The BCCI has invited applications for coach, and allied positions, for the Indian team. If you do a search, the page announcing this returns a 404 error message – which is an inadvertent reflection on how shoddy the board’s site is, or an apt commentary on how ridiculous the process itself is.

The Committee of Administrators had earlier announced that the BCCI elections will be held on October 22. Which means that shortly thereafter, the board will have a new leadership group – and by definition, that group will be accountable, from then on, for the well-being of the team, and its success.

England demonstrated the value of focus and long-term planning when, in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 World Cup debacle, the captain, coach and management got together to come up with (a) a vision, to win the 2019 World Cup and in the process make England the best ODI side in the world; (b) a plan to accomplish this goal; and (c) the right personnel in the right slots to drive this effort.

India, which tripped over its own shoddy selections and confused strategies and ended up being dumped by New Zealand at the semifinal stage, is in a similar position: Its current position as the number two ranked ODI side owes in large part to points accumulated in games in home conditions, where the strength of the middle order, or Dhoni’s waning abilities as a late finisher, didn’t matter quite as much. Very clearly, the team needs rebuilding – and the coach and support staff have an enormous role to play in this. (Think of the role Trevor Bayliss played for England during that seminal four-year period of transition).

Connect up all those dots, and ask yourself how much sense it makes for the COA to pick the coach and support staff, when it is the new BCCI management that will have to work with them to prep India for the World T20s next year, and the World Cup in four years’ time.

The more logical way to do this would be for the COA to extend the contracts of the existing coaching staff till end-October, oversee the board elections, then hand over to the reconstituted board and exit left (good riddance); for the board then to go through the process of hiring a long-term coach and support staff. In the event, the CoA will pick the group that will guide the fortunes of the Indian team over the next four years, but it is the Board that will have to answer for the results, or lack thereof.

In other news, the selection of the Indian team to the West Indies, scheduled for today, has been postponed to Sunday – and behind that bland announcement is a story of considerable confusion and much chaos.

One part of it relates to the widely reported story of dissonance between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma – and you can’t blame Rohit, can you? He is the designated vice-captain, and for most of the World Cup, he was reduced to hanging around in the covers or mid-off while Virat and Dhoni orchestrated field placements and discussed tactics with the bowlers (I chose the cover image for a reason; the image tells a story).

There was a risible moment during the semifinal when commentators got into a tizzy over Dhoni’s batting position. The likes of Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar led a widespread consensus that Dhoni should have come in at four.

Whether Dhoni with his ‘blind man taking a stick for a walk’ defensive technique could have come in when the bowlers were running riot is a whole other debate. What amused me was the extended discussion in the commentary box about who, with Kohli in the middle, should have taken the decision to move Dhoni up the order.

The Indian commentators on duty suggested that it was the job of the coach. Some of the more mealy-mouthed of those commentators suggested that it was up to Dhoni himself – as the senior player, he could have called the play, they argued.

Really? The vice-captain was the first man out; he was in the dressing room when the second wicket fell – would it not be his job to make such a tactical decision, if necessary in consultation with his coach? That it did not even occur to the commentators that the team had a vice-captain is the best indication of the state of affairs.

But the bigger elephant in the dressing room is Dhoni. Word is that the selectors and the COA hoped the team’s eminence grise would solve their problems for them by announcing his retirement.

He hasn’t – and why would he? After Kohli, he is the player with the most number of endorsements. A brand is not going to spend vast sums to sign up Dhoni, have him feature in their advertisements, and then find that he is not a member of the squad.

So Dhoni, who is nothing if not smart, played smart and ducked all attempts to sound him off about his future plans (It is up to him, Kohli said in one of his post-Cup interviews; he hasn’t discussed his plans with me). And now the selectors are in a bind – do they pick him, at least for the ODIs, or do they bell the cat, drop him, and trigger national outrage?

And outrage there certainly will be – because if there is one thing we are good at as a cricket-crazy country, it is mythologizing individuals and putting them ahead of the interests of the team. We did that with Kapil Dev when the team carried him through the last leg of his storied career, and in the end, the other Indian bowlers were reduced to trying desperately to avoid taking wickets so Kapil could have the one wicket he needed to break the world record. We did that again when we organized a tour so Sachin could get his 100th century, then organized another as a sort of extended, hugely commercialized wake for the retiring player.

Now it is Dhoni. Because we – star cricketers and those who idolize them – are like that only.

PostScript: My consultancy gig with ends today. The next week is about a narrative-writing workshop I am conducting on Monday; then I’m off to meet and walk with Paul Salopek, who at some point on July 30 will exit the country at the end of the India leg of his incredible Out of Eden Walk.

I was there on February 27, 2018, when he crossed over from Pakistan via the Wagah Border; I’ve walked with him; I was privileged to co-teach writing workshops in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, and I’d like to be there at the finish.

Then I’ll start working on a project, loosely based on Out of Eden Walk, that involves a road trip of about 6-8 months. Details soon.

In the interim, I’ll do cricket posts here if there is something worth writing about; I’ll do occasional compilations of good reading material, and if you guys want to stay in touch, my email is prem.panicker at gmail.


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