At 22:57 IST on Tuesday, a forlorn email confirmed what the Indian cricketing universe already expected: Ravi Shastri was named the ‘new’ head coach. It put an end to a day-long swirl of rumours about his appointment, with television channels jumping the gun earlier in the day even as the BCCI was reluctant to put out official word.
This, despite the Supreme Court-appointed COA’s commandment of announcing the verdict of Monday’s interview process as quickly as possible, only added to the confusion. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly (part of the Cricket Advisory Committee with Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman) had said post-interview that they would wait to consult with Indian skipper Virat Kohli as well.
In summation then, the BCCI’s late-night ‘official’ word put an end to this near-farcical process, saved by the additional announcements of Zaheer Khan as bowling consultant and Rahul Dravid as batting consultant (overseas Test cricket).
Beyond that, this whole coach-selection exercise can be classified under pointless. It was an open secret that Kohli preferred Shastri as the new coach. As such then, why invite applications in the first place, if it was an open-and-shut case from the very beginning? What would have been the deliberations between the three hallowed members of the CAC on Monday, after hearing out all applicants?
A particular name comes to the fore here. Tom Moody has been applying for the Indian coach’s job since 2005. He was part of two World Cup winning Australian squads in 1987 and 1999. He also coached Sri Lanka to the 2007 ODI World Cup final.
He has significant coaching experience in Australia and England, serving as director of cricket for Worcestershire during the early 2000s, and since then has worked in the same post for the Caribbean Premier League’s international affairs as well as with Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League.
In 2013, he took charge of Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL. He led them to the 2016 title and three times into the playoffs. He was the most qualified man for this job but didn’t get it; perhaps because Indian cricket has burnt its hand prior with Australian coaches – read: Greg Chappell.
Ganguly, Laxman and Tendulkar went through that bitterness from 2005-07, and it is anybody’s guess if those memories will be enough to put them off such contemplation. This is the underlying point. The whole Anil Kumble-Kohli fiasco made headlines because the captain expressed his displeasure with the coach. It was imperative for the CAC to avoid repetition, so much so that they even avoided someone like Virender Sehwag.
Like Kumble last year, Sehwag doesn’t have much coaching credentials, barring a 2016 and 2017 coaching/mentoring stint with Kings XI Punjab. While that didn’t stop Kumble’s elevation, it could be a stickler given how the Kumble-Kohli relationship ended. Tweeting comedy in 140 characters is different from running the dressing room, whilst keeping the captain’s ego in check, and Sehwag is only known to be adept at one of these two aspects.
As such, if comfort level is the watchword, Shastri’s relationship with Kohli and other senior members of the team is cosy, and that is an understatement. During his stint as team director from 2014 to 2016, he brought the dressing room together, especially when MS Dhoni quit Test cricket, allowing them enough freedom to grow as individuals as well as a unit. Despite Duncan Fletcher’s presence as coach until March 2015, Shastri was the go-to man when it came to any matter of man-management.
And isn’t this the basic brief for any coach in modern-day cricket? Do the likes of Kohli, Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma really need to be told how to bat or bowl? At best, they need advice, opinion even, on certain technical aspects.
Perhaps, they need to hear only what they want to hear – encouraged in public even when losing, and admonished only within the confines of the dressing room. It was certainly Shastri’s way during his previous stint.
Cynics will throw statistics from that period and argue results. From 2014 to 2016, India won two Test series (2-1 in Sri Lanka and 3-0 at home against South Africa on rank turners, both in 2015) while losing 2-0 in Australia in 2014-15. They reached the semi-finals of both the World Cup and World T20, but otherwise, the limited-overs’ arena left a lot to be desired.
India won an ODI series 3-1 in England when Shastri first assumed charge, and won the T20I series 3-0 in Australia followed by victory in the Asia Cup T20 in 2016. In between, they lost the tri-series in Australia, 2-1 in Bangladesh, 3-2 at home to South Africa (all in 2015) and then 4-1 in Australia (2016).
Results under Shastri don’t make for happy reading but did they even matter?