April 04, 2007

BCCI needs to clean up the Augean stables – now

By H Natarajan

The war raging in the media between coach Greg Chappell on one side and the players on the other side has turned ugly and vicious, the scale of which is unprecedented in Indian cricket. On the one hand is the authority of the coach and on the other hand is monumental clout of the players – the seniors in particular – who have assumed a belligerent trade union-like attitude.

Successive regime over the years have to assume responsibility for this sorry state of affair that Indian cricket finds itself in today. John Wright, for example, was hounded in the middle of a tour. He was made to feel insecure. How can a coach get the best out of his players when his authority is in question and he is made to suffocate? Where can he turn around for support if the very people who should be backing him up are against him? Finally, he gave it up and was happy to walk away with his dignity in tact.

Greg Chappell had obviously spent meaningful time with Wright before taking charge to appreciate the problems within the Indian team and take remedial measures. Chappell’s stature as a player towered over that of Wright. The Australian was also more forthright. He was not going to spare anybody, including the prima donnas. Only two things could have prevented an explosive situation: either the players had to change or Chappell had to change. With a section of the past Indian players – especially those who saw themselves as contenders for the job of coaching the Indian team - opposed to foreigners, Chappell had to dodge multiple bullets, including parochial interests and political opportunists.

How far things have deteriorated in Indian cricket can be gauged by the fact that for the first time in 18 years of playing international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar is accused indiscipline – and that too by none other than the team coach himself. Whatever the criticism from the media and the public, he has never fallen foul of the authorities. The only exception being the ball-tampering charge, which he could have avoided had he done what he was accused of doing under the gaze of the umpires. It was more a case of temporary lapse of not complying with the rules than a malevolent intention of cheating. But what is most shocking is that Tendulkar has gone public in uncharacteristically hitting back at the coach in no uncertain terms. The interview appearing in the Times of India on Wednesday, April 4, 2007 was stunning, to put it mildly.

In the days bygone, Tendulkar would never have uttered a harsh word for anybody – including those who he felt were unfair or wrong about him. When he read something in the media which made adverse remarks about him, he would ignore it by saying: “Even media people are entitled to their bad days.” Tendulkar’s outburst is a possible indicator of the pressure he is under.

That communication channels have broken down between the players – or a section of them – and the coach is apparent. It’s doubtful if Tendulkar picked up the phone and spoke to the coach to verify if the barbs at him and the senior players have actually been said by Chappell. I say this because Chappell is quoted as saying that “there is no substance in any of the reports published in the media” and, in fact, he is still in the process of writing his report which will be ready only on Thursday (April 5). He also vehemently denied that seniors stymied his game plan of asking Bangladesh to bat first.

With Tendulkar going public with his thoughts on the coach, the situation has become really messy. It has reached a position where the BCCI has to take a strong stand. With the atmosphere so much vitiated, it will not be in the interests of Indian cricket to ask Chappell to continue AND retain the senior players as well. If Chappell goes, it will be triumph of player power. If Chappell stays and some of the senior players are asked to go, the BCCI will be seen as a body that is willing to act tough.

For all my admiration for Chappell as a cerebral coach who kept pace with technology, times and science, I think there have been flaws in his man management skills. Asking him to continue when there is so much bad blood is not going to be in the best interest of Indian cricket. He has to leave. But that does that mean overlooking the growing incidents of players defying authority. Zaheer Khan, Sunil Gavaskar had written in his column, had misbehaved with John Wright. Manager Chetan Desai spoke about Sehwag cavalier attitude towards Chappell in South Africa. There are many such players and many more incidents of indiscipline – some of which have been well documented.

There are also serious accusations that the junior players were the target of abuse by some senior players. How far the accusations are correct is a matter of conjecture. An unnamed player dismissed the allegations and asked to check it up with the junior players. He must be kidding if he seriously expects juniors to voice anything against the seniors in public!

One thing is very, very clear: too many things were wrong with the Indian World Cup team, including inter-personal relationships with the side – and that includes the support staff. It’s also painfully evident that some of the problems were allowed to breed within the system and grow dangerously in size to cause greater damage to the system itself.

The players and the coach may be seen as parties with axes to grind. Whatever they say – rightly or otherwise – will be viewed with suspicion. Under the circumstances, the BCCI should give greater weightage on manager Sanjay Jagdale’s tour report. He should be told to give a factual report, without fear or favour. In fact, the report should be made public to ensure that the BCCI believe in transparency and is determined to be a progressive board.

The nation has paid a very high price for the pusillanimity of the powers that be in exercising their authority effectively. For far too long, vexing issues have been brushed under the carpet. The Augean stables in Indian cricket needs to be cleaned – and cleaned up without any further delay.

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