The customer care coach

Anil Kumble’s exit sends out the message that the job is only meant for yes-men

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Published: June 22, 2017 12:15 am
Anil Kumble, Virat Kohli, Cricket coach, Kumble sacked The grapevine has it that Kohli found Kumble’s approach stifling. (Source: Reuters)

Spare the rod, spoil the child and keep your job. At least in principle, India’s next coach shouldn’t forget this altered adage since his job doesn’t depend on mere results. The sacking of Anil Kumble — despite five straight series wins — has shown that for coaches to keep their jobs, they need to indulge the captain and be popular with the team.

Greg Chappell’s 2007 sacking — triggered by a dressing room revolt — had given subsequent foreign coaches who were headed to India an important travel advisory: Speak less, be invisible. Kumble’s unceremonious departure has added a few more “dont’s”, further undermining the Indian coach’s authority.

But this piece isn’t about making Kohli the villain and Kumble the victim. As is the case with most prickly issues in Indian cricket, the dirt around this spat now lies under the carpet of the London hotel conference room where the high-profile cricket committee of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, along with the BCCI bigwigs, heard Kumble and Kohli in an effort to find a truce. Pledged to omerta, Indian cricket’s most powerful men strangled truth before it could get past the meeting room door.

What have emerged from the failed peace talks are its versions. The BCCI, officially, continues to paint an unrealistic picture. They still call this a seamless transition. Even Kumble doesn’t really slam the door on the way out. His “goodbye tweet” is cautious, not vicious. He plays the righteous martyr and merely hints at Kohli’s backstabbing. Kohli too, so far, at most Champions Trophy press conferences, has been in denial.

The players, pragmatic as ever, don’t believe in shooting their mouth. Cricket — they well and truly believe — is a game of uncertainty. In a matter of months, a captain can lose form and be out of favour. In the BCCI, power equations and favourites can change overnight. The BCCI survival guide mentions it in bold and bright: You don’t swim against the tide; you wait for it to turn.

The grapevine has it that Kohli found Kumble’s approach stifling. Unlike the relaxed Ravi Shastri era, under Kumble there were more orders. Some called them suggestions. It all depended on your affiliations. It was also alleged that Kumble behaved as if he was still the India captain. Again, the other side saw this differently. They say Kumble was a meticulous planner who was prepared for every match situation. He was a hands-on coach who wanted to exploit every weakness in the rival team. He wanted to point out the mistake while the operation was on, he didn’t believe in waiting till the end-of-play post-mortem. For Camp Kohli, the instructions sent out to the field amounted to unnecessary interference.

It’s said that there were a few contentious playing XI decisions on which the captain and coach disagreed. In a dressing room with strong existing cliques, Kumble’s pointed interventions that disturbed the status quo were misinterpreted. These are delicate issues in a team where the majority of players have been signed by Virat Kohli’s agents. However, in the absence of a transparent inquest, plus the player-official pact of silence, these will be brushed aside as conspiracy theories. The BCCI doesn’t believe in exploring the ugly side.

There are, though, a couple of things that can be said with certainty. The Kumble era was very different from Shastri’s and Kohli found it tough to adjust. Second, wiser by the Kumble sacking, the next coach will be aware of the line he can’t dare to cross.

India’s star spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, in a recent interview, gave a glimpse of how Shastri dealt with the young team. Early in his stint, Shastri called for a pre-match huddle but the players were nowhere to be seen. It took ages for an assistant coach to gather the flock. All this while, the new coach looked exasperated. Eventually, when the players formed the circle, they feared that Shastri would blow his top. What followed left the players in splits. “Go out and smash the Aussies,” he roared, turned around and walked away. There was no lecture, nor did he read the riot act. Under Kumble, the same meeting would have been longer and wouldn’t have had a giggly end.

So does this young Indian team need a coach who is “one of the boys” or a scholarly disciplinarian? A longer stint for Kumble would have answered this question.

On their part, the BCCI has wisely gone with the captain. It will be tough to find a worthy successor to Kumble but to search for Kohli’s replacement will be tougher. Besides, the likes of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman couldn’t be seen siding with Kumble. He was coach first and then their one-time team-mate. The “former players turned coach selectors” would have remembered their days as players and how the BCCI sided with them when Chappell challenged the hierarchy.

The residue of this is unpleasant, but unavoidable nonetheless. In a team sport, it’s unhealthy to give unquestionable powers to one man. Leaders with a God complex aren’t great for the team. India, at present, aren’t quite the Steve Waugh Invincibles. Kohli’s, and India’s, record abroad isn’t staggering. To achieve that, India needs a well-prepared team unit, not one that is merely “happy”.

In days to come, an Indian coach will think twice before making life tough for the team or airing his views. Keeping a high-paid job with grand perks would mean speaking only when asked. Perhaps Kohli is justified in asking for a change because of the collapse in his working relationship with the coach. But Kumble’s untimely exit has sent out a wrong message. If more such episodes take place, the Indian coach’s job will interest only the “yes men”. Or maybe, in years to come, it will attract pastors manning confessional boxes and customer care executives with a passing interest in cricket. Aren’t they non-judgmental, impersonal, problem-solvers and speak only when asked?

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More From Sandeep Dwivedi
  1. Shuja Shakir
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:38 am
    It's not entirely correct to put the blame on Virat's head for that ugly rift. The article mentions about Kumble's intervening in on-field decisions, which are a prerogative of the captain. Yes, the way Kumble has gone is not good for the cricket, but the coach too must understand that he is not the captain of the team and therefore cannot dictate..!
    1. D
      Dhaval B.
      Jun 22, 2017 at 8:37 pm
      My question to you Mr. Dwivedi and everyone else reaching a judgement : You've only heard one side of the story - how did you reach a conclusion as to what the team wants or needs? Has Kohli said that he wants a yes man as the next coach? On the contrary, Kumble has brought this out in the public domain - what was the need for him to vent in public? He could have been a true gentleman and left with a closed doors meeting with BCCI, CAC and COA, something that Kohli continues to do. Please ascertain all the facts prior to reaching a judgement. People in India are easily suckered in to playing judges through a media trial. I believe that needs to stop.
      1. asif hassan
        Jun 22, 2017 at 8:06 pm
        Kumble is a thorough gentleman he can not be compared with a sly politician like shastry. More over just check who is the agent for all other important players!!!!!
        1. Seshubabu Kilambi
          Jun 22, 2017 at 7:54 pm
          Coach is a ' ular' head just to watch and wait till he is shown the door for another coach
          1. A
            Jun 22, 2017 at 5:10 pm
            1. After India’s miserable loss in the Championship final, all those who were having questions about Team India and its preparedness to play good cricket abroad, would be emboldened. They would raise questions which would not have been raised had India had won the final. 2. There can be two opinions about role of coach of any team and what he should do and what he should not. 3. Let us not forget that two top teams in ODI rankings could not be there in the semi-final. Should the respective cricket control boards of South Africa and Australia terminate service of their respective coach? 3. Let us accept that Anil Kumble has resigned as head coach. Even assuming that there were differences between Captain Virat Kohli and head coach Kumble, it is better to just ignore reports of differences. Now that Kumble has relinquished his job, let the subject be closed permanently. 4. There can be a lively discussion on role of a coach and that can be held after BCCI selects the new head coach.
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