If his 2016 ouster seemed political, his recent appointment as head coach has an unwritten message – you are in charge, but with a rider
Ravi Shastri's re-appointment is a reflection of the changing times. Pic/AFP
There was never any doubt about Goldilocks' intent. When Robert Southey wrote this fairytale, the beauty of the story was that none of the characters – the three bears who felt their house was raided or the protagonist, little young and innocent Goldilocks – were malicious in their intent. She, though, unknowingly rubbed their perfectly functioning system the wrong away and was subjected to some aggressive roaring, forcing her to make a run from the system.
I never thought I'd recall this childhood tale, but the events over the past few days have made it too tempting. Three men convene and a little voice in their head (cough – captain – cough) tells them that their porridge has been eaten – voila! They roar – and the able person who didn't intend to do any harm, makes a run.
Anil Kumble may have been different in his approach, but he delivered results. It just tells you that despite a not-so-great relationship between coach and captain, results can be desirable. It's also possible that a great relationship may make for unsatisfactory results (where would I place Greg Chappell?). Unfortunately, the template for success of a team may not reflect the relationship between the two.
The process of the selection for the coach is one that may be looked at as the theatre of the absurd. We're talking cross-country Skype interviews, jumbo presentations, alleged two-line resumes and Twitter talk. But, beyond this hullaballoo is affability and comfort, factors that can't be documented. New-age coaching is like modern-day parenting. Ravi Shastri's re-appointment is a reflection of the changing times. Comfort levels between coach and player made him the popular choice.
The crucial factor will be how players embrace methods and processes prescribed, and this is where Shastri's methods may have won the captain's and players' confidence.
National team coaching, though, is an amplified term, and coach of the Indian team appears even more magnified with the surround sound. The hype over his appointment has in a sense added to the halo around a job that is low-key and more in the backdrop of the real performers – the players. The position is one of irony, because with all the noise around the appointment, the expectation is to assume the role of a shadow in the media. Which is why India refers to the John Wright and Gary Kirsten era as days of glory on a scale that has Chappell as one end point.
Shastri isn't new to this set up. In fact, he delivered results and there didn't seem any apparent reason to discard a well-oiled machine part. Indian cricket has this knack of springing up surprises from simple situations and his ouster was no different to the handling of Kumble's – ambiguous, mysterious, provoking. Abrasive and insensitive, I might add, to break my personal record of clubbed adjectives.
Successful India coaches have been remembered more for their ability to get along with the team as much as the results away from home. Shastri has ticked the box in the popularity charts. Now, only time will tell how his team delivers when they travel.
So, three men decide one man is best to coach India. One man concludes he isn't the right choice. The three men go back to the man who was second best, in their opinion, but with a proviso. The message is clear: 'You are the king without a kingdom'.
Shastri is back where he was, as coach, but with him have entered Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan, a team that didn't seem necessary under Kumble. If Shastri's 2016 ouster seemed political, his appointment now has an unwritten message – you are in charge, but with a rider. I have never heard of a CEO who is solely accountable, but doesn't get his trusted team to work with. If this was the team Shastri wanted then we may ask ourselves why he didn't ask for them in his first innings when he was Team Director. If these new names were thrust on his appointment, is it in the best interest of Indian cricket or is it to gag his authority and control over the team by placing him between icons with greater recall with the youth. With the messy handling of Shastri's removal and then Kumble's express stint, it is imperative that there is word on these backroom appointments for the ardent cricket fan.
The postponement of Shastri's appointment and this staff of stalwarts isn't the way one backs his own horse. There's a feeling of resistance. Shastri was an able cricketer, an exemplary leader and he needs the confidence bestowed on Kumble when he was brought in. He must have the final call on his team and consultants. The appointment of Shastri doesn't look wholehearted as Kumble's was, and that is perturbing. It seems like this time, the bears have installed their deputies and CCTVs deep to protect their porridge. I only hope it's not a denial of empowerment.
Shishir Hattangadi is a former Mumbai Ranji Trophy captain and opening batsman. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Clayton Murzello's column, Pavilion End, will be back next week