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By Suresh Menon
Will India’s World Cup triumph do for their coaches what it will do for their players – earn recognition as among the best in the business? Half the coaches at the tournament were from either Australia or the West Indies, the two countries that have won the title most often. More interestingly, nine of the 14 countries which participated had foreign coaches. Gary Kirsten, who came to be called Guru Gary, has returned to South Africa leaving India with the task of finding someone to fill his shoes.
India are the World champions and the No 1 Test team, so the new coach is in a lose-lose situation. If India retain the Test position for a while, that is what they are expected to do, and if they slip, then the coach will cop part of the blame. India are No 2 in the one-day rankings behind Australia, and if they climb to the top, that is also something they are expected to do as world champions. It will take a very brave man to take up the assignment.
The usual clutch of names is doing the rounds – Andy Flower, Duncan Fletcher, Stephen Fleming – but there is no Indian name in that list, except as a caretaker coach who will hold the baby till the Board makes up its mind. The Board is in no hurry, although there is an important tour of the West Indies in June. The hosts are not expected to challenge India - already there is a touch of complacency here that could prove dangerous as it has in the past.
This might be a good time to pick an Indian coach and add him to the list of the usual suspects whenever a vacancy comes up in international cricket. He need not be an international star – although that will not hurt – but must have the confidence of the players and the ability to operate both the iron hand and the velvet glove. One name that has occasionally emerged is that of Robin Singh who is doing a good job with the Mumbai Indians and has had a successful run as the coach of the junior India teams. That he is from the West Indies is in his favour. He knows the game, and has either played with the seniors or coached the juniors.
Kirsten has already laid down the formula for success. He was low-key and accessible and the players saw him as a friend. The Indian team is allergic to the attention-grabbing, public bloodletting that was the hallmark of Greg Chappell’s reign, although many of the systems he put in place came to fruition at the recent World Cup.
Indian umpires have not made an impact internationally in recent years, and neither have Indian coaches. Development of the game is a many-layered process, and the cricket board must take the responsibility to place hard-working and result-oriented officials on and off the field on a platform where they can compete with the best in the world.
Kirsten turned out to be an inspired selection; he made a success of the job without any previous experience. No Indian coach has been in the reckoning for a job in any Test-playing country which is surprising considering there is an active National Cricket Academy and coaches attached to most domestic teams.
The Indian team makes three important tours this year – England following the West Indies and Australia towards the end. The captain is in place, the core is ready, and doubtless plans are being made to make the generational transition painless. A similar focus should be brought to bear upon an Indian national coach.