It all seemed to have a reality show feel in the end but a rigged one at that. Even before the show began, we knew that there would only be one winner. So one might well be tempted to ask why bother with the show at all but then the optics are important.
Ravi Shastri was reappointed as head coach of the India men’s cricket team for a two-year period. Announcing the ‘results’, Kapil Dev, member of the Cricket Advisory Committee that chose the head coach, said that Shastri finished first after all the interviews were completed. Mike Hesson finished second and Tom Moody came third.
All the applicants were evaluated on the basis of five fields:
1. Coaching Philosophy
2. Experience of Coaching
3. Achievements of Coaching
5. Knowledge of Modern Coaching Tools
And the marks were spread out equally — a maximum of 20 points were given in each if you were very good, 15 for good, 10 for average and 5 for poor.
Given that Moody and Hesson are experienced coaches, one can’t fathom how Shastri beat the duo in four out of five fields. Communication was the only category where, given his personality and experience as a commentator, he might have come out a clear winner.
Still, he won as expected. India skipper Virat Kohli had made his choice clear before the team headed to the West Indies and his decision, of late, have been seen as binding on the BCCI.
Shastri has been appointed for the period of September 2019 till the ICC T20 World Cup in 2021 and while many expect the continuity to help the Indian team, the challenges of the second stint will be very different from the first.
The first time around, the team needed to recover from the Anil Kumble-Kohli controversy and forge an unbreakable team spirit. They also needed to find answers to the fast bowling problem. They have done that. But now the expectations will be further heightened.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He’s slowing down — that much is clear but how does one deal with him? Keep him around and let him mentor Rishabh Pant or let him go and let Pant find his own way? The team management will play a big role in deciding the further course of action and it must certainly not include statements like ‘Dhoni hasn’t told us what he is planning to do.’
Sitting on the outside, one might be tempted to think that other coaches might have been better at offering technical advice to India’s batting line-up. Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli have been immense in Test matches but almost everyone else has struggled. KL Rahul continues to struggle with technical issues. Prithvi Shaw is out for a while. Rohit Sharma is still looking to cement his place in Test cricket. Ajinkya Rahane is a pale shadow of the batsman we know he can be. Rishabh Pant’s shot selection remains suspect. Shastri needs to step up in this regard.
India’s success in the shorter format over the last two years was built upon Kuldeep Yadav’s success but now that the young left-arm west spinner is struggling with the mental side of the game, Shastri’s communication skills should come in handy. And for once, this needs to beyond ‘go smash them.’ Shastri’s experience as a spinner should help too. Kuldeep needs to not only believe in himself again but he also needs to develop the street smarts, without which surviving at the highest level is well-nigh impossible.
How much should a head coach help a captain on the tactical front? Dhoni’s influence on Kohli in the shorter formats is undeniable but in Test cricket, the India captain often seems to fall back on a reactive style of captaincy. Given the kind of personality Kohli has, his captaincy seems to be strangely defensive. And perhaps the right kind of tactical inputs could help Kohli become an even better skipper. Not to forget that there is shelf life associated with captaincy and Kohli has already been Test skipper for over five years. At what point will it start to take a toll?
Stop the chop-and-change strategy. Too many players have lost their bearings due to this foul strategy. Kohli might think he is adopting a horses-for-courses policy but it’s impact on players has been anything but good. Rahane has spoken about it as have Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, and Shreyas Iyer. Kohli wants the best but this strategy also robs players of confidence. If Shastri truly has Kohli’s ear, he needs to impress upon the India skipper the importance of consistency. India’s problems at the No 4 slot in ODIs were a direct result of this strategy. Give confidence to players and they will respond in kind; make them play only if certain conditions are met and they will never improve.