Roles and regulations,but who’s the boss?

What a funny word furore is. First,people always get confused about how to pronounce it correctly...

Written by Kunal Pradhan | Published:January 10, 2009 12:00 am

What a funny word furore is. First,people always get confused about how to pronounce it correctly — stress on the trailing ‘e’ as in ‘extempore’,or just leave it there to fester silently as in ‘marriage’.

But even better than its phonetic misuse is what leads to a furore,and what happens once a furore begins. You just want to bring out some popcorn,grab a comfortable chair,and watch the fun.

Like we watched with delight as English cricket played out a strange drama this week. There was name-calling,rumour-mongering,mismanagement,back-stabbing,and then there were threats,opinions and threatening opinions,as Kevin Pietersen and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) exchanged ideas in full public view — egged on by a dozen appalled former cricketers,each armed with a newspaper column.

The jury is still out on who let Pietersen down,what the captain was doing sending ultimatums while holidaying in the country of his birth,what the ECB was thinking when it appointed him in the first place,and why a double-dismissal was the only way out. From an academic point of view,what the whole Kevin Pietersen-Peter Moores face-off has brought up,once again,is a debate about the relative authority of captains and coaches in world cricket.

Not too long ago,a far more elaborate drama had taken place in India when Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell had locked horns (what a furore that had created),there were very public differences of opinion between Shane Warne and John Buchanan on what a coach’s job should be,and the rumblings in the Pakistan team during Javed Miandad’s several stints as coach are as legendary in cricketing circles as they are hilarious.

But the two questions that arise each time a controversy of this nature breaks out are: A,what is really the job of a cricket coach? (A lot of former players have scoffed at the very idea of having one at the highest level,before quickly changing their opinions when they were offered the job),and B,what should be the balance of power between a captain and a coach?

In cricket,a coach’s role varies greatly depending on which level he is coaching. At the lowest rung,he’s telling you how to grip a bat,how to hold a ball,how to stand,how to run in,how to transfer your weight as you lean forward,how to position the seam — verbal lashings and raps on the knuckles are mandatory at this stage.

When the player,having learnt the basics,moves up the ladder,the coach’s role changes drastically. Now he’s watching him bat or bowl for hours,meticulously making notes,trying to iron out the chinks in his armour,encouraging him to play shots when he’s being overtly subdued,asking him to pipe down when the red mist comes over. He’s reminding the player about the basics and,most importantly,training his mind — more a guide than a teacher. (In most cases,problems arise only when coaches start giving international batsmen long lectures about the importance of watching the ball).

But the question about who the boss of a team must be — the captain or the coach — is clearly more interesting. Those who favour the coach,and there’s a surprisingly large number considering the designation is only a decade old in cricket,always allude to football and basketball,citing examples of Alex Ferguson and Phil Jackson,explaining how they are the ultimate authorities at Manchester and Los Angeles.

It is here that cricket’s unique position compared to other team sports has to be considered. In football or basketball,the captain on the field has such a heavy workload that he has no time to see what his other 10 players are doing. German captain Michael Ballack,an attacking midfielder,hardly has the time or the opportunity to tell Philip Lahm what to do at left-back.

But in cricket,unlike football,basketball,hockey,and a host of other sports in which teams need to be managed from outside the field by someone who doesn’t have physical responsibilities of his own,a captain has enough time to run the play. He may need a coach to advice him,but he’s never so engaged that he’s incapable of making an informed decision about what the team should do next.

So,all things considered,the chain of command in a cricket team should be simple enough — the captain is the boss,the coach is a guide,a sounding board. But still there are furores everywhere.

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