How much of a bad egg was Greg?

Greg Chappell... annoyed the senior players like a matador would a bull.-VIVEK BENDRE

I thought initially that India handled Greg Chappell badly as coach, till I realised that the reverse was also true. It was not a cultural thing; while reading Chappell’s autobiography Fierce Focus an alternative theory presented itself. It was not that Chappell was too Australian, it was that temperamentally he was too Indian. Once that is understood, everything else falls into place, writes Suresh Menon.

Did Greg Chappell visit Sachin Tendulkar’s house to hatch a plot against Rahul Dravid? Yes, says the Indian. No, says the Australian. We believe Tendulkar, say Harbhajan Singh, V. V. S. Laxman, Zaheer Khan.

Interestingly, two of the three endorsers have had bad experiences with Chappell. Laxman was told that sitting at home at the age of 31 was not something to look forward to. This, after the coach had asked him to open the batting and he had declined.

Zaheer Khan has spoken of Chappell saying his career was at an end. And Harbhajan Singh owes Tendulkar for sticking up for him during the Monkeygate crisis in Australia, where he was accused of racially abusing Andrew Symonds.

The one witness to Tendulkar’s meeting with Chappell is his wife. Just as wives are not expected to give evidence against their husbands, they cannot be allowed to speak up in support. On the other hand, Tendulkar has no reason to make up a story like that. As an aside, if Chappell went behind Dravid’s back to plot with Tendulkar, didn’t Tendulkar himself go behind Chappell’s back to tell the cricket board not to field him as coach for the 2007 World Cup?

Sachin Tendulkar and Chappel... cricket greats they may have been, but they couldn't pull together for India.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Thus we have another episode of ‘He said, He said’. Chappell continues to divide Indian cricket. In a television interview, Dravid said on another issue, “If Sourav Ganguly is saying I could not control Greg Chappell, he is entitled to an opinion. He can’t put words in my mouth as I have never had any such conversation with him.” He said, He said.

When Chappell was appointed India coach, I wrote: “There are two possibilities here — either the Indian team plays the Chappell way or Chappell plays the Indian way. If the former, then the money and hype would have been worth it. If it is the latter, Chappell following the path of least resistance would have pushed India back as a cricketing nation.”

Unlike brother Ian, who wore his heart on his sleeve, Greg Chappell often came across as Greg the Reticent, and occasionally as Greg the Grouchy, but he is one of the finest thinkers on the game. Too bad he needed to understand not just the mechanics of the square cut, but also what made a Virender Sehwag tick.

I thought initially that India handled Chappell badly as coach, till I realised that the reverse was also true. It was not a cultural thing; while reading Chappell’s autobiography Fierce Focus an alternative theory presented itself. It was not that Chappell was too Australian, it was that temperamentally he was too Indian. Once that is understood, everything else falls into place.

It is in the casual throwaway lines that Chappell reveals his Indianness. When Dilip Vengsarkar took over as the chairman of selectors, Chappell wrote, “[his] loyalties were unclear...” That is a typical Indian reaction, placing loyalty above professionalism. Ganguly, who recommended Chappell as coach expected him to remain loyal.

When he realised that skipper Ganguly was “providing background information” to favourite journalists, Chappell decided to counter by leaking information himself. That was Indian fighting “Indian”, and the less experienced “Indian” lost out.

Chappell is also accused of snookering Sourav Ganguly-V.V. KRISHNAN

“This is Chappell’s biggest problem,” a player had told me then. “We would discuss something in the dressing room, and next day it would be in the newspapers. The problem was one of trust.” Chappell’s man-management was a disaster.

Still, India did well under Chappell, winning seven of 18 Tests while losing four and 32 of 62 one-day internationals while losing 27. When Chappell took over, India had won only three of their previous 22 ODIs. India can forgive anything — regular defeats, disasters abroad — so long as those in charge don’t blame the players, the system, or the BCCI. Coaches should be seen little and heard not at all.

Chappell, however, had strong opinions. He alienated the top players. He began by awarding players points out of ten for performances. This was not something the Indian heroes were used to. The superstars hated taking advice from anyone, no matter if the player was the first Australian to go past Don Bradman’s aggregate. Superstars needed to have their egos massaged, to be consulted often and told at regular intervals that they were the best in the business. And if any of them wanted to skip practice or stay out late, coaches learnt early that discretion was the better part of valour.

This was John Wright’s technique — and the players loved him for it. Wright left things alone, was aware which side his bread was buttered on and knew when he needed to put his foot down, which was never.

Chappell wanted Tendulkar — whom he once called the Picasso of batsmen — to bat number four in the ODIs, much to the batsman’s disgust. When he looked at V. V. S. Laxman he didn’t see a classy, elegant batsman but a slow-moving fielder. Ganguly, he saw as a shirker and a “panicker”. He acknowledged that Sehwag was the finest striker of the cricket ball he had seen — superior even to Viv Richards — but couldn’t tolerate his reluctance to train.

Laxman has spoken of the unhappy dressing room in Chappell’s time. This was partly because the coach rattled the seniors with his hard-nosed approach and partly because the younger players responded to him with alacrity and openness. The seniors became insecure. Had India won the 2007 World Cup, and Chappell hailed as Gary Kirsten was to be four years later, he might have done a better job with India’s post-Tendulkar generation who came with little baggage.

In his time, however, there was room only for one god in Indian cricket, and that post was already taken.

(The writer is Editor, Wisden India Almanack)