On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

The Greg Chappell Years

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Sometime in the spring of 2005, two Australians were among the contenders for coaching jobs in the sub-continent; in India and Sri Lanka—Australian legend Greg Chappell and former Aussie all-rounder Tom Moody. India’s deciding committee was impressed by Chappell’s presentation and his ‘commitment to excellence’ mantra was given a green signal. A few days later Sri Lanka signed Tom Moody.

When the Aussie legend took over the Indian team in the summer of 2005, India’s own living legend was in London for a surgery on his left arm after tennis elbow had forced him to miss the middle part of 2004. Ganguly was under some pressure after a poor Test series at home against Pakistan while Dravid was in the form of his life and had played some memorable innings 2001 onwards.

The Indian team left for Zimbabwe for a two-Test series and a tri-nation ODI tournament with Chappell as the coach and Ganguly as the captain. The fire that began in India’s tour to this landlocked country in the southern part of Africa; and the incidents that further helped its spread across the Indian Ocean caused ripples that were felt by the two cricketing nations of Australia and India.

This period of turbulence led to Ganguly being removed as captain and later dropped from the side. It is not possible to give an accurate account of the dressing room incidents and is prudent to just keep it as a background without delving into various versions. The return of Ganguly as a Test batsman in the South African Test tour though is a story of amazing human possibilities; he certainly made a statement and the manner of his run-making in Tests said a lot about his stubborn character.

After slightly over six months on October 25, 2005, Tendulkar opened his account in the second legal delivery he faced against Sri Lanka in an ODI in Nagpur. It was a ball that was full and a trifle wide outside the off stump; Tendulkar reached for it and the coruscating drive burned the grass on its way to the cover boundary. He was batting on 11 off 11 balls when he first faced Fernando, bowling his 2nd over; he missed the first ball and played a front foot drive off the second for no run.

The third ball was a relief for millions; it was a pick-up shot that sailed over the midwicket fence for a six. Tendulkar’s riposte to speculation on his future was nothing less than stunning; he made 93 off 96 balls. This was a start to the season where India won 6-1 against Sri Lanka, 4-1 against Pakistan in Pakistan, a 2-2 draw against South Africa and a 5-1 win against England.

India left for the World Cup in decent current form but crashed out in the first round and with it also ended the association of Chappell with the team. There are no questions about Greg Chappell’s place among the game’s batting greats but his coaching career is not above reproach or rather not as glorious as his playing career.

Greg Chappell then said that India would struggle in Australia with just one tour game well before the 2007 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Then about 12 days or so before the tour, the Herald Sun ran a story headlined “India ‘old and selfish’, says former coach Greg Chappell”. The story said that Greg expected India to be well-beaten.

Written by Ron Reed, the story talked about an absorbing and candid documentary on Chappell’s incumbency called Guru Greg. It also dealt with Chappell’s views on India’s World Cup debacle. “We came here with a flawed group and got the results we deserved,” he said. “If there is not an intention of change, there’s no point in me—or any other coaches, for that matter—getting involved. It’s very difficult to keep putting wallpaper over the cracks. The cracks have got big and the structure needs to be dealt with.”

The story said that the views of Chappell before India’s arrival would dishearten fans. “Chappell’s honest opinion has poured cold water on the hopes of many cricket fans that the Indians would provide a more competitive series against the Australians in an already dull summer of cricket. It is a depressing thought for anyone hoping for a more competitive series than Sri Lanka has been able to provide so far,” the story added.

A Test tour to Australia is the biggest challenge in the international calendar; and a series win on Australian soil the most-prized possession for a team and its fans. Have a look at the calendar and see if our cricket board has in any way facilitated the players in giving them the best chance of succeeding in Australia. The ODI season was packed till November 18th and the Test season went on till December 12th 2007.

The Indian team arrived jet-lagged and the solitary tour game was washed out and they had to badly-lose the first Test to acclimatise; although it was a surface that according to Australia suited India the most. At least a fortnight of total rest and then a conditioning camp followed by at least two if not three tour games would have been some justice towards the team. It may have also revealed form and adjustment factor and Sehwag may have played right from the first match.

Despite all the impediments; the players gave the Aussies a series that was a bit more than just competitive. India lost in Melbourne and won in Perth; the den where Australia used a four-pronged pace attack. Adelaide was a draw. And Sydney was the whole point.

Sir Neville Cardus once said, “There ought to be some other means of reckoning quality in this best and loveliest of games; the scoreboard is an ass.” So it was a 2-1 result in favour of Australia and Ishant Sharma, according to bowling figures just took a solitary wicket in the Australian second innings in Perth. The story beyond the scoreboard is the fascinating beauty of the game. Tendulkar ended the Test series with his best return ever; two big hundreds and two sizzling scores of 63 and 71.

The young team that came for the ODIs defeated the number 1 side in the world in their backyard by winning the first two finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series; you were right Greg, but the young team won it on the back of an unbeaten hundred and a 91 by the ‘legendary old man’.

When Australia came to India, Guru Greg was with the Aussie contingent in Bangalore but was nowhere to be seen afterwards. Ganguly had announced that it would be his last series and got a hundred in Mohali and debutant Amit Mishra took five wickets. India won by 320 runs.

Tendulkar rounded off another good series with a hundred in Nagpur and the captaincy baton passed to Dhoni. India won the series 2-0 to claim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The Sachin Tendulkar chapter is in its most-beautiful phase and Greg Chappell could do well to remember that, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

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