September 29, 2005

Chappell shackled in slog overs, but target daunting for Ganguly

By H Natarajan

The face-off between a revolutionary coach and a rebellious captain was far too complex, corrosive and complicated for a simple solution.

Greg Chappell was first let down by the captain with a disclosure of a confidential matter to the media. Then he was betrayed by a high-ranking BCCI official who leaked his confidential report to the media – the prime reason for the escalation of a problem. And finally the Review Committee Meeting (RCM) concluded that his allegation about the captain faking injury is “far from truth.” Bluntly put, Chappell has been damned a liar, though it was sugar coated as communication lapse.

It’s difficult to comprehend Chappell desperately wanting to hang on to a job where his integrity has been questioned so unambiguously and so publicly and his position as a coach so painfully compromised. Ganguly, too, could not have emerged out of the meeting very happily as he would expected much more from the committee to help redeem his tarnished image. Which is why one feels there could be possibly more to the ‘compromise’ than what’s made public.

After the RCM, Ranbir Singh Mahendra proclaimed loftily the progressive intentions of taking Indian cricket forward: “Performance will be the criteria.” And all along, like fools, we believed that was the case!

The criteria will also be applicable to the coach, he added. Does that mean Chappell’s contract could be in the shredder before it runs the course (till the 2007 World Cup) if his performance drops below acceptance levels?

"We have demarcated the difference in roles between the captain and coach. The captain has to control the game. The coach has to do his own job,” said Ranbir. What exactly is the coach’s job still remains in the realms of mystery.

The media conference was yet another farce that left more questions unanswered. Chappell’s diatribe were apparently replied point by point by the captain, but mediapersons got no official explanation of the rebuttals. What did the captain say in his defense about accusations of destabilising the team, putting personal interests over the side, spreading rumours, driving a wedge between the players and coach, showing undue favouritism, perpetuating divide and rule policy by restoring to canard, assuming a position of unaccountability, running scared of fast bowling and creating panic within the team? What happened to Gregory King's training reports that, Chappell claimed, continued to show Ganguly as the person who does the least fitness and training work of the specific workloads assigned to the players? Who were the other members whose “attitude” Chappell expressed “serious reservations” about in his e-mail? The media and the rest of the country are as clueless after the meeting as they were before its start.

The mood of the country could be judged by the nationwide polls – and one lost count of the numbers – which overwhelmingly sided with the coach. The nation was angered at the accusations and had every right to get convincing explanations. The accusations were public and both Chappell and Ganguly deserved to defend themselves in public and not gagged into leading tarnished lives. Ganguly is not the kind who will keep quiet forever. An enterprising publisher could get him to spill the beans after his retirement. And it would only be a matter of time before Chappell, too, takes the same route to come up with a book that could be even more juicer.

Chappell, meanwhile, has not exactly emerged faultless. Two passages in his e-mail showed him in poor light: his attempt to ascertain from team members “what they had thought of Sourav's retirement” and his dig at his predecessor’s man management. Both were uncalled for. Little did Chappell realise while lampooning John Wright that in spite of all that was possibly going on during his tenure, the players had good words for him and the inevitable dressing room differences did not degenerate into ugly, public spat. In contrast, players and the manager apart, the team physio, too, refuted one of Chappell’s claims against the captain. Which shows that Chappell has not ascertained facts and/or that his mind is so prejudiced against the captain that it easily accepts anything negative.

If Chappell’s allegations were right, Ganguly had to go. If his accusations were false, Chappell had to pack up. There could not have been a compromise given the gravity of the charges.

Kapil Dev was banned for a Test because he was perceived as having played a stroke that was unwarranted in the given situation. That ban cost him one Test – the only one that he missed in his career spanning 131 Tests over 15 years. I wonder what his thoughts are looking at the manner accusations far more serious than his own have been swept under the BCCI carpet.

At the end of it all, the inference of the BCCI president’s comments suggests that Chappell is a liar and media the biggest culprit. The impression one gets is, to take Indian cricket forward, the coach, captain and the players should stay away from the pariahs of the fourth estate. The efficacy of the gag is evident from Ganguly’s rebuttal to Chappell’s broadside finding its way in some newspapers.

Progressive teams around the world answer every query of media in the most honest manner possible. Players are available for interview through prior arrangement with the media manager and not because of personal equations and/or clout of the paper/magazine/channel they represent. The media is seen as an important organ of the game and transparency is seen as a vital cog in the wheel.

The brokered ‘peace treaty’ could be a door for Ganguly to make a dignified exit. If he is unable to deliver the goods as a batsman and captain in the forthcoming home series, it could be the end of his international career. The pressure on Ganguly to deliver will be monumental, far greater than the pressure on Chappell. And if recent events are any yardstick to go by, Ganguly has looked visibly more fragile than the coach. It would be a pity, real pity, if a champion one-day batsman and a captain who gave Indian cricket a refreshingly new direction in world cricket, has to bid farewell in this fashion, watching the destruction of an edifice that he built with passion.

Indian cricket is at a new low - a coach under siege, a captain under debris of allegations, a team polarised and plummeting. Even interest in television rights has fallen. Subhash Chandra chairman of Zee Telefilms that is in the fray to gain cricket telecast rights, said: “I hope I don't get it now. People are disappointed with cricket. It's TRP ratings fell to 300-odd during the Sri Lanka series and further to only 60 during the recently concluded Zimbabwe series.”

This is certainly not the end of the imbroglio. If the Pawar faction comes to power, things will radically change for Ganguly. Politics has given him a fresh lease of life to him, but politics could swiftly end that lease if the balance of power swings in the elections that will follow.

The Chappell-Ganguly fracas is undoubtedly a watershed in Indian cricket. Suffice to say, Indian cricket will never be the same again – one way or the other.