Indian cricket's missing person: Team director

Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli in discussion during a nets session Getty Images

Over the next two days, the BCCI's Committee of Administrators and chief executive Rahul Johri will meet the India captain, coach - Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri - and possibly the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad to discuss issues vital to the team. They had already met last week, and on the agenda now is the review of India's Test tours of South Africa and England, player workload, the tour of Australia, the needs of the coaching staff, and also the players' request to have their families along on long tours.

Ideally, the person the CoA and Johri should have met is a team director. A person whom Kohli and Shastri are answerable and accountable to. A person who - not being directly involved in the West Indies series - would have already prepared reports on the tours of South Africa and England, and detailed what India needs for Australia. A person who would have discussed workload problems with the team management and taken that to the BCCI, and figured out which players need their workloads monitored during next year's IPL in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup.

What Indian cricket is missing, and has always missed, is a point man who has powers of governance that makes the team management answerable to him - a team director, who has the bigger picture in mind.

Such a person, however, does not exist and instead Kohli and Shastri have a direct line to the BCCI's current boss, Johri, who in turn reports to the two-member committee of administrators (CoA), which was tasked by the Supreme Court to implement the Lodha Committee reforms. But should a captain and coach have the power to wield such influence?

We've already seen examples of how things could go awry with such an arrangement. Last year, Kohli made it clear to the CoA and Johri that he could not continue to work with the then India head coach Anil Kumble, who consequently stepped down last June. Kumble, who had replaced Shastri after the 2016 T20 World Cup, had been the unanimous choice of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.

The CAC first attempted to resolve differences between Kohli and Kumble, but when that did not work it picked Shastri after the BCCI advertised for the job of head coach. It got messy, and though the CoA and Johri felt they had no choice, they were criticised for giving in to Kohli's demands.

That incident reasserted a well-known fact about the culture that has existed in Indian cricket for decades: the captain calls the shots. There's an unwritten rule in Indian cricket that allows captains a certain entitlement. The Kumble episode also showed how the CAC, so far an ad-hoc body, was powerless - a situation that will not entirely change despite the Lodha reforms.

The BCCI might argue that there is already a person who performing the role of team director. Under the current set-up, the BCCI has various general managers that head different wings of the management of cricket. Saba Karim, the former Indian wicketkeeper, is the general manager, cricket, but his role is limited more to the domestic game.

The best example of how effective a team director can be is Andrew Strauss, the former England captain who recently stepped down as team director. Strauss, appointed to the role after England's first-round exit in the 2015 World Cup, recruited coaching staff and created a roadmap that has led to England being the No.1 ODI team, the No. 4 Test team and an explosive T20 team despite their No. 6 ranking in the format.

One of the first big decisions Strauss took as team director was to end Kevin Pietersen's England career after a fallout between him and his team-mates. Strauss realised Pietersen had to go for England cricket to move forward and took a tough decision. Alastair Cook recently thanked Strauss for making his life as England captain easy at the time.

Being a former captain himself, Strauss had a strong feel for the needs of players and coaching staff. But crucially he also knew how to handle the operational part of his job in conjunction with ECB top brass. It is a role that requires the creation of pathways for current and future teams; pathways that are flexible and can evolve as needs change.

India are the No.1 team in Tests, and No. 2 in ODIs and T20Is, but allowing the team management, led by Kohli and Shastri, to take its own decisions without any peer review, leave alone an official to report to, can have long-term impact on Indian cricket.

For example, India are the only major Full Member country to not have played a day-night Test, largely because of reluctance in the team. According to Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI's technical committee chairman, the first Test of the ongoing series against West Indies, in Rajkot, was supposed to be a day-night fixture. However, the team management told the CoA that the players were not ready to play pink-ball cricket and that India should focus on maximising the home advantage in Tests.

On the tours of South Africa and England, the team management decided to go into the Test series without playing adequate warm-up matches as preparation. Kohli's view was that weak opposition in warm-up games was not satisfactory practice and he would rather simulate Test conditions against second string Indian fast bowlers, as was seen in South Africa and then recently in the Asia Cup. Though India were competitive, they lost 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England.

Kohli is undoubtedly working for the benefit of the Indian cricket but Indian cricket does not start and end with the national team. Kohli's territory should be the dressing room and the field of play, where he works with the head coach on plans and selections, but the wider processes that govern his team - and future teams - should be down to the team director.

India did have a team director once, in 2014, and that man was none other than Shastri, who was roped in by the BCCI after India's 4-1 Test series defeat in England. But Shastri performed the role of manager and coach in that stint that lasted till the 2015 World Cup.

Ironically, the man most suited to do the job of team director might be Kumble. During his tenure as India coach Kumble had started creating a vision for the Indian team that would run parallel with the India A set-up led by another former India captain Rahul Dravid. Kumble also has the ability and stature to not just work with the team management but also stand up to them if necessary, but his candidature might be a non-starter because of his history with Kohli. The other person who could be fit for the role is Laxman, a firm and capable mind.

Whoever it is, Indian cricket would be well served by a team director, but for the role to work, there needs to be a cultural shift within the system that redistributes the power wielded by the captain and coach.