From Wadekar to Shastri: Who is India's best coach ?

A Statistical analysis of India's coaches in Test Cricket

Coaches are a revered lot. For instance, Vince Lombardi never played professional American Football but was such an exceptional coach for the Green Bay Packers that the NFL Super Bowl winner’s trophy is named the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Sir Alex Ferguson had so much power during his 26 year reign as Manchester United’s manager/coach that he was instrumental in getting a money making machine like David Beckham transferred from United to Real Madrid due to disagreements.

However, Cricket as a sport doesn’t lend itself to the kind of visible influence from coaches like Basketball, Soccer, American Football or some other sports do. Coaches are very much behind the scenes and seldom hog the limelight. Even though coaches do not get much visibility, their contribution to the success/failure of a team is immense. There have been more than a few controversies too, like the infamous Ganguly-Chappell face off.

The concept of a coach for a cricket team is fairly recent in the 143 year old history of international cricket, catching on from the 1970’s. Bobby Simpson of Australia is one of the earliest successful coaches in Cricket. The Men’s Indian Cricket team used to have team managers who looked after the administrative affairs of the team. Only from the early 90’s did India appoint a Men’s Team Coach.

Let us take a deep dive into how Indian coaches have fared in the last 27 years (since 1992) from Ajit Wadekar to Ravi Shastri - in Test Match Cricket.

Here is the list of all the Indian Men’s team coaches & their time periods:

The Top 3 by Win/Loss Ratio

Anil Kumble in spite of being the coach only for a year has an eye popping 12.0 Win Loss ratio having seen India through a purple patch of 17 tests with just 1 loss. The fact that his stint was cut short due to incompatibility issues with Captain Kohli certainly did not affect the performance of the team.

Ajit Wadekar was one of the first full time coaches for the Indian team and is the trailblazer for what is expected out of a coach. In his 4 year period as coach he formed an excellent combination with Mohammad Azharuddin to make India unbeatable at home.

Gary Kirsten’s stint as coach from 2008 to 2011 was one of the most successful for India. He started out with an Indian test team led by Anil Kumble and later by MS Dhoni. He was instrumental in taking India to the top of the World Test Rankings.

Key Points

  • Only coaches with 10 test matches under their belt have been considered

  • Kapil Dev and Sandeep Patil coached for short periods of time in the 90’s and did not qualify to get into the chart

  • John Wright has coached India for the most number of test matches - 52

  • John Wright also took India to the most number of wins - 21

  • Between 1996 and end of 2000 when Ganguly took over as captain & John Wright as coach, India only had 7 wins in 38 matches

  • Coach Anil Kumble presided over the most prolific 1 year of test cricket for India where 17 tests were played with 13 of them in India

  • Having just being re-appointed for a 2 year period, Ravi Shastri will lead India for another 16 test matches and will definitely be close to the 52 tests that John Wright coached

  • At 18 wins currently, Shastri is extremely likely to become the most successful coach for India in the next year or two when he overtakes John Wright’s 21

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Key Points

  • Ravi Shastri has presided over the most number of overseas victories with 11 wins. John Wright comes a close second with 10

  • When you look at Win/Loss ratios, Kumble trumps everyone else because he had only 1 away tour to the West Indies which India won 2-0 (he technically does not have a Win/Loss Ratio since there was no loss but I have normalized it to 2.0 to represent the data easily)

  • Ajit Wadekar’s period as coach saw India play only a total 22 test matches and that too with just 9 tests away from home. 3 of those were in Sri Lanka where India won 1 test match against a up and coming Sri Lankan team

  • Even though Greg Chappell’s leadership as coach is much reviled, he formed a good partnership with Captain Dravid to take India to its first series win against West Indies in 35 years. India also won its first ever test match in South Africa during Chappell’s stint

Whats with the “NO COACH” ?

After the 2007 World Cup, Greg Chappell was sacked as coach and India entered a phase where they brought in Ravi Shastri & Chandu Borde as coach for 1 series each as a temporary replacement until a full time coach was found. This period has been noted as a “NO COACH” time period. During that nearly 1 year period, India’s test team was led by Rahul Dravid initially and then by Anil Kumble. This was also the period when the team had many senior players who were capable of handling the team’s duties. In fact, Kumble was leading a team that had 3 past captains - Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid. India achieved a 2.0 Overall Win/Loss and 1.5 Away Win/Loss ratio in that period largely thanks to Kumble’s fighting spirit as a leader and the fact that he had stalwarts in the team who were ready to shoulder extra responsibility. Gary Kirsten took over the team after this period.

Hitting Rock-Bottom

There are 2 periods of time when India hit rock bottom.

  1. 1996 - 2000

    • India had 4 coaches between Ajit Wadekar’s end of stint in 1996 and John Wright’s start in late 2000 - Sandeep Patil, Madan Lal, Anshuman Gaekwad (twice) and Kapil Dev

    • In the 38 test matches during this period, India won only 7 and no away wins

    • Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar were the captains during this period

  2. 2011 - 2015

    • Duncan Fletcher was the Head Coach during this 4 year period taking over right after the 2011 World Cup and lasting through the 2015 World Cup

    • India had a horrendous time overseas during this period with 15 losses and just 2 wins in 24 Away matches

    • At home however, India were still kings winning 11 out of their 15 matches while only losing 2

    • MS Dhoni was the Indian Captain for most of this period with Virat Kohli taking over the team at the very end of 2014 in the middle of the Australian tour

    • In October 2014, Ravi Shastri was appointed as the Team Director with Duncan Fletcher reporting to Shastri. This model was put in place since India’s performance had dipped under Fletcher.

Captain-Coach Combo

The Captain-Coach combinations are along expected lines with the same Top 3 Coaches having the best record. Ganguly and John Wright had the longest partnership having led India for 47 test matches.

Nationality of Coaches

During the 1990’s, all the coaches were former Indian cricketers and there was a high turnover rate except for Wadekar’s period. From 2000 to 2015 (except 1 year), all the coaches were from other countries - John Wright, Greg Chappell, Gary Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher. Since 2015, India have elected to go back to Indian coaches.

It is not clear that this recent shift towards choosing Indian coaches is coincidental or by choice. However this recent shift could be traced back to the creation and appointment of the Cricket Advisory Committee from June 2015. The first CAC was chaired by Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.

Coaches have become the life blood of any modern cricket team with lucrative contracts being signed. Ravi Shastri recently signed a 10 crore a year deal as the Head Coach of the Indian Men’s team from 2019-2021. India’s coaches have been a mixed bag with 2 rock-bottom periods performance-wise (96-2000, 2011-15), 2 clash of personalities (Kumble-Kohli, Chappell-most of the senior players) and 4 excellent periods with Wright, Kirsten, Shastri and Wadekar.

Even though statistics may show something else, for the number of matches he lasted and the mountains he climbed with away test match wins, John Wright will be India’s best coach. Ravi Shastri is on his way to dethrone John Wright’s with an impressive record that is only improving with every series.

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