“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?”
I stumbled upon these words while plotting a timeline of the coaches the Indian women’s team has had over the past two years (spoiler alert: it is not pretty). The words are from an opinion piece I wrote in these pages in July – after Tushar Arothe was removed at the behest of India's senior players – which had faded from memory but has sadly proven prescient. Ramesh Powar has now become the third coach in the last 20 months to lose their job because of disagreements with senior players. Now what will become of Wookeri V Raman, the latest to be appointed?
The procession began in 2017 with the removal of Purnima Rau, the former India great. But Rau played just 33 ODIs and five Tests for India, a reflection of how little cricket India women played in the 90’s rather than Rau’s prestige. It also means that by the time Rau was removed the first time (after the 2014 T20 World Cup; yes, this has all happened before), a number of the players she coached had significantly more experience than her.
This is not to suggest that a player who has played more international cricket than another becomes a better coach, nor is it to say that coaches who haven’t played international cricket don’t belong at the top level. But the lack of regular coaching courses for women organised by the BCCI contributes to a paucity of coaching-expertise among former women’s players in the country. And so the BCCI now looked for a male (read, full time, unlike Rau, who also held a government job) coach.
But they simply cast their eyes around rather than hire the town crier. Until Powar’s appointment, the BCCI had never invited applications or conducted interviews for the post of the coach for the women’s team. Arothe got the nod arbitrarily and without any competition, primarily by virtue of having worked with the Indian women in the past. In fact, until Arothe’s success at the 2017 World Cup, the national team coach had only been appointed on a series-to-series basis, which explains why few women would ditch their jobs and pursue coaching full-time.
After Arothe was removed – post the loss of the Asia Cup title – the BCCI’s search criteria extended to prefer a coach who had experience of international cricket, presumably making it easier to earn the respect of the team, which included living legends like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. Those with coaching experience in the Indian system were preferred, which meant the BCCI had not yet looked to the possibility of hiring a foreign coach. Enter, Powar.
That dalliance ended after many leaked emails, some twitter sympathy and all-round acrimony, but the process has finally come where it should always have been. The wrong reasons have made the women’s team hot property: the coaching job is now attracting the best talent from around the world, and the BCCI is now looking past nationality and gender, and simply for the right people for the job.
So right, and yet so far. The Committee of Administrators (CoA) is split on whether this process should be followed at all, and there were mixed reports about which former India captain would be the only female member of the ad-hoc Cricket Advisory Committee. Now it is understood that Raman’s batting-expertise weighed in his favour, while one Indian captain has said before that Powar was brought in because the team needed a bowling mentor. I ordered idli, so where’s my dosa?
If posts are finally being filled through a selection-and-interview process, the last three occasions have shown us that the players are perhaps having too much of a say. While feedback of those invested certainly needs to be taken in the selection of a coach, it needs to remain an administrative decision. The current affair suggests that all parties are also becoming players (or pawns) in a different kind of board game. Indian women’s cricket has long stood distinct from the men’s game, usually in the matter of step-sisterly treatment. But perhaps it’s best that the women not imitate their counterparts in the brewing of a superstar culture.
The shaping of this culture now falls to Raman, who has strong coaching credentials, having worked with IPL teams, Ranji teams and India Under-19 boys. With a two-year contract in hand, he will first have to win over the support of the parties involved, and then chart a course to the T20 World Cup in March 2020. And for this, he will need all his cricketing and man-management skills; as Powar’s brief stint showed, the Indian coaching job is never just about cricket.