Lateral thinking

Greg Chappell, a man of great integrity, is guided as much by his conscience as the needs of the team and the demands of the situation, writes S. DINAKAR.

Greg Chappell's clarity of thought is striking. The India coach is a man with a vision, someone unafraid to make the tough call. A man of great integrity, he is guided as much by his conscience as the needs of the team and the demands of the situation. He shared his thoughts with Sportstar in Faisalabad on a variety of topics.

On the placid nature of the wickets for the first two Tests in Pakistan:

The curators have been hard done by the weather. It is not easy to grow grass and it is not, anywhere in the world, easy to prepare hard, bouncy Test pitches in winter. In Australia, we tried to have winter cricket up in Darwin and Cairns. There is no way that you could make a decent Test wicket in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane in winter. The grass in most cases goes into hibernation in winter.

Secondly, Test cricket, or any cricket, is at its best when there is a balance between the bat and the ball. When there is a challenge, when there is a contest. And the nature of the pitch plays an important part in the contest. Otherwise, a Test could become another statistical exercise, a meaningless game. It is important that we looked at different problems in cricket. We have addressed the umpiring situation with neutral umpires.

I don't think we can ever hope to have neutral curators because the understanding of the conditions is a very important part of making a wicket. No matter how good a curator is, walking into a different environment, dealing with different soil and climatic conditions, he is going to struggle.

But I think there are certain guidelines that have to be a part of the tour conditions, part of the laws of cricket. Under the prevailing conditions, you can have the best wicket you can have. In some parts of the country, it can be a turning wicket. In other parts, it can be a hard, fast, bouncy wicket.

On the decision to open with Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag:

Given the conditions, it was the best option. It was a courageous decision on Rahul's part. It was a strong statement of leadership.

On the evolution of Dravid from a captain to a leader of men:

He didn't use his premier place as a No. 3 batsman to walk away from a tough challenge. He thought it was the right thing to do and didn't hesitate. This is a sign of a leader.

On Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer, specialist openers in the squad, who missed out:

All we can do is be honest with them and talk to them about the situation. The chances are that they can get really depressed about it. Or they can see it as a challenge and an opportunity to put some time and effort into their own cricket, at the physical and the mental level. The boys must have been disappointed but they have handled the situation very well. From time to time you have to accept that the selectors will decide that someone else is a better option. The thing is you have to turn it into a positive from a negative. It also gives you an opportunity to learn something about yourself.

On Sourav Ganguly's future with the Indian team:

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.

On the five-bowler formula adopted by the Indian team:

On wickets like these you would like to have as many options as possible. And when we have had three back-to-back Tests, and I gather that Karachi is the venue most likely to produce a result, we don't want to get there with four tired bowlers. That is why five bowlers fitted into our gameplan.

On the need to break the Kumble-Harbhajan partnership if the situation warranted it:

If we thought that was the best option we would do it. But reading a wicket is a fair bit of guesswork. No one really knows what the wicket is going to do. You make a judgment on past history and experience, and a little bit of science. You need to have as much variety in your attack as possible. If you want to win Tests, you got to get 20 wickets.

On the difference between the Indian and the Pakistani teams:

The biggest difference is that they have one genuine fast bowler and we don't have that. We probably have the edge in batting and spin bowling. On match days, a lot would depend on the mental status of the teams.

On the key to playing short-pitched bowling:

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. There is also something about keeping the eyes on the ball that I learnt instinctively from my playing days. This I believe is the absolute key to playing short-pitched bowling. We have discussed it in the team, practised in the nets, and implemented it in the match. We are playing short-pitched bowling much better than before. But I would not reveal what the method is. I do not want the opposition to know about it.

On the memorable opening partnership between Dravid and Sehwag in Lahore:

We will take the state of the wicket as a given. But we had fielded for the best part of two days and went into bat in the last session of the second day with the opposition having nearly 700 runs on the board. It is a daunting situation to be in. If we had lost a couple of quick wickets we would have been under a lot of pressure. There were so many interruptions due to bad light and they were up against some quality fast bowling. Dravid and Sehwag made a very important statement in the game that `we were not going to be pushed over.' Just seeing Dravid get in there, get behind good fast bowling and defend strongly and whenever a bad ball was bowled putting it away, sent the right message to the dressing room. And the manner in which Sehwag kept hitting good balls to the boundary was extraordinary.

On his enduring memory of Sehwag:

I had just arrived in Bangalore. The pacemen were doing some work on the cricket academy ground over there. The wickets were quite grassy and had quite a bit of bounce. The bowlers had the new ball and they were running in and making life quite miserable for the batsmen. Veeru came in. He hadn't held a bat in his hand for weeks. He just walked into the nets and started hitting the ball from the middle of the bat. Playing shots like that under the conditions were freakish. It's special talent, talent that is rare in modern cricket. We are lucky to have him. It's hard to stop him from scoring runs.

On how he enabled Sehwag get over the dry run mentally:

We talked about it. He was frustrated. He has a very good method, which is obviously controlled by the mind. Perhaps, he wasn't recognising how important that method was and how hard he needed to work on it than his physical game. His physical game is not going to change very much, other than the way he thinks and prepares himself. We had a few sessions just working out what his mental routine is. And he has a routine. From time to time he got away from that routine. When you are out of form you start worrying about what is going wrong and your mental routine goes off the track.

On Sehwag's future and evolution as a batsman:

I have no doubt that we have not seen the best of him yet. Enormous talent. Just his ball striking ability is up there with Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara and Gilchrist, who in his prime would get into positions where he hit the ball from the middle of the bat. His off-side play is awesome. The areas he would develop most would be the mental aspect and developing an even wider range of options on the leg-side. He's worked on that and it has started to show some signs. He has a very uncomplicated approach towards life and cricket. He keeps it simple. And he has this rare ability to strike the ball from the middle of his bat. His best is yet to come.

On the need for the Indian team to possess a genuinely quick fast bowler:

That's the next step for the Indian team to give us the best chance of winning matches no matter what the conditions are. I think we need someone with a bit of pace and a bit of bounce to be able to trouble the opposition batsmen. And that is no way a denigration of any of the bowlers we have in the squad. They are all good bowlers in their own right but this is one area we are conscious of and this is one area, certainly from my own point of view, in which we are keen on finding a solution.

CHAPPELL ON SEHWAG

On how sports scientist Ian Fraser and Chappell worked on making Sehwag a better player against short-pitched bowling: Sehwag had this habit of just backing away slightly and attempting to hit the ball between point and third man. It was not out of fear, he is a courageous player, but he had learnt his cricket that way. It was just about showing him the various options while positioning his body, to get into positions where it is more difficult for the bowler to cause you problems. Earlier, he told us that he didn't have enough time to do anything else, he was concerned about it. And that was because he did not have too many options. We gave him several sessions in Zimbabwe with the short balls. Now he had more time and more options. Now, he can get out of the way or paddle the ball around or play a full-blooded hook or a pull shot. In Lahore, there were balls coming into his body and he clipped them to the leg-side. The bowlers were under more pressure, because he now had three or four options. This has been an important part in his development as a cricketer.