Keep it natural, always

Greg Chappell's lack of success with the Indian cricket team has come as no surprise to the Australian cricket fraternity. He is admired greatly for his wonderful, graceful and successful batting and I feel he was one of the greatest slip fielders of all time, but his captaincy and coaching did not command the same respect.

During his long tenure as captain of Queensland, they were considered the best team in Australia but didn't win a single Sheffield Shield title. In recent times, he had a long coaching stint with South Australia but with poor results.

Chappell's somewhat autocratic manner was often blamed for his lack of success, as was his perceived lack of understanding that his charges didn't have his golden touch and class as a cricketer.

Coaching in first class cricket is not the easiest of jobs and particularly when operating in a totally different environment and culture.

Though I did not coach India on a permanent basis, I did spend a considerable amount of time as a consultant in the late 1990s when most of the top players of today were playing. My first assignment with India was to run a training camp prior to the 1999 World Cup. I was allowed to pick the venue, and much to the consternation of some of the India players I chose Chennai.

The players argued that Chennai was too hot and I countered it was the perfect place to gain a true perspective of the Indian players. It was the place where Australia prepared for the 1987 World Cup and this was considered as the major reason for the team's victory. When India trained in Chennai in 1999 the place was at its muggiest best or worst, whatever was your consideration.

I spent much time in India during my playing and coaching career and thought I knew a lot about Indian cricket and its cricketers. It didn't take long for me to get a shot of reality.

On the first day of the camp in Chennai I ordered an early practice at the wonderful M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. The boys were on time for the 8 or 8.30 a.m. bus, a good sign I thought. All seemed well as Andrew Kokinos, the Australian physio, along with the Indian physio put the players through loosening-up routines.

Good spirit I thought as the players worked enthusiastically. After the players finished their warm-up, they headed to the pavilion and I thought it was to pick up their bats and pads for practice. I waited near the nets for a long time, but the players did not return. I then wondered what the hell is going on and strode into the pavilion only to see the whole team tucking into a large breakfast. I was dumfounded, for I had never known or even thought of a team after 15 minutes of warming-up having a meal.

My anger was quickly replaced by the recollection of the saying the Aussies first used in that same ground in 1987. "To lose patience is to lose the battle."

As the players finished their breakfast I spoke to them about the need to prepare for the day beginning with breakfast at the hotel before we left for the ground.

Okay, just an early hiccup, I thought as I announced two or three batsmen to pad up and headed out to the nets. With the rest of the players waiting and waiting the batsmen finally strolled out and practice began. Fifteen minutes later I asked three more batsmen to pad up and turned my attention back to the squad.

After what seemed an extraordinarily long time, the batsmen I had asked to pad up didn't seem to be ready or even in sight. I didn't know that they hadn't brought their pads, bats and gloves. And neither had any of the other players out with them at the nets.

I quickly sent Kokinos to the dressing room, followed by the rest of the squad to a) get the batsmen and b) for the rest of the players to get their batting gear.

As I watched them disperse to get their equipment without any sense of urgency, I thought, `the good old dressing room go-slow is still alive in India'.

The next day, we left the hotel on time at 8 a.m. after the players had their breakfast. In those early days I was often frustrated by the lack of urgency shown by them at practice. They often complained about the practice sessions being too long, but as I pointed out to them, they were the instigators of the problem.

I have always felt that about two and a half hours is perfect for practice, provided every second is fruitfully used.

There is no doubt that the talented Indian players are very pampered. Some of them, particularly the batsmen, take advantage of their status. Most of them are malleable however and keen to learn provided the advice makes sense and is offered to them in a proper manner.

Obviously Greg Chappell had problems with the attitude of some of the top players. I found his public declaration of his dissatisfaction over the attitude and commitment of his senior players most disappointing. I am not privy to all that went on under Chappell, but I can comment on the time I spent with some of the Indian greats, many of who are still playing today.

Sachin Tendulkar was a dream to coach. Almost in my first session with him, I noticed he had fallen into the error of moving back to the leg stump instead of middle and leg to cover good length. I discussed with him the disadvantages of such a method and the advantages of what I was suggesting. We watched a video of him batting in the nets, which confirmed my thoughts and Sachin immediately began remedying it.

For some years after this, even when I wasn't coaching India, whenever I ran into Sachin he would always ask if I had noticed anything wrong with his batting.

If Sachin were to ask me that question today I would say, "check the video and you will find that even with your defensive shots you are late getting into position." I would further suggest that this is because he has fallen into what is probably the most common error in batting — not watching the ball out of the bowler's hand, but watching for the ball in areas around it.

Tests have shown that you can pick the ball about a metre sooner if you watch it right out of the bowler's hand. This is a huge advantage to a batsman.

I can only speak of the pleasures of coaching the senior Indian players, though there were some frustrations. Whether it was assisting Javagal Srinath to bowl a slower ball, Rahul Dravid to improve his slip fielding or Anil Kumble to hold his action longer to maintain his flight, I was always conscious of keeping it natural.

India, like most countries, have their own style of playing cricket. To divert too far from that is seeking problems, and denying the natural instincts of the individual players.

The whole world seems hell bent upon copying the Australian way of cricket. To me this is wrong and unhelpful to the development of world cricket. Sticking to the very basics of cricket has always been the successful format of cricketers and teams throughout the world, not fashion, fad and theories, which seem to be the driving forces today.