Friday, 22 April 2011

Team India's next coach!!!

So Gary Kirsten is back in Cape Town, doubtless feeling like a bride at a swayamwar, fending off suitors of varying pedigree and looking for the right one. Kirsten was very good, but he was brave too. He knew what he wanted and was willing to sacrifice opportunity for it. Not all of us have priorities that are as clear; not all of us are selfless enough. Maybe that is why he made a good coach. India must wish him well and look for another.
But the position of India's cricket coach is not an easy one to fill, because we are a landscape of the most diverse cultures, existing within one country. We can bewilder easily, we are too heterogeneous to understand. We pass legislation in favour of the gay community, and among us also reside people who murder their aunt because they suspect her of being in a same-sex relationship. We accept hunger but give in to hunger strikes. Our young players come from poor families and grow exceedingly rich in very little time. Understanding India isn't easy, and yet that must be a primary requirement for the coach of the Indian cricket team.
Whoever it is that is finally appointed must be willing to embrace our culture; not loan himself to it but marry into it. For if he is unwilling to do that he will not understand the young men who play the game, the administrators who run it, the media that covers it incessantly, and the people of India who smile and cry, who deep within live and die with the sport.
It is not about whether it is right or wrong - a coach cannot be judgemental about a culture - but about how it is. You can have a fine candidate but if he is reticent about accepting another culture, he is the wrong candidate. India can baffle and frustrate but can love without limits. A South African was carried around the ground, to his visible embarrassment, by his young Indian wards as a sign of respect after the World Cup was won. Money and contracts don't buy that. Being coach of the Indian cricket team is not a job; it is a relationship with some emoluments thrown in. It is not like coming to run the Indian operation of a multinational corporation.
India needs to look for a man with an extraordinary work ethic, for that is not, inherently, a strength of Indian cricket. He must be willing to stay in the background, and that will be a challenge because our media can be extremely intrusive. He must be a giver. It cannot be his way and no other, because with him will be cricketers who have their way, a way that has been successful. And he must be low-key because, before he realises it, he can be caught in a political whirl otherwise. India needs to pick a man who does not seek to head down that path. 

He has to be someone who has done it himself on a cricket ground, because India, like no other nation, is unwilling to listen to someone who doesn't have a track record. Kirsten could have done everything else right but he would not have been accepted if he hadn't been a top Test player. India can never have a John Buchanan or a Mickey Arthur as coach. 

But for some reason India cannot have an Indian coach, and so we must live with the fact that a new man will turn up every few years, who will take time to understand the country, its people and its cricket. It is something Indian cricket, once it stops being obsessed with finances and power, needs to look at. India, or for that matter Asian nations, seem to be pretty good at producing cricketers but not coaches. Indeed, of the 10 IPL franchises, nine have overseas coaches. There must be a reason.

The generation that must coach today didn't earn as much as those they coach. This is critical to understand, for it means they probably need the jobs, and could be pliable, could be politically influenced. Many seek to forward their cases through friends in the media and will not be able to terminate those relationships, or keep them at arm's length. If what happens in a selection committee meeting, for example, is routinely transmitted, surely what happens in a team meeting can be too. Can players, then, share their deepest anxieties and fears with the coach? While I would love to know what Yuvraj Singh went through, or what Sreesanth does, I find it reassuring in a way that I don't. I believe, though, that the players exiting the game now will be more at peace with themselves, can become coaches in time to come. Surely a Kumble can, a Laxman can.

Hopefully Indian cricket will find a good man. But it is nice to know that the right man for a bigger job, the captain of the national team, already exists.

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