Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Eye on India: Anil Kumble ‘exceeding his brief’ could cost him his position as national team coach

Kumble and others want a bigger say in how BCCI money is distributed.
Anil Kumble has done an exceptional job as India coach but is not guaranteed to keep his job. AFP
Anil Kumble has done an exceptional job as India coach but is not guaranteed to keep his job. AFP

If Anil Kumble felt inclined to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday night, he might have marvelled at Arsene Wenger’s luck. He may have done phenomenal things in his first decade at Highbury/The Emirates, but Wenger’s last 10 years in charge have been distinctly underwhelming, with Arsenal also-rans in the league and unable to build on the run to the Uefa Champions League final in 2006.

Yet, Wenger stands on the cusp of another contract extension, with the club hierarchy seemingly convinced that he is the right man to guide them back to the top. Such touching faith is in scant supply in Indian cricket, especially when it comes to the coaching job.

When Kumble was appointed last summer, there were more than a few sceptics, given his lack of coaching experience. The one-year term he was given was considered apt, considering that great players seldom make the transition to become outstanding coaches.

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In 12 months, Kumble and the side he has coached have exceeded all expectations, winning 12 Tests out of 17 — losing only one — and also claiming one-day international series wins against England and New Zealand. You would have thought a contract extension would have been drawn up as early as late March, when Australia were beaten 2-1 in an epic Test series.

Instead, Kumble is merely an automatic entry into the candidates’ list that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will present to a Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.

Kumble has maintained a dignified silence over the past few days, telling this correspondent only that “a process was being followed”, but there is little doubt that he has been slapped on the wrist for actions beyond the boundary.

Over the past few weeks, Kumble has been at the heart of a move to get India’s international players a greater share of the BCCI’s substantial revenue pie. The broadcast deal for the Indian Premier League (IPL) comes up for bidding soon, and whoever wins the five-year deal — most likely Star Sports — will fill the BCCI coffers with an astronomical sum.

The board is unlikely to increase the percentage of revenue (26 per cent) it will share with the players, but Kumble and others want a bigger say in how that money is distributed. And anyone with an iota of sense will tell you that their proposals are entirely justified.

It is ludicrous that Cheteshwar Pujara, linchpin of India’s batting over that marathon stint of Tests last season, takes home less money than a player whose only contribution is a handful of IPL games. Kumble, with the support of Virat Kohli, who now captains across all three formats, has proposed a payment structure that gives Test stalwarts rewards commensurate with the effort they put in.

But Kumble has not stopped there. He has also asked for a sizeable hike for the support staff. In his case, that would take his earnings beyond 80 million rupees (Dh4.5m), comparable to what some of the leading players earn.

In BCCI circles, that is considered sacrilege. A cursory look at US sport, or even European football, where Antonio Conte could earn £40m (Dh 188m) for his next contract, should tell you that such a request is nothing unusual. A cricket coach does not exert the same influence as the man on the sidelines of a football or NFL game, but with teams on the road for months at a stretch, man-management skills come under far greater scrutiny.

A couple of BCCI officials have spoken to various media outlets, “anonymously” of course, about Kumble “exceeding his brief”. That is utter nonsense. A coach’s role is not just to help win games, it’s to ensure that the players are happy. And right now, despite the BCCI recently increasing the retainer for the leading players to R20m a year, there is discontent in the air.

A two-year extension for a coach who has done everything to deserve it would be a good way to clear that air.

Gill’s hypocrisy helps harm Indian hockey

While millions of Indians will credit Kanwar Pal Singh Gill — who died on May 26 — for crushing the separatist movement in Punjab, sports lovers will recall his name for other reasons.

Sometime in the 1990s, when his honeymoon with Indian hockey had yet to sour, the man who became the cruel face of the Punjab Police would say: “The real bane of our sports organisation is that the people who come into power do not want to leave the seats of power.

“The government guidelines stipulate that the person should remain in charge of a federation for not more than eight years. I think these are very sensible guidelines because everyone runs out of ideas after a period of time, no matter how brilliant he is. And I would be happy if there was a law to ensure the eight-year term in this country.”

By the time Gill was sacked as Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) president in 2008, he had been in the job nearly 14 years.

The first few, including a fifth-place finish at the 1994 World Cup and the 2000 Olympics, where only a 69th minute equaliser from Poland denied India a place in the last four, promised renewal, but by the time he was thrown out, Gill’s administration had dragged Indian hockey to such depths that the team didn’t even qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Instead of a new broom, Indian hockey got a dictatorship. Instead of Ric Charlesworth, the legendary Australian player and coach, who had repeatedly expressed interest in the coaching job, Gill appointed men like Gerhard Rach, a German whose sole claim to fame was being jailed for fraud and tax evasion.

When this correspondent and a colleague interviewed Gill in 2005, he played the son-of-the-soil card to explain away ignoring Charlesworth. “I find they [foreign coaching aspirants] don’t even know what is happening here,” he said. “They start writing long emails and give interviews without being aware of the ground realities. They are totally ignorant about the real happenings.”

By the time Gill left, having sacked as many as 18 coaches, the only ground reality was the pitiable state that Indian hockey found itself in.

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Updated: May 27, 2017 04:00 AM

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