`There is great cricketing knowledge within the side'

Greg Chappell with sports scientist Ian Fraser (middle) and fitness expert Greg King. The role of the support staff has been critical to India's successes this year.-Greg Chappell with sports scientist Ian Fraser (middle) and fitness expert Greg King. The role of the support staff has been critical to India's successes this year.

I am in a job that carries a lot of responsibility. There are going to be times when I am going to make some tough decisions, some tough calls, says Greg Chappell in this interview to S. DINAKAR

"THE things that are emotionally involving, you get better at," says Greg Chappell. And in his remarkable journey with the game, he has got better in a lot of things. Cricket has remained his enduring passion.

A majestic batsman of upright elegance in his time, a strong captain of a powerful Australian team, a selector, an administrator, and now the astute coach of a vibrant Indian side, Chappell has seen the game from various perspectives. And he comprehends its shades and nuances. Chappell made a statement of his intentions in this often brutally frank interview with The Sportstar in Chennai. He is as effective with his words as he was with his scorching strokes.

Question: How do you respond to the allegations that Greg Chappell is becoming too powerful for Indian cricket?

Answer: Actually, I don't have that much clout. I have earned a certain amount of respect over the years. From my playing days, and because of things I have done other than cricket. There are a lot of things I don't have control over. The beauty of it is that we have a selection panel and people with strong opinions. Kiran More is a man with a strong opinion and great knowledge. I've learnt a lot from him.

But I am in a job that carries a lot of responsibility. And I have to take that responsibility, wisely. 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. There is a fair bit of diplomacy that is involved with this job, along with cricket knowledge.

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. There are a whole lot of people who are willing to help us.

A former Test cricketer who recently lost his job as a National selector from North Zone spoke in a negative vein about you...

Everyone is entitled to his opinion even if I don't agree with it. Being distracted by these developments takes my energy away from what I need to be doing. I know what I need to do as a coach. I know what we need to do as a group. You just cannot respond to such things. He is frustrated that he lost a job, which he obviously wanted to keep. I had no part in him losing his job, but he had to take it out on someone. I learnt a very good lesson from my elder brother Ian some years ago. He said, `if you know whether you have a good day or not, you don't need someone else to tell you.' Someone sitting outside doesn't see what is happening day in and day out, on what is happening behind the scene. Even the selectors don't see everything we do, and when we are out of the country very few see the work of the support staff, and the kind of work that is being done. And much of what we do is done behind the scenes.

There are some who say that Greg Chappell `marks' certain players for `death.'

I can tell you now that I am not of the mind-set that I mark a person like that and never believe in playing him again. All I have said though is that 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.

Sometimes, if you look at the Australian team over the years, from Steve Waugh to David Boon, Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden, they have all been dropped at some stage or the other. Sometimes a shock is what is needed to shake the person out of the situation he is in and take him on to the next level. Being dropped from the team should not be necessarily seen as permanent. At the end of the day in cricket, you know where exactly you are in. You only have to look at the scoreboard.

The differences between you and former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly have been well documented (This interview was conducted before Ganguly was left out of the third Test).

A lot of things have been blown out of proportion. It is an episode that is past and we have moved on. The drama that surrounded the episode was much greater than actually was the case. Sourav has indicated that he understands what he needs to do to be a part of the team, what his role is. He almost needed to go through this catharsis for the other side to come out and to take stock of what he needed to do. The problems he had in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe was due to the fact that his mind was in the wrong place. It's not about Sourav. It is about Indian cricket, how Indian cricket goes forward. And certain issues are non-negotiable. The only thing that is important in this whole exercise is performance. And that's not just about making runs and taking wickets. It's about what you bring to the group, it is about adding to the group. It's about fitting into the group. It's other than bringing your basic skills. It's about bringing with you a certain attitude.

A lot has been said about the system in India. These are early days yet, but how have you grappled with it?

There is a big challenge in that as well, and probably will continue to be. But I am here to help the team. What we need to do is to develop an environment where the players can learn to be better. But if the administration is doing something that is impacting negatively against us, I will stand up and be counted. Hopefully, I will do it in a way that is not confronting and that is not going to damage cricket in India. If I need to take a tough stand and that needs to be taken publicly I will be willing to do that, in the interest of the team and Indian cricket. If there is a problem, then I will find a solution as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

How has the whole experience in India been to you so far? Not playing in India remains one of the great regrets of your otherwise glittering career.

I have met exciting people, seen some interesting places. Some things have opened my eyes in all aspects. Some things that I found confronting, I dealt with in the best way possible, sometimes you ignore certain things. This is a country of great extremes. There is not much middle ground in India. Things are either extremely exciting or extremely depressing.

Coaching is a lot about man-management? How has it been working with the Indian team?

There are challenges everyday. Different people challenge you in different ways. From time to time as a coach, I might have to tell them things they might not like to hear. It's about having the courage of my conviction to say what needs to be said knowing that it could well be harming a relationship. You do get on more easily with some people than others. Coaching is about celebrating the differences if you like. There will be areas of mutual interest, not least of all being cricket. If you have the mutual interest for the game, you can find space for working together. The biggest part of coaching is about observation and how people respond to different situations. Seeing the positive aspects of it, seeing the not so positive aspects of it. Communicating is one of the challenges. Having those variations in those personalities is crucial. If we had all Rahul Dravids or Virender Sehwags we have a problem. When you have a really talented player, who does not fit into the group very well, how you make him fit in is an important part of the job. I have enjoyed working with the Indian team. There is great cricketing knowledge within the side.

There were accusations in Kolkata about you pointing a finger at angry fans while boarding the team bus. How did you deal with the situation?

It was a very minor thing totally unrelated to what actually happened. That's part of India. It's part of the life we lead under the spotlight. Cricket evokes emotions in people.

I make the suggestions and he (Dravid) is open minded enough to think about my suggestions before making up his mind.-AP

The Super Substitute rule in its present form is loaded in favour of the captain winning the toss. The way the skippers are using the Power Play overs is becoming monotonous too.

There is imbalance. Having the imbalance is probably the challenge to the Super Sub rule. If you make it too easy, it probably won't be so. We weigh our options according to the conditions before the game. Our flexibility gives us more options. Much of the discussions I have heard about the Super Sub focusses on all-rounders. If you have that good an all-rounder you would want him in the team. You wouldn't want him sitting as a Super Sub. Sometimes a batsman or a bowler is a better option.

The Power Play overs were always likely to be what they had become. You just do away with it in the first 20 overs. The reason why they introduced the rule was because the middle overs were becoming a problem. They haven't actually dealt with it. I would have made it with relation to a new batsman. Every new batsman coming in can have field restrictions. With different strategies, the captains would be forced to attack more, which would create more scoring opportunities. It will be much harder for the batsmen coming in the middle overs to knock the ball around. Human nature will always find its way around arbitrary rules. I think you need rules that work with the situation. In Test cricket when a new batsman comes in you tend to attack a bit more. In one-day cricket that doesn't happen. It also brings in more strategy for the batting team and one-day cricket needs to be more strategic in the middle-overs.

Do you believe the ODIs are turning out to be too predictable?

At the moment captaincy is more of settling into a format in one-day cricket. And the captain gets into the routine of playing format. Let's bring thinking back into captaincy in one-day cricket. I don't think you would need so many gimmicks then. There is enough strategy, enough things in the game to make it more interesting. We have taken a lot of cricket out of one-day cricket. We have made wickets flat so that they are only for batting and only for big scores. Some of the best one-day games I played in were low-scoring games, where captaincy played a bigger part. Where an innings can change the game. It's rather sad that we have muted one-day cricket. If we put cricket back into it, we could have a game that will last for a long time.

Can Anil Kumble, still a match-winner at the Test level, stage a comeback to the Indian ODI team?

I don't think you can say no to anybody, but one-day cricket is a young man's game. There are three facets of the game, probably four if you count the mental side of it. You got to be strong in three of the areas. Kumble is strong mentally. He is a good bowler. Then you have to field well, bat well and have that flexibility. You can have some players who may not meet all the requirements but you cannot have too many of them. There will be sides that will include Kumble, there will be sides that will not include him. The good thing about the Super Sub rule is that it does give some of the older players an opportunity.

Your credentials as a reader of the human mind cannot be questioned. How do you work on the mental aspect with a cricketer?

It is just getting them to believe that it will be their thinking ability that will be the difference between a long-term successful international cricketer and a less successful record. By thinking better, they can bat and bowl better. At this level, all these guys can play. They wouldn't have got here otherwise. They may not develop any new shots, or any new delivery, but use the ones they have better. That's the key.

India has major series ahead. The side takes on a rejuvenated Pakistan in Pakistan. Then India meets a strong England side at home.

If you want to be a good team, you should beat teams that are tough to beat. You have to look forward to the challenges. Sri Lanka was the No. 2 team in the world and we outplayed them in the ODIs. South Africa came here as the No. 2. Big strong boys who thought they could blow us away. We showed that we could stand up to that and give something back as well. India vs Pakistan is as big as it gets. The Australians will argue with it, but I don't think anyone can argue that this is the biggest series in world cricket. There is so much emotion attached to this series. Pakistan at home, as they have proven against England, are very hard to beat. They have good variety in their attack, good pace bowling and good spin bowling. England is an emerging side. We want to find out how good they are. Then we go to West Indies, who at home will be an interesting challenge.

You welcome the challenges... you are confident of having the right strategy in place...

The great thing about cricket is that it is a problem solving exercise. Batting is about problem solving. The batsman creates problems for the bowler, the bowler has to solve it. The captain should work out which bowlers to bowl at which batsmen and when. What bowlers to pick, and what batting order. There are challenges in every little aspect. Test cricket is the greatest challenge and cricket is the most challenging game of all. The length of the game challenges you in different ways, in a manner a game that lasts for three hours cannot challenge you. Golf is the closest I have seen from a mental point of view, but not the physical part of it. Some of my good golfing mates when they tell me about golf being the toughest game, I reply `when you make your first bogey go and sit in the dressing room for the rest of the day and see how hard it is.' That's what happens to batsmen in cricket. They sit and watch someone else do it. It's the most demanding and challenging game that has ever been invented. That's why it has lasted the way it is, that is why it evokes so much emotions. I cannot wait for the challenge of playing Pakistan and England.

The role of the support staff has been critical to India's successes this year. Match situations have been simulated during training and it has helped.

During training we create some problems for them to solve. It is very hard to create match-like situation, but we get close to that and make the players think. Some of them have a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. Ian (sports scientist Ian Fraser) and I have spent many hours together looking at match situations and devising games and drills similar to them in training. The cricketer needs to make decisions and they need to make a lot of them. When we are children, when we learn to walk, we get up and fall down, we get up and fall down until we finally learn how to do it. If you keep decision making away from someone you stop them from learning. We challenge our players in training to make a lot of decisions so that they would make a lot of decisions on the field. I have worked with Ian, I have seen what he can do, and what we can do together. I couldn't do the job half as well without Ian as with Ian. We share similar philosophy. He will not be sending mixed messages to the players. People say I got Ian here because he is a friend of mine. He is a friend of mine only because we share similar belief. He is a very capable individual. One of Ian's great strengths is that he will tell me what I need to know. That's great. I don't want someone with me who only tells me what I want to hear. Greg King (fitness king) has done a fantastic job. John Gloster (physio) has added value. Both are intelligent men. If you have conflict within the support or the coaching staff, it shows up.

Flexibility has been the byword in India's ODI campaign this year. India has managed to surprise the opposition strategically. And youngsters, given an opportunity, have performed, putting pressure on the seniors to deliver.

We need to understand what it is like to play in different positions. If you are going to have just one batting and bowling order, it is easy to counter what you do. Previously we have been very predictable and the opposition developed strategies. We had to re-think the whole thing. Confront them with something they were not expecting. Try to change their bowling combination. We tried to read ahead, expecting what they were trying to do and pre-empt that. It's a lot about understanding our strength and their strength. Cricket is about risk-taking. Keeping the odds as much in your favour as much as possible and doing so with a fair bit of thought, knowing that you had more than an even chance of succeeding. Pathan was fantastic about the way he accepted the challenges and saw them as an opportunity to improve and succeed rather than fail. He is relishing the challenges. He wants to improve in his bowling, batting, fielding. He thinks about it the right way and has a good attitude. The same thing with Dhoni, he loves challenges. We showed the confidence to try out different players, at the risk of losing a game. We don't expect to win every game, but expect to win more than 60 per cent. The group accepting that it is a squad rather than 11 or 12 individuals plays an important part in the whole process. It's about attitude and commitment.

You have ambitious plans. You speak of `Total Cricket,' on the lines of Total Football.

You might not have the No. 11 batsman opening, but there might be a time when it is necessary. You challenge them by giving them experience and opportunities. We varied our bowling attack, our batting line-up. We have looked at types of players we might need to have to develop this concept of Total Cricket. The idea is to have a totally flexible team, if not totally interchangeable, very interchangeable. We have middle-order batsmen who can bat up the order, lower-order batsmen who can bat up the order, we have batsmen who can obviously bowl. Obviously, they all need to field.

The Indian fielding has been consistently brilliant this season...

One thing that is non-negotiable in ODI cricket is fielding. Fielding gives the side flexibility. It's like having an extra bowler or an extra batsman. Raina, even when he came on as a substitute fielder in Mumbai against South Africa, made a brilliant save in the circle. It almost ignited the entire side. That kind of energy and enthusiasm is hard to find. We had looked very hard at the types of players that are available. We need to mould this squad into 15 players who are very flexible of mind and body. If they are not flexible of mind, they will never be flexible in body and they will never be flexible enough to take up a challenge.

You have approached your job with a positive mind-set. There were various perceptions about the Indian team...

I was tired of hearing certain things when I arrived in India. That we couldn't chase. We weren't good under pressure. That we were not a good fielding side, we weren't this, and we weren't that. No one ever told me about what we could do. They all told me what we couldn't do. The only way we could change that was to give the players responsibilities, opportunities and allow them to build confidence. We put ourselves in situations where we had to chase. And it wasn't necessarily the best option for the game. We did it because we needed experience. It is amazing that once you see that something isn't impossible, how quickly the mind-set changes. Without the right personalities and temperament, this would have been difficult. They enjoy each other's success in the Indian side. That is critical to the whole process. If the team cannot think as a team, it cannot play as a team.

Your chemistry with captain Rahul Dravid appears to be just right. You are similar personalities...

It's a very good working relationship. We each have opinions that we are prepared to share. And we are prepared to listen. Obviously there is a lot of mutual respect, which is important. I make the suggestions and he is open minded enough to think about my suggestions before making up his mind. At the end of the day he is the captain. He is the only one out in the middle and he is the only one who can make the decisions. He has to (a) understand what the concept is, (b) be confident about using it. I respect him as a player, respect his integrity, his work ethics. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of thought about his cricket. He is always developing himself. He is always seeking new ideas that might be happening somewhere else but that could be applied to cricket. In that regard, we are very much on a similar level. We trust each other.

There has been a transformation in the manner Yuvraj Singh has approached his batting, in his technique and in his thought process...

We looked at changing his stance, his initial movement. These were quite big changes. Here was a player who had been successful at the international level, who was risking everything. He had faith in what Ian and I told him. Once he changed his mind-set, it was not that big a change at all, he was able to recognise the improvement. He was in a better position, had a great range of movements, and a great range of opportunities.

Harbhajan Singh went through a testing phase and the team-management has handled him well... there has been a turnaround in his bowling and technique...

He was frustrated. His bowling in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe distracted him and he wasn't enjoying it. That frustration was coming out in different ways. The biggest thing was to get him to understand that it was his frustration that was causing all the problems. We talked about the things he did when he was bowling well. When you get frustrated you worry about what is happening at your end, and stop worrying about what you need to do to make things happening at the other end. He went back to the basic of bowling at one stump. Ian recognised a couple of other things in his action. That required minor adjustment to his run-up and his follow through. He got the bounce, spin and confidence back.

Sachin Tendulkar continues to break records. Your views on this phenomenon...

It is so hard to calculate his 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. Obviously he wants to play and that is great. We are very lucky to have a player of his experience, his ability and his personality with us.