Pad Up, Places To Go

The ICC World Cup is but a bad dream now, and with status quo being being re-established vis-a-vis our Bangla neighbours, Team India has got back some of its spunk. At least enough to put its foot down on who should bear that gigantic cross, take on the mantle of Indian coach. As has been the case of late, the senior members of the team were all part of the intrigue. A core group of players—captain Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and, interestingly, Sourav Ganguly—were set the task of convincing the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to go with their choice for coach.
As things turned out, they hardly gave the seven-member BCCI committee formed for the purpose half a chance to push its own ideas. The players even had ready-made definitions on what the coach’s role was. Dravid was candid with me, “A coach’s job is about the preparation of players for a game. His main job is before the game… the performance of the team, the onus and responsibility, is on the players themselves.”
None of the other players I spoke with—seniors as well as juniors— was willing to come on record. But if the talk was any indication, there was no shortage of management insight into the qualities of a “good coach”. “He must be a good man manager,” one said. “He must have boundless energy and passion for the job,” said another.
A young bowler identified organisational skills and ability to offer tactical inputs to players and captain as the key qualities. A senior batsman chose the coach’s basic ability to create an atmosphere that players can succeed in as the most important aspect for a winning persona. “The players are the most vital cog, of course, but a coach who connects with his players can make the job easier,” he said.
No coach may have all these qualities in abundance, but it did come across as if the players had identified ex-South African coach Graham Ford’s credentials quite well.
Barring in-transit manager Ravi Shastri, the BCCI panelists did not appear to have invested even half the time the players had (networking with contemporaries) in the effort. So is this a sign that player power hasn’t declined as perceptibly as was being speculated post India’s first-round exit in the Caribbean?
It’s too early to say, for this could just be a scenario where the BCCI came off second best only for lack of preparation. (To a lot of veteran reporters, it came as no surprise: the players had done the same back in 2000 when New Zealander John Wright was roped in as Team India’s first overseas signing.)
Of course, key elements like Shastri were also rallied in the ‘let’s-call-up-Ford’ cause. Incidentally, none of the panelists even established contact with John Emburey—the other contender—before the BCCI made the announcement that it would meet “Ford and another foreigner” on June 9. “Sounds familiar,” an ex-India coach commented, when talk turned to how the players had not only scouted around for prospective coaches but also got Ford to write in to the BCCI stating his availability.
What is more surprising is how the players seem to have convinced the BCCI bigwigs on the importance of having an “overseas coach”. This, when there were strident calls for a homegrown coach, led by redoubtable ex-India captains like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. As was made evident later, their concerns were quickly sidestepped.
So what happened to Australian Dav Whatmore, till yesterday the hot pick for the job? Apparently, his candidature was jettisoned very quickly after he was perceived to have canvassed too aggressively for the job. The majority of the panel felt he knew the system too well—he was already playing the game, hobnobbing with BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah.But to let the senior players know that they would not have their way without opposition, the committee finally decided to find a second candidate for the ‘final’ round of interviews.
And thus came up 53-year-old John Emburey’s name. Nobody, however, is impressed by the choice and the former England offspinner may just be making up the numbers in Chennai. It’s almost a replay of 2005 when Desmond Haynes came on a junket to Delhi even while it was evident to everyone that it would be a toss-up between Tom Moody and Greg Chappell, with Mohinder Amarnath being a distant third.
This time around, it’s almost surely a two-horse race with Ford surfacing at the right time and emerging odds-on favourite. Ford, 46, said that if he were to land the assignment (provided the BCCI offered him the post after the Chennai meeting and the Kent ccc relieved him from his current position), he would play a support role to the players so that they could deliver their best.
“I hope to empower them, give them the confidence to perform,” he said diplomatically. “I feel my coaching will be successful for its work ethic… and I do spend long hours with each individual. Anyway, it’s a great honour to be shortlisted.”
Now, Ford was sacked as South Africa coach in June 2002, several months ahead of the World Cup. But the decision had nothing to do with the match-fixing that ravaged cricket and the Proteas in 2000. “I’d like to think I stood firm for cricket,” said Ford on Saturday. “If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you just get knocked around. I’m not bitter but I made a few enemies along the way.”
Now, Ford was sacked as South Africa coach in June 2002, several months ahead of the World Cup. But the decision had nothing to do with the match-fixing that ravaged cricket and the Proteas in 2000. “I’d like to think I stood firm for cricket,” said Ford. “If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you just get knocked around. I’m not bitter but I made a few enemies along the way.”
What is expected to go in his favour is the fact that he has earned the loyalty of the players he has worked with—at Natal in South Africa or, more recently, at Kent. One of the rare times he has been part of an unhappy dressing room is when he was assisting Bob Woolmer during the 1999 World Cup—the team went out of the World Cup after a tied semi-final with Australia.
Then again, his June 2002 sacking came in the wake of the Proteas’ poor showing against Australia, both at home and away. For all that, being coach of the Indian team could be an even more thankless, and unenviable, challenge. Ford, if he’s the man, will find it all out very, very soon.