Chappell and Ganguly both stay
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) today brokered what is being widely perceived as an uneasy truce between Greg Chappell, the Indian coach and Sourav Ganguly, the Indian captain, following a high profile, closed-door meeting of the committee that lasted four hours.
The committee on Tuesday deliberated the standoff between the pair and finally decided that they must bury their differences "in the interests of Indian cricket". This brings the curtain down - at least publicly - on more than two weeks of mutual recrimination between coach and captain, beginning with Ganguly's disclosure to the media about Chappell wanting him to quit as captain, and the latter's subsequent response in the form of a damning email.
Addressing a chaotic, and often comical, press conference after the meeting, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the board's president, announced that Chappell and Ganguly had agreed to work together. He said: "Indian cricket must go forward".
There was major relief for Ganguly in Mahendra's announcement that the committee had found no truth in the allegation that he had faked an injury in Zimbabwe. Mahendra sought to explain it away as a "miscommunication". And there was a hint of support for Chappell in Mahendra's assertion that players will be henceforth judged on the basis of performance.
The other significant announcement by Mahendra was a ban on everybody involved - coach, captain and players - from speaking to the media on this issue. He warned players speaking out of turn of serious consequences.
"The committee has heard Chappell, Amitabh Choudhury [the team manager] and Ganguly," Mahendra told reporters. "After hearing them, the committee has discussed everything in detail and was of the view that cricket is to go forward. Both coach and captain have to work out mutually and a professional working relationship to be maintained, and for this performance will be the criterion. This applies to the captain, it applies to the coach and the players."
Even before the review committee met this afternoon at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai it was quite clear that tough decisions involving a change of captain or, alternatively, some kind of cautioning of Chappell was not on the cards. For one, the review committee comprising of the three former captains Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Srinivas Venkatraghavan as well as Mahendra, S K Nair, the board's secretary and, of course, the ubiquitous Jagmohan Dalmiya, had only advisory powers. Second, the board itself is in the throes of an identity crisis, with the courts having had to intervene to decide when its annual elections are to be held.
At the meeting both Chappell and Ganguly made their cases separately and then sat together for the final session. Mahendra later said both coach and captain are happy with the outcome and the committee was confident they would get along well. "We cannot presume that there is no trust. They [Chappell and Ganguly] are confident that they will do it," is how Mahendra phrased it.
Early signs had pointed to a showdown between the two principals. Ganguly apparently arrived armed with fitness certificates and detailed notes to make a point-by-point rebuttal on the scathing remarks Chappell had made about him in the email. And John Gloster, the team's physio, was asked to be on stand-by to provide the necessary documentation to attest the coach's claims about the captain's reluctance to conform to tough training regimens.
At the press conference Mahendra, embarrassingly evasive and bumbling in the way he fielded questions, seemed to come to life on the question of Ganguly's faked injuries. "It was due to some miscommunication" was his curt comment, and if the force with which he said it was meant to preclude further questions it did just that.
"Cricket should go forward," was the discovery that Mahendra seemed to have made following the committee meeting, and it was the repeated rejoinder with which he sought to disarm the more trenchant questioners in the assembled media. "We have demarcated the difference in roles between the captain and coach. The captain has to control the game. The coach has to do his own job," was all he would offer by way of further detail.
Finally, Mahendra capped the hatchet job that the board had done on transparency by announcing a blanket ban on the players speaking to the media on the issue.
The temporary reprieve that the board has engineered will help the team concentrate on the forthcoming home series against Sri Lanka, from October 25 to November 12, and South Africa, from November 16 to 28. Ganguly's failing to come good in these games could well re-open the whole issue. This could also happen if the elections to the BCCI, scheduled to be held within two months, throws up a dispensation not controlled by Dalmiya, who has all along been the Indian captain's guardian deity.