The decision was welcomed by one and all with utmost joy. One of India’s greatest ever cricketers – the country’s leading wicket-taker, the guy who batted and bowled with a broken jaw and the man who skittled 10 Pakistanis in one innings – was announced as the Indian team’s new head coach amid much jubilation. Ever since it was first reported that Anil Kumble had tossed his hat into the ring for the job, it was almost as if it was meant to be. No one else stood a chance. Ravi Shastri, who?
There are many reasons why Kumble would make a good coach, in spite of the fact that his coaching credentials are limited. The 45-year-old has never coached an international or first-class team, which was one of the criteria the Board of Control for Cricket in India had listed in the job description. Kumble has had a couple of brief stints as mentor of Indian Premier League franchises Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, but this is the closest he has gotten to coaching a professional sports team.
Kumble might still make an excellent coach and there’s no doubting his intentions and cricketing credentials, but it’s the manner in which he was selected that raises some questions. According to reports, the BCCI had received as many as 57 original applications for job, including Kumble’s, when it first put out the job vacancy in early June. Out of these, 21 were shortlisted by board secretary Ajay Shirke and their CVs were sent to the BCCI's cricket advisory committee, comprising the holy trinity of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, for the final round of interviews.
Now, here’s the interesting bit. According to ESPNcricinfo, Kumble had not made that 21-man shortlist. It was on the insistence of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman that his name was added to the pot. A select few out of the 22 men, obviously including Kumble, were then asked to make presentations to the advisory committee earlier this week. It was reported that Kumble’s presentation was the longest and most detailed of the lot. Not that it would have mattered, of course.
The advisory committee had made it clear that Kumble was its favourite for the job and, thus, it came as no surprise on Thursday evening when the BCCI announced the result. However, Kumble had only got a one-year contract. Shirke explained that the former cricketer “is now transforming himself from being a great on the cricketing field to probably becoming a great coach that we expect him to be. That transition has to be smooth…that is the reason we want to be able to be in a position to review our options should there be any need. I am confident that we will not have that need to address that need (sic).”
Shirke has tried his best to make it sound logical, but what this shows is that the BCCI isn’t sure of its own decision. It either means that they were not convinced with any of the candidates, including Kumble, but gave it to him as a stop-gap measure. If it works out, well and good. If it doesn’t, we’ll have the circus again in a year. Or, it could mean that they actually believe Kumble is the right choice, but considering his lack of experience, they want to test him out in a season where India is majorly playing at home.
Whatever the case, it’s hard to believe that there wasn’t even a single candidate among the 57 that applied who wasn’t worthy enough of being entrusted with the Indian team for more than 12 months. The list included people with considerable coaching experience and proven credentials, such as Praveen Amre, Sandeep Patil and Tom Moody. If the BCCI did want to give Kumble a trial, could they not have offered him the role of a bowling coach or team mentor for a year, instead of making him head coach?
Where's the transparency?
BCCI President Anurag Thakur said that the advisory committee looked into all applications and the shortlisted names were discussed “with other stakeholders in the board [and] in the team” before taking a call. “We have taken little more time, but we wanted to be more transparent and wanted to pick the best,” he added.
If the BCCI actually wants to be transparent and involve all stakeholders, it should reveal to the fans, who are the ultimate stakeholders, as to why it bent its own rules to accommodate Kumble, but then gave him the job only on a temporary basis. Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman may be the most respected cricketers in the country, but unless they explain their decision, it’s only going to come across as preferential treatment to an old teammate.
With Kumble handling the senior team, Rahul Dravid in charge of the Under-19 and ‘A’ teams, and Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman working for the BCCI, it makes for a fascinating story: India’s fabulous five have taken control of Indian cricket. The future is bright and all that.
However, the fans deserve to know the reasons behind their decisions. If Kumble’s presentation was indeed so fantastic, can the BCCI put it in the public domain for everyone to see? If his candidature was indeed the best out of a pool of 57, can Messrs Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman care to explain what made him stand out?
Can the BCCI also clear the air over reports which stated that members of the Indian team, including Test captain Virat Kohli, wanted Shastri as head coach? For all the jokes that are cracked about his commentary, it was widely reported that Shastri had the support of the dressing room during his two-year tenure as team director, which ended in March. If this is true, where was he found lacking compared to Kumble, a coaching rookie?
Knowing the way the BCCI functions, it is unlikely these questions will ever be answered. Indian fans can, therefore, only hope that the board and its holy trinity have taken the right decision. Everything said and done, Kumble deserves a chance. Good luck, Jumbo, and hope it all works out for the best!