GAME PLAN: Second-string series and a train of coaches

Jaideep Ghosh

Harare: Zimbabwean batsman Vusimusi Sibanda, right, plays a shot next to Indian wicket keeper MS Dhoni during the One Day International cricket match against India at Harare Sports Club, Wednesday, June, 15, 2016. The Indian cricket team is in Zimbabwe for One Day International and T20 matches. Photo: AP/PTI

Harare: Zimbabwean batsman Vusimusi Sibanda, right, plays a shot next to Indian wicket keeper MS Dhoni during the One Day International cricket match against India at Harare Sports Club, Wednesday, June, 15, 2016. The Indian cricket team is in Zimbabwe for One Day International and T20 matches.
Photo: AP/PTI

The Zimbabwe series is over, and as anticipated, the scratch Indian contingent will return with the honours.

But these are the series which no one really wins. When India went in, Zimbabwe coach, former South African fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, had expressed his unhappiness about the second-string side sent by the visitors, and had promised to make them pay. But as it turned out, the second-string team was too good for the hosts.

This brings us to what were the gains for India. Naturally, the bowlers look good. Zimbabwe did not cross 170 once in the three ODIs they played, managing less than 130 in the second and third matches.

Jasprit Bumrah was the pick of the bowlers, with 16 wickets in the six matches India played. He is a bowler who looks destined for bigger things. Barinder Sran too has looked promising, with a fair collection of wickets.

On the batting front, Lokesh Rahul would likely be well served with the century on debut and a series average of over 88. But that being said, one always needs to be a little objective about where these runs or wickets were garnered.

Zimbabwe isn’t quite the opposition that fires the imagination. They have been quite poor but that can’t really be held against them. The nation has been struggling for a long time, as there is little money with the federation or for the players. They do not get enough finances through engagements or broadcast, nor do they attract the best sides.

Dhoni-n-KohliThat makes it quite a chicken and egg situation. If they can’t get big names, they don’t garner sponsors. If they don’t get sponsors, there are no finances. The circle goes on.

But sad though that predicament is, it is for the Zimbabweans to figure out. We need to look at our gains. Or losses.

Which brings us to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

The skipper was the only superstar in the side that went to Zimbabwe, and he really wasn’t needed to do much against the poor opposition. But just the fact that he has to go for these assignments makes it amply clear that he isn’t on as solid a wicket as he used to be not too long ago.

It was he who unilaterally decided to give up test cricket, leaving the path clear for Virat Kohli. Thereafter, he was emphatic in his claims that he would not retire. So that left him with little option but to lead this second-string team to Zimbabwe. One assumes that he’s still around, for the series against big sides like England that are coming to India this year. But one can almost see the end of the line.

Train of coaches

The other drama being played back home is the coaching saga for the Indian team. If the cricketing grapevine is to be believed, the coach is likely to be announced later on Thursday. The grapevine also suggests that Anil Kumble is the front-runner in the entire thing. Rather surprising that. We thought Ravi Shastri was the favoured candidate.

Unless of course we read between the lines, as we have to do with all things cricket.

For one, Kumble presented himself in front of committee set up by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which includes Sanjay Jagdale (coordinator), Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in Kolkata on Tuesday.

On the other hand, Shastri didn’t travel to Kolkata, but made do with a video conference. Could it be that he was in the know of things and didn’t think it was worth the trouble travelling to Kolkata?
It is all a little strange too. First we heard Test skipper Kohli had backed Team Director Shastri wholeheartedly. Then we heard Chief Selector Sandeep Patil was in the fray.

The number then bloated to 57, then reduced to 21, and as we understand now, ten people were interviewed on Tuesday and the process was over then. One also wonders when Kumble came into reckoning, given that he wasn’t in consideration. Initially at least.

We also don’t know if Shastri’s broadcast commitments had anything to do with the whole affair. Can’t be dismissed summarily. Rather, that could very well be a major issue. After all, what would explain the sudden change of preference?

After all, Kohli had been very vocal in his support for Shastri as coach, though Shastri’s own filing of nomination and other stuff couldn’t really be considered to be too enthusiastic.

Coaching is a full-time job and there are no other fringe activities can be entertained. Could be quite a major financial dent. Not to mention that it is always a spot where you would be open to criticism. Even a person as aggressive as Shastri.

But the mystery will hopefully be over by the end of the day. Will be rather interesting to see how it goes.