In a fascinating Ranji Trophy final, the Arun Lal-Karsan Ghavri embrace was the most memorable frame. The Bengal head coach had walked up to his Saurashtra counterpart after the outcome of the match was decided. Lal is 64 years of age and Ghavri is 69. The former transformed a bunch of also-rans into a winning unit, while Ghavri presided over Saurashtra’s maiden Ranji Trophy title.
Age-wise, they weren’t cases in isolation. Chandrakant Pandit, who would turn 59 in a few months, is one of the most successful coaches in domestic cricket, the mastermind of Vidarbha’s back-to-back title triumphs in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Delhi have had been steadily supplying talent to the Indian team and India A under their coach KP Bhaskar, a 57-year-old former domestic stalwart. Tamil Nadu have done reasonably well this season under Diwakar Vasu, who is in his fifties. Old guards have made their respective young teams tick.
Rewind to the BCCI’s advertisement for coaching staff, issued under the Committee of Administrators (CoA) last year. The three-point eligibility criteria had mentioned that the applicant must be below 60 years of age. So hypothetically, if someone like Lal or Ghavri or Pandit (it was a two-year contract), or experienced coaches like Sandeep Patil, Madan Lal and Anshuman Gaekwad for that matter, had applied for the job, their applications would have been summarily rejected – disqualified for being too old.
Former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar knows the best of both worlds. Apart from being a domestic legend, the former middle-order batsman has earned his coaching badges and worked as South Arica’s batting coach when Faf du Plessis and company had toured India last year. Muzumdar falls for experience.
“See, it’s a very grey area but I feel there’s no substitute for experience. Karsan Ghavri coached us (Mumbai) in 1993-94, my first season. At that time there was no concept called coach. But he was the senior guy, along with Ravi Shastri, who was guiding us. Sometimes we get muddled-up with some things – Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 coaches, this and that. All the fancy stuff of putting different drills, do this and that, it makes a good package.
“But at the same time, I feel experience counts a lot; experience to handle different situations, experience to tell the players what it is at that moment of time. That’s the most important thing for me. I think it’s a myth that people over 60 can’t coach.” Muzumdar says, speaking to The Indian Express.
He digs deeper and points out how their ability to call a spade a spade makes the likes of Ghavri, Lal and Pandit successful coaches. “Nowadays people shy away from it. Earlier, people never used to shy away from calling a spade a spade. But these guys will not spare anyone. If they see something, they will let the player know.”
Age is a not a factor as long as a coach is evolving with time. “All these successful coaches aren’t stuck to their old and previously tested ways. They have evolved, because they are dealing with modern-day cricketers. They can strike a balance between their old-school virtues and what modern-day cricketers want,” Muzumdar observes.
Generation gap is cited as a disadvantage for the older coaches. Then again, both Lal and Ghavri gelled brilliantly with the players. According to Ghavri, good man-management skill bridges the age gap. “If you know man-management, you can be friends to the players who are half your age. At first-class level, it’s not about teaching the basics to the players. Good man-management keeps the confidence level high,” Ghavri tells this paper.
He offers an example. “Harvik Desai dropped Anustup Majumdar on the fourth day when he was on 18. It could have been very costly for us. If Majumdar had stayed there for an hour (on the fifth day), the game would have gone in Bengal’s favour. Luckily he got out early (on the fifth day). But there was absolutely no blame game in our dressing room, when he was building a partnership. Good man-management creates a happy dressing-room atmosphere. Players forget mistakes and carry on. They start afresh.”
The BCCI is now being run by its elected members. One of India’s finest captains helms it. So going ahead, Pandit expects the cricket board to decide what serves the Indian cricket best, age (cap) or experience. “I don’t want to compare between young and old. I think the BCCI should look into what is required from a coach (in international cricket) and which age group is providing that. I think if someone is fit enough, experience is invaluable. Being 60-plus doesn’t prevent you from creating a friendly dressing-room atmosphere. You should have someone (in charge) whom the players can look up to, not that the young boys asking him, ‘how much cricket you have played’,” Pandit says.
How important are coaching badges?
The penchant for earning coaching badges – Level 1, 2 and 3 – started to grow at the turn of the century after John Buchanan became Australia coach and started to steer the team to unprecedented success under Steve Waugh’s captaincy. Buchanan didn’t have a cricket career to speak of – only seven first-class matches. But he brought in new ideas and earned Waugh’s respect.
Shane Warne, on the other hand, was never impressed. The spin king had once accused Buchanan of being a “goose”, who suffered from “verbal diarrhoea”.
Coaching degrees versus cricket career has long been a subject of debate. The two successful coaches in Indian domestic cricket this term don’t have formal coaching badges, but they carried loads of practical experience as former India and first-class cricketers.
Do the coaching badges offer anything extra? “There’s no harm in learning. There’s no age for learning. I feel that Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4 badges are helpful to get the system going. But it’s not the be-all and end-all thing. These coaching courses teach you modern technique. So it’s a tool that can be used, but not the be-all and end-all,” Muzumdar explains.
Lal feels that earning the badges is fine as long as a coach is not flaunting his degrees. Ghavri believes certified coaches are more useful at age-group levels, where coaching, dealing with the basics to be precise, is most important.
“The coaching badges give you theoretical knowledge and even for former cricketers it could be helpful to attend some of the classes or sessions. But what you deliver (as a coach) is through your practical knowledge; what you have gone through as a cricketer,” Pandit opines.
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