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Deconstructing the Gospel according to Greg Chappell

First off, let me be clear on what I have set out to do in this piece. I’m not a rabid nationalist who takes affront at every word of insult or mocking which is directed towards India or Indian cricket. I don’t pay attention to people who after reading a cricket article, have to post some incendiary comment directed towards another country or team. Some people can make their point clearly and in a mature way, while others can only post their observations in a childish or petulant way; and I understand that. This world is made up of all kinds of people, after all.

That is why, when I see articles or comments harshly criticizing the Indian team, I take it with a pinch of salt. After all, given their recent performances, they deserve the kind of lampooning and criticism that has come their way. It hurts on some level when I see gleeful opposition (plus some Indian) fans and former cricketers piling on the team, but then again, it is the nature of sport. When you’re on top, the world will sing your praises, and when you’re down, you will be mocked at.

So, when I read the recent comments made by Greg Chappell regarding Indian cricket, I was surprised by the strong reactions it elicited in me. To be fair to GC, he made some valid points which are buried under an avalanche of strong opinions on Indian cricket and Indian culture. How much of it is actually true, and how much of it is his BS? That’s what I have set out to find in this piece.

“It was obvious from the start of the tour that the Indians weren’t really interested in Test cricket,” Chappell said. “After the Australians showed that they were going to be a formidable foe, I was very disappointed with the Indians. And having worked with many of them and having been in the dressing room with them, Test cricket was too hard for most of them. They can only make a lot of money playing 20-over cricket. Fifty-over cricket they can sort of put up with.”

This is the sort of explanation expected from a casual observer; not a former coach who knows the senior players in and out. It is hard to conceive that players of the caliber of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman, Dravid and Zaheer have lost interest in Test cricket, just over a year since they last held the top ranking in Tests. If they weren’t interested, why did some of the players arrive in Australia early and take part in the practice games, when they could easily have rested?  They are experienced enough to know that while T20 brings in the money, only their Test performances will establish their legacies. A Test series win down under would have been their crowning glory after the World Cup victory and it is ridiculous to assume that their poor performance could be put down to lack of interest. I don’t remember anyone accusing England of losing interest in Test cricket after their defeat to Pakistan in UAE; neither could that be said about Australia after their Ashes defeat last year. England and Australia both have robust domestic T20 tournaments, yet they manage to put up decent performances in Tests more often than not. So why should India’s domestic T20 tournament be the reason for their disastrous performance in Tests? My dear Greg, India lost in England and Australia, not because of disinterest in Test cricket, but solely because they were not good enough and were outmatched by better prepared opponents. Your observations alone explain why you were a disaster as coach.

“Test cricket for a lot of, not only India, a lot of subcontinent teams, I think it’s pretty tough. And the challenge for Test cricket is, without the sort of grounding that we [Australians] had as kids, Test cricket is too hard. It’s very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally.”

While GC would like to think that only Australia with its ‘grounding’ in Test cricket can produce tough cricketers, some of the greatest players in cricket history have come from the subcontinent. Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble etc, made their name in Test cricket foremost and I think most would agree that they handled the mental, physical and emotional demands very well to attain the levels they did in their careers. As for the present generation, excepting the Indian series, the Australian team haven’t had a good two years in Tests; so what happened to the ‘grounding’ there? So, while GC’s estimation of Aussie superiority in Test cricket is very patriotic, it is clearly not backed up by history.

Chappell then spoke about what was wrong with the Indian culture. “The culture is very different, it’s not a team culture,” Chappell said. “They lack leaders in the team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, their schoolteachers make their decisions, their cricket coaches make the decisions.

“The culture of India is such that, if you put your head above the parapet someone will shoot it. Knock your head off. So they learn to keep their head down and not take responsibility. The Poms (British) taught them really well to keep their head down. For if someone was deemed to be responsible, they’d get punished. So the Indians have learned to avoid responsibility. So before taking responsibility for any decisions, they prefer not to.”

It is ridiculous to assume that a culture which ensures that children are equipped to survive in a challenging environment when they grow up is responsible for leadership problems in Indian cricket. This is the same culture which has produced global leaders in healthcare, politics, software and business. To judge an entire culture and hold their way of raising their kids, responsible for the failure of a sports team is plain absurd, ignorant and racist.  No culture is perfect and no culture is superior to any other. That’s what makes the collection of cultures across the world, unique in their own rights. Only people like Greg Chappell would assume that there is only one way of living that works in all environments and prepares you for life.

Now, I am not casting him as total buffoon, since there are three other major points that GC made that I agree with:

(1) MS Dhoni has been worn down by the burden of captaincy in all formats and it has affected his game, particularly in Tests.

(2) Virender Sehwag has fitness and attitude problems compounded by captaincy ambitions which seems to have increased lately and caused an undercurrent of tension within the team.

(3) Test cricket needs a strong Indian team to survive. As evidenced by the last few years, when India were at the top of their game in Tests, there was an increased interest in the long form of the game and it brought in new fans.

So, there you have it. How can a widely respected former captain be insightful and yet so ignorant at the same time? The answer lies in the context of when he made these observations: while promoting his new book ‘Fierce Focus’. As Shoaib Akhtar memorably taught us, there is no better way to sell a cricket book than to provoke Indian cricket fans with controversial statements. In that way, Guru Greg accomplished his mission; but he just might have lost a ton of respect and goodwill he had earned over the years through a long career in cricket.

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