Ricky Ponting, Mahela Jayawardene, Stephen Fleming, Brendon McCullum, Simon Katich, Trevor Bayliss, Andrew McDonald and Anil Kumble are currently the eight head coaches of the IPL teams in season 2020. Kumble is the only Indian in the list. While India talks about Aatma-nirbhar (self-reliant) in all walks of life and getting pretty vocal about everything local, the most sought-after yearly sporting event in India has very poor representation when it comes to coaches.
“It’s a big concern since IPL is a made in India tournament. It’s a great opportunity for BCCI and of course the system to promote domestic coaches. But then, it’s a franchise-based tournament so there are individual decisions taken from management points of view in terms of what works and what doesn’t,” says former Mumbai Indians’ CEO Shishir Hattangadi. “I don’t want to believe that we don’t have enough competent coaches. Now, we have an all-Indian coaching set-up with the national team so (quality) isn’t an issue. I think a lot of these owners keep seeing lovely presentations (and get impressed),” echoes former India opener Aakash Chopra.
Domination of overseas coaches
The overwhelming dominance of overseas coaches isn’t just restricted to the position of head coach. Almost 75 per cent of support staff across the IPL teams also consists of overseas professionals. “Once the head coach (who is a foreigner) is identified, expect that 75 per cent support staff would be from overseas as it’s a byproduct,” explains Chopra who is one of the most articulate voices in Indian cricket.
Picture courtesy: Delhi Capitals Twitter
Former Delhi Daredevils/Capitals Chief Executive Officer Hemant Dua also agrees with Chopra’s view that once the head coach is chosen then everything is decided accordingly. However, Dua doesn’t agree with the thought that overseas coaches get some sort of preferential treatment. “It’s not like that people are looking for foreign coaches only. It’s more about who fits the bill. There are an equal number of Indian coaches. It’s more about who provides the professional knowhow. IPL is a global league, we must not forget,” argues the former CEO.
Advantage foreign coaches
There is a notion that foreign coaches are more exposed to dealing with franchises and that’s a big tick in the box. “The way they handle the queries from the franchises in a sense is quiet admirable. The temperament of coaches from abroad who has handled the issues, like why a franchise has done better or fared badly is probably better,” adds Hattangadi.
Apart from that, it is difficult to disagree with the argument that a coaching team is also about having a reasonable comfort level. When a coach comes from X country, inevitably he prefers people from his country because of the comfort level. In a 45-50 days tournament, it’s just tough to adjust with personalities, individuals and styles instantly. Importantly, every coach has to understand his support staff well in order to get better results. And, it’s not surprising to find that often the head coach and support staff have worked together in the past or may have been former team-mates.
“In IPL, we also see the players who have played for a particular franchise, strike a good rapport (with the management). Or with the teams they have played for and they go on to become the coach later on like Brad Hodge (KXIP), Brendon McCullum (KKR), Mike Hussey (CSK) and McDonald (RR). And there is also a group which want to just promote their own people like (some of the) Australian coaches. I feel they want someone to get socialize with (after work-hours are over),” says Zimbabwe’s head coach Lalchand Rajput who was a part of the coaching group of India’s winning T20 team in South Africa in 2007.
Indians just filling in the blanks?
Apart from Kumble, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan are a few high-profile names to be associated with the IPL, though not directly in coaching. Over the years, former India player Sridharan Sriram has been in great demand as spin consultant/assistant coach with the Australian team and is now batting and spin bowling coach of Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Though, Ashish Nehra didn’t get his contract renewed for this season with the RCB, his former team-mate L Balaji is now the bowling coach with his local franchise Chennai Super Kings while Jharkhand’s head coach Rajeev Kumar is associated with the same team as batting coach. Incidentally, Kumar shares an excellent rapport with his former Bihar Ranji team-mate MS Dhoni. “The basic premise is that the franchise wants big names because of marketing (to be able to present oneself nicely),” says Rajput. “That’s true. Presenting your idea and blueprint (to owners) plays an important role. There are some better coaches (foreigners) to sell the idea,” adds Chopra.
Picture courtesy: Kings XI Punjab Twitter
Stature plays a crucial role
Stature, body of work, previous experience as a coach, communication skills etc. play crucial roles in a coach’s selection. “Lets’ not forget that in IPL, you have lots of international players. To be able to command the respect within the team you have to be a player of stature.” says Hattangadi who is now the CEO of Baroda Cricket association. “Your knowledge is more when you play a higher level of cricket for a longer period of time which is inevitable. Fact of the matter is acceptability by the players is a huge factor.”
A great advantage with any reputed name is that there is an element of respect even before he joins the team and that comes only with a big name. “Bigger name bias will always be there for a variety of reasons. You are a big brand and franchises wants to associate (themselves) with a big brand. I remember my experience with KKR when Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus and Buchanan were hired because they were the best at that point of time,” says Chopra.
Those who are at the receiving end of the existing system also concede that ultimately a brand like Ponting, McCullum or Jayawardene is tough to fight. Yet, the fact of the matter remains that no coach is hired for coaching a T20 team. “It’s more about management. Ultimately, most successful teams in IPL are those with lots of Indian players like CSK or MI, so it’s just about perception,” says Rajput.
Unanimity on winning over anything else
At the international level, there is a growing realization that Test, ODI and T20 teams’ requirements are entirely different. By the same logic, it is a bit unfair to expect all domestic coaches will compete with world-class competitors from across the world. “If we just want only Indian coaches then why we do need an international league (like IPL)? We need to see this from an international point of view. The most important (criterion to select a coach) is who can win the trophy,” argues Dua. Regardless of contrasting views on this subject, there is unanimous thought that ultimately the aim is to win a trophy and whoever has the best potential to achieve that, often gets the nod.
“The good thing with IPL is that there are no emotional baggages. If you are a good coach and develop a reputation over a period like a Dishant Yagnik (fielding coach for RR) or even Monty Desai (ex-RR) who hasn’t even played first-class cricket, you can be part of IPL” says Chopra.
The way ahead
It’s indeed a poor advertisement for BCCI’s coaching structure that 10 per cent of (30 Ranji teams) domestic coaches can’t graduate to the IPL or any T20 teams in the world.
“I think we need to give more opportunities to our coaches and that is what Rahul Dravid is trying to do. In our last Zoom meeting, he said that he would have liked to see more former domestic players taking up coaching,” says Hattangadi.
However, someone like Rajput offers the radical suggestion of a ‘quota system’.
“Obviously I am disappointed that foreign teams are taking my inputs but not the IPL teams. We have to support our coaches. There are only 4 foreigners in a playing XI, so why can’t have a similar kind of quota for coaches?” asks Rajput.
This may be a far-fetched idea for the BCCI and IPL Governing council to introduce a ‘quota-system’ like South African cricket to make the domestic coaches representation in IPL.
Hattangadi has a very novel suggestion too. He argues, “Widen your wealth of knowledge and reduce your price. If there is an opportunity then my suggestion is come up with a plan like pay my salary on my performance. Pay me less in the beginning and if I deliver then make payments.”
But the real question is are the people who matter listening?