If the Indian women’s cricket team was an advertising house, “replace coach months before the World Cup” would be their favourite campaign, regurgitated in a new avatar every now and then. We saw it in 2010. We’ve seen it in 2018. And in between, we’ve seen a game of ayaram gayaram being played out.
Think back to 2013. After failing to get past the first round of a World Cup on home soil, coach Anju Jain was removed, replaced by Tushar Arothe. Just for one series though. Then, Purnima Rau came into the role. She was removed after a poor World T20 in 2014. Sudha Shah, who was booted in 2010, was appointed again. She lasted all of two series, and then Rau came back in. Against the run of play, Rau survived a poor World T20 at home in 2016, only to be shunted out at the behest of the senior players in 2017. Now Arothe, who was picked when the players requested a male coach, has put in his papers. If you haven’t got the drift yet, it’s because you’ve already been swept away by the flood.
Some of these coaches have been removed independent of results. But of all the chops and changes, the last two may worry fans: both Rau and Arothe were ousted at the behest of the players. Which raises the question: exactly who is in charge of the Indian team? The coach? The CoA, where a former India cricketer sits? Or the captain, and if so, which one?
Since October 2016, India have used the dual captaincy model. Harmanpreet Kaur was appointed T20I captain, while Mithali Raj retained captaincy duties in ODIs. It seemed a decision grounded in logic: Mithali was nearing 34 at the time, and it afforded Harmanpreet three years to settle in before this year’s WT20, while Mithali led the team to the 2017 World Cup. A succession plan was never officially discussed, but it was only logical to hand over charge in both formats to Harmanpreet after the World Cup, giving her and vice captain Smriti Mandhana an entire World Cup-cycle to grow into their roles, with Mithali and Jhulan Goswami around to mentor them.
What changed? Perhaps due to the success of India’s World Cup campaign, Mithali’s identity as the Indian captain has been entrenched. Who would sacrifice a winning captain at the altar of long-term vision, especially one who has led with such distinction and little recognition? Then again, perhaps there never was a succession plan. What is certain is that the brand value of India’s senior players skyrocketed in the last year. They have become the face of Indian cricket, and dare I say, the power centers too, while the coach has remained in the background.
Too many cooks?
The cracks appeared, as they always do, when the losses began. After being eliminated from the tri-series in March, Harmanpreet said in a post-match interview: “We need fit players in the team, who can run all over the ground; we don’t need players who can just stand in the 30-yard (circle).” Neither she nor the coach addressed the media thereafter, not even at the end of the series. Then in Kuala Lumpur, strange selections flashed a warning sign: In the Asia Cup, youngsters like Jemimah Rodrigues and Pooja Vastrakar could have been given opportunities to gain experience. Instead Rodrigues sat out every game, and Vastrakar was dropped after one bad showing. The floor finally caved in when India lost their crown, Bangladesh beating them twice in the tournament. It led to the unprecedented cancellation of a training camp that was scheduled on their return.
To a foreign coach?
While it makes little sense to persist with a coach who doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the players, “training methods” seems a brittle reason to remove one. Two coaches have been asked to leave at the team’s behest in the last 15 months, and there are fears that a culture in which replacement is preferable to communication is taking shape. Which is not to say that Arothe always had his finger on the pulse of the game. A vastly experienced and old-school coach, his tactics sometimes seemed out of touch with the fast-changing game, especially in T20Is. So this may yet prove to be a good thing. Take the long view, and it is not surprising how the players are hardwired to take the leading role. After all, till last year, coaches were employed on a series-to-series basis.
Just as it did for the manager’s post, the BCCI should invite applications and conduct interviews, perhaps also for the bowling coach that they were seeking. With the profile of the Indian team significantly higher, there is every reason the positions will attract the best of the best. This presents the BCCI an opportunity to bring in staff that could provide a culture shift. If the last time a male coach was requested, the time may be right for a proven foreign coach, or a senior Indian coach with the heft and the heart to shape this team.
Cricket is not football; the captain calls more shots on the field than the coach. So the inputs of the two captains may still be the deciding factor, but will they opt for someone who stirs the pot, or just a yes-man? What happens if the new coach decides that to seriously compete in the WT20, the players must “leave their comfort zones”, to use Arothe’s parting words. Can an opinionated coach last in this role, or will theirs be the first head to roll because India’s senior players seem un-droppable?
These decisions need long-term vision from all parties involved. On that note, now more than ever, India need clarity of intent, and so perhaps while picking a new coach, the BCCI should also pick an all-format captain.