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A generational change is required

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SMART CHOICE: Ravi Shastri could well have pushed India forward had he stayed on. - PHOTO: AFP
SMART CHOICE: Ravi Shastri could well have pushed India forward had he stayed on. - PHOTO: AFP

Younger, enquiring minds should at least be involved in choosing the coach, writes Rohit Brijnath

Few men are as engaging on cricket as Sanjay Manjrekar, whose dissections of the game are original and stimulating. His ideas spark arguments, they are occasionally provocative and mostly thoughtful. Of course, we do not know if his man management is sound and his leadership able. Still, it is intriguing that his name rarely arises when a new coach is discussed. Certainly younger, enquiring minds like his should at least be involved in choosing the coach.

A generational change is required in Indian cricket and not just on the field. Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad as assistant coaches is a beginning but hardly enough. The game would be silly to discard experience, yet must quickly embrace younger, energetic men as well. Gavaskar's value remains substantial but alongside him on committees must sit men of this era; if Jimmy Amarnath is mentioned as coach, then so should be Javagal Srinath.

Prospective coach

Soon Anil Kumble will retire his white flannels and his gifts must be harvested. Having seen modern cricket from spitting distance, he understands its rhythms and responsibilities. Furthermore, he is allergic to the half-measure and hopefully will make a good fit as bowling coach, or in the academy.

Not that grey-haired fellows should feel persecuted. After all, from John Buchanan to Duncan Fletcher, practiced coaches have done wonders recently.

It is merely that Indian cricket needs to be inoculated with new ideas, injected with enthusiasm. In a reasonably large pool, we keep looking at the same fish.

Not all of it has to do with age, some of it is an old Indian obsession with reputation. Ravi Shastri, as coach (interim as it turned out) happened to be a smart choice, for he is an ambitious, intelligent, self-assured fellow, impatient for greatness, and could well have pushed India forward had he stayed on.

Reflexive action

But falling back on Shastri was also a reflexive action in the "how-well-known-are-you" world of Indian cricket. The bigger the name the more comfortable we seem, reassured by the misplaced idea that if a fellow is excellent with the bat, for instance, well, then he must be excellent as a coach or administrator.

The pity is that in conversations on coach rarely do names like Paras Mhambrey and Chandrakant Pandit, to pick just two, merit serious mention.

The former led Bengal astutely it is said, and the latter is reputed to be street smart.

Could they translate their skills into a more complex national team set-up? We don't know, but their willingness to embrace their craft in domestic cricket requires our respect and attention.

Certainly, to go by pure coaching record, their credentials are superior to Greg Chappell's.

In fact, by not placing an Indian deputy coach with John Wright and Chappell, an opportunity for grooming was missed. Tim Nielsen, for instance, was Buchanan's assistant before taking over Australia's centre of excellence.

Alas, in the hierarchical universe of Indian cricket, men like Mhambrey and Pravin Amre, lack the necessary status. They are simply not fashionable and famous enough. From players in the Indian team to television channels, you can hear the sneering question: arre, what will they teach us? One day Indian cricket will opt for a coach like Nielsen, or Mhambrey, with little or no Test cricket behind them; that could be the day Indian cricket grows up.

Another sign

Perhaps, another sign of our cricketing maturity will be the learning of discretion and the arrival of trust. The recent television "sting" was silly, for the channels were not uncovering corruption, which makes it legitimate, but presenting idle gossip dressed up as "breaking news".

Still, the messenger does not deserve shooting. Television at least unveiled, again, that Indian cricket lacks men of judgement. If selectors are willing to blithely reveal private team information to absolute strangers, we should not be surprised no trust exists within the game.

Players, officials, selectors, all are often wary, and sometimes even contemptuous, of each other. It is hard to be a successful cricketing nation when it does not seem like everyone is playing for the same team.

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