It was essentially a clash of egos

Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Suresh Raina listen to Greg Chappell during a practice session. During Greg’s reign as India coach, his relationship with Sachin strained so much that at one point they were not even on talking terms. But Greg has an uncanny eye for finding talent and Suresh Raina is one of them.-S. SUBRAMANIUM Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Suresh Raina listen to Greg Chappell during a practice session. During Greg’s reign as India coach, his relationship with Sachin strained so much that at one point they were not even on talking terms. But Greg has an uncanny eye for finding talent and Suresh Raina is one of them.

Potentially, Chappell could have been India’s finest coach ever. Sadly, his tenure ended in a blaze of anger. By S. Dinakar.

No Indian coach evoked emotions as varied as Greg Chappell did. Some hailed him as a genius, others labelled him a dictator.

What was Chappell like? To this writer, who interacted with him on several occasions during his tenure between 2005 and ’07, he came across as someone who never shied away from a tough question. That’s not an attribute a lot of the present-day coaches possess.

His immense knowledge of technique and mind was lauded by many. But then, his relations with some of the senior members of the Indian team deteriorated.

During his stormy stint, the Australian’s man-management skills came under scrutiny.

Chappell wanted to change the system and the mind-set in the country. In an interview to Sportstar in 2005, Chappell told this writer, “There are going to be times when I am going to make some tough decisions, some tough calls. If I can convince the others that this is the right way to go, then the changes will happen.

“Equally, I am not willing to sit back and allow people to interfere with what we are trying to do. If I see a wrong I will try and right it. If someone is interfering or preventing us from what we are trying to do, I will try and stop that. If someone is trying to help us, I will open the door as wide as I possibly can.”

Greg had a vision and in attempting to implement it, rubbed many seniors the wrong way. Some believed he was authoritarian in his approach.

Then the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly recommended Greg Chappell's name for the top job in 2005. But the same Chappell felt that the captain did not deserve to make the Test team as a player during India's tour of Zimbabwe.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

It was essentially a clash of egos between a bunch of accomplished cricketers and a strong-minded coach who himself had his place among the all-time greats of the game.

“Maan, nobody played our quicks as well as Greg did back then,” said a cabbie to this writer in Barbados during India’s tour of the Caribbean in 2011.

He was referring to Chappell’s incredible run — 621 runs in five Tests of the rebel Kerry Packer’s series in the West Indies in 1979. The Aussie was up against Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft on quick, bouncy tracks.

Those runs were not regarded official but Chappell’s record as a stately, upright batsmen who made 7110 runs in 87 Tests at 53.86 — a lot of these runs were scored in the non-helmet era and on uncovered pitches against hostile pacemen — put him alongside Vivian Richards as two of the greatest (contrasting) strokemakers of that era.

Stature was an attribute he did not lack. When Chappell took over the reins after India floundered in the last phase under John Wright, he did so with much fanfare.

The Australian did not take long to crack the whip. He said to this writer during a conversation, “There are certain things that are non-negotiable in a cricket team. And bad behaviour is one of them. That bad behaviour can take all sorts of form. We need everybody focussed and working towards a common goal. If someone doesn't fit in, he needs to change or he needs to be removed. If they change their attitude and knock on the door, then you would be stupid to ignore them.”

His words also revealed the absence of a ‘closed’ mind-set. When Sourav Ganguly, on a comeback trail, batted impressively in the three-day game in Potchefstroom ahead of the 2006-07 Test series in South Africa, Chappell was quick to acknowledge the left-hander’s resurgence.

Greg Chappell came hard on some of the seniors and Zaheer Khan was one among them.-K.BHAGYA PRAKASH

Ganguly had worked on his batting, altered his back-lift, was balanced and assured at the crease. “Mate, if he bats like this, he would make a lot of runs in the series,” said Chappell at a restaurant adjoining the team hotel in the sleepy Potchefstroom. Ganguly did just that.

A few months earlier, he had said to this correspondent, “Cricket can be a cruel game. You don’t necessarily play badly, but you get out for a low score. It is in learning to deal with the ups and the downs that individuals become the cricketers and the people they are. All I can say in relation to Sourav is that if he fits into the best team, he will be in it. We don’t have the luxury of picking teams on emotions.”

Ganguly recommended Chappell’s name for the top job in 2005, but it was a relationship that made headlines for the wrong reasons. When the new coach felt the captain did not deserve to make the Test team as a player during India’s tour of Zimbabwe, Ganguly was furious.

Later, the leaking of a Chappell email on the Ganguly episode to the BCCI made the situation worse.

Yet, did Chappell’s comments and actions actually force Ganguly to introspect and come out a better player?

Long after Chappell had left the scene, one of the seniors said to this writer in 2011, “Look, Chappell wanted to send the seniors home but haven’t all of us done well for the country over the last four years. You see, Chappell was very wrong.”

He did have a point, and perhaps, Chappell could be faulted on his method of fast-tracking some youngsters whose careers never actually took off.

But then, Chappell might also have actually fired the seniors up to come back harder and stronger. Zaheer Khan was among those cricketers.

Chappell’s tendency not to forgive even the occasional lapses in discipline turned several cricketers against him. V.V.S. Laxman was left fuming when the team bus left the hotel without him during the first Test of the 2006-07 series in South Africa. The Indian, one of the overnight batsmen, was a trifle late for the official vehicle and had to call a taxi to the Wanderers.

The Australian had a good working relationship with the then captain Rahul Dravid. Importantly, Chappell himself would come forward to face a barrage of questions from the media, unlike present incumbent Duncan Fletcher.

When he was at the helm, it was not India or Dravid’s team that suffered a setback, but Chappell. He would be at the forefront during bad times, not take a back seat.

Of course, not many comprehended the nuances and the grammar of batting as well as Chappell did. Talking to this writer on coping with short-pitched deliveries from the quicks, he once said, “It is in positioning. All good players of short-pitched bowling watch the ball and it is amazing how quickly you can move if you are watching the ball. If you take your eye off it, you never move. That’s when the players get hit. It is also about manipulating the body position and being aware of where your arms are. The worst thing you can do against short-pitched bowling is to get caught with your arms close to the body. If you keep your arms free, you have a lot more options.”

He would talk passionately about talents that excited him. “You see Suresh Raina was better at 19 than Michael Clarke was at the same age,” he once said.

As a coach Chappell laid a lot of emphasis on technique, backed potential more than numbers (M. S. Dhoni blossomed under him).

And he respected Sachin Tendulkar for his astonishing ability. He said to this correspondent in 2005, “It is so hard to calculate Tendulkar’s value to the team. You cannot count his value in runs. His integrity, his aura and his record, his knowledge, is quite incredible. He is someone the youngsters will look up to for they recognise how hard he has worked on his cricket. He is a very calming influence on the group. As long as he stands up and fits himself out there, we will be keen to have him in the team.”

Yet, in the final line, Chappell, in his own way, made his point about Tendulkar having to work for his place in the team. This is where many seniors felt the Australian created a feeling of insecurity in them.

The relationship between Tendulkar and Chappell declined to a point where the two were not quite on talking terms. A revolt, clearly seen in South Africa, assumed full blown proportions after the Indian debacle in the 2007 ODI World Cup in the Caribbean.

Potentially, Chappell could have been India’s finest coach ever. Sadly, his tenure ended in a blaze of anger.