'I expected Sourav to come back' - Chappell
Greg Chappell says he "wasn't surprised" with Sourav Ganguly's remarkable comeback into the Indian team, adding that the timing of his exclusion, when he was dropped in September 2005, had allowed Ganguly to return in time for the World Cup. In a wide-ranging interview, Chappell also admitted that fielding remained a major worry ahead of India's World Cup campaign and said the side had to compensate for this with strong batting and bowling performances.
"As I said to him in Zimbabwe 18 months or so ago, he has three more years in his career," said Chappell on Ganguly, ahead of the final India-Sri Lanka match. "But at that point he wasn't in the right place mentally to do that and he needed to go away and reassess. He's done that and there's no reason why his career can't go on for some time. I expected that he could do that. Whether I thought he would do that or not is a different story. It was always up to him, no-one else could do it for him."
Ganguly returned to the Test side on their tour of South Africa, ending as the top-scorer for India, and soon returned to the one-day fold with even more spectacular results, rattling off three half-centuries and a 48 in five one-dayers. "To have a player of his record coming back is fantastic," Chappell said. "To bring a new player into the team and for him to have to go through the learning process is not the ideal situation. If we hadn't taken a decision when we did then I don't think he would have been back in time for the World Cup. The timing has worked out well. I wouldn't say it's a surprise but it's a bonus. It wasn't certain that he would do that, but it was entirely up to him."
The return of Ganguly and several other seniors has, however, resulted in a flip-side: India go into the World Cup with ageing legs and a fielding handicap. So is this Dad's army? "It is what it is," said Chappell. "I can't change it. You can look at the positive side of it and say we've got more experience than anyone else. The downside is that we'll give away a bit in the field but hopefully we can more than make up for that with the experience with the bat and ball."
So is India's fielding a concern? "Concern may not be too strong a word, it is probably not strong enough," he said. "We are going to be conceding runs in the field to the better teams, there is no doubt about that. We understand that, we knew that when we picked the squad. We will have to organise ourselves accordingly and that means placing the right people in the right positions. We can't afford to relax on that because there is going to a lot of low-scoring, medium-scoring games, below 200s, below 300s is going to be the norm.
"They will be close games so it's going to be very important, we just have to work at it and do the best we can. Which means we have to be conscious, our batting has to find 30 extra runs a game and our bowlers will have to concede that many less. So between the two we will have to make up for 30 runs somewhere."
Chappell felt that spin would play an important part in the World Cup, with the pitches expected to play on the slightly slower side, and was glad that India had the options to cover for that eventuality. "We want to play three seam bowlers in each match," he said. "We couldn't in Rajkot because of injury and illness but ideally we'll like to have five bowlers in every game but that's not necessarily going to be possible. I'm not worried about that because Sachin [Tendulkar] has shown us how clever he can be with the ball, Viru [Sehwag] is a more than competent offspin bowler and Yuvraj [Singh] has played some important roles with the ball as well. So we have three better-than-part-time bowlers, in my view, who can take up the fifth-bowler option."
Gleanings from Greg
The batting order
Sourav Ganguly: He's improved his batting, his fielding ... his fitness is better than I've ever seen it.
Virender Sehwag: Sehwag in form is a damaging player, we have to give him every opportunity as an opener. He is a proven matchwinner at the top of the order, that's where he can do the most damage for us ... but if he is not performing then we may have to rethink that.
Sachin Tendulkar: We've used Sachin in a different role and it has worked out really well for us ... It took him two games to get used to batting in the middle order and now we have another multi-dimensional player who can be used both at the top and middle order.
Yuvraj Singh: The 20-40 over period will have a big bearing in the World Cup. I think with Yuvraj in form we have a better chance of doing that well than we had in South Africa.
Rahul Dravid: Dravid at No 5 is a good option, sandwiched between Yuvraj and Dhoni it's a very good balance. He can control the middle order and if he has some power players to hit the boundaries he can play more to his strengths.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Dhoni's worked very hard on his batting and keeping - I think he's one of the most improved cricketers in world cricket in the last 12 months. He was someone who would come in at the end of the innings and blaze away. Now we've got ourselves a quality middle-order batsman who can also hit the ball a long way.
Dinesh Karthik: We've picked him as a middle-order batsman, it's a bonus that he keeps wickets. He fields quite well for someone who's spent a lot of time behind the stumps. He has the potential to be a very good international cricketer as a batsman.
The fringe players
Suresh Raina: Look at Suresh's record now and compare it with Tendulkar's record at the same stage, you'll find it's exactly the same. If you've heard some of the complimentary remarks made about Suresh from teams such as Australia, you wouldn't be critical of him.
VRV Singh: VRV Singh is as good a cricketer as Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes and Carl Rackemann when they came into the Australian team. Morne Morkel played at Durban and didn't create any more opportunities than VRV did. But the catches were taken and he finished up with 3-4 wickets, VRV had one. Both will be fine bowlers for their country.
RP Singh: Once he came to me and asked, "Why am I not being picked? Is it because I'm not fast, or tall, or this or that?" I said it's none of it. You're part of a development process and the best thing is go back to UP and get some success. This is your apprenticeship at the moment."
Venugopal Rao: I think his performance in last year's Challenger Trophy as captain of India A was exceptional. It's a great shame he hasn't been able to continue his development as a captain. Good leaders don't come in large lumps and we saw an outstanding leader there. He didn't do badly but not good enough to push past others.
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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo