Fierce Focus: Greg Chappell May 5, 2012

Chappell the Indian

The former India coach's flaw was not that he was too Australian, as this book reveals

Unlike Ian Chappell, who wore his heart on his sleeve, the middle Chappell came across most often as Greg the Reticent, and occasionally as Greg the Grouchy, but even his worst critics acknowledge that his views on the game are sound and worthy of attention. Too bad he needed to understand not just the mechanics of the square cut but also what made a Virender Sehwag tick.

I thought initially that India handled Chappell badly as coach, till I realised that the reverse was also true. It was not a cultural thing; in fact, reading Fierce Focus an alternative theory presents itself. It was not that Chappell was too Australian, it was that temperamentally he was too Indian. Once that is understood, everything else falls into place.

That Chappell was one of the great batsmen there is no doubt; and although the Indian experience forms only a small portion of this book, it probably throws more light on his character than the rest.

Chappell's spats with Sourav Ganguly have become part of folklore. How a friendship fell apart is neatly described. Ganguly, who had a role to play in Chappell getting the India job, felt the Australian ought to be eternally grateful and back him no matter what. Chappell's suggestion that Sachin Tendulkar should bat at No. 4 in ODIs in the interests of the team was not well received by that batsman, nor was his insistence on Sehwag doing physical work.

It is in the casual throwaway lines that Chappell reveals his Indianness. When Dilip Vengsarkar took over as the chairman of selectors, "[his] loyalties were unclear..." That is a typical Indian reaction, placing loyalty above professionalism.

In his last Test, admits Chappell, he was conscious of making the runs needed to take him past Don Bradman's aggregate for Australia, as well as of taking the catch that would give him the record ahead of Colin Cowdrey. "I didn't want to be tempted to play another year out, of a nagging feeling of leaving something unfinished. I wanted to end my Test career with all the loose ends tied up."

Fierce Focus (an expression for the manner in which Chappell followed his concentrate-and-relax technique while batting) tells us much about Greg the player, and a little about Greg the man, without shying away from the controversies or the personal failings. That is the strength of the book.

The story of the Brisbane wicket being remade in the middle of a Test against West Indies takes one's breath away. For the Indian reader, there are the embarrassing stories of the way the cricket board treats its contracted professionals. Chappell's predecessor, John Wright, has written about how when he returned after an Indian victory, he was greeted at the airport with a limousine, and if it was a defeat, he was left to fend for himself.

Chappell writes about how the BCCI was "usually late in paying our bills" and how "wages were paid months late." Yet he was never given credit for putting India on the road to the pinnacle as the No. 1 Test team in the world, or indeed bringing an element of flexibility to the ODI batting order, which was initially scoffed at but later adapted.

His habit of sending text messages to trusted journalists was a way of countering Ganguly's "backgrounder sessions" for his friends in the media. That was Indian fighting Indian, and the less experienced Indian lost out.

Fierce Focus: Greg Chappell
by Malcolm Knox
Hardie Grant Books
371pp, A$45

Suresh Menon is the editor of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack India

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  • Shadab on May 8, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    Greg Chappell had 7 ducks during 1981-82 series but he came out from a dark patch and in next 2 years, finished his career on good note. He could help india, building interest in tests too which is becoming so hard for them since their top 3-4 are heading for retirement. The short tempered reaction is a typical sub continent thing, it's good to know some aussies are similar too. I am a Pakistani fan who wants cricket above politics. We can only pray so far. Regards

  • PALLAB on May 7, 2012, 13:22 GMT

    Zaheer,Nehra,Viru,Bhaji,Yuvraj (even SRT's mind was messed) the ones for Greg's chopping block were the key to ODI World Cup win. @Deepanjan,I would not credit Greg to Ganguly scoring quality runs at very good average against rated teams (SA,OZ,Eng,Pak with failure only in 1 series against SL) after his against-all-impossible-odds comeback. SIMPLY cos Greg (along with team management inc. Dravid)did not want him back. And Gang hardly did anything diff (in terms of his fitness) to merit a comeback; just that his immense willpower and desire to be rated as a quality bat again helped him score nearly international 3000 runs (perennially unbiased Ian called him India's best Test bat then) after being back. That's why been saying that Gang along with S. Waugh were mentally the toughest players of past 20 years of international cricket with Gang expected to always fail whereas Waugh always expected to succeed -their mental strength and willpower drove them to succeed.

  • Jay on May 7, 2012, 10:47 GMT

    Suresh - Yes, it takes two to tango: Chappell & Ganguly must both share blame for their ugly spats. But when Greg ends up antagonising most of the Indian team - even the respected old order (incl. Kumble & Tendulkar) - he becomes Greg the Fierce. As in "Fierce" in his book's title. Check out the synonyms. His true character is exposed: There's no "Indianness" whatsoever in his confrontational my-way-or-the-highway style. Media manipulation or not, it's phony to blame "Indian culture" as he did in a recent interview. How come then John Wright before him & Gary Kirsten after him were so successful in Team India's ascendancy? Because they were people persons and believed in respect & harmony. They worked with Ganguly & Dhoni to build a strong team culture. That's where Greg failed; so the team tanked & he had to resign. Even CA sacked him as talent manager last year (Argus review). He was even banned from the Oz dressing room. Chappell the Fierce failed again. You have it wrong, Suresh!

  • Billy on May 6, 2012, 22:20 GMT

    Greg Chappell could have taken India to the next level. Instead, what India got was a couple of years at number one and now facing a decade of horrors with greats retiring, and a lack of confidence.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 20:56 GMT

    @hyclass military style coaching is pre-world warish!! World has moved on and much better coaching techniques have evolved!

  • deepak on May 6, 2012, 12:38 GMT

    @ henchart there's no point in trying to prove something to people whose views r so biased. anyway nice post from u bro.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 12:01 GMT

    @maddy20- When I say his captaincy skills are over-rated, I don't exactly mean that he is not a good captain. As an Indian, I admit to Ganguly's contribution to India's rise in 2000s. What I mean is that his efforts are often exaggerated and he's excessively credited. People say he is responsible for infusion and development of talent like Yuvi, bhajji n zaheer. Does anyone say that Dravid fostered Dhoni and Raina? Or Dhoni did that with Praveen,Kohli etc. And I can list to you some of the games where he was partly responsible for PW's losses. Most of the times I see him bat these days, he's either not scoring or scores at strike-rate of 90-100 when his team requires run-rate in excess of 8-9 runs per over. Also, PW may not be a bunch of stars, but they are definitely not a bunch of nobodys. Uthappa is among the top-scorers; Ryder& Smith have made good contributions. However I do admit that they don't have that punch in their bowling and Ganguly has managed his bowling resources well.

  • Zam on May 6, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    @maddy20, Ganguly's teams always win a few games in the initial part of thw tournament, even his KKR used to do that, but they alwyas peter out when others go on full steam! And his team this time was decent, much better than RR and KXIP. Mathews, Ryder, Smith, Parnell are really T20 materials, and the induction of Clarke adds serious pedigree to this team. Could it not be the lack of optimal utilization of these resources that proved their bane? What about the great anchor innings he played all through the torunament at a run a ball, sometimes really out of the game context. But the SG fans never willl understand this, and will always have a couple of excuses to defend him, like either its weak team, bad mgmt., or bad luck, its laways a running theme in all his T20 endeavours! Ask a Gilchrist or a RD, what it means to mobilize a team of lesser known players. And when he does get replaced by Clarke, his fans will scream another betrayal, that's also a given. So PWI beware.

  • Srinivasan on May 6, 2012, 7:16 GMT

    @Bublu Bhuyan.. What @rahulcricket007 says I believe is you can easily count the number of stand out performances. 10 out of 200, for instance isnt great to HIS standards!

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    @rahulcricket007: First reply that how could he have so many wonderful knocks in swinging conditions as mentioned by Henchart if he feared the swinging ball?

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