'Only Sachin has proved himself'

THE former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, was in Mumbai recently for the Ceat Cricket Ratings Awards. He spoke to The Sportstar about playing cricket in Australia and why it's different from other countries.

G. VISWANATH

THE former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, was in Mumbai recently for the Ceat Cricket Ratings Awards. He spoke to The Sportstar about playing cricket in Australia and why it's different from other countries. "Fast bowling is all bloody hard work. It's going to be even harder in Australia because the pitches there are hard. This poses the big challenge of winning in Australia. If a visiting team wins there, it's got to be very satisfying,'' he said.

Excerpts:

Question: Since 1947, India has always struggled in Australia. It has won only three Test matches there...

Answer: I have always thought that the biggest and the hardest adjustments the visiting batsmen have had to make in Australia are while playing up (bounce). The Australian batsmen, when they go overseas, find it easier to adjust `down'. Adjusting to the extra bounce is one of the big problems Indian batsmen have faced in Australia.

I also think it's probably just as difficult for the bowlers, because they have to bowl to a different length. Somebody said that India has got a couple of decent fast bowlers and that they will make a difference this time. But it will not make any difference unless they are prepared properly, because you can come to Australia as a quick bowler and not necessarily succeed.

Just because you are a good and quick bowler, you are not going to succeed in Australia. I think in the past India's preparation for the tours of Australia has been well short of the mark. That's probably the case with Australia's tours of India. It's a story of preparation not being correct. There is a bit of optimism this time, but that would be misplaced if they were not prepared properly.

* The four grounds in Australia — Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney — still are different in nature?

Well, the nature of the pitch would be the same for first-class matches and Test cricket in Australia. You don't play a first-class game on the SCG as a fast bowlers' paradise and then a few weeks later, play a Test match there, with the ball turning like hell for Shane Warne and other spinners.

The Test pitches will be better prepared. They spend a little more time on them. I think that's one of the great things about Australian cricket. There are a variety of pitches. So if you are a good batsman and a good bowler in first-class cricket in Australia then there's a very fair chance that you will be pretty well prepared for Test cricket because to be successful you will have to have been very successful under a range of conditions which then fits you very well for international cricket. The Australian pitches are different, and if one can cope with them, then there's a fair chance of succeeding.

* How does a foreign team really prepare for a tour to Australia?

Well, Australia is a tough place to play cricket. I have seen good batsmen take five or six innings to get the hang of batting at Perth. I also think a lot of players underestimate the importance of playing the first-class tour games and doing well in those matches.

One can bet his bottom dollar that all of those first-class teams that play against visiting teams, they are always trying like hell to beat the touring team because they feel they are contributing to the Australian effort. They feel that if they can bring the touring side down, and if they can find something about the touring side, they are helping Australian effort. So that's one reason why Australia is a difficult place to play.

The first-class competition is a diluted competition now as compared to when I was playing and when the Test players played the bulk of the matches. Now, the Test players rarely play a first-class game. I think it's here that the administrators have to be a little careful with the blossoming international programme. One needs to make sure that it doesn't sort of dilute the first-class competition at home too much. That applies to all countries, not only Australia.

Matthew Hayden wanted to succeed in India and he found a way out. He practiced on low bouncing and slow turning pitches in Brisbane. So one can do that in India. I have seen some of the pitches at the MRF Pace Foundation. They have quite a bit of bounce in them. If I were part of the Indian team preparing for the tour to Australia, I would put them on to bouncy pitches to actually get used to playing and handling those circumstances.

* Would you say that the big grounds also make it difficult for the visiting team? Perhaps the home captain has the advantage of where to position his fielders. Do the visiting captains suffer on this count?

Captaincy is not rocket science or brain surgery. It's pretty straightforward. If a captain takes too long to adapt to a cricket ground, then you have the wrong bloke captaining the side. That's part of his job, to be aware of these things.

The first time I played at the Bourda in Guyana, I noticed that it was a little rectangular ground. Somebody started telling me about the third man position and that's going to be a problem. The suggestion was to position the third man in the corner of the rectangle.

The captain has to look at those sorts of things at the ground and sum them up quickly, just as a batsman finds out what the pitch and bowler are doing and decides what he can do and what he cannot. Finally it's all a game of cricket.

* What should be the bowling combination for a tour to Australia? In 1996 Hansie Cronje said after the Durban Test that India did not have a good third and fourth back-up seamers to support Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad?

What's important is to have four good bowlers. I don't care what they bowl, but if the team has four good bowlers, it will do well.

* That includes the spinners?

Sure, I mean you need a balanced attack to win everywhere. I am not a great believer in four quickies because if three cannot do the job, four are not going to do it. Who are the teams, which have beaten Australia in recent times? India and Sri Lanka at home.

They have beaten them with good spin bowling. A good spin bowler, Erappalli Prasanna, captured 25 wickets in four Tests in Australia against a batting line-up that was very good and which began with Simpson (Bobby) and Lawry (Bill) opening the innings and without any quick bowlers. Pras was always bowling to batsmen who were set. So good bowlers can get wickets.

So let the good bowlers be of any variety. The West Indies had four quick bowlers and that was the mistake the world cricket made, they went looking for four good quickies. It's the quality that was winning the matches for the West Indies, not the quantity.

* The provincial sides in Australia always pick the best XI against visiting teams?

If a selector tells me that `I am going to rest you against the touring side', I will tell him to take a hike, because I want to see as many bowlers I possibly can because I have to face them in a Test match. Even if I am in a first-class game and I was going to face a bowler I had not seen before, I try and go to the nets just to get a look at him to make sure that I don't get too many shocks in the middle. I don't understand the mentality of guys not playing against touring sides. I always wanted to play these guys, unless I was absolutely knackered after a tour or something like that.

* There was a time India and Australia played two series in 10 years. Now it's more frequent?

It's all because of the modern game. Plus the 10-year ICC programme is also contributing to it. I think the Australian public will be delighted to see Sachin the fourth time.

* Would you comment on the coming series in Australia?

Well, all will depend on the fitness of the Australian attack. That could change the equation. If the Indian batsmen don't play well, then even against a diminished attack, they will get beaten. And even if the bowling attack is depleted, the batting line-up will be very strong. And also there will be some decent bowlers in the absence of bowlers like Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne. The best way to come there is by preparing as if one is going to face the best attack.

* Would you say that the onus would be much more on the Indian batsmen to score consistently and put up big scores?

There are a lot of Indian batsmen who have something to prove. I would say that only Sachin has proved himself in Australian conditions and V. V. S. Laxman to a lesser extent. But he has not had too many opportunities in Australia and he has got the ability to play well in Australia. He plays well off the backfoot and plays the horizontal shots well. It won't matter to Australia what Rahul Dravid's and Sourav Ganguly's reputations are elsewhere in the world.

* What's your idea about the Indian openers now... Sehwag and Chopra? Once Mark Taylor said that if you are through with the first session, then it will not be much of a problem in the latter part of the day?

I have not seen Chopra. Well, if one looks at all the great sides, in general they will always have at least two good bowlers. Sometimes more. They will always have a very good wicketkeeper. And there will be some good batsmen there. But most of the time there will be a good opening combination. Particularly in Australia, it's crucial. Mark Taylor is right because if a team's openers can get through the first session, it could make a killing. I would say that one really needs to bat first in Australia, but it's going to be tough in the first two hours.

* A Sydney doctor, Martin Sullivan, has said that all the Australian fast bowlers should take a mandatory break for three months?

Well, the doctor knows a lot about medicine and Glenn McGrath knows a lot about fast bowling. I will listen to what McGrath told me. I have heard McGrath saying he wants to keep bowling. That's not to say that he wants to bowl constantly for 12 months in a year. I would like to hear from McGrath how much rest he needs. I think the rush of injuries had more to do with the fact that the Australian team did not have a four-day game (inter-provincial) in between the back-to-back Tests against Zimbabwe. I don't see problems with back-to-back matches in the middle of a summer because one is playing a lot of cricket.

* Tom Graveney said that teams are over-trained these days?

I think to a degree he's got a point. I would have rather gone and practised my skills for two hours really hard in the nets than doing a whole lot of other things. I don't see the point in playing soccer, rugby and other things they do as a warm up. I always felt that the best way to warm up was to bat and bowl and to catch because you are warming up the muscles you are going to use. If Tom was talking about that I would agree with him. But in the off-season I did a lot of running to get ready for cricket. Once the season started I liked to practice cricket.

* Finally, what's your perception of cricket from the point of the way it is viewed in India and Australia?

If one asks me to nominate the difference between India and Australia, I would say that if Steve Waugh made nought, and Australia won, the Australian public would be happy. If Sachin Tendulkar made a hundred and India lost, I would say that the bulk of the Indian population would be happy. That's the big difference I have noticed.