May 27, 2005

Chappell’s master class can revolutionalise Indian cricket

By H Natarajan

Just days after Greg Chappell took over as the new Indian coach, comes the stunning revelation that some players told off and swore at John Wright, which is cited as one of the probable reasons for his exit.

Would this news sow seeds of apprehension in Chappell’s mind about his own authority being undermined? Highly unlikely. Chappell put an incorrigible rebel like Dennis Lillee in his place when he was captain of Australia. That should be a pointer. Chappell’s towering stature as a player, compared to Wright, is not easy to mess with. The key to his success, however, lies in the sweep of authority and freedom BCCI bestows on him, and then backs him up when it counts. Indian cricket would not want Chappell to contend with daggers on his back from Machiavellian administrators, the way Wright had to.

It’s still early days of the honeymoon, but he has already gone about with an air of professional confidence. He has shown that he has mind of his own, and a strong and analytical one that. There are indications that he would want – and get - a say in selection matters, which is completely understandable and logical. You can’t make somebody accountable if he does not get the kind of manpower he deems necessary for success.He also showed intelligence in appreciating the importance of the media and the influence it could have on the team’s performances when he said: “I promise I will do my best to respect your professionalism if you can do your best to respect mine and ours as a team.” But he was sharp to qualify that with a caveat: “I can't be available to you 24x7; there will be times when I have to say `no.' If we can start our relationship on a professional basis, we can achieve what we all want to achieve.''

The importance accorded for individual milestones over team goals is one of the first problems that Chappell is likely to address. The flawed thinking is not restricted to the players. The problem is one of epidemic proportions that include cricket fans and the media. The one glorious exception to this is Virender Sehwag, who believes in bravado than safety/selfish methods to reach double and triple centuries.Statistics and personal milestones have no place in the Chappell school of thought. He proved that when he announced his retirement from international cricket while on the verge of some notable landmarks. This could be just one of the many remedial and radical steps one expects Chappell to take to purge Indian cricket and cricketers.

There is lot of talk in the Indian media that Chappell’s appointment would mean a new lease of life for Saurav Ganguly. The assumption has it origin in Ganguly pitching for Chappell, unlike other seniors in the team who favoured Tom Moody. To me that’s nothing short of questioning Chappell’s integrity. "There comes a time in the life of a player when he has to be told that the time has come for him to go. It has happened with the top Australian batsmen and bowlers and it should happen in any side that wants to improve its performance," Chappell once said, reflecting a typical Australian way of thinking.

Even greats were shown little mercy. Recall the exits of Allan Border, the Waugh brothers to appreciate the point. The Aussie culture subscribes to the Vince Lombardi mantra: “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.” So if it means asking to go a waning superstar, then it has to be done. It’s as simple as that. So Chappell would have no problem if he were to apply that principle to even Sachin Tendulkar.

Was there any underlying motive behind the new coach going public in telling that Tendulkar is unlikely ever to be the great batsman he once was? I suspect there is. A clever plan to get the maestro fired up to prove the coach wrong. It’s a win-win situation for Chappell, though he will be happier to be proved wrong as it would only help the team cause.

I would like to believe that the cerebral Chappell’s needle was intentional. Remember the infamous aluminium bat incident in the 1979-80 series against England? Lillee says Chappell admitted later that he had used the situation to rile him up so that the anger gave expression in his bowling. Chappell’s ploy paid off; Lillee dismissed both openers without scoring.

Chappell maybe 56, but he has kept pace with time and technology unlike some of the home-bred cricketers who are stuck in a time warp. Computer illiterates and biomechanics ignoramuses who rubbish what they don’t understand and resort to cheap jingoism to camouflage their glaring limitations. Chappell’s vision statement, “Commitment to excellence”, from all counts was a masterpiece that won over even the desi sympathisers on the selection panel. “Strategy and planning techniques, especially creative planning were the cornerstone of my presentation; the ability to think outside the box was as important,” Chappell said after getting the high-profile job.

And one “outside the box” thinking Chappell may do is to get the celebrated lateral thinker Edward de Bono, who has helped the thought process of the Australian cricket team. It’s pretty obvious that he had done extensive research on the Indian team – not just as a team but by also going into the micro aspects of the individuals as well – judging from what he has said since his name came up as one of the contenders for the job.

I also suspect that the role of Sandy Gordon, or whoever the sports psychologist, would attain greater importance under Chappell. The paradox of having the best batting side in the world and yet suffering frequent, embarrassing collapses would be unacceptable to him. It’s a problem that has largely to do with the mind and the role of the psychologist in finding a solution would be very crucial. I would like to believe Chappell will see the broad picture if he has to take India on higher level. Domestic cricket, the National Cricket Academy, the India A and junior teams are areas that Chappell would definitely look into because herein lies the supply chain to the National team. They may not be in his ambit as a coach, but he cannot turn a blind eye to these areas. It’s the strength of the seeds that will determine the quality of the harvest. And Chappell, I reckon, will underline that point to the BCCI - even if it’s only in an advisory capacity.

There are compelling reasons to believe that the period in Indian cricket before Chappell took over may well be called BC. And it certainly does not denote Before Christ.