Indian coach Greg Chappell spoke to ROHIT BRIJNATH about the growth of the young players, the resilience of the Indian character and the time by which he expects the Test team to be ready.
"We've got a couple of away tours, we've got the West Indies and we've got South Africa. Historically India has not had a lot of success there. So we'll have a much better idea by the end of 2006 whether we're going forward or not," says Greg Chappell.Excerpts:Question: Are young players easier to coach?
Answer: Not necessarily, but they're probably more malleable in some areas. But players with talent and skill who are proven performers can be easy to coach as well because they understand concepts and can embrace new concepts as well. It depends on the individual, it doesn't matter whether they're young or old, it depends on the attitude and what they're trying to achieve.
Young players may lack experience, but unlike older players they don't have a memory of failure, no baggage, does that help?
Absolutely. I wish I could remember the words that Sachin used, and he said it much more eloquently than I, that basically experience is a double-edged sword. You also know what can go wrong. We all become more conservative and more cautious, humans at large get more conservative as they get older and cricketers are no different. Again, someone more elegant than I, made the comment: "You ignore youth at your own peril." I think for that reason there is no baggage, they just see it as a game, as an opportunity to go out there and succeed. But as senior players sometimes we see an opportunity to fail.
Are you pleased, reasonably pleased, with the way your players reacted to the changing of positions up and down the order?
I'm very, very pleased. Some players, some people from outside were very critical of the process, (but) I think the bulk of the players have been positive towards it. We've chosen the ones that we feel could cope with it. And I think people like Irfan, in my wildest dreams I couldn't have imagined he could cope with No. 3 as well as he has. We knew he could do a job on occasion.
But I'm not a mind reader or a prophet, we took a judgement call. We reckoned he's a left-hander, he's got some batting skills, we did some work with him on improving those skills so that he had a better chance of coping with the new ball and the moving ball and all of those things. (But) not in our wildest dreams did we think he'd make two scores in the 90s, an average of probably 40 or 50 at No. 3. Others have done similar things in bowling. We've used Yuvraj in a bowling role, we knew he had some talent, but to be able to bowl some of the spells he has, has been extraordinary. People like Dhoni have batted at No. 3, he opened the batting, he batted at No. 6, No. 7, No. 8, he's done a long innings role, he's done a short finishing role, done an explosive role. So we've found out a lot of things about ourselves, about the group, who's capable of dealing with that sort of pressure, and it is pressure. Again if you see it as a chance to fail then you're probably not going to succeed at it, and thankfully people like Irfan and Dhoni and Yuvraj have taken it on as challenge, rather than thinking, `jeez, what if I can't do it'.
You come back to the mental part of it, their state of mind gave them a very good chance, or a better chance of succeeding. 'We tried to make it clear to them, listen, we're asking a lot of you here, we don't expect miracles and we'll support you as much as possible, back yourself and give it a go,' and they've done it remarkably well. And they are others like Ramesh Powar coming into the side, there were people that were a bit reluctant to play two off-spinners in the team, but they're very different types of bowlers and we thought we needed something a little bit different in the middle. We needed an attacking bowler who could also bowl effectively and contain while still looking to take wickets and we backed him to do it and he's come through with flying colours.
Sreesanth, we again took a bit of a risk with youth there, his record in domestic cricket certainly wasn't outstanding, but he had certain attributes that we felt we needed from a bowling point of view. But also mentally we felt he was pretty strong.
Do you see the West Indies as a great opportunity?
It is a great opportunity, it's a great opportunity for us to keep learning, to keep the momentum going forward. I probably have a different view of it than a lot of people.What is your view?
My view is that we have to keep working on the process. We've got to keep learning and understanding the type of cricket we need to play to give ourselves the best chance of success. If we go to the West Indies and get beaten 4-nil, obviously I won't be all the pleased with it. But if in doing that we've actually played some good cricket, and we're showing that we're getting better at playing the type of cricket that's going to give us a long-term chance of being one of the best teams in the world, then I won't be devastated by it. This was the thing with the one-dayers. The reason we've gone from one of the worst chasing teams in the world to the best ever is that we've changed the outlook, we've changed what we focus on. Instead of focusing on the outcome, we focus on the steps in the process we need to put together to be successful at chasing.
I understand that philosophy completely, but without asking for a time frame, eventually teams do have to win.
One thing I can tell you is, if we're not winning Test matches and we're not a good Test match team by the end of 2006 (then), we've got the wrong people.
If by end 2006, we're not winning Tests, and I'm not pinning you down on the date, it could be early or mid 2007, would that also be a reflection on you?
You can take it whichever way you like, but at the end of the day the players have got to play. It could be a reflection on the selectors, it could be a reflection on the system in India that produces cricketers, it could be a reflection on a lot of people.
I don't expect the coach in India to do magic because I know the system, but what I'm saying is that eventually a time will also come of judgement of you.
I understand that, I also understand that I don't have any magic wand. We have the talent in the group that we have, in the players we have available to choose from, we've got the talent to be a good Test team.
We've got a couple of away tours, we've got the West Indies and we've got South Africa. Historically India has not had a lot of success there.
So we'll have a much better idea by the end of 2006 whether we're going forward or not. I'm not saying we'll win both series, I'm not saying we'll win either of them, but I'm saying we should be playing good enough cricket to be able to win Test matches away from home.
Now if that doesn't translate into winning series, then don't come back to me and say, "you said you were going to win". I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that we've good enough players to be a good Test team in India and away of India.
The variable in that then is whether we train them properly, whether the selectors pick the right one, whether the system throws up exactly the sort of player we might need to make it a better team, whether the players are capable of performing. And if they're not, what I'm saying, is maybe we've got the wrong ones. And maybe at the same time it will be a reflection on myself and everyone else.Fair enough, I'm not pinning it all on you.
I know, (but) that's what will happen, it will come back to the coach. But they're a lot of variables that go into it.
A lot of these young players, many come from small towns and villages, and then suddenly they become superstars, and politicians and filmstars want to meet them, their life takes this incredible journey, this huge jump. Do you think in India there should be some system of mentoring, that older players should help younger players deal with this unreality?
I'm not sure anyone can really coach them to deal with that, life teaches that. To be quite honest I've been amazed at how well they do cope with it. The fact of the matter is that the guys that survive and go on and make good careers have managed it all pretty well.
That's part of the pressure of being a champion?
Exactly. The ones who don't manage it, don't survive. It's pretty much a natural process of elimination, a Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest and the smartest. I look at some of these young blokes and I see their background, where they come from and where they've got, and the way they cope with it all is absolutely remarkable. The resilience of the Indian character is I think one of its major strengths. And that probably comes from having to survive on a day-to-day basis in a tough environment. They have been a couple of times during my tenure when I thought, we're struggling. We were beaten badly in Pakistan , we were beaten badly in a Test match (against England) in Mumbai. I thought the guys were tired, they were tired, I was tired. I just think the fact that they were able to bounce straight back on each occasion was testament to the individuals and to the group, the way they were able to re-gather themselves and go again.
That resilience is born of the grounding they have. Some of these guys might have come from fairly modest backgrounds, but they come from strong families and they have got some pretty good values and I think those guys have got a chance to succeed. The ones who think that what we're doing is the real world are the ones who run into trouble. The guys that survive, I mean the Tendulkars of this world, it's remarkable what he's been through. Don Bradman didn't have the pressure and expectation on him that Tendulkar has had over 17 years. The reason he's survived is because he kept a perspective on the whole thing. I see also a lot of these young guys with a really good perspective on it.I presume you're happy with your captain.
Absolutely. He's the rock that holds the whole thing together, every example that he sets is an excellent example. I was serious when I said earlier that I think he's batting better than he's even batted before, his range has improved, he's got more shots, his one-day play has been excellent.