April 4, 2007

The Curious Case of Greg Chappell

ESPNcricinfo staff
As I write this, the news of Greg Chappell quitting is all over TV

As I write this, the news of Greg Chappell quitting is all over TV. It will dominate the front pages of India’s newspapers tomorrow (I can safely guess because I happen to work for one) and the frenzy – and the frenzied speculation – that has overwhelmed India over the last few weeks will continue relentless till... oh, the next coach, the next captain, the next World Cup.

Things change, things remain the same, don’t they?

I don’t report on cricket for a living. So I have never been witness to how Chappell deals with the players; I have no idea (I gather all this from newspaper reports) whether he is brusque, inflexible or high-handed; and how often and to what extent he really got the sort of team he wanted.

I do know two things: that the ‘process’ Chappell kept talking about has become a much-derided word in India’s current lexicon; and that with Chappell gone, we shan’t be talking about the ‘process’ for a while.

Coaching India, like captaining India, is one of the toughest jobs in the modern game. Chappell, I think (and this is all surmise as I have said earlier), knew that it was. He perhaps hadn’t bargained for the sheer scale of it.

For him, it was a culture change – in more ways than one. Cricket has a tremendous allure in Australia, though there is hardly any hysteria surrounding it as there is in India. Chappell would have been aware of that.

The real culture change was different. From where he came, there was one policy: if you didn’t play well, you were out of the side. Australia has been ruthless about this. The selectors have time and again proved that they are unafraid to drop anyone who isn’t performing. Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden: they have all been shown that a place in the side needs to be deserved. They have all realized that. There are no holy cows in Australian cricket. There is also phenomenal bench strength. (One is connected to the other.) Perhaps that could be one of the reasons why it is the best cricket side of modern times.

India’s culture of hero worship, of some players being bigger than the team, of not being able to contemplate dropping certain players ought to have seemed alien to Chappell. (did it?) He was probably trying to extrapolate the culture he came from into the culture he came into. (Was he?) It simply didn’t work. (This we know for sure.)

A coach must take responsibility for failure. In a way, Chappell has done that by saying that he won’t seek to renew his contract. I only hope that others complicit in the nightmare that was World Cup 2007 will also own up.

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You