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Clayton Murzello: Look, look this pitch is a turner!

Ravi Shastri is a deserving top contender for the head coach’s post, but Anil Kumble’s application may mean this match will go down to the wire

In Indian cricket’s home season of plenty, the coach will probably get more attention than the captain and the men who are really going to make a difference in the win-loss column.

Over the last few days, ever since the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) released the exact number of candiates who have applied for the coach’s post, without naming them of course, the number 57 has gathered huge significance and most Indian cricket lovers want to know who these 57 contenders are.

Anil Kumble, who has aspirations of being the Indian cricket team’s head coach
Anil Kumble, who has aspirations of being the Indian cricket team’s head coach

While the head coach will decide on the support staff, one reckons that several from that list of 57 have sent their applications hoping for a spot on the support staff roster. Some would even be happy with a role at the National Cricket Academy. Be that as it may, it was surprising to read the names of some aspirants, who have neither had successful stints as coaches on the national scene nor accomplished international playing careers. One could also sense some of their regional and personal connections with Board members.

Until Monday, Ravi Shastri appeared to be a favourite for the job. Then came the news about Anil Kumble applying as well. It is probably here where the ball will turn, as it were. Kumble, although not having certified credentials as coach and not coaching a first-class team, is a fine technician and mentor. Even before he captained India in 2007, Kumble was, in a sense, a leader in the ranks.

Shastri is a deserving top contender but Kumble’s application could lead to greater discussion amongst the powers that be, before they make the final choice. Stature and the amount of cricket one has played have always been critical when it comes to appointments in Indian cricket and Kumble does not fall short here.

According to reports, Shastri has asked for the support staff which worked under him to stay the same. But there could be a case worth considering. Supporters of former India bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad reckon the Karnataka man got a raw deal when he was replaced after doing a good job with the bowlers on the 2007 and 2007-08 tours of England and Australia respectively. India won the 2007 Test series in England and claimed their first triangular series triumph a few months later Down Under. I remember England captain Michael Vaughan saying at the end of the third Test at the Oval that the Indian pacers (Zaheer Khan, S Sreesanth and RP Singh) taught the England bowlers a thing or two about swing bowling. This was a small tribute to Prasad’s efforts too. Exactly why Prasad and fielding coach Robin Singh were replaced we will never know. In any case, bowling is going to play a critical role in this team’s fortunes.

If Shastri gets picked, sceptics believe this will not be the best of times for Mahendra Singh Dhoni because Shastri has indicated that Kohli is ready to lead in all formats, while Dhoni could continue being an important player in India’s limited overs set-up.

Yes, it was surprising to hear the former Team Director say that, but it can’t be termed as illogical.

The situation of Dhoni leading the limited overs teams and Virat Kohli in charge of the Test team is bound to cause the new coach headaches and keeping Indian cricket’s future in mind, a decision to let Kohli lead in all three formats would be welcomed.

It’s a critical and exciting time for Indian cricket and the purists can’t wait for the Tests to begin. Four in the Caribbean will be followed by 13 at home. That’s a lot of cricket!

Like coaches, Indian pitches are another favourite talking point and it will be interesting to see whether there will be controversy similar to the last home season, when South Africa were destroyed on turning pitches.

While the BCCI’s technical committee is ready to take radical steps to prevent domestic teams from taking undue home advantage through pitches, it is also important for India to prepare pitches which may suit the home team but not take away the fairness in a bat versus ball contest.

Winning on doctored pitches only chips away at the effort and ability of the players and it is time curators are encouraged to do whatever is best for a well-balanced contest. Let us not forget that after a plethora of home Tests, this same team will have to hold their own abroad as well.

India’s home and away success is more important than who becomes head coach and no one individual — especially someone who is not on the field — has exclusive rights to chart out a winning formula.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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