Lessons from kumble-kohli saga

The Anil Kumble-era as coach of the Indian team is over. Yes, his exit was unceremonious and wasn’t the best thing to happen to a legend. Yes, there was a rift between the captain and coach which could’ve been better handled by the BCCI. But all things said and done this is a matter done and dusted and the Indian team is in the Caribbean playing without a head coach. While the captaincoach saga has indeed left a sour taste, it is perhaps time to move on and figure out if there are any lessons to be learnt from this episode and what the BCCI ought to keep in mind when looking out for India’s new coach in the next one month.

Virat Kohli (left) and Anil
Kumble at a party during the 2010 IPL

Cricket, unlike football, is a captain driven game. It is the captain’s team more than anything else and he is the one who is in the firing line if the team fails to perform. It was Steve Waugh’s team in Australia that conquered the world. It was Ricky Ponting’s team that won back-to-back World Cups. It was MS Dhoni’s team that won the 2011 World Cup. If asked to name who was Australia coach in the 1999 World Cup, many will have to fall back on Wikipedia. Such is the nature of the sport and there is no running away from it. However, does that mean it will be Virat Kohli who will pick India’s next coach and will the coach have to be a Kohli yes-man? The answer is an emphatic no. At the same time the coach, whoever that is, will have to have a comfort factor with the captain and will have to have a bonding with the leader going forward. If India has to achieve results in the next 18 months with away series in South Africa, England and Australia, Kohli and the boys will need someone who can understand and bond with them. The comfort factor, whether we like it or not, is of paramount importance while selecting the coach.

Going by the last decade and a half, three men have done extremely well for India as head coach of the team. This is not to take into account the one-year reign of Kumble. The first was John Wright and the second and perhaps the best was Gary Kirsten. Finally, it was Ravi Shastri who was team director doubling up as Head Coach. And the one man who was a singular disaster was Greg Chappell. While Kumble was no chappell and his record as coach is near perfect, it must be said that two assertive men just don’t seem to go along well in Indian cricket. Kumble, a legend of the game, inadvertently perhaps, wanted to make the team as much as his as Kohli’s. Unlike Kirsten, who was happy giving the limelight to Dhoni, Kumble in that sense was somewhat different. His profile was such — 619 wickets and India’s biggest-ever match-winner, it was no surprise that he had a powerful presence in the dressing room, which, it seems was counter-productive for the team going forward. While he may have stayed away from the media, within the dressing room he was more an authority than a mentor.

We need a coach who is as solid as Kirsten but not as high-profile as Chappell or Kumble. We need someone who will mentor the boys and be a figure of solidity without being a man most sought after by the media. We need a boring taskmaster rather than a flamboyant legend as India’s head coach. And one must say that the appointment has to be long term so as to give the new coach and the team time to bond with each other and chart out a vision plan for the 2019 World Cup. It is essential for Indian cricket that Kohli and the senior players get time to bond with the new man at the helm and thereafter work together in drawing up the plan for cricket’s biggest tournament two years down the line. While it is disappointing that the Kumble saga had to end this way, it must be said that for the long term interest of Indian cricket it is good that the parting of ways has happened as soon as it has. Had there been a patch up of sorts as was being touted, it may well have harmed the team in the long run. As Anil says, the relationship was indeed untenable and in such a situation one of the two had to give way. And frankly, given the nature of the game, it had to be Kumble. As the BCCI begins its coach hunt in the next few days, one hopes it will keep the lessons learnt in mind. We don’t need to go for profile to satisfy the media. We need to get someone effective and that’s that. May be the IPL can serve as a template. The two teams that made the final this year had Mahela Jayawardene and Stephen Fleming as coach. Can we see a pattern there? Perhaps we can.