A coach's tale March 6, 2006

A little tact won't hurt Greg Chappell

Candour remains an admirable virtue; but Chappell will know that leadership goes well with some tact and diplomacy

Chappell knows his words will be monitored, more so if they concern Ganguly © Getty Images

A few days after the Bulawayo brouhaha, Ian Chappell had a word of advice for Sourav Ganguly: "Greg Chappell grew up in a household where frank opinions were served up at the breakfast table more often than cereal and fruit juice ... if you don't want to hear the truth, then don't ask him for a frank opinion."

Chappell's recent interview to The Guardian was no doubt frank. But as with several Chappell pronouncements, there were bits in the middle - contradictions mixed with condescension - which induced queasiness. Candour is an admirable virtue; but Chappell cannot be oblivious to fact that tact and diplomacy are essential ingredients of leadership.

Those in positions of responsibility need to weigh their words carefully and Chappell, who can be captivating during his interactions with the media, must be alive to the repercussions. Even assuming that his statements about Ganguly were true, the question to be asked is whether there was anything to be gained by the publication of that truth.

We don't know the circumstances in which the interview was conducted, in what context the statements were made, but Chappell must know, as he himself admits later in the chat, that his every word will be monitored and commented upon. In relation to Ganguly, even syllables can be misinterpreted.

Around a month ago he commented, rather vaguely, about Shoaib Akhtar's bowling action - "There is something seriously different about it" - and triggered an intense debate. Assuming that it was intentional, as an attempt to bring a sensitive issue into public domain, it was smartly executed. He chose the right words and probably ended up gaining a subtle advantage for his team. This time, though, there was no sheath of discretion. Ganguly and captaincy are long divorced, a break-up that Chappell sought and helped achieve, and a selection meeting was to happen soon with Ganguly in contention for a place in the squad. So what was there to be gained apart from causing him further humiliation?

At most levels, the Indian coach will, and should, continue to be seen as strategist and cricketing brain who has played his part in engineering a turnaround in the one-day version. But a distinct sub-layer to his personality is emerging, one with a bizarre pattern. The latest case was an unprovoked response but, more worryingly, Chappell has been provoked into indiscretion. If shutting the door on a television reporter's hand was the early warning, giving the finger to some Kolkata fans, and hiding behind the veil of tending to an injury, was confirmation.

Chappell often captivates a story-hungry media but articulation has its own pitfalls © Getty Images

Maybe we fall into the trap of comparing him to John Wright, his relatively taciturn predecessor who remained largely invisible and let the results do the talking. Chappell, a superstar in his prime and a legend after, was obviously going to behave differently. Added to that, he could hypnotise a story-hungry media and, in all fairness to him, he probably saw his involvement with them differently. Yet articulation has its own pitfalls. Before the Pakistan tour, he was asked if India's bowling would prove to be the weak link. His response: "This is a fairly typical Indian attitude towards it, very negative way of looking at a very young bowling attack. I think we have got a talented bowling attack ..."

Now this may have been a small segment in a wordy interview, but was glaring enough to look like lazy stereotyping. Implementing processes and masterminding strategies may form the heart of a coach's role but surely, there must be a more discerning manner of treating icons, a more balanced way of communicating theories.

Chappell must realise that the Ganguly question will be asked forever, that juicy half-volleys will be floated outside off stump. He can either say "Thank you" and move on, or continue poking at an old wound. He might have possessed a most gorgeous cover-drive, but leaving such questions outside the off stump, like his captain does so often and so admirably, may not be a bad option.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo