'Potch was the turning point' - Chappell
The turnaround for India on the tour to South Africa began with the senior players forming a core group and initiating a process that involved carving up responsibilities - including mentoring juniors - among themselves and plotting what eventually turned out to be a historic win at the Wanderers, Greg Chappell, the India coach has revealed. That process began in the four-day tour match at Potchefstroom, a match Chappell called the "turning point".
Chappell was in relaxed mood the morning after the 123-run victory - which, he said, would "certainly stop or slow down" the public debate over the team management - as he opened up to journalists on topics as diverse as Sourav Ganguly's return, Sreesanth's emergence, and how the team had turned things around.
On reaching Potch, where the management realised that everything from that point onwards had to come from the playing group. "It couldn't come from the coaching group, we had done pretty much whatever we could do." The players had a team meeting on their own, without the coaching staff, and talked about getting together and being stronger as a group. They started each day with a 20-minute session, with one player taking responsibility for it.
"All of that has really made a difference", Chappell said. " I think Potch was the turning point, where Rahul was able to impress upon the senior players the need for all of them to take up responsibility."
One of those senior players was, of course, Ganguly, and Chappell said he was a mentally different batsman to the one dropped from the side 10 months ago. "He's got a will and a desire to play for India that is very strong, it showed through in Potch and in this Test."
Asked where he stood on Ganguly, Chappell said: "He's got a lot to offer. And we saw some of it in this Test match. Hopefully, from this point, we can go forward without this cloud hanging over the head that there are personalities involved. It's not about Greg Chappell or Sourav Ganguly; it's about Indian cricket. And it's about what a successful team needs to do. And if he does the things we saw from him in this game, he can have a long stint."
Chappell revealed how, at one of the team meetings, Ganguly made a comment that he'd learnt a lot, that there's more to life than just cricket. "Sourav's comments were along the lines of courageous, gutsy play and I think it was Sachin that asked him what he meant by courageous, gutsy play and he talked about how, in these 10 months or so, he's been able to reassess a lot of things and cricket's not the most important and only thing in life and this has taken the pressure off him from a batting point of view."
That feeling, Chappell said, allowed Ganguly to bat with "some freedom that perhaps he's not had in his batting for a long time".
For all its drama, Ganguly's batting was overshadowed by Sreesanth's bowling, and even Chappell expressed some surprise at just how quickly he'd come good. "We recognised some things in Sree last year and we felt that he had what it took to do that sort of thing. But realistically, you don't expect it to happen in the sixth or seventh Test match. You might expect one spell here or there, or one day here and there, but to do it for three-and-a-half days..."
The experts had said Sreesanth's success was due largely to his seam position, and Chappell agreed. "I've never seen anyone do that as consistently. It was remarkable how well the seam came out every time. The good bowlers do that consistently over periods and probably three or four times in an over. He was doing it six times an over, time after time after time."
He pointed to the flip side of that success, the "huge" emotional and physical strain, and said Sreesanth had been suffering from diarrhoea yesterday. "I'm sure that it was as much from the emotional strain than anything he might have eaten."
Chappell was asked whether Sehwag was doing the job required of a vice-captain in the early part of the tour (he was replaced when the Test squad was announced). "He was doing his job, but it's not just two people. You need four or five. I can't comment on the Sehwag thing as far as the selectors' choice to change the vice-captain is concerned."
Asked whether he'd give an honest opinion on Sehwag as he'd done with Ganguly in Zimbabwe, Chappell replied: "I don't intend to do my coaching through the media. Virender and I have got an ongoing dialogue all the time, as with all the players."
Chappell was asked whether the Test win had affected his plans for the World Cup. "There are slightly different requirements for Test cricket rather than one-day cricket but I think it at least gives us some options for things to think about and consider. I think we have to look at what those options are and we have to face reality. At the end of the day, we've got to give ourselves a chance of performing well in the World Cup."
He said winning the World Cup was "a pie in the sky"; instead, a realistic goal would be to get to the semifinals. "Then it's a new series. Anyone can win it from there."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo