A pat from Chappell

Indian cricket coach Greg Chappell, who was all praise for the Railways team, with some of the players during the Irani Cup.-V.V. KRISHNAN

AT the end of the Irani Cup when Greg Chappell walked into the Railways dressing room he was greeted respectfully. He went around, carefully stepping over the normal clutter of kit and clothes, shaking hands of players who had vanquished a superior team, not so much as Greg Chappell (master batsman of Australia and India's national coach) but as a fellow cricketer who recognises a good performance when he sees one. Apart from J. P. Yadav and Murali Kartik he did not know the others, yet, Chappell made it a point to praise 'keeper Wankhede and batsman Yere Goud for their outstanding display on a demanding pitch.

For the Railways boys this unexpected visit was an honour. They looked at Chappell with awe and admiration and were pleasantly surprised by what he had to say. In Chappell's opinion great sides are constructed with passion and commitment, skills are essential but there is nothing more crucial than working together, supporting and celebrating each other's success. It is necessary that players form partnerships, in the middle and in a group. Chappell said he sensed resilience, energy and commitment among Railways players. This cohesion sends a signal to others, intimidates them. That is how strong teams work, that is what makes Australia formidable. And this is what the Indian team is aspiring to become.

Ajay Jadeja... Delhi's loss is Rajasthan's gain.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

As he spoke, it was easy to make out that Chappell, known for his effortless batting style, is an equally skilled communicator. He struck the right notes, acknowledged the remarkable achievements of the Railways players and left them with thoughts to reflect upon, all this done in a friendly, simple manner. Said one impressed player: We have done well for the last five years but nobody (Indian coach, captain, selector, senior player) has ever spoken encouragingly to us. It is as if people don't want to or refuse to accept what we have achieved.

This neglect of the Railways' achievements points to the larger neglect of domestic cricket. The Irani match, the highest level of cricket in the country after Test matches, was treated as an insignificant fixture and it appeared no more than a sideshow. The selectors demonstrated what they thought of the game by announcing the Challenger sides on Day One at lunchtime! Off-spinners Powar and Parida took a bagful of wickets, Dheeraj Jadhav made a positive impression in both innings but others with more formidable reputations succumbed. They displayed neither technique nor temperament on a wicket that refused to gift runs from a free swing of the bat.

Dheeraj, Maharashtra's captain, is impressive but there is a lingering sadness about his career. He toured Zimbabwe recently with the Indian side as Sachin's replacement, which makes him next in line for a place in the crowded Indian middle-order after Venugopal Rao. But he is jobless, works in Mumbai on some short-term contract and all his efforts to land permanent employment have proved futile. Observers of Indian cricket are often blinded by the crores of rupees that the game generates, the astonishing money TV channels are prepared to pay for rights and the large sums earned from sponsorships. But there is another, not so glamorous side to Indian cricket as seen in Jadhav's case and that of many other struggling first class players. The grinding poverty and crushing neglect of domestic cricket is overlooked, or worse, not even understood. It is a telling comment on Indian cricket's inability to sort out its economics, the pathetic state, which allows poverty to exist when so much wealth is available. Top players have central contracts and a million opportunities but the group immediately below is in a sorry condition.

Meanwhile, another first class season is round the corner, and as before players are moving to new teams to further their careers. In a major shift Ajay Jadeja has left Delhi, where he was hugely successful as captain and player, to Rajasthan in the Plate group. Jadeja is articulate, intelligent and extremely astute. Surely Rajasthan will benefit from his rich experience, more so as he has been appointed captain and coach.

Jadeja was unhappy at Delhi (as were so many others in the past); continuous administrative problems and endless interference in cricket affairs forced him to finally pack his bags and look elsewhere. His departure has paved the way for Gambhir, presuming Sehwag will be unavailable, to lead the side. But the selection in Delhi — at any level — is trickier than the BCCI elections, so there is suspense till a final announcement is made. As the new season approaches, Delhi has started its preparation in typical fashion by announcing a list of 58 probables!

Sairaj Bahutule and Munaf Patel are to play as professionals in Maharashtra and there is a considerable movement of coaches. Mhambre is in Bengal after Maharashtra, Ghavri in Mumbai from Bengal and Parthasarathy Sharma is set to take over Kashmir. Haryana is negotiating with Vijay Yadav, Chandu Pandit is in-charge in Pune, Rajinder Hans in UP, Rajdeep Kalsi in Himachal and Balwinder Sandhu will be with the Baroda side. Former India coach Aunshuman Gaekwad stays in Ahmedabad for another season, while former Pakistan skipper Intikhab continues at Mohali with Punjab. These coaches play only a limited role as state associations refuse to give them powers in selection or hiring players. They are usually nothing more than organisers and facilitators who ensure that nets are properly arranged, sufficient old balls/net bowlers are around, the pitch rolled and marked. Of course, there are some who have gone through the level 2 and 3 certificate courses, are updated on the latest coaching trends and use modern management theories. The rest are stumped by laptops and have difficulty switching on a video camera.

Of all the strange things that happen, nothing is more curious than the case of Parthiv Patel, a veteran of five Ranji games who is set to take over the Gujarat captaincy from Mukund Parmar. The selectors were keen to hand over the team to him last year itself but the mature 19-year-old politely declined. Had he accepted the generous offer it would have created a unique, unbeatable record — of becoming a first-class captain on debut!