Trevor Penney (left) has been given a “break” from his responsibilities as India’s fielding coach © Getty Images
The first step taken by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the aftermath of three consecutive spineless surrenders is to give the bowling and fielding coaches a ‘break’ and reinforce the side with a couple of low key support staff and a Director of Cricket in the form of Ravi Shastri. With Joe Dawes and Trevor Penney out of the fray, Arunabha Sengupta wonders who will pad up and courageously walk out to face the press conference at the end of a horrendous day.
In the aftermath of disasters, there is often the burning necessity to restructure and realign. In the process of the shakeup, curious contortions are witnessed, and thereby the first heads to roll are often the victim of jerking knees. More often than not, convenience also plays a major part.
The ‘breaks’ given to bowling coach Joe Dawes and the fielding coach Trevor Penney seem to be readily classifiable as knee jerk reactions laced with a fair amount of convenience. Both were low key yet reasonably known, with ‘eminently dispensable’ all but indelibly stamped on their profiles. Perhaps their roles were indeed considered important; perhaps they were not able to meet the expectations. True, the bowlers lost their combined way from the third Test and as the series progressed, the slip catching went from atrocious to appalling to abominable.
But, whether this is really the sort of corrective action geared to put the cricketing fortunes back on the overseas track is far from certain. The forced ‘breaks’ give the uneasy indication of being an elaborate show of a couple of quarts of some cheap oil substitute being poured over furiously troubled waters.
Of course, there have been the call ups for Bharat Arun and Sanjay Bangar as assistant coaches. If one looks across the length and breadth of the landscape of Indian cricket one would struggle to find a more inconspicuous low key duo. It makes the two look curiously like carefully chosen silencers for muffling what could have been loud reverberating unpleasant gun shots.
One can point out that the sound and fury, thus stifled by the inclusion Bangar and Arun, have been more than compensated by the appointment of Ravi Shastri — perhaps one of the loudest men of contemporary cricket. He has joined as the Director of Cricket — a post hitherto unknown and unconceived in the history of Indian cricket. Perhaps the team management is reusing some of the best practices from corporate organisations or even the film industry.
But, whether his addition to the scheme of things, in whatever bizarre role, will bear any worthwhile fruit remains questionable. As H Natarajan pointed out, “Shastri is more likely to be His Master’s Voice than a cerebral cricketing force capable of taking intelligent and strong decisions for the betterment of Indian cricket.” Not too many will scratch their heads wondering who the Master is in this case.
However, while sending Penney and Dawes on forced breaks, did the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) really think things through? Don’t they need these two men anymore? Whatever be their contributions to the performance of the Indian side, they did combine to play a very vital role for the team.
Penny and Dawes have been by far the most competent nightwatchmen for the Indian side since the days of Syed Kirmani. Whenever the Indian team have faced crippling blows that have created glaring dents and holesby the end of the day, these stalwart gentlemen have been sent out to hold fort, shielding the important names in the side from the most difficult period under the fading light.
When India finished the first day at Southampton with just a couple of wickets in their bag, out came Dawes, bravely standing up to the hostile posers from the media during the post-match press conference. Generally it is the side’s best performer of the day who comes out to face the questions. Unfortunately on that particular day, there was no one who could honestly claim to have performed at all, being the best way beyond a very long shot. And the admirable Dawes shouldered the responsibility with élan, ducking, shouldering arms and offering a defensive bat to most of the offerings. During these press conferences, one gets the impression that the team is never out of contention, all they ever need to do is one good session and get back into the game. Dawes mouthed the hackneyed responses with the perfected mix of evasion and inanity.
Come The Oval, the first day ended with India bowled out for the third miserable score in succession, and by stumps England were already well on their way to overhauling the total with all their wickets intact. This time, however, India did have a man of the day, none other than captain MS Dhoni. With his top order failing again, for the second successive Test, he had scored more with his bat than his 10 men put together. He had overcome the conditions, the bowling and his own technical shortcomings to notch 82 runs of admirable grit and gumption. Yet, the man who walked in to face the media was Penney.
So surprising was his appearance that the Indian media manager, Dr RN Baba, even had to introduce him with the words, “Trevor Penney, the fielding coach.” The move, however, achieved two sterling purposes other than making the media-men chuckle. Not only were the captain and his men were protected from the anticipated wringer through the fifteen minutes of hard-hitting questions, a fair proportion of the queries were diverted into the area of slip catching rather than the disastrous show of the batsmen. One journalist actually could not help asking Penney, “Whenever there is a bad day, you guys are sent in. Today the captain played a superb innings and even then he has not come here to answer the questions …” To which Penney responded in practiced manner, “He has had a very long day.”
These two men did carry out this demanding role exceptionally well. Given the recent performances of the Indian team, this particular function is of paramount importance. Does the Indian team have it in them to tide over the loss of these two excellent stonewallers of the evening? Perhaps one can say with some amount of certainty that the management will find a way out. After all, they have acquired plenty of relevant experience in the last few years.
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(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)