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Learning curve for me: Ashok Malhotra

April 07, 2003 18:37 IST

Ashok Malhotra who?

Ashok Malhotra the Test batsman who, in the 1980s, also played 20 ODIs for India, scoring 457 runs at an average of 30.47 - which, on the face of it, does not qualify him to serve as coach, even in an "acting" capacity, for India's senior team as it prepares to leave for Dhaka to take on South Africa and Bangladesh in a triangular.

More so at a time when high profile ex-players have been rubbishing incumbent John Wright, and touting the virtues of the more high-profile Sandeep Patil as a possible replacement.

Yet, Malhotra has one qualification that transcends his lack of actual playing experience - he is one of the very few Level Three coaches in the country; the others being Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Kiran More and Roger Binny.

There is a point here that is worth noting - coaching is not about how much of actual cricket you have played. John Buchanan, who coached Australia to the World Cup win, has played a total of seven first class games, and scored a grand total of 160 runs in his entire playing career.

Malhotra belongs to that breed of coaches who have actually taken the trouble to study, and qualify for that job.

Malhotra will do duty for India's first game in the Dhaka tri-nation tournament beginning April 11. He will then stay on board as assistant coach, when John Wright - currently in New Zealand going through a period of mourning for his father - returns to take over the top job.

"It is a learning curve for me," the former national selector says of his latest assignment.

Malhotra, a member of the 1985 team that won the World Series Championship in Australia, gets the job on the back of a rather successful stint as India A coach for the Carib Beer Cup in the West Indies domestic tournament while the seniors were busy in South Africa with the World Cup.

Four members of that India A side will travel with him to Dhaka. The point is important, for Malhotra will form a bridge between the youngsters, and the seniors who don't have much first hand knowledge of the abilities of these boys.

"I know these boys inside out, having spent good time with them," points out Malhotra. "It will be a very challenging job and I am looking forward to the chance."

The stand-in coach suggests that the absence of senior stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble is a boon for the youngsters. "This is the tournament of opportunity, as far as they are concerned," he says.

"The glass is half-full," the coach explains. "These guys, Avishkar Salvi, Gautam Gambhir, Sarandeep Singh, and Amit Mishra, wouldn't have made it to the team if not for the seniors sitting out. It is very good for Indian cricket because it will help us assess our bench strength.

"Playing for India 'A' and playing international cricket are different ball games. This is a real test of their latent abilities."

Comparing the job of coach with his previous job as national selector, Malhotra says, "A selector's is a thankless job. A selector is not there to plan strategies. A coach on the other hand is always in the firing line."

Praising the incumbent, John Wright, for his work with the team, Malhotra says, "I am looking forward to learning from him. He has had great success as coach and I am looking forward to the internship under him."

Is a foreign coach either desirable, or necessary? Malhotra lets the controversial question go by outside his off stump. "The important thing is to continue with whatever works for the team.

"As long as India wins, I don't care (where the coach is from). In my opinion, whatever works for the team is good."

For now, says Malhotra, he is happy being understudy to Wright, and has no aspirations to becoming national coach.

"I don't know what the future holds for me. I am happy being given this lucky break. I don't challenge destiny."

Faisal Shariff