May 13, 2005

Players must have a say in picking Wright’s successor

H Natarajan

One could be forgiven for getting the impression that the issue of picking a successor to John Wright as the next Indian coach falls under the ambit of the Official Secrets Act. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has given little away by way of dissemination of news, leaving mediapersons to tap their sources for informed details of what’s happening within the ‘conclave’.

Meanwhile, news from neighbouring Sri Lanka is more professional and proactive with Jayantha Dharmadas, the interim head of Sri Lanka Cricket declaring that his country will have a man before the weekend.

It’s worth noting that both overseas choices of India (Greg Chappell and Tom Moody) that figured in the narrowed list of four (Sandeep Patil and Mohinder Amarnath being the others) that came from Sunday’s meeting at Kolkata are also in the shortlist to replace John Dyson as the Sri Lanka coach. With BCCI dragging its feet on the matter, Sri Lanka would have lapped up one of the two between Chappell and Moody but for the former indicating to the Lankan authorities that the interview call from India came first and as such he would like to make his presentation first to the BCCI. As things stand at the time of writing this column, the interviews of the Indian short-listed candidates should be either on May 19 or 26.

The Indian scenario gets hazier by the day. Though Sunday saw four names emerging in the shortlist, since then one has also heard the names of Desmond Haynes, John Inverarity and Roger Binny also doing the rounds.The Lankans, on the other hand, have been more emphatic and business-like. Even before the appointment of the new coach, news coming from the islands says that the contract offered to Chappell has less guaranteed financial benefits, with greater emphasis placed on bonuses from winning. Truly laudable.

Dav Whatmore would have been a good replacement for Wright. Having done so much coaching in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, he would have shown better appreciation of what the job demands in India. Whatmore also has a proven track record, having masterminded Sri Lanka’s World Cup triumph in 1996 and lifting the stocks of minnow Bangladesh. He comes across as an intense and committed coach and more importantly was interested in filling up the vacancy created by Wright. Sadly, India lost out because of their delay in making a decision.

Whatmore is a fine example of a player with limited success at the international level to do exceedingly well as a national-level coach. His success reiterates a sporting truism: the best players have not made the best of coaches, while the best coaches have not been the best players. Whatmore is by no means an exception to the rule. Bob Woolmer and Duncan Fletcher are two more examples of meritorious coaches who were ordinary international players. And John Buchanan, Australia’s super coach, has no playing experience at the international level. On the other hand, outstanding internationals like Kapil Dev and Javed Miandad did not credit themselves as coaches.

One of the reasons for the dichotomy could be that gifted players fail to understand that not everybody has the talent to rise up to their levels of genius. They lack that comprehension and come hard on the player and thereby proving counter productive. Coaching is not just about spotting technical flaws and ironing them out, it’s not just about chalking out strategies on the drawing board, it’s not just about pre-match analysis and post-match dissections. It’s much, much more. It’s hell of a lot of hard work – lot harder than being a player. A significant requisite of the coach is high degree of man management skills. Which means appreciating the varying IQ levels and mindsets of players and optimising their talents. It also requires him to stay quietly in the background – something which Wright excelled at – and allow the players to bask in the limelight. It requires him to protect his players from the harsh glare of the media when they things are going wrong. Never easy, especially when the coach knows that it’s the failure of the players to execute his plan that had caused the downfall.

The examples of Kapil and Miandad should be an eye-opener not to get over-excited about having Greg Chappell as a coach. Unquestionably, he is one of the finest batsmen to have graced the Test arena, but he need not necessarily prove to be a good coach. And I am not even adding too much importance to the fact that he has no previous experience as coach of an international side, nor the fact that he hasn’t played Tests or ODIs in India.

My understanding of the players and their psyche would suggest that a majority of them would opt for Tom Moody than the more high-profile Greg Chappell. And the decision-makers would do well to keep the comfort levels of the players in mind. It’s they who have to work with the coach day in and day out and it’s their working relationship that should be paramount while deciding the choice of the new coach.Wright inculcated in the team professional work ethics, forged them to function as a unit and raised their esteem in overseas conditions. What the new coach needs to do is to build upon the good done by Wright: make the team more consistent, eliminate the inexplicable slumps, plug the apparent holes in the line-up and make them a champion team that, potentially, the side is eminently capable of achieving.

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