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Ravi Shastri will be His Master’s Voice; Joe Dawes and Trevor Penney convenient ‘bakras’

Ravi Shastri... highly capable man, but will have to toe the master's line © AFP
Ravi Shastri… highly capable man, but will have to toe the master’s line © AFP

There are wheels within wheels in Indian cricket. H Natarajan unravels BCCI’s decision to appoint Ravi Shastri as Director of Cricket and rest bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney, following the humiliation against England in the Test series.

When the match-fixing scandal rocked Indian cricket in 1997 after Manoj Prabhakar made some sensational allegations to Outlook magazine, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) instituted a one-man investigation commission headed by retired Chief Justice of India — Honorable YV Chandrachud. Some of my young colleagues got excited at the news and thought the Augean stables would be cleaned. I told them to rein in their excitement as I had serious doubts if it the purpose of the enquiry was indeed to unravel the truth; I felt the BCCI decision was more to quell the rising anger that swept a nation that felt cheated.

Not much later, one of the most powerful men in the BCCI at that time told me in confidence that the entire effort of the board was merely to subdue the storm in the media. Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar were among the many cricketers who deposed before the retired Chief Justice. There were also a few cricket journalists who were summoned by the BCCI to depose before the honourbale retired Chief Justice. I was one of them.  Predictably, nothing came out of the enquiry.

I am reminded of that moment in Indian cricket history on hearing the news of BCCI’s decisions following India’s disastrous performances in the recently-concluded Test series.  On the face of it, it may seem the BCCI has been swift in taking corrective measures. But have they?

What is Ravi Shastri’s ambit?

Firstly, the appointment of Ravi Shastri as Director of Cricket is to “oversee and guide the Indian cricket team for the forthcoming One -Day International matches against England”, according to Sanjay Patel, the BCCI’s Honorary Secretary. Patel made it clear that “Duncan Fletcher will continue as Head Coach while Ravi Shastri will be the overall in-charge of cricket affairs of the Indian Team.”  What exactly is Shastri’s domain that Fletcher will not trespass, and what determines Fletcher’s turf that Shastri will not step into is unclear. Also, who calls the final shot in case of conflict is also ambiguous. It’s is said that when you can’t convince, you confuse. That is precisely what the BCCI has done with Shastri’s appointment, without offering clarity. Historically, this has been typical of BCCI.  This leads to speculations in the media, which is entirely avoidable if things were transparent. That BCCI does not want transparency is amply clear.

Is Ravi Shastri the right candidate?

I have seen Shastri closely since his days in Podar College and have interacted with him extensively over many decades. I always felt that he was the best captain India never had — if one discounts the one Test he captain because of an injury to Dilip Vengsarkar. I have rarely seen an Indian cricketer mentally tougher than Shastri. He was intelligent enough to realise his limitations as a player; he was smart to optimise whatever he was blessed with — including a granite-tough mind and willing to take up the most challenging of tasks — to rise as quality Test opener who scored hundreds on the most difficult tracks in the world and a productive left-arm spinner.  One felt sad when he chose to end his career prematurely. But he was a thinking man and had his plans clear. I was there on an overseas tour when he made his debut as a TV commentator — hours after announcing that he was quitting international cricket.  When I asked him in private why he was quitting so early when there was still much cricket left in him, he replied that he wanted a make his mark as a commentator. And with a typical mixture of confidence and cockiness, he added, “Just wait and watch; I will be one of the best known names in the commentary box in a couple of years.” He saw the challenge coming to the commentary box from former cricketers and knew what first-mover advantage was.  Like him or hate him, Shastri lords over the television — just as he had predicted.

Will he then do what the situation demands? Which means taking tough decisions that could mean antagoniing the powers that be? I seriously doubt that. He has been widely perceived — and with good reasons — of being a N Srinivasan man. And he has never been shy of admitting that; indeed he is very vocal about it. And considering Srinivasan’s poor image in the eyes of the cricketing world and fans, Shastri is likely to be HMV [His Master’s Voice] than a cerebral cricketing force capable of taking intelligent and strong decisions for the betterment of Indian cricket.

Matter of convenience

Patel also announced that the BCCI has given a break to the team’s bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney for the ODI, and appointed Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun as the assistant coaches of the team, with R Sridhar joining the support team as the fielding coach for the series.

The sackings show the lack of intent in the BCCI decision. Heads had to roll to make BCCI look proactive and give the impression of an body that is capable of taking tough decisions. Dawes and Penney were the less glamorous men who could be dispensed with in the BCCI scheme of things.  The Indian bowlers did better than their batsmen, so why “give a break” — euphemism for sacking — to the bowling coach? Why not Duncan Fletcher? If the argument is advanced that it is too close to the 2015 World Cup, then the same logic should hold good for Dawes and Penney. Also, why was Fletcher persisted so long after a series of defeats? The answers are not difficult: it’s good to have people who are malleable for the powers that be. That is why a Gavaskar would never fit in the equation because he is too strong a man who would not be cowed down by the BCCI heavyweights.

The situation calls for a crying change. And the biggest, much-needed and much-delayed decision is a change in the Test captaincy. It is apparent to everyone with a semblance of cricketing intelligence that the horrendous and bizarre leadership of MS Dhoni played a huge contributory factor in India’s embarrassing capitulation in the Test series against England. But will that happen? There is absolutely no doubt that protectionism exists in Indian cricket and Dhoni is one of the sacred cows of Srinivasan. Till the BCCI takes decisions that the outside world views as just and right, not much good is going to come from decisions like the one taken today by the board. The home series against the West Indies will make the lambs in England look like tigers on the flats track of India. And the present disappointments will be quickly forgotten — till the tour of Australia, when it will be time to moan again. That has been the story of Indian cricket for decades. Nothing has changed. And nothing looks like changing. The wool that BCCI is trying to pull over the eyes of the Indian public will not fool the discerning.

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

(H Natarajanformerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)

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