For the coarse cricket journalist, the BCCI’s search for a replacement for Greg Chappell has begun to seem farcical. Dav Whatmore, who asked for the job, didn’t make the shortlist. Graham Ford, who was given the job, didn’t take it. John Emburey, who had flown down from England to make up the numbers, announced he wasn’t interested without waiting for the BCCI to offer him the job. It feels like a trend: Tom Moody will likely call a press conference to say he’s happy where he is and Duncan Fletcher might turn up toga-ed in a Union Jack to make his affiliations clear.
If this thing becomes an epidemic, Steve MacLaren could feel pressured to declare his disinterest. I’ve heard reports that the search committee considered Tony Roche because he was available (Federer had fired him); there were even whispers that Gavaskar wanted Padukone all along.
There’s another, less feverish way of looking at what has happened. There is an Indian method underlying the BCCI’s choices which has escaped the deracinated sensibilities of the English language press. The search for the truth, as everyone with an Indian passport ought to know, happens by elimination: ‘not this’, ‘not this’. It doesn’t matter who says neti — it could be the Board (this is what happened with Whatmore, his very name was an invitation to look further) or the candidate (Ford, Emburey) — so long as it is said a respectable number of times. With every rejection the possibility of stumbling upon the true coach increases. Far from Gavaskar or the members of the search committee being hostile to a foreign coach, they deliberately didn’t offer it to an Indian for fear of aborting the neti process. An Indian would have said yes.
This is what happened. Cornered by the unthinking scorn of ignorant journalists, the Board was forced to offer the job to Chandu Borde, who said yes without wholly knowing what he was saying yes to. When the news broke and journalists quizzed him about the details of the offer, he said he’d know when the official letter arrived.
Even here, though, the sensitive critic will notice the lengths to which the BCCI went to indulge its cricketers. Knowing that Rahul, Sachin and Sourav didn’t want an Indian coach, the Board didn’t appoint one: Borde was made Cricket Manager instead. Of course, this might have had something to do with Borde’s age. ‘Coach’ has a hands-on ring to it: early morning fielding sessions, shorts, laptops, none of which is suitable for a distinguished gent about to turn seventy-three. ‘Manager’ seems the right title for Borde’s likely duties: reminiscing with old men in MCC ties, visiting the Indian High Commission, telling his lads that they were lucky they weren’t up against Truman, Tyson, Statham and Loader, being benevolent all round.
Mr Pawar, for all his modesty about being a hands-off President who leaves the running of the Board to his trusted lieutenants, knew exactly what he was doing when he pulled Chandu Borde’s name out of a hat. One, he knew Borde would say yes, which was important because vulgar public opinion, uninitiated in the neti thing, wouldn’t brook another ‘no’. But the more crucial reason for picking Borde was that Borde wouldn’t play favourites. That had been the trouble with Greg Chappell. He’d had his pets and peeves and by the end of his tenure the team had been riven, with lurid stories of the skipper being on one side and the senior players ranged on the other. The Board couldn’t let that happen again, so Pawar and Dungarpur chose someone who was mature enough to know that the historical individual was unimportant: it was the eternal type that counted.
Borde has been ridiculed in the Hindustan Times by an anonymous Board ‘insider’ who claims that during his tenure as chief selector, Borde called the former Indian skipper Gaurav Ganguly. These critics don’t see that this is exactly what recommends him. Borde mightn’t be able to tell Gambhir from Ganguly but he can see, in his mind’s eye, the perfect opening batsman and the compleat number four. He might call that platonic ideal at number four Gundappa Tendulkar, but so what' Having seen Merchant and Mankad and Gavaskar and Srikkanth and Sehwag play over the decades, Borde can conjure up a composite, eternal opening batsman and by speaking of him as one person, inspire the incumbent, the current instance of that ideal type, to greater things.
We should also recognize that the Board’s willingness to accommodate the senior players’ aversion to an Indian coach extended to the support staff. Robin Singh, looked at closely, is sort of foreign: he grew up in the West Indies and his fielding ethic is completely alien. Venkatesh Prasad’s foreignness is harder to discern but I suspect it was his un-Indian enthusiasm for swearing at opposing batsmen during his time in Indian colours that got him the job.
Without wanting to seem like an apologist for the BCCI, I think it’s clear that the Board made the best decisions it could in difficult circumstances. There are two suggestions the Board could consider.
One, it could do the daring thing and consult the Junior players, the likes of Ranadeb Bose and R.P. Singh, on their preferences for coach. This would appeal to the Senior players because in the context of Indian cricket, it would be such a Foreign thing to do. Also, it would be logical: the younger ones need the coaching more than Sachin or Sourav do.
Two, the Board could do away with the idea of the constant coach and consider a relay of mentors. It has made some headway in this direction already: Shastri for Bangladesh, Borde for England. A roster of coaches, one for every month' It’s worth looking at: in one stroke it would sweep away resentment, favouritism, entrenched prejudice, all the cankers continuity brings. The boys would be given BCCI diaries to orient themselves through the year. April would bring Amarnath and May, Madan Lal. The winter months could be reserved for non-tropicalized foreigners. And so it would go.