The more things change…

“You know how it is, boss — nothing has changed,” Robin Singh told me.

He was not talking the day after finding out in the papers that he had been sacked as national fielding coach — this comment was made in 2003, when Robin and I [and Wasim Akram] were guests of the Michigan Cricket Association at its tournament finale and awards gala.

At the time, Robin had not yet officially retired from international cricket, but he had known for a while that his playing career was over, and had made the transition to coaching. He had just had a very good stint with the national under-19 team, so I was surprised when he told me he was in the US seeking a coaching gig with USACA.

I thought you were set as the U-19 coach, I remarked. That is when Robin, with that trademark lopsided grin, told me “You remember how in our playing days we used to call you guys up before every team selection to know if we were going to make it? Nothing has changed — I still need journalists to tell me what is happening in my life.”

‘Robin’ and ‘sad’ don’t belong in the same sentence — his chief characteristic is his equipoise, an ability to take whatever comes his way with a smile and a joke. And yet, that was among the saddest things I had ever heard from a professional.

He had, Robin said, been coaching U-19 on someone’s say-so. A board official called him up and told him he had the job; he did it. Through that period, he had no formal meeting with anyone in the board, no contract spelling out his duties, no idea who if anyone he was supposed to report to, and certainly no idea what he was going to be paid and when.

And when it was all over, Robin waited. “I thought someone would call, tell me if they were satisfied or not, tell me what I was supposed to do next. No one called — how long am I supposed to wait?” And so he was in the US, shopping for jobs.

History repeated. Just before the 2007 tour of Bangladesh, Robin got a call telling him he would be fielding coach for the side — a job he has done for a little over two years with no official letter, no contract, and a non-negotiable compensation that was often paid only when Robin reminded the authorities of his existence.

He wasn’t answering his phone last night; had I managed to connect, it is a fair bet that he would have said, “You know how it is — nothing has changed.”

Hiring and firing its employees is of course the BCCI’s prerogative. [Though you have to wonder if they apply to themselves the standards they hold others to. To cite the most recent instance, it is the BCCI’s head of the pitches committee, Daljit Singh, who worked from April this year till date to personally produce a wicket at the Firozeshah Kotla that is, not to mince words, a disgrace. All we ever heard on the subject was a laconic ‘Oh, new pitches take a year to settle down,’ from the man himself; not a yip out of his fellow honchos in the administration.]

But is it too much to ask that the BCCI follow basic principles of human decency while carrying out that function? Would it have been too much for someone in the board to have called Venky Prasad and Robin Singh and told them they were due for the axe, to have spared them the humiliation of finding out from the media?

I’m not making the case that they should have been retained — I don’t know how effective they were. But then, neither does the BCCI — and that august body took its decision without consulting the two people who were in a position to know: the captain and the coach.

Various officials — who, of course, only speak to the media on condition of anonymity — have pointed at the dramatic decline in form of the likes of Ishant Sharma [Cricinfo breaks down his performance] and RP Singh to justify sacking Prasad. In a post on Sreesanth a couple of days ago, I’d linked to Alan Donald’s comments about the bowler’s training habits.

Donald said they had extensive talks about the training routine, and reckoned Sreesanth had plenty of areas to work on. “First of all, his training habits are not good and the way he goes on to the field need to change. Then, he doesn’t put enough time on specifics.”

I’m willing to bet the same is true for Ishant, RP, Irfan and others. Prescribing the training routine and monitoring it is certainly one of the functions of a bowling coach. Was it done, in each of these instances? Did the player concerned follow the coach’s prescription, or just flip him the bird and do his own thing? What are the reasons for the dramatic decline in form of various promising bowlers?

Answers to these and related questions [What lines and lengths does he prescribe for the bowlers for each game, for instance, and how effective is he in identifying what his bowlers need to do in any given set of conditions? For my money, the most effective bowling coach we ever had was Bruce Reid — who handled a young Irfan and his mates brilliantly on India’s tour of Australia, working with the raw newcomers on skills and techniques, and also using his knowledge of local conditions to guide them on how they had to bowl each day, in each game] are the basis on which you can evaluate a bowling coach’s performance.

Did the BCCI carry out such an analysis? No. Did it even seek opinions from the captain, coach, senior players and the bowlers themselves? No.

So what was the basis of the decision to sack Prasad? A whim of the moment. Everyone’s talking about the decline in Ishant, so let’s “take action” — that just about sums up this latest piece of rank idiocy. [Incidentally, if Ishant’s bowling is now so beyond the pale as to justify the sacking of his bowling coach, why is the bowler himself still in the team?]

Take the case of fielding standards. For me, one of the joys of IPL-2 was watching the byplay between Herschelle Gibbs at point and Rohit Sharma well inside the ring at cover. They showed off for one another, they took obvious delight in each other’s exploits, they put on a show — and in the process, lifted the overall standards of the team.

Great all-round fielding is a ‘team culture’ thing. You can have very good fielders in a team — Yuvraj, Rohit, Raina — without it being a great fielding unit [Adam Gilchrist, speaking during the presentation ceremony after the Chargers’ last loss, said the basics, like good fielding, which “the good teams take pride in”, the Chargers just didn’t do]. Just as great individual fielding lifts a team, lackadaisical fielding lowers the standards of even the best — and ‘lackadaisical’ is a mild word to describe the Indian team in the field.

How much of this is the fielding coach’s fault? [By way of disclosure: Robin is a friend of long standing]. What training techniques, fielding drills, does the coach use? How rigorously are these prescriptions followed? What authority does the fielding coach have to haul up errant, chronically lazy, players? Can he enforce discipline?

[Some years ago, when our fielding standards or lack thereof became so bad even the apologists ran out of excuses, Jagmohan Dalmiya as then BCCI head made a pompous announcement. He said the national coach and physio had been empowered to be strict with the players; that at the start of the preparatory camp each player would be put through the beep and other tests, and any who failed would not be considered for selection. The outcome? Five senior players flat out refused to take the test. The coach called the selectors to report. The selectors called Dalmiya. Dalmiya instructed them to pick the players anyway. All five were selected.]

None of this concerns the BCCI. It hired a bowling coach and a fielding coach when it felt like it; it sacked them, ditto.

And to compound the irony, it says it is in no rush to hire replacements. Explain this to me?

Item: Our bowling standards have fallen off. Item: Our fielding is pathetic.

So ‘action’ is taken — the bowling and fielding coaches are sacked. \

And we now head into a seven-game series against the world’s number one outfit with a pack of off-form bowlers and hopeless fielders — and the board says there is absolutely no hurry to provide them with coaches in these two disciplines?

Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

PS: Happy Diwali, everyone. Heading into a three and a half day weekend; barring an odd post or two later today, am off blog till Tuesday.

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23 thoughts on “The more things change…

  1. well….Right results for the wrong reason is the political way to put it…

    Prasad had to be sacked…As pointed out..he just didnt have – either know or enforce a method to be followed..
    Prasad had every right to ‘correct’ a bowler and take every action needed…may be the BCCI and coach/ captain would have said know…but did he put his foot down anytime and enforce his authority??

    Same goes for robin…I’ve seen even a semi fit yuvraj (the last few years) pay no attention to his fielding..I still remember how kaif and Yuvi complemented each other..I dont see that in any one now..
    still nobody knows how to slide or how to do a relay pass….totally unacceptable..

    But then…they way they were removed shows the BCCI high handedness as always..

    I dunno abt Robin, but I’m pretty sure Prasad was removed because, word leaked out to BCCI earlier that he was looking elsewhere – as assistant coach of Srilankan team..:-)
    and the bcci babus wanted to teach him a lesson..

    Another case in point..Braborne stadium never got a cricket match (test) all these years…now that Dungarpur is dead…the rest of the CCI committee melts before the bcci…and voila u can have ur share of the pie now…:)

    ah well…..politics….

  2. Weren’t Prasad and Robin sacked last year by BCCI? And then reinstated within a week. If I remember correctly, this happened when Gary Kristen was supposed to take over as head coach. Can’t something similar happen this time, the BCCI take u-turn and reinstate them again?

  3. HAHAHAHA, T20 in India has been shown to be more style than substance, and IPL teams have taken a hammering in the CLT20 against foreign competition (2 wins out of 8 games). Now the BCCI has taken away the 12th player , which is the fielding, by sacking the fielding coach. This man was the best fielder India EVER had, and doubtless improved Indian fielding efforts, from ludicrous to mediocre. More than that would have taken Player willingness, but all Indian players want to appear relaxed on the field , so they can appear to be COOL! Maybe Robin Singh was really sacked because his Trinidadian countrymen were embarassing Modi’s over-hyped IPL “superclubs”!

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  5. The first line says it all. Its true about the team too. Hard it may be to digest, but, nothing will change.

  6. BCCI did the right thing by sacking both Prasad & Robin. These specialized coaches have a short shell life unless the team keeps winning. Here you could Cleary notice that basic lack of discipline in the players. Just take 2 bowlers Praveen Kumar & RP ..see how they bowled in the CL v/s CT . In CT both bowled with lot of fire & fear in all the matches, also they were upset when they bowled a wide or a no ball. . That was missing when they were representing country. Whom to blame? Sack the bowlers? Do you have man-to-man replacement? No. We need coaches with fresh ideas. Old methods are not working anymore .Bowlers lack basic discipline … more important no fear of the coach or captain. Both BVP & RS got it coming they failed to control the players. In other words they failed as coaches. Next is MSD.

  7. I would like to mention two issues:Summary dismissal of Venky and Robin-Left a bad taste.
    Secondly-Why did these guys agree to work without an employment contract?Or did their contract say they can be summarily dismissed?I cannot imagine these guys (having been ex cricketers) would get on board without a contract.
    I liked the bit about Ishant being in team and the coach being dismissed.
    I saw the note on a senior cricketer calling Ratnakar Shetty-why can’t they disclose?Why are the seniors -Sachin,RD,Sehwag silent about BCCI’s activities?
    Does BCCI pay them on time ?Are the cricketers silent because a lot of past dues is owed to them?

  8. It seems like another life the Michigan Cricket Association awards ceremony, I met you there too,Robin is a great dude.

    To the point, BCCI is a disgrace, what is the status of the Players union or association that was formed earlier (under Kumble if I remember)? dont they have any say in all this? if not why not, if they do, why arent they reacting to this kind of behavior?

  9. BCCI’s incompetence, insensitivity is well known. Add the divergent interests of today’s younger crowd (for instance your blog post on neighborhood teens more interested in football than cricket) and the BCCI is well on its way to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It may take some time, but that’s what it really is: a matter of time.

  10. so u completely left the team selected out or is there another post that i missed?
    cos i thought we all wanted Dravid out.

  11. Prem

    It’s something which I’ve always wondered – oft when talking of BCCI, you mention a senior player or players refused to do things. Why not just name them ? A case in point in this post about 5 senior players flat out refusing to take the fitness test – why hide who those guys are 🙂 One of them probably is Ganguly – seeing how abysmal his fielding and overall fitness in general was 🙂

    As to the BCCI – not really sure they would make the same amount of money if the main players strike against them. Ok maybe the crowds would initially still go to see the ‘ new Indian’ team – but going by the quality of the backups, they wouldl most likely be beaten black and blue. Then not so sure the crowds would still flock to the stadiums , sponsors wouldn’t see them as marketable and BCCI would start to feel the ‘ pinch’.

    My take though is that the players themselves don’t care too much. They might make the odd soundbyte or two – but taking initiative ? – don’t see them doing it. Why would they – as long as they remain in the BCCI good books, they know more often than not, they would get selected.

    • Because I am tired of issues being mired in ad hominem attacks about ‘bias’ and such. The minute I name a player or players, discussion moves from the issue into a flame war, and I frankly get bored with that crap.

      “One of them is probably Ganguly” is precisely the problem. Probably, but there are four others. I could authoritatively name three out of the five, but not the other two because I am not sure. The minute I do, we can say goodbye to any discussion about how standards are created and maintained, and get into speculation about why I named only those three, why I did not name the other two, who I am shielding, and so on.

      What do the names matter anyway? The point is we were indisciplined then, and after a brief hiatus we’ve largely returned to the same old ways.

      As to the money the BCCI makes, consider this: Three years ago, the team read Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, VVS [add Anil Kumble] — a core of veterans who over a decade and a half of playing at the top level had built up an enviable fan base, both individually and collectively. I’ve heard of sponsor heartburn when one or the other of them wasn’t in the team for whatever reason.

      Now four of them are, for all intents and purposes, gone. How much has that hit the BCCI’s bottom line? To create new heroes in sport is easy — a strategically scheduled tournament, some positive results, some media tomtomming and we are good to go.

      • Cheers Prem for clarifying on the naming issue. My line of thinking was that you were doing it because, as things work with the team, you heard from ‘ sources’ who can’t be named. I can understand though your pov – ala forgetting the main issue and getting into bias issues. Fair enough.

        What saved the BCCI’s bacon was the unexpected T20 WC cup win two yrs ago that created new stars, who have been found out now. Unless the BCCI mends their ways and make sure the right coaching staff are in place, once SRT, VVS, RD retire, the team will take more than their fair share of losses and that would start a domino effect. Interesting time ahead !

        Have a good Diwali.

        Cheers !

        • I agree with not naming people – more because that is besides the point. But, Prem, I agree with Tifosiguy and would like to take it a step ahead as follows:

          Sachin, Rahul, Kumble, etc. are beyond their prime, and people will create new heroes; however, once these guys take the initiative in repeatedly pointing out such things, the mob (might, just might) feel, “hey! this is not okay…”

          And then, we might be too optimistic. There was a time when Robin Singh and Prasad were heroes (even if it was for 1/2 days) and not a word is being said about the way they were treated.

          Even Dravid, I feel somehow was not treated well – whether it was justified is a different matter. I hope things were explained to him – even to the extent of going and saying “Sorry we made a mistake the first time itself” or something like that….

          Wishful thinking, I guess! It almost sounds like we need a revolution to change the BCCI, which is a terrible thought! We should not need revolutions for such things!

  12. Sometimes I wonder…

    We have/had some really good – depending on how you want to define good – seniors in the team – Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble – these are people that everyone respects, right? We had Sehwag say things openly about the DDCA, why not about the BCCI?

    Why don’t they speak out? Or do they feel this is okay? They should not worry about what would happen to them, right? Or should they?

    Perhaps, this will continue as long as there is no critical mass to the opposition to it. And critical mass might not be the number of people who oppose, but the quality of people who openly oppose it, and continue to do so!

    • No, they don’t think it is okay, and they do talk to the BCCI. Trouble is, the BCCI doesn’t give a fig. And there is nothing the players can do to compel change — talk of strike? the BCCI will flip them the bird and go with a B team, and thanks to sponsorships, earn pretty much the same amount of money.

    • Go back 20 years to the 1989 tour of Pakistan. The 6 senior cricketers of the time (Kapil, Shastri, Amarnath, Vengsarkar, Srikkanth and somebody else) pointed out that they were being paid peanuts and refused payment for that tour.

      The result – Amarnath was dropped forever before the tour. Srikkanth was sacked as captain after the tour in spite of becoming the first captain not to lose in Pakistan. 5 of the 6 (all except Kapil) were dropped from the team after the tour. Azhar, who was not part of the original 16 member squad, suddenly became captain.

      You really think some player is going to speak out against the BCCI? 🙂

  13. What breaks my heart is this comment from Venkatesh Prasad:

    “I have no doubt that I have done my job for the Indian team to the best of my abilities. I will try to contact the BCCI and find out what I did wrong that has led them to take this decision.”

    I would have so loved to see Prasad look at the BCCI babus a la Aamir Sohail, flip them a bird & show them the pavilion.

    Instead the poor man finds himself unemployed, & most probably unemployable (I wonder what awkward dressing room conversations he will have with Mr. N ‘Chennai Sooper King’ Srinivasan).

  14. BCCI may be making tons of money but lacks basic levels of courtesy and professional standards. Sacking someone summarily and out in the harsh media glare is shameful. We have miles to go before one can be proud of our sporting bodies.

    The earlier selection and current dropping of Rahul Dravid from the one day team is another instance of insensitive handling of things. In this case, Srikanth has disappointed the Indian cricket lovers by goofing up badly and humiliating a fabulous cricketer (In my view, Dravid should not have been brought back to one-day cricket in the first place).

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