A marriage gone sour too soon
Look where we're stuck now. Sourav Ganguly, cornered, fighting, armed with supporting evidence and affidavits, will respond point by point to the contents of the most read email in the history of cricket. The review committee which meets tomorrow (why must Jagmohan Dalmiya be on it?) will have before it sets of claims and counter claims to negotiate, and no power save that of an advisory body. It will emerge that both parties have told some truths or what they believe to be the truth and both parties will have told some half-lies. Inevitably the issue will be politicised.
Eventually one man must have to make way. That man ought to be Ganguly; yet the irony is that, thanks to a calculated leak by the board, in being accused he now has his greatest chance of redemption.
A few points. It needs mentioning here that Greg Chappell, acknowledged thinker though he may be, has little to show for as coach. He took over South Australia in 1998-99, much like he did India, a messiah, in charge of a team that had tailed off after a high. The expectation in the state then was that he would do a Malcolm Blight, the Aussie Rules Hall of Famer who had just coached a mediocre Adelaide Crows outfit to a pair of premierships in his first two years. Quite to the contrary, Chappell's five years saw SA finishing fourth (out of six), fourth, last, fourth and fourth.
One SA journalist says that Chappell `helped develop several poor performers into handy ones but found it difficult to communicate well with the lesser players. His major battles came with the state's administrators and the conservative culture of SA. The relationship ended with both parties thinking they could have got more out of each other.' Another SA observer thought Chappell overly theoretical, unable perhaps to connect with the team, and half-jokingly described his tenure as `reign of terror'. Whatever, that South Australia won a championship under Chappell, as was mentioned in a few news reports in India either shows the sheer sloppiness of journalists or else indicates how enamoured they were of him.
And the press Chappell got in India was so fabulous that it immediately made one wary. Chappell does like the press, and he does talk a good game. He sought out the Indian media and wooed them with a presentation of his vision for Indian cricket on the last tour to Australia; barely a day has gone by in his tenure so far that an exclusive interview is not granted. Far more worrying is the number of journalists who routinely receive detail and opinion, plenty of it in writing, that really ought to remain inside, unless the idea in the first place is to spread the word.
Is it unreasonable to harbour mild scepticism of Chappell? Leave aside Ganguly, the noises emerging from a significant section of the team indicate that he has not been able to hit home with them. By introducing the coloured hats of Mr de Bono he can come across to players as much a bullshit artist as enlightened guru; by expressing displeasure over players whistling or singing, as some have claimed, he risks being seen as an unbearable bore rather than a hard taskmaster. There is no telling yet if the Chappell way will work simply because there is no evidence of it.
Chappell's first objective of making India look beyond Ganguly is not just fair but necessary; yet reading his own account of trying to destabilise the captain before the Test match makes you wonder. He saw a moment which he tried to exploit, to finish off Ganguly. But what were the percentages here? What odds that Ganguly would indeed stand down on the eve of a Test match against Zimbabwe when he's trying to save his career?
Has Chappell been able to foster an atmosphere of positivity? Looking back at his early days, when he was presented with an England team that had scraped bottom, Duncan Fletcher said, "The first thing I say is that you win as many games in the changing room as you do out in the field." It is worth analysing - and it is the more profitable area for the review committee to concentrate on for it is the younger members and not Ganguly who are important now to India - how much of this has been the wailing of slackers and how much of it is down simply to ineffective coaching. If the dissidents, and several of them have been pulled up for attitude before, are using this standoff as an opportunity to pave an easy path then they are not worth a moment of indulgence.
The big worry for Indian cricket has become that a player rebellion against Chappell will take its final form in the reappointment of Ganguly. That Ganguly must be replaced as captain ought to be non-negotiable, email or no email. It is a decision that would have ideally been taken four months ago. The details remain open to dispute, but not much in Chappell's email has surprised the majority of journalists.
And there is a point in that. Much of the Chappell `vision' is something any half-astute observer could tell you. Chappell's job is that of execution. Has he the ability to? Crucially, is the system prepared to allow him to? These are questions which will only be answered over time but they must be raised.
Despite the scepticism offered here, my personal opinion is that Chappell must be given the latitude and the duration to work things his way, to toughen up the side as is his brief. Ganguly, due respect and all, has nothing really to offer the future of Indian cricket. With Chappell we will not know unless we let him have his shot. Unpleasant as it may be, Indian cricket must brace itself and make the leap. We could come to owe him. It may help if Chappell, committed to holding up an unforgiving mirror to the team, can also hold it up to himself and consider his management of men. Perhaps he could start by dropping the MBE.
Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of Pundits from Pakistan: On tour wih India 2003-04