The staggering absurdity of India's coach selection

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The staggering absurdity of India's coach selection

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Bastab K Parida

05/27/2017

Quite surprisingly, when India touched down the England shore for their Champions Trophy defense on Thursday, the BCCI invited applications for the position of the head coach of the team and made it clear that Anil Kumble’s tenure won’t get an auto extension. It was quite baffling, indeed.

Let’s not get into the 'whys' now and let’s talk about Kumble and his achievements. Kumble the cricketer was meticulous, and someone who believed in substance over style and was nothing if not attention to detail. He brought his same nature to his coaching manual and in the last one year, with an unfaltering commitment, he instilled a deep faith in the current generation to never settle for mediocrity and galvanised a young team into an aspiring team of stars. He is a born leader with extraordinary grit and was a perfect foil to Virat Kohli’s aggressive attitude, they said.

Let’s now talk about the results then. A 2-0 victory in West Indies was followed by a dream run at home in which India blanked New Zealand 3-0 in Tests and followed that up with a 3-2 win in the One-Day International series. The team then beat England 4-0 in a five-match Test series, and if that was not enough of a thrashing, they rooted them again by identical 2-1 margins in the ODIs and T20Is. Bangladesh’s hopes of creating history in their historic Test debut in India never really happened and nor did Australia’s final frontier 2.0 as the Kangaroos got a 2-1 beating in a highly competitive four-Test series.

But it appears that all these results and efforts that were put forward by Kumble didn’t matter too much for the Indian board as they decided to not give him another go directly and asked the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), comprising Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, and Sourav Ganguly to follow the same rigmarole, once again. Last year, during the same process, the CAC had recommended the BCCI to give Kumble a three-year contract ending in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2019. But the then secretary Ajay Shirke and other BCCI officials, with all their collective wisdom, decided to give the former skipper a probationary one-year term to help him acclimatise to the job better on the basis that he had no prior experience of coaching an international side.

"As for the one-year period, Kumble is now transforming himself from being a great on the cricketing field to probably becoming a great coach that we expect him to be. That transition has to be smooth. This is a professional appointment. All professional appointments try to cover all bases. Therefore that is the reason we want to be able to be in a position to review our options should there be any need. I am confident that we will not have that need to address that need. That is the exact reason behind the one-year appointment," he had said then. 

Okay. Let’s give the benefit of doubt to the BCCI. But after this probationary period, didn’t Kumble do enough to get another go with due respect? During his tenure, Kumble has carried forward the Indian cricketing legacy (No need to talk in Past tense as he is still at the helm of the affairs) in fantastic fashion and not just through on-field success. Staying true to the role of a perfect mentor, he has chosen to be the face of the team. Many players, including skipper Virat Kohli, have mentioned many a time that Kumble is not someone who talks about technique and temperament all the time or even doesn’t always like to give speeches of how to read match situations. He, instead, brings different aspects of the life to the fore and loves to give leadership lessons that in turn enable the younger lot to be in their zone to achieve greater goals- both on and off the field. 

 © BCCI

Kumble the coach, pretty much like the cricketer that he was, has also never shied away from raising players’ concern at the board. He has been at the forefront of demanding pay hikes for regular cricketers and also asked the CoA for better pay packet for cricketers who don't play in the IPL ( Read Cheteshwar Pujara) along with pay hike for the national coach and captain. While the demands are justified or otherwise, it must have served as a sense of déjà vu for the BCCI, when Kumble alongside his good mate Rahul Dravid was at the forefront of drafting player contracts in 2002-03. 

"He has a style of functioning that's very union-like in approach. Back in 2002-03 too, he was at the forefront of drafting player contracts," said unnamed BCCI official to ToI, which might be one of the reasons that took the legendary cricketer to a sticky wicket. But these unnamed officials seemed to have forgotten that Kumble was asked to give the pay hike presentation by the Committee of Administrators (CoA). Despite that, their attitudes to one of India’s greatest, if not the greatest, match-winners of all-time have been lackadaisical and disrespectful.   

While it hasn’t created a lot of furore among the former cricketers until now, former Indian captain and one of the finest exponents of spin bowling in India, Bishan Singh Bedi’s remark has come at a perfect time and served more than just an undercurrent. Talking to Mid-day, Bedi lashed the board officials saying, “Do these people who call the shots at the BCCI, qualify to even tie Kumble’s boot laces? Our team has just landed in England to defend their Champions Trophy title and you advertise for candidates… where is the sanity? I am aghast over this attitude.

“They (BCCI members) may not agree with him, but to pounce on him now is undesirable. Some people are born to carry chips on their shoulders. I hear the BCCI is not happy. Tell me, is the BCCI happy with BCCI?” asked Bedi.

After the Champions Trophy in England, India will travel to the Caribbean shore directly for a short limited-overs series. And as things stand now, the BCCI mandarins and the esteemed CAC will either retain Kumble or not, they will have to hasten the process to make sure that the team travels with a head coach to West Indies. But again, it also remains to be seen, what approach will the troika of Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman take during the interview, given they had already asked for a three-year contract for Kumble, culminating at the 2019 World Cup in England. 

It's easy to say that it can never be a part of a grander narrative of a fair and transparent selection process, as not giving an auto-extension to Kumble itself raises the question about the inside fairness of the management. And now it is only apt to repeat Bedi’s question- where is the sanity, BCCI?

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