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December 18, 2001
The gentlemen in question
Jagmohan Dalmiya, recently elected president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, made two statements directly relating to the Indian cricket team, on the day (in September) he was elected.
The first related to the captain ... and Dalmiya said the board would favour extended tenures for successful captains.
The second related to the coach and physio -- and in this connection, Dalmiya said that both would be asked for explanations about India’s non-performance.
Does something smell strongly of fish here?
The two contiguous statements are, for starters, a startling exercise in illogic. Given that the tenure of Sourav Ganguly as captain and John Wright and Andrew Leipus as coach and physio have been contiguous, how could Ganguly be deemed successful at the same time that Wright and Leipus were being asked to explain "non-performance"?
As regards actual performance, the accompanying table might provide Mr Dalmiya with some food for thought -- if, indeed, he is hungry for such mental sustenance.
An argument has been floated, behind the scenes, to explain Dalmiya's "tough" stance vis a vis Wright and Leipus. And this argument goes: Why should the board pay good money to a foreigner, if at the end of it all, the results are going to be no better than those achieved by Indian coaches?
Sounds good -- except that there are two parts to that reasoning -- and both are wrong.
Firstly, the payment being made to Wright is not appreciably more than what has been paid to Indian coaches in the past. Wright earns Rs 1.57 lakh per month. His immediate predecessor, one Kapil Dev Nikanj (who, incidentally, Dalmiya has brought back with some kind of coaching responsibility aimed at training our seam bowlers for the 2003 World Cup) was paid Rs 2 lakh.
Against that, Wright’s record is four wins, one draw and one loss at home in six, and two wins, four defeats and one draw abroad in 7 – an overall record, thus, of 6 wins and five defeats out of 13 played. Against that, Kapil Dev’s record is 1 win, two defeats and two draws at home out of 5 played, and three losses out of three played away – a total of 1 win and five defeats out of eight played.
So much for the argument that we are paying a foreign coach more money to produce less results. The fact of the matter, as is obvious from the above, is that we are in fact paying less money to Wright and getting better results.
Still staying with results, it could be argued that the two ‘away’ wins India achieved during Wright’s tenure were against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe – hardly, it will be argued, cricketing powers.
It begs the question – why then did previous coaches of Indian teams fail to find similar success when taking teams to those two countries? Take Zimbabwe first – India first toured there in 1992, under Ajit ‘Lucky’ Wadekar. And managed to escape with a draw in the only Test of that series – Zimbabwe dominated throughout, and India were saved some serious blushes against the recently inducted Test nation by a 500-minute century by Sanjay Manjrekar.
The second time India toured Zimbabwe was under Anshuman Gaekwad – who, incidentally, was being paid just over a lakh of rupees. This was in October 1998 – and India, again playing a one-off Test, lost.
So much for the performance of Indian coaches taking teams to Zimbabwe. Now take Sri Lanka. Ajit Wadekar was the first, in the last decade, to take a team there for the 1993-1994 series – and India won one Test and drew two to take the series. The second time India toured Sri Lanka was in August 1997 – a series notable for a world record 900+ scored by Lanka against the Indians, as much as for the three draws that resulted.
So, if we are to discount the wins in Lanka and Zimbabwe under Wright as being of no real significance, then it begs the question – how come Indian coaches had even less success in those two countries?
It is perhaps time to recall an incident dating back a year – when India, fed up of home-grown coaches presiding over multiple defeats, went shopping abroad. The likes of Geoffrey Boycott, Bob Woolmer and such were approached. The negotiations fell through on the question of money. Geoff Marsh was then short-listed – and rejected, when he asked for close to Rs 5 lakh per month.
In passing, there is a bit of irony involved here – Marsh’s demand was cynical in the extreme. He figured that the Indian board was rich, ergo he could demand a sum far in excess of the going rate and, in fact, in excess of anything he could hope to get anywhere else. And the proof of that is that Marsh has recently signed on with Zimbabwe – for a sum less that what Wright is being paid now.
It was, finally, the turn of John Wright, then coach of Kent, to face the interview panel. And the first thing he told them was, "I will not talk money, I'll leave it to you gentlemen to pay me what you think is fair. Instead, let us talk performance, let us talk about what we can do with this team."
Consider, too, the fact that Wright’s contract expired on November 14, while the team was in South Africa. Any other coach would have begun negotiating a fresh contract months before that cut off date. Wright never bothered. Any other coach, on the date his contract expired and he found himself deluged with demands for explanations, would have stopped work on that date, and left the team to fend for itself. Wright – despite the knowledge that the board president was making threatening noises – has been quietly going about his work, without ever asking whether he is even going to be paid for the period since expiry of contract.
Does that tell you something about the man and his attitude?
As to Andrew Leipus, you only need to remember the names, and performances, of his immediate predecessors – Dr Ali Irani and Dr Ravinder Chaddha -- to realize just how valuable he has been to the side. Ironically, again, the richest cricket board in the world was so churlish towards this soft-spoken Australian that for a period of eight months, it did not even pay him his regular monthly wages. Leipus, thus, was reduced to borrowing money from his father to meet his expenses, and in fact used some of the borrowed money to buy medicine balls and other exercise equipment for the team.
The only heartening aspect of a needless controversy is that both Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar have openly come out in favour of their coach. Consider that Indian cricketers do not have a history of speaking openly against the wishes of the board, and you realize just how highly Wright is being esteemed by the senior cricketers.
And yet, at a time when India needed to focus on its series against South Africa and, subsequently, on the ongoing series at home against England, you have the board president, supposedly looking after Indian cricket’s best interests, doing his very best to destabilize a quiet, hard-working coach and physio.
As must be apparent from the above, there is no factual reason to support Dalmiya’s anti-Wright stance. And that leaves only one possibility – Dalmiya is against Wright only because the latter is an appointee of his predecessor, Dr A C Muthiah (and never mind that Dalmiya was himself a member of the executive committee that took a decision to appoint Wright as coach, a year ago).
You see this happen in politics all the time – one government comes in, and immediately overturns all important decisions taken by its predecessor. Why? Because it fears that if a plan, a project, initiated by its predecessor actually works, then credit will go to the initiator of that plan, that project. And given the crab mentality so intrinsic to us, we would rather kill a good plan, than allow credit to go to someone other than ourselves.
Cricket administration has become increasingly politicized in this country – check out, for instance, the names of the most prominent of Dalmiya’s backers during the September elections: Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, Laloo Prasad Yadav. I guess it should, therefore, come as no surprise to find Dalmiya taking his cues from politics as it is practiced in this country.
But you know what qualifies as the unkindest cut of all, in this controversy? It is Dalmiya’s gratuitously contemptuous references to Wright and Leipus.
Since taking over in September, the board president has deliberately refrained from using the names of the coach and physio in his statements – up to and including his latest statement, wherein he says a final decision will be taken on December 23, after one final meeting "with captain Sourav Ganguly and the two gentlemen in question".
"The two gentlemen in question"??!
Their names, Mr Dalmiya, are John Geoffrey Wright, and Andrew Leipus. Good manners, basic human decency, dictates that you use those names, rather than pretend to be in ignorance of their identities.
I wonder if Mr Dalmiya has ever telephoned John Wright? Many of us, mediapersons and others, have. And invariably, the voice at the other end has announced himself in these words: "Hello, this is John Wright of the Indian cricket team."
There is, Mr Dalmiya, a lesson in there – if you care to understand it.
Statistics: Mohandas Menon
Email : Prem Panicker
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