Looking ahead... and beyond
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
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
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
Mail Harsha Bhogle