Ready for the toughest job in cricket

AFP

Greg Chappell must be given room to settle, his philosophies time to take root, but he must know his every decision will be assiduously taken apart, every player selected and role assigned minutely analysed, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

BODY and soul, everything about Greg Chappell on initial scrutiny appears ordered. If you could peek into his mind, it's a fair chance you'll see shelves, where he's carefully placed his ideas and neatly arranged his thoughts. It's not like he's neurotic, it's just that he prefers being organised.

India's latest cricket coach carries his substantial aura with an erect grace, facing life with an upright stance and shirt precisely tucked in. Sloppiness, at crease, and beyond it, does not sit comfortably with him. Last summer, he says, even brother Ian went "what's this" when he saw him with shirt untucked. God forbid, it was about as common as him playing an inelegant shot in his prime.

Even when he's commentating, Greg Chappell says, he won't necessarily prepare obsessively, but the areas that are important to him, those he's thought through. In Delhi, his interview with the selection committee was for 2.45pm. He knew this was elastic time, so he stayed ready, "managing his emotions, ready to go at a moment's notice". Good thing, too, because as he commences his walk through the minefield of Indian cricket, a clear mind is his best ally for now.

Chappell reads, but not so many cricket books, "maybe one a year", and that figures because most recent ones are dreary. No, he is fascinated by the mind, why the brain operates the way it does, how to train it, where it can take him and his team. Edward de Bono to Deepak Chopra, he will try them all.

Already this Western man has a passing affinity with the East, in his vegetarianism, in his inclination to meditate every day. Messiahs anyway require such inner peace. By the way, is he the messiah? "No", he laughs, but already in Delhi he got a fleeting taste of it, the questions, chaos, camera light, escorts, front page stories; rapidly he is learning "one of the problems is the expectations". Welcome Greg to our world.

But he has expectations, too, from his team, his captain. "A hundred per cent commitment" he says "every day, all day". Australia's players, for instance, he says, are committed to the cause, and each other, every minute, other teams perhaps for 10 minutes, or a session, or for two days. He sees India as "standing on the threshold of dominating world cricket on and off the field" but all this becomes just empty words if the team doesn't buy his vision for excellence. Chappell has to be not just coach, but salesman.

First he must sell it to his captain, and idle rumour that Chappell is a Ganguly man because he tutored him once on batting is too convenient. It discounts the reality that Chappell has put his reputation on the line, is arriving to succeed, and to get there he requires the best possible team, the best possible captain. Coddling anyway is not an Australian trait.

In more general terms, Chappell will say that "the captain is the main man, he sets the tone, he runs the team". In modern times, commitments have increased off the field, and the coach must share some of that burden, help prepare the team, assist with strategy. But there will be little "captaining from the dressing room".

Always his sentences are punctuated with the word "vision", and whether it is flawed, or workable, we will see, but he is certain of it, is driven by it, wants to empower the Indian game with it. Selection is one element of it, and he was apparently asked if he wanted to be a selector and refused, but you sense between him and the men who pick his team some synchronicity of ideas is mandatory. At best he will say that he may not demand the selection of a particular player but will specify at least what type of player he desires.

He sees India under him as not so much working hard as "working smarter", his philosophy is based around "training the mind to be able to deal with all situations on the field". He sees batting, for instance, as a problem solving experience, where every ball poses a particular question, and good batsmen own the widest range of answers to them.

V.GANESAN

Nets for him are not so much physical exercises as mental ones, and he explains "we must train like we want to play". Before India goes to Sri Lanka in August he envisages a few practice games at a camp, so that not only is Sri Lanka not India's first game but that he can appraise his bench strength.

Chappell insists that contrary to some speculation he is not a rigid man, that his philosophy is fluid, not carved in some ancient stone, that he is fuelled by inquisitiveness and constantly sandpapering his philosophy by learning. Yet ask what is non-negotiable and he laughs, "everything".

He is probably a mixture of both, and perhaps India, too, requires both flexibility on some issues and an unbending nature on others. One thing is for certain, do not be late for Greg Chappell's team bus. To be late for something so simple is an indicator for him of players who might be "late for critical moments"; it tells him, too, this is a player who puts individual above his beloved team.

Once upon a time, a player superciliously asked of an arriving Indian coach, "arre, how many Tests has he played?" Some of that silly mindset has eroded within this team, still Chappell will know that stature will be his friend, though occasionally his foe. Being Greg Chappell, former captain of Australia, scorer of over 7000 runs, will mean doors and ears will open for him. In time, though, it will also mean judgement in times of failure will be harsher.

Ideally Chappell must be given room to settle, his philosophies time to take root, but he must know his every decision will be assiduously taken apart, every player selected and role assigned minutely analysed. Darren Lehmann, who captained part of the time Chappell coached South Australia, portrays him as "technically brilliant", a "great communicator" and says players played for him. Perhaps, but India will make up its own mind. This is the land of a billion coaches and he is only temporary owner of the official title.

Too much will be asked of him, as it would have been of Jimmy Amarnath or Tom Moody, and too little in comparison will be accomplished if the entire system does not work as a team. Chappell's presentation, titled `A Commitment to Excellence', lays out roles not only for him and the players, but the board and selectors, and every cog must play its part. It is routinely said that Indian coach is not just cricket's most exciting job but also it's most difficult, and it is not always a compliment.

An uncertain team, a desolate captain, an injured Tendulkar, a not-at-peace Harbhajan, erratic fast bowlers, sub-par fielding, overseas victory still being sought, Chappell incredibly inherits a better team than Wright did but not without substantial challenges. If at the end of it, he is still walking erect, head high and shirt tucked in he would have done a fair job.