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The Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble Rift And The Sorry Standing Of The Indian Cricket Team Coach

The role of a coach in India cricket is undefined.

06/06/2017 8:46 AM IST | Updated 06/06/2017 4:42 PM IST
Reuters Photographer / Reuters

Here we go again. Flashbacks of the Ganguly– Chappell spat are hitting us every time a new article is posted on how the Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble relationship is on the verge of an ugly divorce.

As compared to the western world, India is not a very coach/manager-friendly environment, especially in cricket. In fact the concept of having a coach is only recent. In the old days it was just a manager and a physio who went on tours. Cricket has always been about the players.

In the west you have coaches/managers who are considered legends of their sport. Vince Lombardi (American football), Sir Alex Fergusson (football), Phil Jackson (basketball), the list goes on. Who do you have in cricket that has the love and respect as a coach/manager like the three men that I mentioned?

The players must understand that one of the most fruitful relationships between players and coaches can come when there are no egos involved.

The power centre in a team is also different. In the west the coach/manager is the CEO of the team. He decides substitutions, the starting line up, who to rest and whom to play. The strategy, the formation (in football) and the plays from the sidelines are all at the coach's discretion.

There is a famous incident where Phil Jackson benched Michael Jordan for a long period of a Bulls game. Jordan was furious and when Jackson let him back in the game he dominated and led the bulls to victory. The relevance of the story here is not about how great a coach Jackson was in managing Jordan, but the fact that he had the ability to bench the greatest basketball player of all time and there was nothing Jordan could do about it.

Can you imagine the coach of the Indian team benching the team's captain? Even Vegas won't give you odds on that one.

The role of a coach in India and in cricket is delicate and most importantly undefined. Can a coach decide the playing XI or just give his input; can he take a call on the batting order? Can he make the decision on what the team should do if they win the toss? Probably not. They way cricket is structured the CEO is the Captain.

I am not saying one type of a structure is better than the other. It is what it is and is probably not going to change.

That brings us to Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble. So far we just have vague details or rumours of the issues that are creating the rift between the two. Whatever the issue, we all know where this is headed. Unless this whole thing is a press-created fiasco (doubtful), Anil Kumble, unfortunately, will probably not be the Indian coach in the near future.

So who is to blame? We don't know and it really doesn't matter. What we should focus on is the expectations of the next coach.

For the players

I get it—players have egos. It isn't even their fault. Blame the fans. We don't treat them like professional sportsmen, we treat them like gods. We do havans and pujas of their posters. It is absurd. It is all fun and games to say "In India cricket is a religion," but it really is not. It causes a problem because the players who are the leaders of this so called "religion" begin to believe they are gods.

In star-studded teams across the world of sports coaches and managers have to manage egos. The coaches that don't embrace this responsibility will always fail.

The players must understand that one of the most fruitful relationships between players and coaches can come when there are no egos involved. A coach is someone who says to the best bowler or batsman in the world—"You can do things differently and you can do things better." This sometimes leads to extraordinary results.

For the new coach

Like it or not part of a coach's job is player management. It is not just about the strategy and skills. In star-studded teams across the world of sports coaches and managers have to manage egos. The coaches that don't embrace this responsibility will always fail.

You think it is easy to manage a team with Messi, Neymar and Suarez? Or Kobe and Shaq? Or Sachin, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Kohli and Gambhir? Yet Luis Enrique, Phil Jackson and Gary Kirsten did it with a subtle skill set—one really noticed it was being done. Sure, Kobe and Shaq fell apart eventually but they won three NBA Championships together.

Cricket is a player first-coach second structure. In my view the role of a coach in cricket is pivotal in terms of strategy, research on opponents, developing younger players and mental management. But unless the next Indian coach doesn't add ego and player management to his list of duties, we are going to be back here again.

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