Just over eight months ago, there was a wild sense of anticipation about the Indian team’s near-foreseeable future. The legendary Anil Kumble had been chosen as the team’s coach, that too by a selection panel no less celebrated. The golden generation of Indian cricket that had served so passionately was once again holding the reins and showing the way forward.
Sure, it was a surprising choice. Kumble didn’t have prior coaching experience, barring two mentoring stints with Mumbai Indians. Plus, he hadn’t entered the race until late, and then there was the ruckus created by Ravi Shastri as the same panel had ignored the former team director. None of it mattered once the dust settled though.
For the average Indian cricket fan, it was a double whammy of sorts, especially with Rahul Dravid taking over charge of the junior Indian teams earlier. With 13 home Tests (a total of 17 matches in the season, including the tour to West Indies), the expectations were at an unprecedented high. When Kumble, Dravid, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli met in early July 2016 to discuss an immediate roadmap, the secure present and future of Indian cricket were very visible.
And they have done well since then. In the Test format, India embarked and maintained a long unbeaten home run, winning series in different conditions and against diverse opposition. Brushing England aside by a 4-0 margin was particularly impressive.
Meanwhile, in the ODI arena, the big riddle over Dhoni’s captaincy future was solved and without as much as an eye being blinked, Team India moved to their new captain. With the selectors thinking ahead to the Champions Trophy, to be held in England this June, even that side is looking quite settled, with a platform to build up towards the 2019 ODI World Cup thereafter.
Junior cricket has got a leg up too. The under-19 team made it to the final of the World Cup in Bangladesh last year, and the strides have continued unabated despite defeat therein. They returned to win the Asia Cup last December, and recently beat England under-19 3-1 in a five ODI series at home (two matches were drawn). Furthermore, even senior players have sometimes trained with the India A squads, taking guidance from Dravid and putting it to use on the international stage.
Kohli with his sweeps before the 2016 Sri Lanka tour, or indeed Cheteshwar Pujara on his comeback trail in that same series, both are prominent examples. There is a direct channel of communication, between players and coaches, and coaches of the two teams themselves, herein. Add to it the respect commanded and afforded, whilst maintaining certain ease in the dressing rooms, and it makes for an unprecedented comfort level behind the scenes.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the rise of Jayant Yadav in the past one year. After his breakthrough season in 2014-15, Yadav was on the fringes and appeared regularly in the India-A set up. Then he worked closely with Dravid during the 2016 IPL season, and he impressed the team mentor. It duly translated into a call-up for the Indian ODI team to Zimbabwe, but the real move came around when Yadav was included in the Test squad the Kolkata game against New Zealand.
There were suggestions that his inclusion was to counter the Black Caps’ left-handers, a puzzling assumption since R Ashwin was in brilliant form. Kohli dispelled the notion quickly. “He is in the squad, because we felt we needed another option for an off-spinner,” said the skipper. In keeping with his words then, Yadav’s elevation to the Test squad had come on Dravid’s recommendation as Kumble looked for an all-round solution, and he proved his wares subsequently in the England series.
At the risk of repetition, the underlying point again is this system worked wonders. It set up Indian cricket to take a firm leap from the springboard that is the success of this current season. And this is where all chatter about Kumble being elevated to team director is a bit disconcerting. The additional rumours about Dravid taking up Indian coaching in his place don’t dispel discomfort either.
Yes, at this juncture, it all seems to be a rumour and nothing more. But, it is also a fact that the Committee of Administrators (COA) has asked Kumble to submit an overall report on the status of all Indian teams. Beyond the report though, the overbearing reach of the COA does raise some eyebrows.
Kumble was given a one-year contract that runs until the Champions Trophy. Already he has done enough to warrant a longer term deal, at least until the next World Cup, and shape this team in his vision. His partnership with Kohli is working like a well-oiled machinery, and it makes for a serious question if Kumble’s ascension as team director really bodes well.
A team director isn’t supposed to travel at all times, unlike Shastri’s role, and in his new responsibility overseeing affairs of all Indian sides, Kumble cannot be expected to do so either. What happens to that harmony and discipline he has worked so hard to build in this Indian dressing room, through team building sessions, buddy programs and penalising players for the simplest of matters?
More pertinently, winning at home isn’t enough. Team India’s biggest challenges still lie overseas, and later in the 2017-18 season, they will once again embark on a journey starting with South Africa, and later England in the summer of 2018 and Australia in 2018-19. Changing coach again, short-changes everything Kumble has planned and built towards, and even hopes to achieve with this bunch of players.
Furthermore, what happens to the position of coach? As proven during Shastri’s term as team director, the Indian team does need a hands-on head coach doing this job full-time, albeit with a support staff in tow. Does Sanjay Bangar get elevated to head coach?
There are rumours of Dravid assuming this position, but there has been no word from him on the same. Why would he be willing to take up the rigours of traveling day in and day out at this time, when he didn’t even apply for the same job nine months ago?
Most of all though, in hoping to change this structure of the Indian team, it makes for a ponderous thought for what the Supreme Court-appointed administrators are trying to achieve. Shouldn’t their first, and primary objective, be to rectify the administrative and constitutional aspect of the BCCI as laid down by the Court?
If they do try to bring about such sweeping changes in the day-to-day running of the Indian team and its on-field operations, particularly the coaching structure, then the COA will have overstepped its mark, and by a long mile.
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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2017 09:05:19 IST