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The Chappell era of good, bad and ugly

Greg Chappell’s batting was synonymous with correct cricketing grammar, which punctuated Australian cricket in the 1970s and 1980s.

He scored a hundred on Test debut (against England at Perth in 1970), and ended his career with a century in his final Test — against Pakistan at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1984. Some fairytale that!

But, his highly controversial coaching stint with India stains the pages of his association with the game.

Chappell’s coaching career has not earned him accolades. The biggest brickbat of all has come from Sachin Tendulkar, who has called Chappell a ‘ringmaster’ in his book Playing It My Way.

Chappell’s coaching career has not earned him accolades. The biggest brickbat of all has come from Sachin Tendulkar, who has called Chappell a ‘ringmaster’ in his book Playing It My Way. Pic/AFP
Chappell’s coaching career has not earned him accolades. The biggest brickbat of all has come from Sachin Tendulkar, who has called Chappell a ‘ringmaster’ in his book Playing It My Way. Pic/AFP

Chappell failed to make India the number one cricket-playing nation in the world, something that he set out to do in 2005 but failed by 2007.

There were some memorable wins, however, under Chappell the Test series triumph in the Caribbean in 2006, which was India’s first since the historic series victory in 1971, the 2006 Test victory at Johannesburg, where India recorded its first-ever win in South Africa, and an amazing sequence of 17 consecutive run-chases in one-day cricket. All this, before the disastrous World Cup in the Caribbean.

While the coach wanted to do everything to do justice to his overall objective good, unpopular, different and radical there was turmoil in the team. The seniors were always suspicious of his proximity to the media and what he was telling them off the record.

Tendulkar told a select media gathering on Tuesday that he told the players who first discussed their problems with Chappell, that the coach should be given some time to settle down, but it did not take long for him to realise that their concerns were justified.

I thought the most amazing of Chappell-related disclosures in Tendulkar’s book was about urging the BCCI to keep Chappell detached from the team at the 2007 World Cup.

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the players resented the fact that Chappell wanted them to stretch their boundaries, reinvent themselves, put in more hours at nets, something the western cricketing world seems to think Indian cricketers don’t like doing. This is a myth, and it must be said that toilers and shirkers are well spread out on the cricketing globe. In fact, Chappell wrote in glowing terms about India’s 2006 Johannesburg Test preparation in his book Fierce Focus, published in 2011. There’s something else that took place in the build-up to the Johannesburg Test, which Chappell may not know. VVS Laxman revealed that the team had a meeting without members of the support staff during the warm-up game at Potchefstroom, and decided to stay united and perform for India even as the Chappell issue was hurting them. Unfortunately, and a touch inexplicably, India lost the second and third Tests of the series.

My own reading of the Chappell situation is that he just couldn’t handle India, and making him the coach of the senior team without him having any experience of coaching a national team was a wrong move. Chappell ought to have been given a role at the National Cricket Academy first. This could have helped him understand India better, including how cricket is run here.

Great player that he was, Chappell was known to erupt in pressure situations. The reason for ordering brother Trevor to bowl the notorious underarm delivery to New Zealand’s Brian McKechnie was because he was fed up with the warped scheduling and consumed by the heat of the Melbourne Cricket Ground on February 1, 1981. In the documentary Cricket in the 1980s, his senior pro Rod Marsh says Chappell wanted to go off the field after 40 overs. Chappell had to be convinced to be around as captain because the game was heading towards a close finish. He got a roasting from the media, including Richie Benaud, who called the underarm “one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field.” Later that year, Chappell backed out of the 1981 Ashes tour, citing family and business reasons.

Back to the present. Amidst all the revisited controversy, one cannot ignore the fact that the 2005-2007 period in Indian cricket witnessed a host of exploits from young players, who were encouraged by Chappell. Suresh Raina is the first name to come to mind. So, will we hear a few complimentary things about the former coach? Your guess is as good as mine.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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