Coaching Dilemma India is faced with

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By Madhu Kshirsagar,  May 2015

India is yet to appoint a coach for its team. It has been three months since the void was created by Duncan Fletcher who left after India’s World Cup quest.  His stint as India’s head coach was at best chequered and at worst shocking.

Fletcher found it next to impossible to break India’s jinx overseas.  I am not sure that it is entirely his fault, but it has to be pointed out that he did not add another dimension to India’s overseas prowess (or the lack of it) in any shape or form.  India has happily continued its dismal performance overseas irrrespective of who the coach is.

So what does that tell us? It tells us that it may not be the coach.  Or is it just possible that Indian players are tigers at home but turn into pussy cats overseas? Come on! Really!

It has been the same over the last 40 years and Fletcher was unable to perform any minor miracles during his tenure. In fact they went from bad to worse under his wing – if that is possible.  I have to add that all cricketing sides face this problem; they all seem to perform well in home conditions but are not as successful in alien conditions.  But Indian players have made this into an art form!

Also, the appointment of Ravi Shastri as the Team Director did not augur well for Fletcher’s coaching job.  It was made clear to all concerned that Fletcher was responsible for the onfield performance of the team, but Ravi Shastri was responsible for the overall performance of the team – meaning Fletcher reported to Shastri.

It is a weird situation and only Indian administrators can come up with such out of the box (read crazy) short term fixes that ultimately confuses the living daylights out of everybody concerned.  Most of all the coach and the players.

Does it really matter who the coach is when you have a team Director above everyone else? Guess not. It all but relegates the coach’s position to the bin.  Maybe, ‘Team Director’ is the new name for ‘Coach’.

May be the strategy is to have a team director and no coach! Or just bowling, batting and fielding coaches! Perhaps! So I guess then that team Director position is here to stay.

Sourav Ganguly is being touted as the next team Director, as Shastri was only being ‘helpful’ in gracefully agreeing to do the job in the interim until the end of the World Cup.  It is rumoured that Ganguly has the backing of BCCI; in other words the confidence of his old ally Jagmohan Dalmiya, who is the current BCCI President.

It is also rumoured that Shastri, on the other hand, who was only doing everyone a ‘favour’ in the interim, has now decided that it is an attractive position afterall and wants to continue indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; Ganguly could well turn out to be a very good team Director (coach?). He has history of nurturing players and is competitive and unrelenting in approach, has captained India successfully, and instilled the thirst for winning in his team mates. Something that Shastri never had the opportunity to display in his playing career.  Again, Shastri might have these qualities, but you have to just take them at his word.

On the other hand, although Ganguly’s strategic skills might be next to none, his coaching skills, especially relating to fielding and fitness, is next to just about anybody.

Whoever is chosen will have to walk the tightrope in keeping BCCI happy and also delivering on the ground.  He has to be both strategic and diplomatic – sounds like an oxymoron within Indian cricket administration.  Whereas Ganguly might be strategic, Shastri will be diplomatic.  Not sure which will deliver results in the Indian scheme of things.  The former will be good for cricket and the latter will be good for BCCI. You can figure it out for yourself which will prevail.

Ravi Shastri Sourav Ganguly

Or should we again go down the path of an overseas former player as India’s team director?

Now that is a can of worms! An Indian is always going to be accused of being parochial in selection and he has to walk the tightrope, and a foreign team director will only bring about marginal change in results if he has to keep all the administrators and senior players happy.

Either way we are all but setting them up to fail. That’s a pity!

So who cares! Just go overseas, have a good time, and get thrashed again. Come back home and a pot of gold will be awaiting you in the form of IPL.  If some individual performances adorn the otherwise indifferent attitude of the players overseas, well then that will only help the individual players’ bid price to shoot up to the sky during IPL auction.

All good. Everyone is happy.

Except the poor cricket fan. Who cares; he is only a minor cog in the wheel of this commercial juggernaut.

Why Bouncers Should be Outlawed from Cricket

PHOTO-1By Madhu Kshirsagar

The violence factor in fast bowling

Cricket is a sport. Fast bowling is an art, not a lethal weapon. Fast short-pitched bowling above shoulder height, or a bouncer as normally referred to in cricket, is unnecessary and used for the sole purpose of intimidation.

Having said the above, let me put the case to you.  A bouncer or a short-pitched ball which is aimed at the batsman’s head at 140 to 150 kms per hour is a missile that requires a lot of talent and technique to avoid, leave alone scoring off. Even a very experienced international batsman is at risk if there is a momentary lapse of concentration.

And it can happen to the best of batsmen, as in the tragic case of poor Phillip Hughes. It is a catastrophic incident and emotions are running high at the moment. But it is all the more reason why the future of this delivery should be debated now and if possible confined to the annals of history.

Image result for bouncers in cricket

The only other fatal incident in cricket I can remember is that of Raman Lamba, who was a Test level batsman who succumbed to a hit to his temple while fielding at short leg.  Although they are two different set of circumstances, it shows the devastating effects of a high speed ball striking the head region. But there are other numerous incidents of batsmen getting badly hurt by fast short-pitched deliveries.

Correct technique in playing the short ball is very important to be taught from a very early age.  Let’s look at what a batsman can do when subjected to a bouncer that is travelling at great speed towards his head.

  • Duck under the ball
  • Sway away from the line of the ball
  • Pull or hook the ball, or
  • Cut the ball

Every one of the above alternatives requires a great amount of practice, training and technique. The most important of them all is the often repeated adage: never take the eye off the ball. The human instinct and reflex will almost always ensure that the body reacts appropriately if it can see the path of the ball to the very last split second.

Despite all the skills, the element of danger is still clear and present. A very slight lapse in concentration, a wrong bodily move, a wrong shot-selection or a simple ‘eye-off-the-ball’ can end in catastrophic results.

Moreover, although helmets can protect in some situations, they are not foolproof. They merely give the batsmen a false sense of comfort and overconfidence, and therein lies the danger. Batsmen are generally said to have only around 0.4 seconds of reaction time to avoid being hit by a short-pitched delivery.

Sometimes the mind can refuse to react quickly enough depending on the situation - the mind might be fatigued due to tiredness from a long innings, an untimely bat of an eyelid due to a speck of dust, an ill timed flash of sunlight - it could be anything!

I can hear many people arguing that a bouncer is part of the game, and that it will take away the ‘combative’ nature of the game. And that it has been an essential part of the game all through its history.  Nothing untoward, outside of a stray incident, over all these years has ever happened is the argument.

Batsmen have forgotten the art of leaving the short ball

I disagree. Test players of olden times, in fact even as late as the nineties, had the choice to leave a short ball alone. Yes, it demanded good technique to duck or pull away, but they had the option to ‘not’ offer a shot. What changed the paradigm completely is Twenty20 (T20) cricket, where every ball counts. A batsman is pressured to play a big shot against every ball that is bowled. This is where a well-directed short-pitched ball can prove to be lethal.

Image result for bouncers in cricket

Moreover, T20 cricket has changed how other forms of the game are played in recent times. Batsmen take more risks to score quickly and hence 300+ scores in one-dayers, which did not at all happen often until the turn of this century, and 3-day Test matches, where batsmen play in an attacking style and are in no mood to stick it out.  Tests demand both cricketing skills and character skills, whereas the present day instant varieties need only cricketing skills.

So the pressure of not conceding a dot ball has immensely changed how a batsman reacts to a short-pitched ball travelling at a high speed towards his face. Danger lurks!

Time for a change in laws?

Cricket is all about batsmen scoring runs and bowlers trying to take wickets. A fast bowler can use all types of techniques to get rid of a batsman – there is a huge range of variations that can be deployed. But a short pitched delivery aimed at the head should not be one of them. It is intimidatory bowling with the threat of bodily harm, thereby either forcing a false shot or actual bodily harm.

There is a fine line between taking a wicket and threatening to cause extreme harm. That fine line should never be crossed. Bouncers are a form of extreme sledging, the only difference is that it is in action rather than words.

That is why you have rules against head-high tackles in rugby, high sticking in hockey, rabbit punch (blow to the neck or base of the skull) in boxing, and a raised foot in football.

The head should be protected at all costs because it can result in fatal injuries. Therefore, short-pitched bowling above shoulder height should be banned in cricket. Cricket is a team sport where emotions can run high on the field, and there is a huge potential for tragic accidents when a charged up fast bowler steams in and hurls a ball at a very high speed towards the head of a batsman.

In the heat of the moment, it could lead to tragic situations, even though the bowler, when reflecting back, is probably the first to recognise the danger he is causing with the ball. Although in real match situations, most fast bowlers seem to wear it as a badge of honour when they physically hurt the batsman.

All the hubris regarding “chin music”, and statements such as “knock his block off”, “roughing up”, etc. are nothing but misplaced arrogance and have no place in the sport.

Cricket has changed over the years, so should the rules. By all means, tighten the rules around batsmen scoring freely, and there are other ways to give bowlers more freedom and clout.

But let’s put an end to this primitive and gladiatorial element in an otherwise gentlemanly game before someone else is seriously hurt.