One of the journalists at India's pre-departure press conference before the Caribbean tour asked Indian captain Virat Kohli a question that has been doing the rounds for a while, mostly after India's exit in semis of the World Cup final. Kohli was asked about his opinion on who should coach India next. And the Indian captain was quite frank about it as expected. He said that 'he would definitely be very happy (to have him around)'.
'Him' here was the man sitting beside Kohli, Ravi Shastri.
Was this statement enough for Shastri to guarantee a new contract? Let's discuss it further.
Shastri's contract as India coach ended after Men in Blue's last match in World Cup 2019. BCCI could have invited a fresh list of candidates for the role before the contract came to an end. But they did not. Had that procedure started earlier knowing the current coaching staff's contracts would expire soon, India may have had a new coach by the time the team departed for the tour of Caribbean. However, one genuine reason for that not to happen could have been the ongoing World Cup as it may have drifted the focus of the coaching group. Fair enough.
BCCI's internal matters including CoA's approvals and deliberations and what not led to further delays as it appeared that there was no Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) to help assign a new coach. CoA then gave clearance to the trio of Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shanta Rangaswami to pick the new coach. The same trio had picked the women's team coach back in 2018. But there were more delays as the matter of conflict of interest came into picture. The Ethics Officer eventually cleared the trio to fulfill the responsibility.
Amid all this, candidates from all around the world continued to apply for the job. However there was no clarity in the public over the number of people or the names who have applied for the job, unlike in 2016, when it was known that there was an initial list of 57 candidates out of which 21 were shortlisted and then eventually a few for the round of interviews. On 12 August, a PTI report came out and a BCCI source was quoted as saying that there are six candidates who will make a presentation before the CAC.
These names are Mike Hesson, Tom Moody, Lalchand Rajput, Phil Simmons, Robin Singh, and lastly Ravi Shastri. When you look at the respective profiles of the candidates, you get an idea about what to expect on 16 August, when the name of the new head coach is expected to be announced.
Let's have a quick look at all the profiles to see how strong their contentions are, beginning with Robin Singh. His candidature becomes weak the second you notice that he has never coached an international cricket team. Robin, who played 1 Test and 136 ODIs was India's fielding coach 10 years ago and currently does the same job for Mumbai Indians. IPL stints don't hold much value for CAC, as seen in the past.
Lalchand Rajput who was the team manager when India lifted the T20 World Cup in 2007 has been coaching teams all across the world, but many of them include teams like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Like Rajput, Simmons too have an extensive coaching resume but he has not coached any team similar to that of India's stature. His profile includes coaching teams like Ireland, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Not to forget, under him, Afghanistan recently had a horrible outing, not being able to win even a single match in the World Cup. He also coached West Indies for a very short period.
While Rajput and Simmons have a long coaching career, their skills seem to be best suited for teams which are emerging or want to set a foot in world cricket. Coaching a team like India is a different ball game altogether and it may go against them.
The two names which may give some fight to Shastri are that of Hesson and Moody. However, chances of them ruining Shastri's candidature are almost bleak. Hesson has coached New Zealand for six years. Under him, the Black Caps reached the final of the 2015 World Cup and his partnership with Brendon McCullum and then Kane Williamson made sure transition in New Zealand cricket was smooth. Hesson, however, has not coached an international side for one year now since resigning from the Black Caps' head coach role in June 2018. He coached Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2019 without much success as the team failed to make it to last-four in the eight-team tournament. Reports state that he is now looking for a coaching job and has also shown interest in coaching Bangladesh cricket team.
The second name is that of Tom Moody, who had been a success for Sunrisers Hyderabad for many years, leading them to the title in 2016 and then final in 2018. Moody coached an international side last some 12 years ago when he was Sri Lanka's head coach from 2005 to 2007. Moody's CV reflects he achieved most of his success in IPL, a T20 tournament, which is just one format and happens once a year. His case suffered on these very grounds the last time around as well when he had applied.
Despite all of that, Hesson and Moody are good contenders but when you see their success in light of Shastri, they don't stand a chance.
Shastri was India's team director from 2014, alongside coach Duncan Fletcher. When Fletcher left post the World Cup 2015, Shastri hung on before India found another coach. He left after Anil Kumble became the coach in 2016. But when differences between Kohli and Kumble surfaced, the former India Test captain had to leave in 2017 post the Champions Trophy and then CAC officially made Shastri the head coach.
From 2017 to 2019, Shastri has been India's head coach. India won its maiden Test series in Australia during this tenure, won a Test each in South Africa, England and Australia within one calendar year. India reached the semi-finals of the World Cup 2019, however, opinions are divided into two over India's World Cup campaign — whether it was an achievement or not as India were one of the favourites to win the cup.
In totality, Shastri has had a mixed ride with the team as far as success rate of a coach is concerned. But there are two things which make the road clear for him: Firstly, the weak list of his opponents for the job. Secondly, Shastri's bonding with the current captain and the team. Kohli, as mentioned earlier, has spoken about his favourite already. Indian cricket has seen in the past what happened when Kohli did not have the coach of his liking. A new man in this job will also mean that the team starts from the scratch.
All of this does not mean that CAC's role holds no value in picking a coach and that BCCI has already decided who will coach the team. It will all boil down to what the three-member committee makes of Shastri's past record and his good chemistry with the team. Also, how other candidates could be a better option than him keeping in mind India's future plans. On both parameters, Shastri appears to be having an upper hand.