to win the Ashes and a grateful country was so thrilled that they bestowed the OBE and British citizenship on him!
Later, as low key coach of the Indian team he strategized brilliantly and won eight series in a row. In fact he had been recommended by outgoing coach Kirsten who himself had stayed in the background even as he worked hard to help the team achieve success.
Fletcher’s countryman Flower too did a fantastic job with England, piloting them to two Ashes wins (at home and in Australia) and the 2010 ICC T20 World championship victory. Flower, of course, had been an outstanding batsman at the international level, but stayed low key while coaching England.
One average Test cricketer who put technology to good use while strategizing for South Africa was Bob Woolmer. He brought in a number of innovations to coaching which are now standard fare.
Thus even as the BCCI wades through the 57 applications one crucial fact becomes apparent: Greatness in one field is no guarantee for success in another. There could be exceptions to the rule. But that remains to be seen.