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Home > Cricket > Columns > Harsha Bhogle
September 25, 2000

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Looking ahead... and beyond

Harsha Bhogle

Some countries just cannot get away from turbulence. In our part of the world, we seem to attract it in greater measure; and when it stays away, we seem to make a pretty hefty contribution towards inviting it upon ourselves. As a result we can never be a settled cricketing nation and unless, like Pakistan, you have an extraordinary bank of talent (or a great ability to cast turbulence aside when you enter the ground!), that can never lead to good results.

The match-fixing affair has dealt our cricket, and in particular our amazingly loyal band of supporters, a huge blow. No sooner had the BCCI taken a rare forward-looking decision, the controversy over the retention of Kapil Dev as coach embraced us. And you can be sure, there will be a fresh round of it once the board actually takes a decision on the new coach.

In times of turbulence, you can only think of fire-fighting. It is when you have extended periods of calm, that you start building. I wonder if that is one reason why we have made so little progress in the vital areas of fitness, fielding, and team preparation.

I have no doubt at all, especially given the upheaval in our cricket, that we need a foreign coach. Remember though that, like with the 'Academy' which we consider to be a switch that will turn on performance, the word 'foreign' does not necessarily imply a complete reversal of our cricketing fortunes. A coach can only show the way. It will be up to our younger cricketers to walk on that path.

But a foreign coach will be immune from the factionalism in our cricket. As a professional he will not need to be aware of which half of the Board he needs to keep in good humour and that alone will represent a complete change in mindset. That, in itself, is good enough reason to look beyond our cricket but there is another, equally good reason.

Our cricket is stagnant at the moment; devoid of freedom and therefore, devoid of fresh ideas. The air that hangs over our cricket has lost its fragrance. It cannot coat our cricketers with the energy they need; there is an overwhelming sense of deja-vu about it all. With a new coach, armed with new thoughts, there will be a peg to focus on; there will be a new path to walk on and that enthusiasm can at least reverse this deathly calm our ship is caught in.

It will also take us a couple of steps closer to the modern game, the technology of which has left us behind. We can build the new pillars of fitness and fielding without which no country can survive for too long in modern cricket. Just to give you an example, we are a decent catching side at the moment but are very ordinary on the ground. We do not, for example, hit the stumps which in modern cricket is the equivalent of dropping a catch. Now, it is my experience, even though at a much lower level, that hitting the stumps is, unlike fielding at short leg, directly proportional to the number of attempts you make. And if we donít hit the stumps in matches, it is because we do not try hard enough to hit them in practice.

I would expect a foreign coach to regard this as one of his highest priorities. It is incredible how often a direct hit breaks partnerships and changes the course of a match and I am convinced that ground fielding alone can play the part of a sixth bowler in a limited overs game.

That is just one of many things you would expect a coach to do and which, for some reason, our coaches haven't really put their heart and soul behind. The other is of course, the 'feel-good' factor. I dont think our cricketers are happy cricketers, I don't think they have been set personal goals and I do not know how many of them regard the coach as a friend whose only objective is to improve their performance. These are not guidelines for an ideal world, this is part of a basic job definition for a coach and that is why we need a trained coach rather than just a former cricketer, however well-intentioned he might be.

I would in fact go one step further and hire a coach for the under 19 team and the 'A' team, which I hope will play at least one series every year. Sunil Gavaskar makes the point, and he makes it wisely, that the biggest change you can bring about in a cricketer is when he is 18 or 19, not when he is 26 or 27. And we need someone to teach the modern game to our young talent that is growing up playing very mediocre domestic cricket.

I am convinced though, that we need to set a time-frame for the role of an overseas coach. In an ideal situation, he should pave the way for the day the Indian team will have an Indian coach. And I am sure the Board would like to find itself in a situation where they have three or four trained and qualified coaches to choose from. The time to plan for that day is today so that if John Wright, or Geoff Marsh, is offered a three-year contract, we should have someone working alongside them for the last year and ready to pick up the baton at the right time.

I can already see an outstanding candidate looming in Robin Singh. He is an intelligent man who speaks straight, who thinks a lot about the game, has the right ideas about team spirit and fitness and is respected within the team and outside for his attitude. Now if we had a result-oriented Chief Executive for the BCCI, he would probably have a word with Robin, ask him if he wanted to give himself a year-and-a-half in the game, then promptly get him to spend six to twelve months doing courses in sports psychology and coaching and then appoint him assistant coach of the national team. Three years from now, he could be the fit, forward looking Indian coach that all of us want.

Just another dream? I don't know .... I think it depends on how hard we want our dreams to come true

Harsha Bhogle

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