Role of a coach in a team is one of the most frequently aired debates in cricket which resurfaces time and again with the success and failure of each series.
Is Ravi Shastri the best cricket coach/team director/cricket manager, India ever had? The numbers suggest so. It would be imperative to mention here, not only has he made the Team bounce back in difficult situations but India has not lost a series under his watch. India won the ODI Series – a bilateral series win in England in 24 years –soon after the humiliating losses in the Test series. So, what is it that Shastri did, what Duncan Fletcher could not? The answer is not easy to find out. But, it’s almost certain coaching is not just about ironing out technical flaws. A modern professional coach at the highest level got to have assorted range of qualities – from being a motivational speaker to decent Frisbee player.
How does coaching matter at the highest level? There are divergent and sometimes extreme views.
“Coaching is for children and not for adults” – goes Warne’s philosophy. “I’m a big believer that the coach is something you travel in to get to and from the game” – Thus spoke Shane Warne on John Buchanan’s role as a coach in Australia Cricket team.
“If I had a son, the last bloke in the world I would take him to for cricket coaching would be John Buchanan” said Ian Chappell, who famously had declined to be the first national coach of Australia Cricket team in 1986 because he doubted the necessity of a coach in a team.
On the contrary, there are other players who swear by the assistance they got from their coaches. The legendary Sachin Tendulkar heaped praises on Gary Kirsten’s contribution for India’s victorious World Cup 2011 stint. A poignant moment was when the younger members of the team lifted Kirsten on their shoulders and paraded him around the stadium in India’s victory lap at Wankhede stadium. Rarely have we witnessed such a sight which demonstrated the respect the Indian side had for Kirsten.
There are other breeds of coaches who have metamorphosed their role from a cricket to a life coach extending their influence beyond the 22 yards: Ramakant Achrekar to Sachin Tendulkar, Neil D’Costa to Michael Clarke and Tarak Sinha to numerous players from Delhi are to name a few.
There are instances of a very successful coach to a particular team floundering in another team. When John Buchnan was at the helm of affairs, Australia dominated the world cricket winning more than 75% of ODI matches with two World Cups and an ICC Champions Trophy under its wings. In those eight years Australia lost just two Test series. But disastrous will be a mild word to describe Buchanan’s stint at Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League.
Bob Woolmer, who played a vital role to anchor the South African side after their re-entry into the International fold, had a troubled stint with Pakistan. Geoff Marsh coached the Australia team to a World Cup victory in 1999 in England but failed to stop the slide of Zimbabwe side in early 2000s.
There are instances too, how a team has performed well without having a coach altogether.
After Greg Chappell’s exit in May 2007 and before Gary Kirsten’s arrival in March 2008, India was under stop-gap coach/manager – Ravi Shastri and Chandu Borde. India won a Test series in England in 2007 after a gap of 21 years. They defeated Australia at Perth, bouncing back from a defeat in Sydney, becoming the only subcontinent side to do so in the midst of a huge controversy that almost jeopardized the tour. India also went on to win the following CB series in Australia. Some remarkable and committed captains lead India during that period without a full time coach.
Virat Kohli had a situation in England this summer with the manner he got out to James Anderson. A batsman having 25 international hundreds to his credit, getting out in similar fashion to the same bowler-has nothing to do with coaching or lack of it. The best a coach can contribute in this situation is motivating him and pointing out minor technical flaws, if any. It’s up to the player in the middle, who has to quickly learn how to get out of that situation. It depends more on his mental strength than any coaching at that stage.
In a team sports, Coach is not the only person available to run to, players draw inspiration from their fellow team mates as well. But in the modern era of instant gratification, more often than not, coaches are in the first line of causality and the easiest scapegoats in a team’s collective failure. It is not surprising that very few coaches have left their respective team on a high and a sweet note. In many instances, reputed and accomplished coaches and players who have been asked to leave or sacked unceremoniously. The list goes on from Mickey Arthur to Greg Chappell to Javed Miandad.