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'To be a good team, you need a strong leadership group'

Greg Chappell speaks up on a range of issues

'As I've said a number of times in the past, the truth is somewhere in between two extremes' © Getty Images
After a victory that shredded the form-book and eased some of the unbearable pressure that the team has had to cope with in recent times, Greg Chappell was in relaxed mood the morning after India's historic win at the Wanderers. He spoke to the print media at the team hotel, opening up on topics as diverse as Sourav Ganguly's return, Sreesanth's emergence, and the need for a strong leadership group.
Was the decision to bat first, in some ways, an Australian one? An attempt to take the bull by the horns, so to speak?
It was Rahul's decision. You give up a huge advantage if you don't bat first when you win the toss. The state the pitch was in, it was a real lottery. I think it took a lot of courage for Rahul [Dravid] to take that decision. Sachin's 44 and the 60-odd partnership with Rahul was very very important in the scheme of things. Had we lost those guys early, a hundred might have been hard for us.
Do you think this could be a turning point after a few rough months?
Who knows? It's certainly a big confidence builder. As I've said a number of times in the past, the truth is somewhere in between two extremes. We haven't been as bad as we've looked in recent times, nor were we as good as we looked when we won 18 out of 22, or whatever it was. It's amazing what confidence can do on the one hand, and what lack of confidence can do on the other. We didn't bat well in the one-dayers. We batted very well in this game in difficult conditions. The hard work that the boys have put in over the past few months on their batting is starting to show results.
After all the criticism of the processes in place, does this ease pressure on the team management?
It certainly stops or slows down the discussion. All through it, we had confidence that what we were doing was correct, and what we had to do. All we could do was stick with that thought-process. Even after the one-day drubbing, the team spirit didn't go down.
I think that's been the most pleasing thing. Not only on this tour, but in the West Indies. We had a disappointment in the one-dayers and the spirit remained strong there as it had done in Pakistan before that, after losing a tough Test series and the first one-dayer on a Duckworth-Lewis decision. There's some real resilience in the group, as there is in India. The battle for survival in India is such that one thing you do learn is resilience. These boys have got plenty of it.
Dravid talked yesterday about the involvement of the senior players. How did they help?
For any team to be a good team, you need a strong leadership group. The important thing on this tour was that when we got to Potchefstroom, the management sat down and had a look at where we were at. One of the main things that needed to happen was 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. They 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. It's kept the group together. The win in Potch was important but that in itself wasn't the turning point. The discussion that Rahul had with his senior players, about sharing the workload and mentoring and all the other things that good teams do, has been the icing on the cake.
Is that a very Australian thing, the idea of mentoring and having leadership groups?
It's certainly an Australian thing but it's also a success thing. Whether it's a sporting group or one from another sphere, there's a strong leadership group. That's something that we perhaps didn't have as well-defined as it needed to be. What I was seeing was Rahul taking on too much responsibility, more than one person could possibly hope to be able to handle. He was taking on not only too much of the physical responsibility but the emotional responsibility as well. You've got to share it around. I defy any team to be strong without a strong leadership group on the field.
To be fair, we're no closer to the game than you are once it starts. We see them come back into the dressing room at breaks and things like that, but are still far way from the action. The decisions and the recognition of the key moments in a day's play, key moments in a game, have to be done on the field. It can't be recognised in the dressing room, or it's too late. That's something we've worked hard on over the last six months, trying to get Rahul and the senior group to understand.
Some of them have had their own problems in recent times, that's probably taken up their time and mental space. I think Potch was the turning point, where Rahul was able to impress upon them the need for all of them to take up responsibility. We've got small groups within the team. We meet from time to time. We also need to build leadership within the middle group and the younger group. In time they're going to be leaders and senior players.

'We recognised some things in Sree last year and we felt that he had what it took to do that sort of thing' © Getty Images
You talked about senior players and mentoring. Did you ever expect though that a guy playing his sixth Test would go out and blow the game open for you?
We recognised some things in Sree [Sreesanth] 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.
It was a collective effort too, wasn't it? Your three pace bowlers together had 49 Test caps, while [Shaun] Pollock alone had more than 100.
Everyone starts from somewhere. Everyone at some stage or another is a novice. What we recognised many months ago was that you need certain types of bowlers to have a good bowling attack, particularly in Test cricket. It has to have variety, can't be all bowlers of one type. We looked at what we had in Pakistan last year when three left-armers all bowled similarly. That's not going to work. It never has and it never will. You need height, you need swing, you need angles. It's as much about angles as it is about pace or swing. Pace on its own is not the answer in Test cricket. Good players can handle pace. What they find more difficult is variety. When a bowler comes on, he's got a window of opportunity of a few overs. After that, good players adjust to it. It's no good coming on and taking three overs to warm up because by that stage, they'd work out what you do and be ready for it.
We needed guys who had the physical and mental capabilities to be able to handle the stress of international cricket. Sree, remarkably, in one of his first Tests in the West Indies bowled 30 overs in a game for the first time in his life. Now, what we're asking these boys to do, and they're boys, is to do a man's job. And he did it as well as any man could do it in this Test.
The tough thing will be to back up and do it again because the emotional and physical strain is huge. He had diarrhoea yesterday and I'm sure that it was as much from the emotional strain than anything he might have eaten. It's a huge thing to keep going, day after day, game after game. These guys don't have the grounding in domestic cricket. We've thrown them in at the deep end, but in a way that it gives them the chance to succeed. We've tried not to overload them, tried not to ask them to do too much. Because you can lose them very quickly if you do.
We've got Munaf at the moment who's out with a foot injury. We've got to be very careful with him because he's probably the most experienced of the young bowlers because he's played more domestic cricket. Not only have they played only 49 Tests, but they've played less than 100 first-class games between them.
There's no doubt in my mind that we won that series in the West Indies because of the bowlers as much as because of the batting. We tried to find three or four guys - if you can find six, it's even better - and we need back-up because you won't always get through without injury. It happened to [Dale] Steyn in this game, Munaf is injured, and each of our guys has been injured at some stage or the other. The more stress you put on them, the more likely that they'll break down. It's a hell of a thing to try and manage, and see them do what they're doing is well worth it. Munaf in the West Indies was fabulous. VRV came to the West Indies to get experience and ended up playing two Tests. And he didn't let us down. He didn't let us down in this game. He had a couple of overs at the end that were disappointing, but again, it's a hell of a strain for a 20-year-old with the little preparation that he's had for it.
Now, what we're asking these boys to do, and they're boys, is to do a man's job. And he [Sreesanth] did it as well as any man could do it in this Test. The tough thing will be to back up and do it again because the emotional and physical strain is huge. He had diarrhoea yesterday and I'm sure that it was as much from the emotional strain than anything he might have eaten.
Wasn't Sehwag doing the job required of a vice-captain in the early part of the tour?
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.
What has Sreesanth done so that he was a changed bowler in the Test match?
What he's understood for the moment, and hopefully for ever more, is that it's not about how fast you bowl or how much aggression you show, it's about how consistently you can put the ball in the right areas. The lesson he's learnt, which every bowler has to, is that if you're running up trying to take a wicket every ball, you're not going to be successful. It's not about bowling magic balls. It's about bowling good balls, good overs, good spells. That's what he did in this Test. He bowled good ball after good ball.
All of the experts kept commenting on the seam position and how well it came out. 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 may not always do that, but the lesson he's hopefully learnt is to resist the pressure that will come on him from all parts, his own expectations as well as that of others.
We've been working with him on this since the day he started. It's not about running in and bowling magic balls, it's about bowling consistently well. It's a lesson that Munaf learnt very quickly in the West Indies. We explained to him what good fast bowling is all about and he took it on board. I don't think there was any language problem. He was able to do it very quickly. That's a tremendous skill in itself.
The conversation that Sree had with Allan Donald, the beauty of that was that what Allan talked to him about was thought processes, rather than physical processes. It's all very well to understand mechanics but the engine of the mechanics is the brain. Your technique will vary depending on what you're thinking about. What Sree understood in this game was that he had to try and bowl good ball after good ball in a particular area.
Where do we stand on Sourav Ganguly? Your relationship with him, Dravid's relationship with him.
Everyone's relationship with him is fine. Sourav made some comments in the team meeting the other day, about how the last 10 months has been a great learning experience. To be fair, he probably needed time away to reassess his own cricket, and also no longer being captain - Rahul having time to take over that role. The thing that so few people want to understand is that from my point of view, there was nothing personal.
The discipline that a good team requires is that everyone needs to be on the same page and working in the same direction. Zaheer Khan went through a similar thing and he's come back. We had a discussion yesterday after the game, and he believes that he had to go through that to come back to where he is now. Sourav's in the same boat. 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 of the 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. Most of us have been cautious about what we say, for fear of it being distorted.
With Ganguly, you gave an honest opinion (in Zimbabwe). Time to give a similar opinion to Sehwag?
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.
Were you a little uncomfortable that with Sourav coming here, all the attention would be on what you and Sourav, on every little glance or gesture instead of being on the team and what it did?
It was definitely a volatile situation, there's no doubt about it, because of the emotion that was surrounding the whole thing. It was always going to be an interesting period. I would like to think that both of us would be professional enough for this to go through reasonably smoothly. Internally, it's been very smooth. Only he can speak on his behalf.
He feels he's very comfortable. And I'm very comfortable.
What kind of role did the seniors play in facilitating Ganguly's comeback?
The players have been most welcoming and supportive and it's been a difficult time for everyone I suppose; it was never going to be easy for Sourav but I think the fact that he had some good support from the playing group, not just the senior players, the junior players too were very supportive. He is a world-recognised and well-credentialed Indian player from within the playing group and that has hopefully helped make the transition for him very smooth.
Is it pleasing for you to see how he has batted?
I felt when we talked back in Zimbabwe, he had a lot to offer as a batsmen. The difficulty was that he was at a stage from the captaincy point of view that was taking up a lot of mental space that he needed for the batting and, as I said, he made a comment at the team meeting the other day that he'd learnt a lot. That there's more to life than just cricket.
We had a session where we got everyone to talk about two or three different things that were going to be important for the Test series, let alone this match. 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, gusty play and he talked about how, in these 10 months or so, whatever it is that he's been away, 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 every inning is not the most important thing in life and it's given him the chance to be a little more relaxed about his approach to batting. These were the things we talked about many months ago in Zimbabwe, and I think he'd have to speak for himself though.
But we thought every innings was important for him now.
Yes, it is, up to a degree it is important for everyone. But if you bat as if every innings is your last, you're not going to bat with freedom. And I think we saw some freedom from Sourav in this innings, in this game, that perhaps he's not had in his batting for a long time. These were some of the things we talked about.
Does he look a different batsman from the one of 10 months ago?
Certainly mentally he's a different batsman, there's no doubt about this. He's always been a strong character. I mean, we've seen from him in the time he's been out of the team that he's got a will and a desire to play for India that is very strong. It showed through in Potchefstroom and it showed through in this Test match.
Mike Hussey has a brilliant record over the past couple of years. But he said he goes out and plays every innings like it's his last. He seems pretty relaxed.
There are fine lines between the thought processes and I'm sure he doesn't see it as his last in the sense of if he fails. What I think he's talking about and I know Michael a little bit and I've had some discussions with him about batting over the years, he's talking about making the most of it. He's come into Test cricket late in life as far as cricketers are concerned and what he's saying is to go on and make the most of it, make it count rather than bat as if this could be my last chance and if I get out, I'm in trouble. If you bat like that, the second version, you're in serious trouble.
The team has obviously won just one Test but does that give a different perspective to the way you look at the one-day team? Is it time to re-look that?
I think we're always reviewing the situation and we want the best team we can possibly have for both forms of the game. There are slightly different requirements for Test cricket rather than one-day cricket. So what works for the Test team doesn't necessarily work for the one-day team but I think it at least gives us some options for things to think about and consider. We still have 90 days, 80-odd days to the end of the World Cup, I don't know what it is to the start of the World Cup. It's not long but I think we still have time, two series back in India. I still feel, as I did many months ago, that we have the bulk of our 15-man squad in place. As with most selections, it's the last two or three that come under the most discussion. Every time you sit down to pick a team, you got seven. It's the last three or four that the discussion is about and I'm sure that will still be the case.
If you bat as if every innings is your last, you're not going to bat with freedom. And I think we saw some freedom from Sourav in this innings, in this game, that perhaps he's not had in his batting for a long time. These were some of the things we talked about
How do you react to criticism? Do you take it badly?
Well, about the same as everyone else. I don't like it any more than anyone else does. But worrying about it is not going to change it nor help me do my job. There are certain things I understand that are important in what I do and I can't expect everyone to agree with it or understand it. So criticism, it depends where it's from, there are some people I am more likely to take note of their critical comment than others. For fear of any lawsuits I won't make any comment about which direction they might be from but some people I worry about more than others. But I'm like anyone else, I don't like to be criticized, I would much prefer that everyone loved me but I know they won't. So let's just get on with it and accept it.
You had been pretty emphatic about non-negotiable things in one-dayers. You had talked for instance, about the fielding. But has that changed, in the face of experience? Would you compromise?
I think at all stages in life you have to be prepared to compromise and yes, I would be prepared to compromise. I mean runs and wickets are more important than the runs you can save on the field but there is still a balance that I think is non-negotiable and I think its trying to get that balance that is the most difficult thing. And as I've said many times before, its not just about my vision, there are seven of us involved in selecting teams, five actually make the selections. I'll certainly give my views very strongly but at the end of the day, I'm the coach. What they give me I have to work with and I'm happy to work with. I don't know how many players have been through the group in the time I've been here, maybe as many as 30 and there's not one of them I wouldn't work with, so I'll take whatever we're given. But being the person I am and probably, being Australian, I'll always have strong views and I'll make those views heard. Then I just accept what comes.
You said it gives you a few more options, are you willing to experiment with those options in the eight games left?
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 the habit of winning, of performing well in the World Cup. I don't want to talk about wining the World Cup as that's a pie in the sky and even the best team in the world arriving at the World Cup is not guaranteed to win it. I think a realistic goal is to get to the semi-finals and then it's a new series. Anyone can win it from there. That's what we have to aim for and go there with the team that gives us the best chance to do that. I'm the last person that is going to stand on a philosophical argument that gives us less chance to do that.

'Virender and I have got an ongoing dialogue all the time, as with all the players' © Getty Images
What kind of pressure were you under after the one-day series loss and the Champions Trophy loss? Did you feel at any stage feel, to hell with it all?
To answer the first part, I was frustrated, disappointed, even dejected at stages, all of those emotions came to the fore. But I don't have the luxury of being able to think like that for very long. You got to face realities and get down to what needs to be done, keep looking at the things that we can do with what we got in the situation we're in. Shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic is occasionally what you have to do.
There were days as captain that I had no clue but the minute you showed that you had no clue left, you were gone. Because that sort of emotional state is contagious. And as coach I can't afford to display that, I can do it behind closed doors, I can scream and shout when I'm on my own but I can't do that when I'm around the team. Again, within reason we had the best possible group we could get and to throw the baby out with the bathwater was not an option. You can't just say you got to get rid of these guys and bring in some new fellas because I don't know that we have those options. It's a matter of trying to get the best out of the group we've got because within reason, this is the best group that we've got.
To go to the World Cup, we're talking about one-day cricket. We had to work out these options, work on different aspects of our game, individuals and collectively. Those of you that have been around may have noticed how hard some of the guys have worked in certain areas and not least of all, the support staff and coaching staff. Ian Frazer and Greg King especially have put in some seriously long hours, to be available for the guys, to do whatever's needed to be done and I would like to think that even in a few months time, we will look back at this period and say this was the best thing that happened to us. That in this period, we were forced to address things that we would probably need to address anyway and we were forced to address that at this point now, with enough time left to make a difference. Maybe this could be the secret ingredient that does make a difference when we get to a World Cup and we are in a tight position, a tight game - the fact that the guys have been in some tough periods, individually and collectively and have had to delve into the depths of their emotions and reserves might stand in good stead when we come to say a semi-final match or if it's a close game.
Which day was the most disappointing one? You looked very upset when you came for the press conference at Centurion.
That was another issue involved .. very little to do with the game. Nothing to do with the media manager.
I have no problems going to with certain players with a strong message because I know they can take it and be able to do with it. I know there are some who can't take it. So I have to get the message in a slightly different way
You're a forceful personality. Do you think some players have been unable to come to you with their problems because they find you intimidating?
I am sure that happens. That's why you have different persons and the coaching and support staff within the group, players, and not only seniors, to collect feedback and sometime carry messages. Sometimes I am the wrong person, the worst person to carry the message to the player, not because it's me but that's true with any coach. Everyone has different personalities. Some people relate to me better while I relate better with others. That's the way it is. You rely on different methods and techniques to get the message across.
There are some players, I won't mention names. I have no problems going to with certain players with a strong message because I know they can take it and be able to do with it. I know there are some who can't take it. So I have to get the message in a slightly different way. Maybe through another person. That is one of the reasons why I insisted on having Ian Frazer with me from the start because he's a very different personality than me. We believe in the same philosophies and I know he's not going to take mixed messages into the group, and you get conflicting messages going into the group and Ian is not as intimidating to some people as I can be. And for that reason, he has been a very important part of getting the messages through to the group.
Greg King is another one, John Gloster, Ramki. [Ramesh] Mane is a very important part of our support staff because he is the one that spends most of the time with them. And he is with them often in their down moments. They come to see him when they are down, mentally and emotionally down. He is massaging their minds as much as he is massaging their bodies. And he is a very important part of our support staff because he does carry messages through, not in the sense of a secret agent, but he is able to carry the message in a much softer and meaningful way than I can. Because he can talk to them in their own language for a start. He can understand their emotions much better than someone else, particularly an outsider, can do. So, coaching is not about one person and one personality and it can never be. And if it was, if one person was expected to do it all, it would fail.

'There's always going to be some diffidence in coming up and opening up to the coach and the captain' © Getty Images
Do you think Rahul has the same problem?
Whether we like it or not we (captain and coach) are perceived to be a part of the selection process. And so there's always going to be some diffidence in coming up and opening up to the coach and the captain. And that's why a strong leadership group is absolutely critical. Because they got to have an avenue somewhere. To be able to come to the captain or coach. Forget the names attached to it, you got to have an avenue to get their voice heard or get their message across or find out what's going on.
And that's again where the small groups we have is very important. It gives each player a chance to speak up without the captain there, or without the coach there. They have their own meetings as well and it's important that they do so because if somebody is struggling to be heard or to get a message through, it's going to affect the way they play. And that's why you can't just have one person. There's got to be a group of people. And the leadership within the team group is absolutely critical to the long-term success and the ongoing success of a team. You guys understand Indian culture much better than I do. It's all about the elders and seniors and people in responsibility who have to be listened to, no matter what. I don't claim to own all the wisdom about cricket. I have been wrong, not often, but I have been wrong. But the players need a voice, they need an avenue, they need to be heard, they need to be understood. And one person can't always be guaranteed to do that.
Who are there in this senior group?
Rahul, Sachin, Laxman, Sehwag, Sourav, Harbhajan. In little ways, there are leaderships within their own groups. There are two or three players who may relate to each other better than they might relate to another two or three players. Within each one of those cells, they are leaders. They are the ones who carry messages to us. And they don't always come directly either. They can come through Mane, they can come through Ramki, they can come through Frazer. They can come through one of the other players. It's not a single-lane highway, this communication thing.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo