Shouldn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India have decided by now who Kumble’s support staff ought to be? © AFP

Shouldn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India have decided by now who Kumble’s support staff ought to be? © AFP

With the dust kicked up by the artificial uncertainty over India’s participation in the Champions Trophy having somewhat settled, it is time to get down to brass tacks. In less than a month’s time, India will begin the defence of their crown with a Group B fixture against Pakistan, the old enemy, in Birmingham. In less than 20 days, Virat Kohli’s team will depart for England; hopefully, in the next few days, the 15-man party will have been buttoned down and announced by MSK Prasad’s senior selection panel.

A majority of that 15-man squad picks itself, the only point of interest being how much weightage, if at all, the selectors affix to some of the more stirring performances in the ongoing Indian Premier League. Do they go with the magnificent exploits of Rishabh Pant, the exciting 20-year-old from Delhi Daredevils who had previously also lit up the scene in the Ranji Trophy as well for Delhi? Does the experienced Harbhajan Singh loom as a left-field choice purely on the basis of his displays for Mumbai Indians, which have been very good without being overwhelming? And in KL Rahul’s absence, who slots in as the opening partner for Rohit Sharma, even though the latter hasn’t opened the batting for his franchise at all?

These are all questions bound to be discussed at length by Prasad, his co-selectors Sarandeep Singh and Devang Gandhi, as well as Kohli and Anil Kumble, even though bizarrely, the Indian head coach isn’t actually invited to sit in selection meetings. But these aren’t the only questions that loom large.

Currently, India are the only team that will play the Champions Trophy without a support staff beyond the head coach. The contracts of Kumble’s backroom compatriots all expired on March 31. While it is realistic to expect that the likes of Sanjay Bangar and R Sridhar will slot back in as batting and fielding coach respectively, shouldn’t that process have been undertaken earlier in the piece? Or, at least, by now, with the Champions Trophy a little more than three weeks away?

The logic behind the contracts of the support staff ending on March 31 is simple – it frees them up to engage themselves in the Indian Premier League, if they so desire. But even given that March 31 cut-off date logic, shouldn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India have decided by now who Kumble’s support staff ought to be?

The logic behind the contracts of the support staff ending on March 31 is simple – it frees them up to engage themselves in the Indian Premier League, if they so desire. Sridhar is the fielding coach with Kings XI Punjab while Bangar, who stepped down as head coach of the same franchise at the conclusion of last season, has been involved in media activities. The March 31 cut-off has also allowed Rahul Dravid, the India A and India Under-19 coach, to return to Delhi Daredevils as the team mentor, ostensibly eliminating the vexatious conflict of interest conundrum that rears its head from time to time, and is interpreted conveniently, depending on which big name is supposed to be caught up in the said conflict.

But even given that March 31 cut-off date logic, shouldn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India have decided by now who Kumble’s support staff ought to be? In the normal course, to wait for the IPL to end before making an announcement would have been acceptable had such an important tournament not been around the corner. Last year, for instance, it wasn’t until towards the end of June that, after an elaborate process, Kumble himself was appointed the head coach. It wasn’t so much of an issue then because India’s first assignment at the conclusion of the IPL was a four-Test series in the Caribbean in the third week of July. But this time around, there is no luxury of a similar cushion. The Champions Trophy commences exactly ten days after the IPL final on May 21; India leave for the tournament on May 25. And yet here we are, not sure who will be on the plane to London, no matter if commonsense would seem to rule out any drastic changes.

The world might believe the extension of Kumble’s contract is a mere formality waiting to happen. But why are we taking it for granted that, even if we go to him at the proverbial last minute, he will oblige like he always has? Why do we continue to have different sets of rules for different people?

It would still have been acceptable had the personnel concerned been kept in the loop – after all, not everything needs to be made public always, something the BCCI have mastered over the years and thus have encouraged the policy of selective leaks and breaking news – but there is little indication that that is the case. While there is no denying the honour and the pride that comes with being associated with the Indian cricket team in any capacity, it must also be kept in mind that people deserve to be treated with respect. A contract is never a one-way process, but the BCCI seem convinced that they are doing professionals a favour by merely employing them, no matter how impressive their credentials might be. That smacks of downright arrogance and an insensitivity that has pretty much left the Indian board isolated on the global stage.

Oh, and it doesn’t end there. At the end of the Champions Trophy, India could be without a head coach too. Kumble signed a one-year contract last June, somewhat strange but also somewhat understandable if you were inclined towards giving the benefit of the doubt to the BCCI; after all, the former India captain didn’t have any formal coaching background, though the counter to that argument would be that if you decided to overlook that fact, then why not go all the way and make him coach till the 2019 World Cup?

Historically, even in times of crises and turmoil within the BCCI, the cricket has somehow remained miraculously untouched. The Indian board is currently busy fighting battles – justified and otherwise – on multiple fronts. Hopefully, the BCCI will avoid an unsavoury first and continue to put cricket at the forefront. Otherwise, whatever sympathy they might still enjoy from the fans – the primary stakeholders in the sport – will disappear. Rapidly.

Anyway. So, as things stand now, once India’s campaign at the Champions Trophy comes to an end – Indian fans will be hoping on June 18, at The Oval with Kohli emulating Mahendra Singh Dhoni and holding the cup aloft – the national team could be without a head coach. India are scheduled to travel to the Caribbean straight from England immediately after the Champions Trophy for a short limited-overs series. For all practical purposes, the BCCI mandarins will retain Kumble for that assignment and beyond, but surely, it is not expecting too much for at least Kumble to be informed thus?

Wind the clock back to 2007, when the hunt for a successor to Greg Chappell began following India’s first-round elimination from the 50-over World Cup in the West Indies. The first few assignments following that disaster were handled by Indian cricket managers – Ravi Shastri during the tour of Bangladesh in June-July, Chandu Borde during the England sojourn a little later, and then Lalchand Rajput during the victorious World T20 run in South Africa in September, the home one-dayers against Australia in October, the Pakistan home series in November-December, and the tour of Australia that ran between December 2007 and March 2008.

Sometime in December, Gary Kirsten was identified as the next Indian coach. He spent time with the team briefly, as a consultant, during the memorable Perth win in January when, coincidentally, Kumble was the captain, but didn’t take charge until the home series against South Africa in March. Effectively, the South African was given the luxury of four months’ time between his appointment and his first assignment; sadly, in a reflection of our mindsets, we don’t believe it is necessary to accord that same luxury to easily the greatest match-winner to date in the history of Indian cricket.

The world might believe the extension of Kumble’s contract is a mere formality waiting to happen. But why are we taking it for granted that, even if we go to him at the proverbial last minute, he will oblige like he always has? Why do we continue to have different sets of rules for different people?

Historically, even in times of crises and turmoil within the BCCI, the cricket has somehow remained miraculously untouched. The Indian board is currently busy fighting battles – justified and otherwise – on multiple fronts. Hopefully, the BCCI will avoid an unsavoury first and continue to put cricket at the forefront. Otherwise, whatever sympathy they might still enjoy from the fans – the primary stakeholders in the sport – will disappear. Rapidly.