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Coach, not captain, must be the team boss

By Sudhir Bisht
July 03, 2017 11:59 IST
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'The captain's duty should be to ensure that the plan is enacted the way the coach wants the same to be enacted,' says Sudhir Bisht.

Captain Virat Kohli and Coach Anil Kumble arrive for a training session, July 2016. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: Captain Virat Kohli and Coach Anil Kumble arrive for a training session, July 2016. Photograph: PTI

Cricket lovers in India -- or more specifically, those who follow, adore, admire and swear by the Indian cricket team -- seem to have taken Anil Kumble's sudden departure as Team India's coach as just one of the routine things that keep plaguing the team.

They seem to have let Kumble go sans any loud shouts of protest.

There wasn't sufficient outpouring of support for the most successful coach, who was called the smiling assassin during his playing career.

The reason for Kumble's abrupt departure was that one of the players whom he was supposed to coach didn't approve of his coaching style.

And that player was none other than the captain of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli.

There is no doubt in my mind that Kohli is the greatest Indian batsman across all three formats of the game.

There is no doubt that Kohli is the one who will get all the accolades if the team does well.

And it will be he whose effigies would be burnt if the team falters badly.

It is a given that the man who is accountable for the team's performance should be given the powers commensurate with his responsibilities.

He must be the ultimate decision maker who gets to pick the playing eleven.

But I want to point to the bigger picture.

A captain of a sporting event is a player first and foremost. He is made the skipper of the team only after he has been inducted into the playing eleven.

The only exception to this rule Mike Brearley who captained England during the seventies though he was not considered a good enough batsman to have walked into the team.

Virat Kohli is an automatic choice to walk into the playing eleven of any team in the world, not just the Indian team.

And yet I demand that the coach should be the final boss of the team and not the captain.

A captain may suddenly lose his form and his slump could affect his self-esteem.

He may lose his moral authority to find fault with the footwork of other batsmen when his own limb movements are three seconds slower than the swing of the ball.

As a non-playing leader, the coach is beyond criticism for his own performance in the field as his own playing days are long gone.

The coach doesn't compete with his own team for a place in the playing eleven. The captain may at times compete with his own players for a place in the team.

Readers may recall that Ricky Ponting, one of the greatest players of all time, had to sit out during many IPL games, because his form betrayed him.

It is important to draw lessons from football where John Terry, who captained the champion team Chelsea, hardly got to be part of the starting eleven during the English Premier League 2016-2017.

 Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte. Photograph: Scott Heppell Livepic/Reuters

IMAGE: Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte, the club's unquestioned boss this past soccer season. Photograph: Scott Heppell Livepic/Reuters

Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte called the shots in this great English club side. The Italian decided the team composition. He drew up Chelsea's long-term strategy with the club management.

Conte conceived the team's tactics before each game and reviewed them continuously as his boys, with Terry or without Terry, sweated it out on the ground.

If Conte felt that star players were not executing the plan that he had laid out, he replaced them with those who had his vote of confidence.

It may be argued here that football is a different game than cricket and the latter requires far more decision making on the playing field.

My counter is that if cricket is about changing strategy from session to session, then it is even more necessary that the guy planning strategy is sitting outside the pitch, glued to the television, judging each and every delivery and then relaying a message to the captain on how to make the best out of the variables that present themselves on the ground.

There are some water breaks in between the day's game, there is a longish lunch break and there is a small tea break in the five day format.

The coach can gather his boys, give them a pep talk and tell them to stick to the plan or change the game plan.

The captain's duty should be to ensure that the plan is enacted the way the coach wants the same to be enacted.

Anil Kumble took 619 Test wickets, including memorably 10 wickets in a Test innings against Pakistan. Photograph: Hamish Blair/Getty Images

IMAGE: Anil Kumble took 619 Test wickets, including memorably 10 wickets in a Test innings against Pakistan. Photograph: Hamish Blair/Getty Images

The coach must be a highly accomplished player himself or should be a highly skilled student of the game who understands all the technical nuances of the game.

He must be trained to use technology in a way to understand the playing pattern of each batsman and each bowler.

He and his team of batting and bowling coaches must be able to give technical inputs to every bowler and every batsman.

The old days when a coach was only supposed to be an avuncular, kindly man who cheered you up when you were down and who gave you a stare when you misbehaved are over.

The coach should be the one who himself or with the help of his assistant coaches analyses the strengths and weaknesses of all the players and give them the right feedback.

The role of the coach as the motivator and prime mover of the team spirit can't be undermined and the coach must have these sterling leadership qualities too.

With his long experience as a player, the coach should be the one to decide if his team will bat first or field first in any format of the game.

His decision should be binding on the captain just as his decision on whom to play and whom to bench in any game should be incontestable.

I would even say that if it is in the best interest of the team to drop the captain from the playing eleven, the coach should exercise his power to do so.

Does it mean I am advocating a rubber stamp captain? A player who just does the coach's bidding and who is just another player? Well, not exactly.

A captain will have some authority in a Test match and in an one day international when the coach is physically far removed from the ground.

The captain will make the bowling changes and he will work with the bowlers to give them their field placements.

But he will have to work in the overall scheme of things set by the coach.

The captain's role in a T20 game would be much reduced as it is the coach who will shout instruction from the dugout.

The captain's role in the Indian cricket team today is that of a Supreme Commander. And mind you, this is not an assigned role but an assumed role.

The captain is the face of the team in the public eye. One cricket writer even lamented that it is the captain's house that get stoned if the team performs dismally!

Virat Kohli's tweet on June 23, 2016, welcoming Anil Kumble as India's coach.

IMAGE: Virat Kohli's tweet on June 23, 2016, welcoming Anil Kumble as India's coach.
The skipper deleted the tweet after his falling out with Kumble became public.

The roles of captain and coach need to be defined.

The roles and responsibilities should not be woven around personalities, but must be formulated to achieve winning results.

It should ensure no clash of personalities and must lend a sense of continuity wherein the team doesn't wobble if the star captain is out for a duck in an India-Pakistan game.

I read that Captain Kohli wasn't happy with Coach Kumble's style. A difference of opinion is natural when two giants work on a project and there is no clarity on roles and responsibilities.

The BCCI needs to mull about my proposal. They need to clearly give the coach full authority and make him accountable for the team's performance.

I would favour a situation in Indian cricket team that would mirror a top football team in Europe.

If Manchester United doesn't win a major trophy like the English Premier League next season, fans of the club will demand that Jose Mourinho, the team coach-cum-manager, be sacked. The result will not impact their captain in any way as long as he succeeds as a player.

I don't want to take sides with Kohli or with Kumble.

The young Delhi boy is one of the most passionate players of the Indian team. He is well on his way to becoming one the greatest to have ever played the game.

Kumble was the king of spin when he played. The only one who has a perfect 10, the only one who played with a broken jaw but with an unbroken spirit.

He remains the greatest servant of Indian cricket and his exit bears the stamp of his class as a gentleman.

I wish Kumble returns and works again with Kohli, in pre-defined roles.

Virat Kohli, right, speaks to Ravi Shastri. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: Virat Kohli, right, speaks to Ravi Shastri.
'He is aggressive and he is very young, so the exuberance is still seen in him, which is very good for the team,' Shastri has said about Kohli.
'And I see a bit of myself in him.'
Photograph: PTI

I suspect that Kohli, my favourite Indian player, is itching to have Ravi Shastri back as coach.

This, I suspect, is because Shastri takes a back seat and relaxes as Kohli sweats it out on and off the field.

This is a mistake Kohli is making. As long as the going is good and age is on his side, he will enjoy such a situation.

But as his body starts to age, his energies will wane.

It is then that he would wish he had someone as devoted as Kumble as a mentor.

As I said, the captain and the coach have to perform their defined roles.

And they should be judged on the basis of their respective performances, not by mutual likes or dislikes.

Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, tweets at @sudhir_bisht

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