Q: How many men does it take to sack an India cricket coach?
A: One, in case the man is Virat Kohli.
Q: How many men does it take to pick an India cricket coach?
A: Officially nine: A three-member committee of administrators, the BCCI CEO, secretary, manager cricket operations and a high-profile advisory committee of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman. Actually, one — Virat Kohli.
When a simple variation of the light bulb joke sums up Indian cricket’s farcical state of affairs, while getting dragged for a month and half, it ceases to be funny. It was in the last week of May that the BCCI, when pressed by Kohli to replace coach Anil Kumble, asked former players to post their CVs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trust the charmingly acerbic Farokh Engineer to foresee the satirical drama that was to follow. Engineer disdained the coach selection process, saying greats of the game need to be invited for an interview and not made to apply like clerks or purchase officers. Even Engineer wouldn’t have anticipated that in the days to come the search for the next India coach would end up as some grand diabolical roast that lampooned the stalwarts of the game and the system they were part of.
In hindsight, had the petulant skipper been indulged early by putting sugary sweet Ravi Shastri in a cone or on a stick — depending on his preference of course — and handing it to him in May itself and not as late as mid-July, the sun would have continued to shine brightly from the rainbow-hued skies of cricketopia. A few tears would have been shed for the outgoing coach but remember, at the end of the day, Anil Kumble was a bowler. The 619 wickets are fine, thanks for the effort, but he wasn’t the Fab Four, was he?
As for Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman, with their halos glowing ever so brightly, they would have continued to wave and smile at fans through their retirement years. The BCCI suits would have strained their hands patting their own backs. The Committee of Administrators, for overseeing the quick coach switch, would have expected to get a “very good” from the bright red pen of Supreme Court in the margins of their homework book. All they needed to do was give Shastri to Kohli the moment he made a face. It was as simple as giving a candy to a child.
They eventually did that — late night on July 11 — but long after the ceiling fan at Indian cricket’s Hall of Fame had thrown the fertiliser around. It was ugly from the start. The initial cast was: Kumble, the conniving autocratic alpha male; Sehwag, the establishment candidate; Shastri, the yes man. It’s easy to blame the media for this name-calling and ridicule them for trusting their sources but they were merely being messengers. There were insiders ready to express their angst, or on some occasions, pedal their agenda.
After the three protagonists came the perpetual optimists — Tom Moody and Richard Pybus. You wondered what chance these outsiders had in this reunion of men who had spent their entire youth together. How could Paaji, Dada and Lachhubhai pick Moody or Pybus over Viru or Ravibhai? A more representative panel than the one that had three close buddies from the same generation would have been more suited for this job. More so in this season of revamp, when the howling winds of change were carrying words like conflict-of-interest and good governance from the rooms of the Supreme Court to the cricket maidans.
Once Kohli remained stubborn and rejected his one-time seniors’ call to sort out his differences with Kumble, the spotlight was on Ganguly. That’s because Shastri had re-applied. Just a year ago, Ganguly had rejected Shastri, even humiliated him, by not turning up to interview him and asking Kumble to apply. Till a day before the eventual announcement, Ganguly seemed to be hinting it was anybody but Shastri.
It all changed overnight. Surprisingly, Ganguly hasn’t yet thrown a fit, a tantrum or a resignation letter. Had Shastri improved as a coach in a year’s time or has Ganguly mellowed? What happened to the man who had kept Steve Waugh waiting? Where was the prince who took on the establishment? By all accounts, Ganguly too loves being in the commentary box and sitting on the Bengal cricket chief’s throne at Eden Gardens. He is also an expert on a news channel. It so happens that the same media group that has Ganguly on its rolls first broke the stories about Kumble quitting and Shastri’s selection. Someone needs to run a fine comb into Ganguly’s media contracts to see if he, along with giving expert comments, also needs to break stories.
Then there’s V.V.S. Laxman who shares the dug-out with Moody during the IPL season — the latter was among the coaching aspirants. Laxman is said to have recused himself during Moody’s presentation. Thankfully, no one from the Mumbai Indians dressing room applied or else Tendulkar too would be doing the same. The meeting room would have needed a revolving door.
Such situations arise since these are not paid panelists. Unpaid part-timers on ad-hoc committees can’t be held accountable. While most sporting bodies globally are embracing professional sports administration, cricket’s superpower believes in honorary roles. They still want the world to believe that India’s former greats live on air and adulation. Our superheroes can’t have salary slips tucked in the pockets of their tights.
The BCCI officials too came across as bungling figures. They first failed to smell the dressing room rift, they later brazened it out and eventually got beaten by the media in announcing the name of the new coach. At the end of it all, the SC-appointed administrators were sporting a forced smile, exposing their lack of teeth. They weren’t informed when the BCCI, in a bid to accommodate Shastri, extended the deadline to apply for the coach’s job. It didn’t disturb them that the cricketers’ committee was in a conflict of interest situation.
A day after the coach saga ended, they sent out a statement. Defining the role of a coach they said, “A coach is a mentor … a friend and an elder buddy. The coach has to provide backroom support.” They could have just said the coach has to be Ravi Shastri. They go on to conclude that they wanted to put the “immediate past to rest” and hoped that the sun shone brightly from the rainbow hued skies of cricketopia.
Postscript: Those who bought that dream also bought flying pigs and walking fishes.