How important is a coach’s job in cricket? There is no doubt that a cricket coach plays a crucial role but is it as important as a football coach? A coach in football moves along the sidelines during a game keeping a hawk-eye and has to make quick decisions on his feet. Even the captain of a football team can be replaced if the coach thinks so.
In cricket, it’s the captain’s job to take the major decisions and his role becomes more important when the team is fielding. He has to ring the bowling changes, set the field placements and be ready to make necessary changes if his Plan A or Plan B is not working. A coach has a very little say in a cricket game as he is sitting in the pavilion. He cannot control the game as in football, much less lead the game in a particular way such as bolstering the defence or start attacking by bringing in more forwards.
Which brings us to the question: does it matter at all who should be the coach of a cricket team? Let us see what’s happening in the Indian Premier League (IPL) - a high pressure tournament especially when it reaches the play-off stage.
For instance, former Chennai Super Kings (CSK) coach Stephen Fleming won the IPL and the Champion League Twenty (CLT20) twice with MS Dhoni. That was an exceptional record but look at Pune Supergiants this year: the same the same coach-captain combination has failed badly and their team is at the bottom of the table.
What has changed? CSK had a very good balance with batsmen and bowlers who had performed admirably and had a proven record. The team management had picked a strong squad in the first place. Muttiah Muralitharan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Albie Morkel, Mohit Sharma. They had a strong bowling unit and Suresh Raina could come in as a spinner if required. In batting they had Murali Vijay, Mr. Cricket Michael Hussey, Raina, Bravo and then there was Captain Cool Dhoni to accelerate the scoring whenever needed.
With such weaponry at command, CSK steamrolled any team that came in their way. They were unstoppable with some player or other performing on their way to championships. It is true that Fleming’s strategies and Dhoni’s cool composure helped the team in many situations, but each player contributed in the team’s victories.
This only proves that a captain, or for that matter a coach, is only as good as the team. Pune are struggling this season mainly because they lack the firepower in bowling. Without any disrespect to any bowler, Pune have failed to click as a bowling unit with opposition batsmen taking them to the cleaners easily in most of the matches. Pune’s batting has suffered with injuries to star players such as Kevin Pietersen, Faf du Plessis and Steven Smith. This has hurt them badly. Dhoni’s form has lost the sheen and the side struggled to post big totals in the tournament. The one time they did post a big total was when they scored 192 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and it was easily overhauled with Virat Kohli scoring a masterly century.
The fact remains that if a side doesn’t have good players who can perform on a consistent basis, there is very little a coach or even a captain can do to lift the team upwards.
The same goes for the RCB - a very strong batting outfit with a not-so-great bowling attack. ‘White Lightening’ and once fearsome Allan Donald, who is RCB’s bowling coach, is at a loss in trying to conjure a victories for RCB. Most teams have been thrashing RCB’s bowling attack and have chased down targets set by them easily on most occasions.
Gujarat Lions (GL) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have an entirely different story to tell. GL looked like a balanced side with perhaps the best firepower in the league. With each player contributing well in his area of strength, the new team with a debutant skipper has remained among the top performers from the beginning. Their batsmen have scored consistently and bowlers have performed very well making it easy for the side to race to the top half. The team management need to be congratulated for picking up such a balanced team.
Same goes with the IPL 2016 table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad. Though they were struggling at the start, consistent performance from the key players have revived their season. David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan’s steady opening stand gives an excellent platform for the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Kane Williamson, Eoin Morgan, Deepak Hooda and Naman Ojha to build their innings. In Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Moises Henriques, Ashish Nehra and Mustafizur Rahman they got the most lethal pace-bowling attack in the tournament. Here again, the team management have picked a strong side giving equal weightage to batting and bowling.
Which brings us to the same point where we started from. No doubt, a coach does important functions but more important is the composition of the team which is the job of the team management and the selectors. They have to ensure that a balanced squad is picked with quality players in bowling, batting and fielding. That is the primary and the most important thing. Once a strong team is on board, the coach’s job is to make sure they train well and are razor sharp in their reflexes and give their best for the team.
First Published: May 16, 2016, 8:22 PM IST