It's strange that the BCCI appoints bowling and fielding coaches when it's the batting that primarily let India down at the World Cup. More than that, what India needs is a thinking coach, as I've explained in this article on page 16 of DNA Sunday, which is reproduced here...
Tom Moody was up on his feet in the pavilion, cellphone to his ear, gesticulating. Down below, a member of the Sri Lankan support staff ran round the boundary to a spot near one of the outfielders. The flurry of activity at the end of the penultimate over of the Sri Lanka-England match signalled a critical moment not just in the match but the tournament itself, because whichever team pulled off a victory in the next over would in all likelihood make it through to the semi-finals of World Cup 2007.
England, needing 12 runs for victory, had its hopes pinned on young Ravi Bopara, who had rescued the team from a precarious 133 for 6. The Lankan wise heads went into a huddle: who should bowl that last over? Shouldn’t it be their most experienced bowler Chaminda Vaas?
The ball went to Dilhara Fernando, who was not even in the playing eleven for the Lankans at the start of the Cup. Somebody made the call, correctly, that his extra pace was a better bet and that he had it in him to hold his nerve.
The last ball in the over was straight, fast, and short of a length, not the usual yorker Bopara was expecting. He missed, was bowled, and England fell two runs short.
With such experienced hands as Sanath Jayasuriya, Muthiah Muralitharan, captain Mahela Jayewardene and Vaas on the field, did the Lankans need that input from Moody?
Insights are the key
Often a key insight can only come from a detached, intelligent view away from the heat of the action, and that is one of the myriad ways in which a modern cricket coach can be the most important member of the team.
Consider the fact that it’s only the coach and captain who are really motivated to put the interests of the team above those of individual stars, because their jobs primarily depend on the team’s performance, or at least they should.
So unless the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finds a replacement for Greg Chappell who not only has solid credentials as a coach but is also then empowered to direct the show, it’s the superstars who will call the shots, despite the conflict of interest when team decisions impact players and their endorsements.
Taming the variables
Cricket coaching today is not just about batting and bowling tips or fielding drills. More than in any other physical sport, success in cricket depends on strategy and tactic as much as performance. That is because of the number of variables at play: the weather, the pitch, the condition of the ball, field placements, different kinds of bowling and batting, the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and, finally, the mind games.
Bob Woolmer, who pioneered the use of computer-aided video analysis to deconstruct the opposition, was the first to recognise how much more a coach could bring to the table. He probably picked it up from the New York Yankees, the fabled American baseball team, who even employed a former IBM scientist to use data-mining software to generate intelligence on the best ways to deal with batters and pitchers.
Decisions from the gut
Today, the most successful coaches in cricket are people like Dav Whatmore and John Buchanan, who were not legends as players, but will put in the donkey’s work that goes into supporting a team with dossiers of information. Of course, data can only take you thus far and no further. As Jack Welch advises in his book on winning: “There’s never adequate data. Make decisions with your gut.”
Whether by gut or data, India got a lot of decisions wrong at the World Cup: batting first against Bangladesh, pushing Sachin Tendulkar down the order, replacing Anil Kumble with Harbhajan Singh for the Lanka match, not taking Ramesh Powar to the Cup…
Sri Lanka, by contrast, got a lot of decisions right: opting for new talent such as Upul Tharanga and Chamara Silva in place of former captain Marvan Atapattu, and yet not being blinded by the preference for youth to deny the claims of an ageing Jayasuriya.
Keeping the powder dry
And it wasn’t the choice of Fernando to bowl the last over that won Sri Lanka that vital match against England. It came earlier, when they held back the third set of five powerplay overs, with field restrictions, which most teams try to use up as quickly as possible. They waited till the 30th over to bring the field in, and Muralitharan tossed the roughened old ball up to England’s main striker Kevin Pietersen, who could not resist trying to hoik it into the wide open spaces over midwicket. It was the doosra and Muralitharan pouched the leading edge with glee.
That’s the joy of cricket: the thought that goes into it. And the Indian cricket board, being the richest, can employ the best coaching mind, going by his track record as a coach, not a player. But is the board capable of picking the right leader and empowering him?