In the early 1980s, the concept of a formal national cricketing coach was alien to most countries, but still teams like Australia and England were far more professional in their approach than India.
Still in 1983, out of the blue, India won its still arguably greatest cricket prize in the form of the World Cup. Kapil Dev's devils proved that it was no flash in the pan and went on to win the inaugural Asia Cup in 1984, the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket in 1985 along with the Sharjah tournament the same year.
We capped it all with a fine 2-0 Test series win in England. To put that in perspective after that we have never registered a 2-0 win on the soils of strong teams like England, Australia, South Africa or Pakistan.
We didn't have a coach at that time, mind you!
When the coaching era began in India, we entered our worst phase. From 1990-2000, we had the following procession of coaches: Bishen Singh Bedi, Abbas Ali Baig, Ajit Wadekar, Sandeep Patil, Madan Lal, Anshuman Gaekwad and Kapil Dev.
During that period we failed to make it to the semis of two World Cups (1992 and 1999) and suffered a humiliating semi-final loss against Sri Lanka in the 1996 edition. We failed to win a single Test outside the sub-continent.
In 1999 we failed to even make it to the finals of the Asian Test Championship and South Africa beat us 2-0 in Tests at home, a rare event indeed. So much for the seven wise men who coached India during that period!
Our revival began only after 2000. But here’s an interesting question. Who is responsible for that revival?
Was it our first foreign coach John Wright? Or was it our first really aggressive captain Sourav Ganguly? Or was it the fact that the BCCI took a policy decision to professionalize Indian cricket in the first place?
After yet another crash, there was another revival in 2007. That’s when we won the T20 World Cup. And guess what? We didn’t have a coach at that time! So for that the full credit goes to MS Dhoni, who may have single-handedly ushered in a golden age much like Kapil and Ganguly before him.
Dhoni won the 2007 T20 WC when there was no coach. (Lalchand Rajput was the manager). He won the 2011 ODI World Cup under Gary Kirsten. He won the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and whitewashed Australia in Tests 4-0 under Duncan Fletcher.
In 2016 Dhoni became the first captain to whitewash Australia 3-0 in any format of the game in their history (the T20 series) and won the inaugural T20 Asia Cup when again there was no formal head coach. (Ravi Shastri was Team Director followed by interim coach Sanjay Bangar)
Arguably many of our greatest victories have been without a head coach.
In fact India is the only cricket team that boasts a galaxy of superstars and the head coach more often than not proves to be a nuisance. The seven Indian coaches in the 1990s never really got on with the players as ego tussles abounded.
The second half of Wright’s coaching stint had more misses than hits. The Chappell-Ganguly tussle saw India crash out of the first round of the 2007 ODI World Cup. When Duncan Fletcher joined us, Team India crashed with the overseas 0-8 Test whitewash.
Finally, the tussle between captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble may just have cost us the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy. Kirsten was a rare coach who saw no controversy. But he was the exception rather than the rule.
There’s another little recognised fact. If you look at the turning points of Indian cricket, then the BCCI policy changes seem to be the most important of all.
In the 1960s the BCCI decided to focus on youth and MAK Pataudi became the world's youngest captain. We thrashed New Zealand 3-1 in our 1968 away Test series. Till date that remains the only series where we won 3 Tests in a foreign series.
That confidence saw us beating England and West Indies in away series in 1971.
Later when ODIs started becoming popular, since we didn’t a pool of fast bowlers, the BCCI focused on all-rounders or ‘bits and pieces players’ as they were called like Mohinder Amarnath. That led to the 1983-85 golden period.
Hosting the World Cup in 1987 was a masterstroke that shifted the power centre of international cricket. The BCCI also ended the veto of England and Australia and cricket became much more neutral after that and it really helped us.
In the 1990s they declared that 'India is flat' and spinning pitches became the norm. That led to a string of home series victories.
The 2000 revival happened when the BCCI decided professionalize Indian cricket. The 2007 revival happened when the BCCI decided to sidestep the senior players and focus on the likes of Dhoni and youth.
Finally the IPL became a great tournament to unearth local talent and gave a much more financially stable career to our youngsters as compared to the Ranji tournament.
The BCCI is given far less credit than it deserves.
So why don’t we go ahead and scrap the post of Head Coach in order to avoid the ego tussles, unnecessary battles and endless controversies that abound with that post?
Let's just have a batting coach, a bowling coach and a fielding coach. Let a Manager or Team Director take care of all of them.
That would be much more peaceful and just might produce better results!