Not seen to be good enough to be compared to foreign coaches until now, the stock of the Indian coaches is going up in the eyes of the Indian Premier League’s franchise owners beyond the big names of the game. Ashish Nehra created an impact when he became the first Indian head coach to win the IPL – with Gujarat Titans in 2022. The vastly-experienced Sanjay Bangar is now the head coach at Royal Challengers Bangalore.
However, what has got the domestic coaching fraternity really excited is the appointment of Chandrakant Pandit by Kolkata Knight Riders as head coach. For the first time, the performance of a coach in first-class cricket has been taken seriously and he’s been trusted to do the job in the T20 league.
Anil Kumble is at the helm of affairs at Punjab Kings. Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid had also been the head of the support staff at Punjab Kings (earlier Kings XI Punjab) and Rajasthan Royals respectively, but they were high-profile internationals.
Impressed by Pandit’s consistently good work with various state teams in the Ranji Trophy, the Shah Rukh Khan-owned team has taken a punt on the former India wicketkeeper. After guiding Vidarbha to back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles, he proved his quality again with Madhya Pradesh by taking them to their maiden title triumph last season.
The domestic coaches see this as a positive step for them. They believe more doors will open up in future for deserving candidates. “It is fantastic news, and has gone to the deserving man. I am sure Pandit will prove that Indian coaches these days are very good, they have an analytical mind, they don’t carry any grudges with anyone,” said Surender Bhave, the former Maharashtra opener who has coached Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab in domestic cricket.
A lot of coaches believe they are well-equipped for the challenges of IPL. “People don’t understand the hard yards you have to make as a domestic coach. The perception on domestic coaches will probably change,” added Bhave. “Pandit has been doing this for a long time, and I hope it opens up some sort of support to Indian coaches from the IPL franchises.”
The franchises have taken time to warm up to the idea of Indian coaches for top positions. At best, they were trusted with the assistant coach’s job. Even the national team preferred a foreign hand until Ravi Shastri’s stint. There were valid reasons. The foreign experts came with coaching certificates and they are viewed as neutrals with no baggage. With an Indian coach, there was a perception that he would favour players from his zone in the team.
Now, BCCI runs its own coaching certification course at the National Cricket Academy. A lot of seasoned former domestic stalwarts have benefitted. So, there is no dearth of qualified coaches well-versed in technology and modern coaching methods.
“It’s not necessary that we only hire the Australians, Englishmen or the South Africans. I don’t mean to say don’t hire them. If somebody is good, like Gary Kirsten or John Wright, we should hire them. They can share their experience and everybody will listen to them, whether it is (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni or (Virat) Kohli. In domestic circuit, Pandit has that hold,” said former India pacer Karsan Ghavri, who coached Saurashtra to the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy title.
There’s often a doubt whether a coach can handle the game’s superstars if he doesn’t hold a high profile. Franchise owners in the IPL also tend to have an indifferent attitude towards coaches who had modest records as players. If Pandit can achieve success with KKR, it could change the scenario for local coaches.
Former Punjab coach Bhupinder Singh Sr, who was the chairman of the Cricket Advisory Committee of Punjab Cricket Association last season, believes Pandit’s appointment will help the cause of India coaches. “It will lift the profile of domestic coaches and show that they are good enough for the responsibility. We get impressed by the foreigners easily. We tend to give them more time as compared to the Indian coaches. I think all these franchises should definitely show confidence in the Indians. It is a very courageous decision by the KKR management. KKR have started it and others will also follow.”