By Sanjay Jha
When we used to hear about him on Radio Australia, the younger brother of the mercurial Ian Chappell, we were invariably overawed and overwhelmed. A master batsman, an aggressive outlook, a cheeky innovator (the underhand bowling incident with brother Trevor is as legendary as Don Bradman’s last ball duck) and a tough competitor — Greg Chappell had it all. Thus when we heard that Sunil Gavaskar & Co had chosen the somewhat dour-faced but the tough-as-nails Aussie as the Indian coach to replace Kiwi John Wright after his four-year term, one welcomed him with a curious mix of high enthusiasm and cagey awkwardness. Frankly, you did not know what to expect. After all John Buchanan, another Australian (but an ordinary first class cricketer himself) was doing fabulously well for his home country but had remained mired in several conflicts with his team-members.
Expectations were riding strong though as Chappell was a high profile selection, a controversial character who remained essentially untested as a coach, the latter being the primary reason for his presence on Indian soil. His selection was treated with the same fervor as the appointment of a Prime Minister of a coalition government.
But from the day he landed on Indian shores, Chappell did two things wrong; first, he blew his own trumpet. Second, and worse, he put his foot in his mouth. How he managed the twin tasks simultaneously though is anybody’s fodder for investigative research. I think the Indian media with it’s ubiquitous frenetic presence and sensationalistic slant can make any mortal human being appear larger than life. Chappell proved to be a very willing sucker.
Chappell made a typical bombastic quote loaded with breaking news sound byte ‘Sachin Tendulkar’s best is behind him. He will never be the same again’. A comment on Tendulkar even by the passing sea-breeze in Bandra (West) is usually taken as seriously as the crocodile takes his overflowing tear-ducts. It ain’t funny, mate! Chappell’s observations reeked of presumptuousness of a clinical heretic. From the moment I read that Chappell claptrap and the consequent hullabaloo, I knew that this man was a cultural misfit, an astronomical cataclysmic disaster waiting to explode. It revealed a tactless fellow who had not understood and done his necessary pre-work before assuming his coaching assignment in the biggest cricket market of the world. Chappell was blissfully unawares of the heavenly status that Sachin had from Patna to Porbandar. For god’s sake, he was the modern day Don Bradman, endorsed by the master Sir Bradman himself, at least Chappell should have known that! I think he wrote a self-destructive script pregnant with a masochistic streak from the word ‘Go’. The disasters that subsequently unfolded will I am sure result in several bestsellers in the years ahead. Not surprisingly, it has been three years since Chappell was appropriately booted out after the World Cup Caribbean fiasco, and Tendulkar is still planning an ambitious 2011WC assault, his last hurrah perhaps. Chappell was wrong and awfully out of sync with ground realities from the moment he saw those flash bulbs. He remained blinded all through.
In that famous Zimbabwe tour when Ganguly asked Chappell to alleviate his awful batting woes, Chappell’s response was bizarre to say the least — resign from the captaincy! A queer prescription from the Oz witch-doctor! Ganguly had indeed been in terrible nick, but he was always a stubborn negotiator and willing to make adjustments. He knew it was just a matter of a few good moments in the middle before he was back on the stallion’s saddle. Guru Greg, of course, had other ideas. His was a blasphemous suggestion, and my worst apprehensions of the man came dramatically true. Indian cricket was to pay a dear price for this grotesque Oz import with a starchy countenance, a stellar ex-batsman masquerading as a coach who was as clueless as a cheerleader with nothing to dance about.
I am convinced the leaked e-mail that made national headlines where Chappell derided Ganguly was done so at his behest by a chummy hack who was part of his Foster’s beer family. You don’t need Hercules Poirot to solve that facile case; who did it really hurt? Who was overnight positioned as a power-obsessed, out-of-form lazy lout with a big ego? Ganguly. The ultimate farce was of course reserved for that Taj Mahal Hotel confrontation that never happened, because BCCI brokered a synthetic peace deal. It was Indian cricket’s most shameful day after the match-fixing scandal of 2000.
I was appalled at the hate mails I got when I wrote columns highlighting Chappell’s idiosyncratic ways and the grave injustice done to the former captain. Barring a handful, Ganguly was almost black-listed by the media as well. The initial victories under Ganguly’s ex-deputy Rahul Dravid (6-1 rout of Sri Lanka) and Pakistan instead cemented Chappell’s hold and he was vociferously adulated by ‘experts’. Ganguly seemed doomed. His old friend and mentor Jagmohan Dalmiya was gone, a victim of his own internecine politics. But not many had noticed that these over-inflated victories under Chappell’s experimentations were mainly in the Indian sub-continent and were principally ODI wins. But we are a country that loves the last man winning, yesteryear heroes can warm the bench or as in Ganguly’s case, be reduced to partaking in commercials supporting his team and playing Ranji trophy matches. It was to Sourav’s credit that he remained an obdurate rock ready to weather storms because there was this brief phase where it all seemed but over, and a popular competing cricket web site, in fact, even wrote his obituary.
As I have repeatedly stated, one did not have to be a Nostradamus to predict that Chappell was the wrong man for the arduous thankless job. He was a typical copy-book coach, obsessed with technical finesse and a fitness regime. Period! The latter indisputably was germane, but Chappell suffered from a huge I-Me-Myself complex (that would have dwarfed the Burj, Dubai) that created a power-game and a fear psychosis and made players apprehensive to express themselves. Those who were not in his line of vision were in the line of fi re. Worse, he had zero communication skills, lousy interpersonal equations, and was a pathological liar. He had absolutely no coaching skills, and I think he landed the job purely on past reputation. Those who selected him made a colossal blunder of Himalayan proportions. Funnily, we never ask those who selected him for any explanations as Indian cricket went on reverse gear during his despondent reign.
I have always felt that the Indian news media has a massive inferiority complex when dealing with ex-‘white’ cricketers of repute in particular, whoever it might be. They even branded him Guru Greg and every decision of his was considered a ‘strategic process’; Chappell was authoring cricket’s In Search of Excellence. Wow! But like several Gurus, Chappell was to soon take the entire country for a kill-joy ride. As things began to slide, in the most preposterous twist ever, he showed an ‘up yours’ sign to the Kolkata crowd ostensibly as a recovery process for his convalescing finger. I would love to meet his personal physician.
Chappell failed to realize that while professional players may need the occasional technique tips when going through a rough patch, in a diverse country like India with wide variance in culture, communication and language, what counts are interpersonal relationships, trust, transparency, team-play and leadership. He should have exchanged copious notes with Wright which he clearly did not. Or just taken a little more time before giving those never-ending interviews. Check out current coach Gary Kirsten’s effortless assimilation and end results, by contrast. Chappell and Kirsten are as different as Paris Hilton and Laloo Yadav.
I thought that Ganguly’s shameful sacking actually reflected on our own national character; he had little support from anyone, ex-cricketers, board officials, former team-mates, no one. Even the Indian media casually distanced itself from the new pariah. Critics dumped him, and enemy camps secretly rejoiced at his angst and agony. Worse, hate communities emerged, and the hostility was unfathomable, particularly amongst NRI internet users. It seemed as if barring his genuine fans, few hard core loyalists, and the usual Bengali Kolkata-brigade, the entire country was raged against him. It made no rational sense; for the first time I felt that we were unfairly targeting a man, ruthlessly exterminating what little remained of his career, and almost sadistically savoring his suffering. It was senseless. The few who wanted to stand up for him were either muted by circumstance or expressionless by choice or worse diplomatically precise to the point of even shaming the quiet hedge by the fence.
I believe Ganguly’s knock of 50 runs on that fateful day when he returned to the side in Johannesburg in the first Test against South Africa in December 2006, with his career literally precariously perched on the precipice best symbolizes his fighting spirit and that famous never-say-die motto. It was another matter altogether that India was to also attain a memorable win in that match. From then on, the Prince was in his element. The comeback had begun. He would go with his head held high in Nagpur two years later in blazing fashion against the Australians.
The Ganguly-Chappell episode though was symptomatic of BCCI’s unprofessional, power-centric, oldfangled fashion of working. In the World Cup of 2007 in West Indies India finally paid the price for not axing Chappell during the hurried ‘Camp David’ at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai.
Extract from the book “11 : Triumphs, Trials and Turbulence (Indian Cricket 2003 – 10)” – By Sanjay Jha