fter two months of T20 extravaganza at home, the Indian cricket team has reached Zimbabwe for a small limited over series. As the players get ready for a gruelling season of cricket, the biggest drama in Indian cricket is not taking place at the Harare cricket club, but in the BCCI's offices in Mumbai--but for the head coach’s position.
The most high-profile coaching job in world cricket has been vacant ever since Duncan Fletcher’s contract ended after the 2015 World Cup. After Fletcher’s departure, former India captain Ravi Shastri remained at the helm as the Team Director till the 2016 T20 World Cup. With a hectic season of cricket on the cards with 17 Tests lined up between July 2016 and March 2017, the BCCI moved quickly to invite applications for the post of Team India head coach.
As of June 9, a total of eight prominent cricketing faces have applied for the high-profile job, and the results are expected to be out by the end of this month well before the team packs its bags for the West Indies.
1. Venkatesh Prasad
The former India pacer and current junior selection committee chairman is one of the contenders for the India coach's job. Prasad worked as the bowling coach with the Indian cricket team from 2007 to 2009 and was there during India’s title triumph at the 2007 World T20 in South Africa. The 46-year-old also has the experience of working as a bowling coach with IPL franchises Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The experience of having played at the International level, and his stint as the bowling coach could help Prasad get the job. His experience of having worked with both current Indian captains, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, could also help in the race for the job. However, Prasad has also applied for the bowling coach’s position, and the former India pacer is likely to get the bowling coach’s position than the head coach’s job.
2. Sandeep Patil
The current Chairman of the national selection committee has more coaching experience than any other name linked to the job. The hard-hitting middle order batsman played 29 Tests and 45 ODIs for India between 1980 and 1986, and was also part of the 1983 World Cup winning squad.
Patil started his coaching career in a player-cum-mentor role with his Ranji Trophy side Madhya Pradesh in the late 1980s before taking up the role with Indian U-19 team and India A. The 59-year-old also had a stint in 1996 with the Indian national team as the coach. After a forgettable outing, he was removed by the board within six months. Patil then took up the job as Kenya coach and enjoyed a better run with the African team. He was also in charge of the team during their memorable semi-final run in 2003 World Cup.
With his tenure as chairman of the selection committee set to end in September this year, Patil is eligible for the job and has the support of the BCCI hierarchy according to media reports.
3. Ravi Shastri
The former India all-rounder had an illustrious career for India, playing 80 Tests and 150 ODIs scoring 3,830 and 3,108 runs respectively. After his retirement in 1994, Shastri turned to commentary and has become one of the most famous voices in cricket commentary. Although the 54-year-old was part of the coach selection panels in 2005 and 2007, he did not have much coaching experience apart from his 18-month stint with the Indian team as the director.
However, under Shastri, India registered many memorable victories including an away series win against Sri Lanka after 22 years, and a 3-0 whitewash of South Africa. Other notable achievements during the period include India’s semi-final finishes at the 2015 World Cup and 2016 World T20, regaining of the No.1 status in Test cricket, and a 3-0 whitewash of Australia in T20s in Australia apart from the ODI series win in England.
The popularity of Shastri in the Indian dressing room, and the support from the BCCI hierarchy has helped him rise to the top contender’s position for the job. With MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, and the BCCI preferring an Indian coach, Shastri is highly likely to continue at the helm of the Indian cricket team.
Although Ravi Shastri and Sandeep Patil are the front-runners for the job, there are also other contenders excluding Venkatesh Prasad - former Indian fielding coach Robin Singh, ex-team manager Lalchand Rajput, former Indian cricketer Balwinder Sandhu, ex- Aussie cricketers Stuart Law and Jason Gillespie. Apart from these eight, Tom Moody, the coach of newly-crowned IPL Champions Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Indian cricket legend Rahul Dravid are also linked with the job.
Although the last four coaches of India – John Wright, Greg Chappell, Gary Kirsten, and Duncan Fletcher – were foreigners, BCCI’s criteria for the India coach signals towards an aversion for any more and a leaning towards an Indian as coach. The board prefers a coach who understands Indian languages, and it effectively rules out all the overseas coaches for the position.
From the eight contenders, who have already applied for the job, Ravi Shastri and Sandeep Patil look the best bet to emerge as the Indian coach. Between the two, Shastri looks the overwhelming favourite after his recent association with the team. Shastri is also likely to get the support of the captains, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. But, Patil’s experience as the coach might swing it in his favour, if the board decides to go for experience. With all these high-profile names linked with the job, the race for the Indian coach’s job is likely to go down to the wire.