A demanding job

Greg Chappel and Sachin Tendulkar during a training session in India. Chappell was for accountability But his efforts were misunderstood, mainly due tolack of communication with the seniors.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The concept of cricket managers or cricket coaches was born out of the compelling demands of modern cricket, writes Vijay Lokapally.

One was soft, the other was aggressive. One was an introvert, the other was outspoken. John Wright and Greg Chappell are studies in contrast. But they had one thing in common — the interest of Indian cricket at heart. Only their approach was different.

The charming Wright believed in consulting the players before taking a decision while the sagacious Chappell had pre-conceived notions based on his unerring reading of the game. The pressure was on the players in both the cases, but the level of comfort differed.

The concept of cricket managers or cricket coaches was born out of the compelling demands of modern cricket. The emphasis was on getting the best out of the players through professional man management. The size of the support staff kept increasing as the world of cricket realised the importance of specialised guidance.

At the helm, however, was one man who was supposed to be a guide, mentor, friend, motivator, critic and philosopher. In short, he was supposed to be the solution to all shortcomings. Wright, and then Chappell, took charge to give Indian cricket a meaningful direction and departed with the job unfinished.

Prior to Wright, the Board stuck to former India cricketers for manning the difficult post. It was difficult for various reasons. The coach was expected to mould the youngsters and tame the seniors, especially on tours, when things could threaten to go haywire.

Bishan Singh Bedi was the first man to be appointed as cricket manager but he had an unpleasant experience with skipper Mohammed Azharuddin. A casual remark, "Throw them into the Pacific," by Bedi following a loss in New Zealand did not go down well with the team and it got worse when Azharuddin ignored the cricket manager's advice after winning the toss at Lord's in 1990.

At his first interaction with the media on return, Azharuddin put forth the players' view. "We don't need a cricket manager," he announced without provocation, and that ended the well-meaning Bedi's reign as manager.

Abbas Ali Baig enjoyed a brief stint before Ajit Wadekar brought stability to the post, and to some extent to the team's fortunes too. He was quite successful because he had the backing of the administration, like getting pitches of his choice. The team did reasonably well at home under his guidance but, against his wishes, Wadekar vacated the post following the semifinal loss to Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup.

Sandeep Patil did not even last one year because the players revolted and wrote to the Board to replace him while Madan Lal, despite helping the team rediscover its potential with a motivating win in the one-day series against Pakistan in Toronto, was replaced by Aunshuman Gaekwad.

Gaekwad maintained a low profile and managed to keep the players together with his fine rapport with the seniors. The title win at Sharjah in 1998 against Australia and the victory in the Delhi Test against Pakistan in 1999 when Anil Kumble took 10 wickets in an innings were the highlights during his tenure. But again the Board seemed in a hurry and replaced Gaekwad with Kapil Dev. "I will give the first year to the players and then the next year will be mine," said Kapil. He did not survive that far.

The establishment was now convinced it was time to try a foreigner and Jagmohan Dalmiya hastened the process, contracting Wright, who had been a coach at Kent and was known for his excellent man management. The players welcomed the Kiwi, who was friendly with them. There were times when Wright lost his cool, like the occasion he grabbed Virender Sehwag by the collar during the 2002 England tour, but overall he was accepted as a good motivator.

John Wright's (seen here with Virender Sehwag) greatest achievement was exercising complete control over the team, taking the seniors into confidence and guiding the juniors like a father figure.-V. GANESAN

The players could approach Wright without fear of being marked. They could confide in him and also share their problems with a hope that he would find a way out. Wright loved the company of the players, especially the juniors, and knew innovative methods to get the best out of them.

Wright was at his best in the 2001 series against Australia when India hit back from a first Test loss to snatch the next two. His move to send V. V. S. Laxman to bat at number three instead of Rahul Dravid proved a masterstroke as India, asked to follow on, won the Test at Kolkata. Wright reached his peak on the tour to Pakistan when India made history, winning the Test series 2-1 and the one-day series 3-2.

Wright's greatest achievement was exercising complete control over the team, taking the seniors into confidence and guiding the juniors like a father figure. He was quick to understand the system and knew how to convince the selectors too. He had a lot of time after the game for the players. It went down well with the juniors who learnt a lot from the former Kiwi captain. Personal compulsions led to Wright returning to New Zealand even though he did express a desire to serve as a consultant at the junior level. His passion for Indian cricket was genuine.

Wright was coach in 51 Tests, winning 20 and losing 15 with 16 draws. Importantly, he taught India how to win overseas as victories came in the West Indies, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka. A memorable triumph came in the NatWest Challenge in 2002 when Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh fashioned a sensational victory.

The affable Kiwi faded away, ironically, losing the one-day series to Pakistan, a defeat in the last one-dayer at Delhi not the best of parting gifts. He handed the mantle to Chappell, who was picked with much fanfare from a pool of aspirants that also comprised Mohinder Amarnath, Tom Moody and Desmond Haynes. Money was not the issue as cricket was uppermost for these candidates.

Chappell's reign lasted 22 tumultuous months. Some of his problems were of his own making, while some stemmed from the distrust that he and some of the players developed for each other. That Chappell was the best man suited for the job was never in doubt but his methods came in for scathing criticism and things reached a flash point prior to the World Cup.

If communication was supposed to be Chappell's strong point, it let him down in the case of handling the seniors. He began on the wrong note by making his displeasure for Sourav Ganguly public through an email, to the Board, which, somehow, fell into the media's hands. His carping observations on some more players also found their way to the media and gradually Chappell was confronted with problems he had not visualised when he took over the job.

Poor man management was said to be the reason for Chappell falling out with the players, especially the seniors, as the tough talking Aussie resorted to desperate and ill-advised moves too early in his assignment. His emphasis on youth was understandable but Chappell was left without support within the dressing room as the team stood divided even though the administration was keen to continue with his services.

But Chappell's dreams had crashed and too many controversies affected his functioning. Nothing could be worse than the seniors being not even on talking terms with the coach who did have the vision to take Indian cricket to greater heights. He was for accountability but his efforts were misunderstood, mainly due to lack of communication with the seniors.

Chappell's decision to return to Australia was a big blow to the Board's attempt to bring about professionalism to the job. Chappell's seven wins in 18 Tests as coach was not bad, but his record of 32 wins in 62 ODIs was below expectations. The World Cup turned out to be a disastrous campaign that showed Indian cricket in poor light.

According to statistician Rajneesh Gupta, much has been said about Chappell's experimentation with the Indian team, particularly his shuffling of batsmen at different positions in ODIs. It will be interesting to see how Chappell compares with Wright in using different players at different positions.

Chappell 11 (openers), 13 (No. 3), 9 (No. 4), 10 (No. 5), 10 (No. 6), 12 (No. 7).

Wright 14 (openers), 15 (No. 3), 11 (No. 4), 12 (No. 5), 14 (No. 6), 21 (No. 7).

As the search for a new coach intensifies with the Board inviting fresh applications, Ravi Shastri takes over the responsibility just for the series in Bangladesh. He did put his hand up but then opted to stick to his job as a media-man than accept the thorny job of guiding Indian cricket on a long term basis. Ironically, he will be part of the committee that will pick the new coach.