Where are India’s cricket coaches?
Despite being the sport’s centre of power, India’s cricket coaches find opportunities hard to come by at the highest level
NEWDELHI:India is cricket’s undisputed centre of power. The Test team has been No. 1 for two years in a row. Other nations work overtime to accommodate a series with India to boost their finances. It is home to the biggest and the richest T20 franchise league in the world, and the BCCI’s centrally contracted players command the highest salaries in the world.
This is cricket country— except when it comes to coaches.
Look no further than the Indian Premier League (IPL), where all eight teams are headed by foreigners: three South Africans, two Australians, two New Zealanders and one Sri Lankan. Even among the support staff, there is only a handful of Indians.
In other leagues, in other nations, the story is different. Australia’s Big Bash League has six out of eight teams coached by Australians, the other two helmed by New Zealanders. Of the 18 counties in England’s T20 Blast, 13 are headed by English coaches, three have Australians and there is one each from South Africa and New Zealand.
When it comes to national teams, barring India coach Ravi Shastri, only Lalchand Rajput heads the coaching staff of Zimbabwe who failed to qualify for this World Cup.
Though there are a few coaches from India who have found opportunities with international teams—Sunil Joshi is the spin coach of Bangladesh—it is not a patch on the voluminous number of coaches sent out by Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England.
According to former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad, most of these cricketing nations have a strong culture of encouraging local coaches, providing a structured platform for them to rise through. “None of the Indian coaches will figure in county or Big Bash League,” Prasad, who has had coaching stints with multiple IPL teams, says.
WHO COACHES THE COACHES?
What prevents Indian coaches from bagging top appointments? Is it technical knowhow or the will to move out of their comfort zones?
Some coaches, by their own admission, never gave much thought to going beyond the realm of Ranji Trophy. Like Debu Mitra, a seasoned professional who coached Saurashtra for 10 years and under whom Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja made their mark. “I have been going to England every year since 1987 but apart from a few stints here and there, I never thought of doing anything else,” said Mitra.
But for the majority, Prasad says bluntly, it’s a lack of coaching skills that keep them tied down.
“I’m sorry to say, a lot of them are not competent enough. They feel since they have played the game, they can coach,” Prasad says. “That is not how it works. They are not in tune with modern-day coaching (which needs) a good understanding of biomechanical and technical issues.
“More than anything, I think the coaches need to address the mental aspect of the game. Where you score over the other player is in the mind. You need to understand the player. You have to be a good man manager. A solution for one player may not be the solution for another guy. Not many understand that.”
Prasad recalls an incident from his playing days in the 1990s to make his point.
“A legend in fast bowling told me to bowl the way he bowled,” he says. “That is not how it works. The coach needs to understand my physical aspect, my mental aspect, my technical aspect and coach me, not coach everyone the same way.”
IS THERE A BIAS?
You don’t have to be a good player to be a competent coach, and Umesh Patwal, Nepal’s batting coach, is an example. A former Mumbai A division player, Patwal was a journeyman cricketer who took his game to UAE and England before turning to coaching.
Patwal had failed to pass the Level 3 course—the highest qualification for a cricket coach—at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru but cleared the Australian board’s coaching certificate in Dubai in 2011. He then joined Kochi Tuskers Kerala as a second assistant-coach under Sanjay Bangar, who is now India’s batting coach. Patwal was also the academy head of the Vidarbha under-16s. “Around seven players from that batch have made it to the India under-19 squad,” he says.
But, Patwal says, recognition for this work is not easy to come by. Patwal was the batting coach for Afghanistan during the Asia Cup in 2018, where the cricket rookies performed admirably with the bat.
“None of the commentators, many of them Indian, mentioned my name,” Patwal says. “There is this poor mindset of the IPL owners who think Indian coaches are not good enough. But if you see, Paras Mhambrey and Robin Singh are with Mumbai Indians for a long time. Bangar did very well too.”
PrasadagreeswithPatwalthat there is a bias against Indian coaches. “In IPL, we only have foreign (head) coaches. They just come for two months and have fun,” says Prasad. “If the franchise does well, it’s okay and if they don’t, they say ‘we have done our job, we have been professional’ and leave.”
VVS Laxman, the Sunrisers Hyderabad mentor, is not convinced.
“Ashish Nehra is with RCB, Sriram is with KXIP, Robin and Zaheer are with Mumbai. It’s not that Indian coaches are not part of any franchise. It’s all about getting the best people, and continuity is very important in IPL,” he says. “Familiarity is important. If a coach gets used to a franchise and is giving results, usually the franchise doesn’t look to make changes.
It’s also about owners being comfortable with a certain coaching style. As long as a coach understands the character of a team and builds it, it doesn’t matter whether he is Indian or foreigner.”
THE RIGHT GROOMING
In the modern game, coaching is a highly specialised profession, and Prasad, who is from the first batch of Level 3 graduates from the NCA, feels that coaches need to commit to expanding their knowledge.
“There was a lot of emphasis on biomechanics and theoretical aspect of the game,” Prasad says, describing his NCA days. “The faculty was outstanding with none other than Frank Tyson in it. But I thought I need another Level 3 abroad. That’s when I went to Shropshire in England. That’s where few of England’s Olympic teams come and practice. This stint was all about practical aspects and video analysis, which we didn’t do in India then.”
Exchange programmes can be another way of encouraging domestic coaches,” Prasad says.
“Seven (Indian) cricketers are playing county this year. You need to have a similar sort of understanding where you identify the 10-15 top coaches in India and you send them to England during the off-season. Let them work at a county under a mentor.”
Ravi Shastri (right) will be the only Indian coach in charge at the upcoming World Cup.