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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Going down memory lane with Greg Chappell

Two incidents that happened last week made me go back to 2006 when Greg Chappell was first inducted as the coach of Indian cricket team. The first one was the Best Batsman for ODI (at the Asian Cricket Awards) awarded to Sourav Ganguly. The second, more significant impact, was that of Suresh Raina's hat-trick of great scores (including two centuries). Looking back at the turn of events after he was appointed as coach of the Indian cricket team, one can see how early in his times was Greg Chappell during his short stint.

Less than a week before he took charge of the national team, Greg Chappell warned India's senior cricketers against complacency, saying that certain aspects of the coaching regimen would be non-negotiable. Chappell stressed the need for discipline and unity of purpose. His views on captaincy were pretty strong. He believed that one should pick the best team, and then pick the best person to captain it. If the man is charge is not the best man, then someone else should get it. He felt that Sourav Ganguly was not performing well in his capacity of batsman and a rest from captaincy would do good for him. The results of Sourav once he made his comeback after being dropped, was enough to justify Greg's statements. Statistics show that he was the best batsman in Asia, not only India, in the last year.

On whether Sachin Tendulkar's injury bothered him - It's an opportunity for someone else, and who knows, you might just unearth the next Indian cricketing champion. In that sense, it could be a blessing in disguise. There have been multiple instances in the last few years when the legend has been laid low by injury - and what happened - India was able to identify players like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina (in his new avatar) who had ample potential to play for the national colours.

Greg also believed that a coach was expected to provide an environment where they become the best players that they can be. He wanted the Indian followers to get away from this notion that one individual can come along, wave a magic wand and turn a bunch of ugly ducklings into graceful swans. It would obviously take 1-2 years to identify a core nucleus and another one year before they start performing well consistently. But, the expectations increased, based on some initial results - this proved to be the bane of Greg's tenure, especially when the Indians bowed out of the World Cup in the first round itself.

Greg Chappell was also instrumental in the thinking of "try something different" - tactics like batting in different positions, bowling at different times in the innings, and field in different positions. Obviously, it met with hurdles with the senior batsmen - especially Sourav and Sachin. They had done the best while opening the batting and they did not like the idea of changing the order.

Greg viewed the likes of Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla as having the potential to do something great for India. The exodus of big-name players, including Chappell, nearly crippled Australian cricket in the early '80s, and he often spoke of the need to avoid something of that nature happening to the Indian team. Today, the performances of these 2 players are there for all to see. Obviously, they are not the finished products as yet - but, given opportunities and provided they keep their head on their shoulders, they should be the next generation legends.

Chappell said Dhoni, when fully mature, could be India's answer to the Australian finisher Michael Bevan. He recognized Dhoni very early in his career as the Indian coach. Today, MS is the best batsman in the Indian side, combining flair and execution when required. There is no more intelligent batsman in the cricketing circles than him. He has had his share of failures but that will only ensure that he learns quickly from these failures.

Irfan Pathan was also recognized as a very important member of the one-day team and even the Test team because of the balance of the side. Greg was confident that Irfan would learn from both the ups and downs in his career. The comeback over the last one year has shown how Irfan has grown in stature after he was dropped.

Ten years down the lane, if one looks back at the Indian cricketing history, one might be tempted to call Greg Chappell's period as the Indian cricket coach as a failure. That would only be an attempt by someone who does not understand how the actions he initiated during his stint would pay back in the next few years.
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