On Why Team India needs an Anglo-Saxon

Srikanth asked a very pertinent and thought-provoking question earlier on what he called the “White Man Syndrome” that has seemingly afflicted Indian cricket. Fair call. I started typing this out in the “comments” section of that post and when this response was becoming quite lengthy, I thought I’d write a piece on this.

I am not sure if Srikanth really believed that India could “make do” with an Indian coach or whether he was merely being provocative. Either way it does not really matter. The question — rhetorical or otherwise — has been posed. I am sure there will be many views expressed on this. No doubt. For there is no greater stirrer of Indian emotions than a statement that suggests Anglo-Saxon superiority. Chests will be thumped. Effigies will be burned. Emotions will rise. Chests will swell and “Mera Bharath Mahaan” will be quoted regularly!

Good one Srikanth!

Let me add fuel to the fire by taking a stand: I can’t see any Indian capable of coaching Team India. And this has nothing to do with either “white superiority” or “brown inferiority”. It is just a pragmatic reality that is based on facts and observations.

Let us consider for just a moment the following question:

“How many Indians are out there coaching national teams?”.

Not many. Surely, that says something!

Yes, we did have Madan Lal who performed a stint somewhere and then we had Sandeep Patil who coached with some distinction in Kenya. But really the cupboard is bare. On the other hand, Australia, South Africa and England have big names, coaching systems and highly-credentialed coaching programs to boast of. For goodness sake, the Indian National Cricket Academy itself has only been going for a year and a bit. How can we expect a full shelf of good coaches to chose from?

Note, I said “teams” rather than just “cricket teams”. Even our hockey coaches are not in great demand (as far as I am aware).

Two statements of fact:
(a) We do not have Indians coaching national teams. That says something, doesn’t it? Who out there is clamouring for an Indian to coach them?
(b) By contrast, who out there is clamouring for an Australian, a South African or an Englishman to coach them — plenty! Indeed, nearly 50% of the teams in the World Cup were coached by Aussies!

And these are truisms perhaps because of two factors.

Indians, are generally better followers-doers than leader-organisers. Moreover, Indians rely on individual spirit, and an entrepreneurial mindset than a systems-organisation-mindset. Yehudi Menuhin once said (and this is not a verbatim quote), “An Indian symphony orchestra would be a disaster because each one would want to express themselves differently, the way they thought was right”! [Note: This is not a verbatim quote]… Even in the leadership-stakes, we are not quite there yet. Only now are we starting to set the scene in the corporate world. Yes, we do have the Narayana Murthy’s, the Indira Nui’s and other Corporate Leaders. But we are, by and large, natural born followers. This is, I know, a hopeless generalisation. But I wanted to start somewhere!

Coaching requires strong leadership and a pedantic/religious systems mindset. Coaching is about defining (not merely copying) processes that will yield the desired outcomes. We seem to have a “Give us a process and we will do it cheaper-better-faster by throwing a 1000 people at it” mentality. There is nothing wrong with that, mind you. But that mindset only goes so far when it comes to innovation and knowledge generation. These are necessary for a team to be on the leading edge, especially in the sporting arena. Sporting talent must be a given. Everyone has it. What’s required is the systems and process that elevates a team to a different plane and, thereby, secure an advantage. Continued success calls for innovative thinking that simultaneously brings into focus the goals for a collection of individuals. Who’d have thought of bringing in a baseball coach to sharpen the fielding skills of a cricket team? Australia did under the “coachship” of Bob Simpson, Geoff Marsh and Buchanan. And they did it in 1995, mind you!

What does a cricket coach need to do?

  • The coach needs to articulate a vision and a set of strategic directions that provides a raison d’etre for the team.
  • The coach needs to articulate operational strategy that emphasises a strong work ethic, situational awareness and individual roles in achieving team successes (as means to the end).
  • The coach needs to design, articulate, create and organise a deeply embedded resource system and structure that will enable the realisation of this vision.
  • Operationally, the coach needs to ensure that the design is manifested in a strongly emphasised team environment that includes acute teamship and an ethos of strong mutual reliance.

Note that the above are in addition to a thought-provoking post that Mahesh had written a while back on this blogsite in the aftermath of India’s early exit from the World Cup 2007! Mahesh’s post concentrated on (a) clear vision and target, (b) experience and knowledge, (c) communication skills, and (d) enjoy the confidence of players.

Coaching is all of that, and more. Much more! It is about developing and embedding systems that will get out the best. It is really a refined science these days. If you look at swimming, baseball and AFL as three random examples of coaching excellence, one could be easily frightened by the scientific approaches that are taken to coaching — and not much of it is about technique, mind you! For example, quite a few international swimming coaches have already started to look at the mathematical modelling of the biomechanics of swimming! I know we could scoff at this suggestion and probably ridicule it as anal behaviour gone madder! But I am aware of coaches that are developing seriously complex (and yet real) mathematical biomechanics swimming models and solving it on a massively parallel computers to better understand where the elite athlete could accrue a sustained competitive advantage.

The Australian Institute of Sports treats coaching as a science. They have refined the methods and techniques of coaching. It is less about technique and more about developing a deeper understanding of an elite sportspersons’ body.

Shane Warne did not believe in the principles of a coach. He is reported to have said “A coach is something that takes you to the game and back to the hotel”! But Shane Warne was a genius in a team filled with professionals. In these modern times, a coach is a vitally important cog in the success-wheel.

Note that I said nothing about cricketing technique or skill or ability. That is a given. It satisfies the “sufficiency” condition. What is strongly necessary is effective leadership and a systems mindset. I’ll put it to you that not many Indian cricketers have either. At least, they have not exhibited this trait in a manner that is obvious to me!

I will perhaps get into trouble for this, but thems’ my views anyway!

I seem to be referring to Steve Waugh’s book quite a book lately. So here is another reference.

He deals with most tours in great detail. For some tours, he has devoted entire chapters! However, in a strange twist, he affords just one or two paragraphs to the Sachin-Tendulkar-led Team India that toured Australia in 1999-2000. He starts the paragraph with “India came and went” or words to that effect and concludes it almost disdainfully.

We all know that Steve Waugh was perhaps the most impressive cricketing leaders of our times. It can be said that he re-defined ruthlessness, work-ethic, team-ness, playing-with-passion-and-pride, grit, tenacity, courage and other such attributes. he had a vision for the Australian Team and he pursued it with determination, will-power and passion. These are attributes of a coach and hence my interest in what he had/has to say.

What’s the point of all of this?

In his book (again, recollecting from memory) he talks about discipline, playing for each other, playing with pride and playing with passion. He talks about the game being only 5% inspiration (read talent) and the rest of it being perspiration. The perspiration comes from thinking relentlessly about the game — living it, breathing it to a point where it becomes almost all-consuming; thinking through the opponent — their strengths and weaknesses; thinking about the personnel in the team — their aspirations, roles and responsibilities; motivating people to give off their best; monitoring moods in the team — staying on top of these moods and having a finger on the pulse; putting in the hard yards to iron out technical flaws; sweating it out continuously in exercise regimens; and having fun too, etc.

He alludes to the fact that in that series, from what he saw, Indians lacked a clear system. They relied on individual brilliance. They lacked the will to fight it out, to guts it out. He talks about horrible preparations and drills and talks about a singular lack of preparation and/or strategy. This is what a coach would bring to the job. The Indian unit was more of a rabble (note that I am not quoting verbatim here). In particular, he concentrates scathingly on how the Indian team wanted to “finish off” the 3rd Test in Sydney on day-3 itself, so that they won’t need to come back to more ignominy on day-4!

The coach’s job these days is less about technical superiority and capability. It is to motivate players to give off their best. It is to bring the entire unit together. It is to handle drills effectively. It is less about correcting a technical flaw in Sehwag’s offside-technique or in Harbhajan’s pivot.

Australia, South Africa and England have a system of producing professional coaches, fitness trainers, physios and nutritionists for elite sporting teams. The Australian Institute of Sport and the National Cricket Academy (in Brisbane these days) are role models that other places have copied/emulated. It will take years for India to replicate this success — and in these places, it is treated as a science and not just a sport!

So, in my view, it is not just about Anglo-Saxon superiority. We can swell our chests, thump it and yell “Mera Bhaarah Mahaan” for as long and for as loud as we want. The bottom line is that we are a long way away from cutting it with the best when it comes to a professional systems mindset that yells for approaching the game from a systems-science perspective.

And it is required…

— Mohan


20 responses to “On Why Team India needs an Anglo-Saxon

  1. Srikanth Mangalam

    Mohan, I was most certainly posing a question that has bothered me for a while. Yes, I was being provocative to draw a discussion. No, I do not believe there is an Indian who is qualified to take on the role. No, I do not have anything against Anglo-Saxons or Dravidians for that matter. Yes, I strongly believe in a systems approach to managing professions and professionals (hell I am supposed to be championing one as part of my day job). I am not convinced that your theory in this case really works. Other than Australia, no other country has shown any form of consistency to demonstrate that “a model” works. I also do not believe that Indians are ready to handle the systems approach. I am not sure if they really need to.

    I think there is a role “psychology” to play that has not been fully explored. In my field of risk analysis, the battle between engineers and social scientists is folklore, engineers claim to be able to model pretty much anything including human perceptions, you can only imagine the reaction of social scientists. I digress. My point is that we, as in BCCI, should do its homework, clearly define the vision of Indian cricket (note that this is not a coach’s responsibility) and the hire an appropriate coach to deliver that vision. To blindly adopt a model seems more like ordering “today’s special”. Who knows, it is fashionable to hire Australian or south African coaches, it is not sexy to hire a 5′ 4 brown skin, 240 pound, pan-chewing, Indian or Sri Lankan as the head!

  2. Your points in response to my post are valid and well made.

    As for me, until I have evidence that suggests that “hiring a 5ft 4in 240-pound pan-chewing South Asian” works, I will remain convinced that hiring an Anglo-Saxon works.

    Leaving aside the consistency argument (for consistency needs consistent engagement and support) I could argue that the Anglo-Saxon model has worked, for England, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There! That’s more evidence than you can poke a stick at!

    At the moment, no one is clamouring for “a 5ft 4in 240-pound pan-chewing South Asian”.

    Moreover, if you take the evidence that a sport like hockey gives you, it would be quite easy to surmise that a systems-science approach to coaching has worked — take Germany, Holland, South Korea, Australia, England, Argentina… Need I say more?

  3. Good post, Mohan.

    IMVHO, there are 3 main categories of desi coaches:

    – People who are capable of taking the coaching job but aren’t interested (such as Shastri). This constitutes a very low number and they probably don’t have any coaching experience to back them either.

    – People who are just starting to take up coaching at a professional level and who may be ready in a few years, such as Robin Singh. Only time will tell whether they get there.

    – People who have been coaching for a few years, such as Sandeep Patil who may have worked wonders for a team like Kenya, but are a bad fit for Team India.

    In short, there is no desi coach around. Bring in the firangi!

  4. I do not want to give up/surrender like that on Indian cocahes like that.

    There are desi coaches with a proven record. It is just the players for some reason do not want them.

    Sandeep Patil, a decent test player and in my view, a good spotter of young talent. He recommended Munaf Patel, Dhoni and Kaarthik for the Seniors. There is also Mohinder Amarnath.

    For an argument sake, let us forget about the success of other teams with Anglo-Saxon coaches. Let us consider India’s record with foreign coaches.

    John Wright’s term -reasonably successful.
    Greg Chappell’s term – failure.

    What can we conclude ?

  5. gnbmdr, Using your same argument – Let us consider India’s record with “Indian” coaches….

    We all know what that is 🙂

  6. I agree 🙂

    So, we give up ? I hope not.

    If we go strictly by record of coaches, I can understand if India were to hire – John Buchanan, Duncan Fletcher, Dave Whatmore (he won a WC for SL, that is more than John Wright).

    What is Emburey’s record ? Why is he even considered ? Is he better than Sandeep Patil ?

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  8. Srikanth Mangalam


    I may not have communicated my concerns clearly. Let me try again.

    1. What is the level of significant of coaching as a factor amongst several other factors when it comes to making a successful team? – I am not convinced that “significance of coaching” has been measured to state either way.

    2. If the anglo-saxon model is based on system-science how can you say it has worked for all the countries or sports for that matter you have named? – Yes, they all have tried and adopted it but “has the systems-science approach” been evaluated and rated? If so, I would love to see the results. I am sorry, NFL, Baseball, NBA do not demonstrate results adequately to me. There is far too much uncertainty in those sports as well when it comes to consistency, reliability and desired outcomes.

    3. What is more basic and concerning to me, is exactly what my original post was intended, there has been very little thought put into defining our needs and a decision has already been made on the solution, two white men with very little basis (at least as has been communicated) to back them. One, an unknown, the other a known failure.

    While point (3) above clearly presents my frustration, I am open to being influenced.

  9. gnbmdr, you continue to amaze me!

    You say, “there are desi coaches with a proven record” and then go on to say that Sandeep Patil was a decent player.

    There is a reason why Australian and English coaches are in demand. Have you even paused to think about that? Why?

    Why are teams not queueing up to hire a Sandeep Patil a Venkatrsh Prasad or a Madan Lal. Surely, demand out there says a lot! And mind, you, there are a lot more teams out there that seek professional coaches these days!

    And frankly, like you, I am confused by the choice of Embury. The similarity in our thinking and approach ends there! 🙂

    But that doesn’t mean I am willing to sign up to an Indian coach. The cupboard is bare…

  10. Srikanth

    Your approach is logical and thought provoking. And yes, it has not been communicated clearly up until now. Maybe due to my own lack of perception or through your tongue-in-cheek initial approach that may have deflected from the intended thrust. Maybe it was a combination of the two!

    There is evidence in hockey, for example, that a systematic approach to the science of hockey (endurance training, speed training, etc) has taken over the skills-reliance that Indians and Pakistanis used to rely on in their coaching methods. Again, I’d need to carry out a bit more research into this to be absolutely sure myself. But a friend of mine who is a hockey coach submits this theory. This transformation has yielded stunning results for teams like England, Australia, Germany, etc who have embraced these coaching/training methods. I haven’t personally followed hockey closely for more than 15 years — I lost interest in the game when they abolished the “sticks” rule.

    But I digress.

    Your point-3 is valid and frustrating and is deserving of a separate new thread, in my view. I don’t think much thought has been put into defining and articulating a vision and hence, extracting the needs. The solution is obvious (to me at least) because of an alarming paucity of choices — in my view — and not so much because of a match between vision/goals and needs/solutions. Spot on…

  11. mohankaus,

    I mentioned Sandeep Patil as a decent player and not a great player. I remember Sandeep Patil’s 174 @ Adelaide, against Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe, and 5 fours in an over against Bob Willis at England.

    My point is that Sandeep Patil has a good coaching record and he is former test cricketer, unlike Ford from SA.

    Other teams like Australia, England, South Africa do not want an Indian Coach, since they do not think highly of the Indian talent. If we ourselves, do not think highly of local/Indian talent, why would they even care ?

    I feel that Javed Miandad would be a very good coach, may be not for India, because of Indo-Pak relationship.

    I think the role of a coach is over-stated. Players play the game.

  12. gnbmdr,

    Buchanan has shown that one does not need to be a terrific cricket player in order to be a good coach. Buchanan never played for Australia. In fact, he only played 7 (yes, seven) first-class matches in his whole career! Yet, he has been heralded as the best coach of our times.

    In fact, Steve Waugh (here we go again!) says in his book that an ordinary player often knows what’s needed (what he himself does not have) in order to become a better player and so, has a deeper understanding of the coaching/leadership role.

    Leadership is about just that — defining where to get to and knowing what’s needed to get to where you need to get to.

    Sachin Tendulkar was a poor leader because he could not understand why people struggled with either form or strategy! He could not put himself in ‘their’ shoes. Ordinary players can. They become good coaches provided they are trained well. Buchanan and Nielsen are.

    Tim Nielsen wasn’t a great player himself. He has never played for Australia and is yet, recognised as a terrific coach.

    Greg Chappell (a fella you’ve got stuck into at regular intervals) was a great player with a very ordinary coaching record.

    So, one’s playing record is almost immaterial when it comes to selecting coaches.

    Now that I have buried that argument of yours, let’s move on!!

    On your second emotional saffron-army point about “if we don’t support Indians who will”… Hummph! This is not about “Be Indian Buy Indian”. If we want the team to do well, we have to ask, “who is the best man for the job” and not, “who is the best saffron-clad man for the job”. So, that argument of yours is inconsequential, irrelevant and immaterial.

    There are no Indians coaching international teams because currently there is a huge capability lag. Period.

    Open the other eye; you may be able to see more! 🙂

    — Mohan

  13. Agreed on most points – you may be shocked.

    My point was – Other premier teams do have a bias in hiring Indian coaches. If India were to win 2011 and 2015 WC and also win 75 % of test matches, other countries will hire Indian coaches. Until that time, SA is not going to hire a Ranji Trophy coach.

    If India also does not give a chance – then the record of Indian coaches would be 0 – 0 – no wins & no losses.

  14. How do you know that other premier teams have a bias? I’d say that other premier teams take a look at what India has to offer in terms of coaches and go “Not worth a second look”, and move on.

    If India is to win WC 2011 and 2015, hire an Anglo-Saxon today 🙂

    And this is not about “giving a chance”. This is about performing well and performing consistently. A strict meritocracy is at odds with socialistic paradigms.

    – Mohan

  15. sampath kumar

    Hi Guys,

    Stop deluding yourselves on the concept of Swadeshi vs anglo-saxon vs white man vs foreign coach for Team India.
    For a start, there is no definition for INDIAN!-We are all Tamils or Kannadigas or Marathis or Bengali–India is a nation of nations–how else can one explain the increase in the number of states–and cricket bodies–from 15 in 1947 to 30 plus in 2007? Every so called Swadeshi Coach will be a foreigner to at least 75% of the players in terms of state of origin, language spoken–he has to speak Angrezhi–to talk to the talented South Indians!!!! And, we may need translators as part of the coaching team!!!! There is so much discrimination–not rivalry–within India at all levels of life–that Indianness makes it semblance of appearance on persons of Indian oroigin, after they emigrate. Suddenly, there is an urge to smile at a coloured person–not Africans–on the other side of Collins St or become an instant expert or admirer of evrything INDIAN–classical music, Bharatha Nattiyam, Temples and prayers, Independence and republic day celebrations –and the list goes on!! Very few of these interests had any part in our lives where we once used to live!!

    Ian Chappell, once said–players over the age of 16 or 18, do not need coaching!–How true it is. Coaches can’t hold the ball or bat for you, in the middle of a game. At best the Captains, can, with some help from the sidelines, influence the outcome of a game. Nurturing the natural talent is the best a coach can do. I do not see any reason as why an Indian can’t do this–Parochialism and personal vendetta seems to play a big part–in preventing good retired players from becoming coaches–Kirmani, Roger Binny, Madan Lal et al had a lot to offer.

    Finally, in every walk of life, Anglo saxons–players and coaches alike–have had socio economic independence and that shows in their attitude, work ethics, enjoyment etc. On the other hand, Indians, with joint family system, respect for elders and unquestionable loyalty and subservience–not to speak of education adding a lot of inhibition–gives us a different outlook and approach on what we do!!

    Finally, if we get rid of Gavaskar Raj—all ailments within the Indian cricket will disappear!!

  16. One point I agree is that for good of Indian cricket Gavasakar Raj – should or must end. He has had his chances and he has not done much. He was a poor captain.

    But India is a funny place, our cricketers are like other junta – not a clean record or to use a strong word, some of the cricketers are plain corrupt. Their self interest is more than India’s interest. Kapil Dev’s huge house at Delhi not accounted for or something like that.

  17. sampath kumar

    Vengsarkar–whom I used to refer as the Indian Greg Chappell during his playing days–always hitting the ball in the ‘V” for the first 10 overs or so–ran his own cricket academy in Mumbai for a long time. Why is his talents wasted as Chairman of selectors/ Why doesn’t BCCI pay him same as Wright or Chappell got and make him the Coach?

    May be Mumbai Cricket Assn pays him moreas Chairman–to have more Mumbai players in the team!!!!

  18. Sampath kumar I think you are stereotyping based on your experience.Increase in number of states has no bearing on their Indianness its just for better management.In US itself,Washington DC has for a long time asked for statehood and I don’t see this as being divisive.As for culture , I think Indians are very culturally active even within their country, its just more visible in foreign land due to them being a minority .Increase in cricket bodies is a good sign for the game, it means more states want to get active in the game.
    And last but not the least I am sick of this idea that south indians can’t speak Hindi.South indians in North and in south also are very proficient in same.Yes if you visit south they prefer their local language which to me is fine .Its the visitor’s obligation to learn the local language not the hosts to learn the visitors(going by the same argument that South guys need to speak Hindi in north).

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