During the recent Test series, one of the Channel Nine commentators admitted that he didn’t have the faintest idea who India’s bowling coach was. While that was an indictment of how far Nine’s once-august standards have fallen, it also should have come as no surprise. If Bharat Arun walked down the street, 99 out of 100 Indian cricket fans would have no idea who he was. The 100th would immediately be installed somewhere as resident geek.
Arun dismissed Aravinda de Silva, Roy Dias and Asoka de Silva in his debut innings, but less than a month later, he had played the last of his two Tests. A few weeks later, he played a One-Day International against Pakistan in Sharjah. At 25-and-a-half, his international career was over. Years later, he would coach Tamil Nadu to two straight Ranji Trophy finals, and take charge of Bengal as well before inspiring the Under-19s to the World Cup in 2012.
Arun, like Sanjay Bangar, the assistant coach, and R Sridhar, the fielding coach, has been in the job just over six months. All three men know that Duncan Fletcher’s contract will be not be renewed after the World Cup campaign ends. Each of them is acutely aware that the work that they have done in the past few months will influence how homegrown coaches are viewed in the months and years ahead.
India may well turn to a big-name foreign coach to succeed Fletcher, but the Arun-Sridhar-Bangar experiment is proof of the value of having a local coaching core to back up the main man. In the case of Arun, who has worked with several of these players at lower age-group levels, it also illustrates the value of having some continuity in the coaching set-up.
These men haven’t won matches for India. The players are the ones that have accomplished that. But if they’re fair game for criticism when India don’t do well, it’s only fair that they get some hosannas when they win. When India’s bowlers did so poorly in the Test series, Arun’s role came in for much scrutiny. At the World Cup, they are the only team to have bowled out the opposition in every game.
If he was doing something wrong three months ago, then it stands to reason that he’s managed to get something right since. The same goes for Sridhar, the former Hyderabad left-arm spinner who has supervised one of the better fielding units in the competition.
Yet, the damage done by a previous generation of Indian coaches was such that it’s been nearly 15 years since someone with local roots mentored the national team. During the Indian Premier League last season, Venkatesh Prasad, one of the Indian coaches who have tried to break through that glass ceiling, spoke to Wisden India about how unfair it was that professionally qualified hopefuls were being judged on the basis of what happened in the 1990s. “You need a coaching certification, to understand technical, tactical, mental, physical and lifestyle aspects of the job,” he said. “The coaches before 2000, their style tended to be on the lines of: ‘This is how I did things, this is how it has to be done’.”
Arun, who has always stressed that dealing with failure is the greatest challenge, prefers to work on accentuating a player’s strengths. “The way each one executes their skill is different,” he had told Wisden India. “It’s like handwriting. The words are the same, but the way you write is different.
“You can better your handwriting, but if you try to write like someone else, the flow is gone. So that is what I sense some players are trying to do, and as coaches, our challenge is to work with them and iron out these aspects.”
The transformation in the likes of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav has been little short of astounding. Even when they didn’t take early wickets, against Ireland in Hamilton, they came back superbly to wrap up the innings. More importantly, in conditions that tend to aid fast bowling, there has to no attempt to sacrifice pace for accuracy. On Australian pitches, you need both.
Bangar’s method, whether at Kings XI Punjab in the IPL or with the Indian team, is based on earning the players’ confidence. Having been a fringe player – 12 Tests and 15 ODIs – he’s more aware than most of the insecurities that some constantly grapple with. “Even if you are the best coach with the greatest of experience, if you don’t enjoy the trust of the players under you, no amount of knowledge or experience will help,” he told Wisden India as he took up coaching roles soon after his retirement in early 2013.
When India and Bangladesh clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, these three gentlemen will cross paths with another individual whose dreams of coaching his national side were thwarted not long ago. Chandika Hathurasingha worked with New South Wales before the Bangladesh job came his way, but in different circumstances, he might have been in the Sri Lankan dressing room at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday (March 18).
“Hathurusinghe’s technical and strategic knowledge was second to none of the foreign coaches I have worked with before,” said Kumar Sangakkara in an impassioned plea to retain his services a few years ago. “He has out-worked, out-thought and out-shone the foreign coaching staff within the system.”
Sri Lanka Cricket didn’t listen. Bangladesh, whose fortunes he has changed utterly, are profoundly grateful.