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September 26, 2000

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Not just a foreign coach

Avinash Subramanium

A father, mother, friend, philosopher, guide and a coach is what Dave Whatmore has been to his Lankan wards. (His words not mine.) And still ... we think all that a coach needs to be is either an ex-cricketer or a superstar or both or now, good heavens! A white man! (What is it about officials that they make the same mistakes over and over again. We did it in hockey. Now it's the turn of cricket.)

So what brought on this fresh wave of introspection? Just finished watching a recording of Dave Whatmore's interview with Harsha on 'Cricket up close'. For the third time. (Which, thanks to the cable strike in Karnataka, I missed this week. Hmph!) And of the many things that stood out in the absolutely riveting conversation was the humility of the man. The men. (Both Harsha and Dave.) A refreshing change in a world of bloated egos, big mouths and pampered superstars with little of substance to offer. It also happened to be a conversation that made me go back to the idea of Harsha for coach. But which I shall, for fear of life and limb, keep aside for the time being. (Maybe some day. Maybe when we will be willing to open our minds a bit more. And look beyond obvious and outlandish, yes, the pun is every bit intended, options like a foreign coach. Or simply a new one.)

And on to the current hot topic among cricket lovers. Is a foreign coach the bitter pill this Indian team needs to cure itself of the maladies that beset its cricket? Ask Bishan and he'll tell you such talk is all because of our inferiority complex vis--vis the white man! Which I tend to think, is more true than not. (The number of Indians who seemed most offended by the little knock on the knuckles I dished out to the English with respect to the County cricket hiccups Dada is/was facing, stands testimony to our still-very-much-alive penchant for brown-nosing.)

One of the questions that were put by Harsha to Dave was how he would deal with a team like India's? And his response, needless to say, most humbly put, was not a pat ...yes, India needs this and India needs that and India needs a foreign coach... it was, most interestingly, an 'I'm not so sure.' Humility, that great quality again. (Wait a min... how can Dave not know! How can he not know. He's a foreign coach. Foreign coaches are supposed to know everything. Fools! Us, not them.) Now, considering both India and Lanka suffer, in Lanka's case used to, from somewhat similar cricketing shortcomings, one would have thought Dave would have a lot of advice to dish out. (Just like our men in power seem most enthusiastically inclined to vomiting out to all and sundry.)

When asked to elaborate, one of the things Dave felt made him that much more successful with the Lankans is the fact that the team trains together and lives in and around the same location. For Dave, when it comes to the Indian team, Geography is a huge limiting factor. Which if taken out of the equation, will go a long way in ensuring players are not allowed to lapse into their bad habits. (Obviously, a function of the amount of time, no, quality time the coach spends with the team. As a team.) Team building becomes a welcome, and a continuous, process. Now compare that with the way our team currently trains. We get together for a 'less-said-about-them-the-better' training camp. We do not have a regular physio to monitor fitness levels. We don't have a continuously ticking think-tank. The people in charge work part-time. (!!!) And the players are pretty much left to their own devices. Is it any surprise that we still depend on individual skills to win us matches? Ever wondered whether it might have to do with the fact that we do most of our training and thinking as individuals? Considering most of the time it's the same players that get picked, why can't we have a set of players that train together for longer periods of time?

Worse, the situation is not a new situation. We've been down this road in hockey. And the solution, like in the case with hockey, is never going to be in just going and getting a foreign coach. But then, most of the people not in charge, like you and me, already know that. The question is, do they? Well, if our record with sports and officials in sport is anything to go by, emphatically not!'s wishing all the luck to dada and the new blood for the ICC tourneys. God knows, they're going to need it.

PS. The less said about all this talk of an assistant coach, the better. (And please note, brown-man under white man.) What is he going to be? An interpreter? Or will he fill in for the new, temporary, team pysio? Ah, I know. He will be the spy our friendly neighbours felt the need for.

Avinash Subrmanium

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