April 3, 2007, should have been a golden-letter day for me. Subhash Chandra gave fruit to a much bastardised version of a long-held dream of mine - a nine-to-eleven city-based cricketing leagues to produce our International cricketers. I do not like the names of the cricketers being withheld, nor the fact that they play the 20:20 version, but someone is at least thinking on those lines, even as a marketing gimmick.
The more important bit was that for the first time ever, my favourite cricketer, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, in the weakest moment of his golden career, decided to take someone head-on. The nonsense of the media leaks - from whoever, BCCI, Greg Chappell or Rajan Bala - had been going on too long. And the best part of Sachin's coup, our Indian Icon threw the Aussie legend out (whose fortune till a couple of days back, laid in the hands of honorary members of the BCCI). However, in another television interview the very next day, Sachin sort of disowned his ground-breaking press interview.
I belong to the Ian Chappell school of cricketing theory, which keeps things simple. Batsmen score quick runs, Bowlers take quick wickets, Fielders take smart catches and get run-outs, the Captain leads, and the Coach, well he Manages. Cricket is different from football, a game where the on-field captain has a limited role to play, and the Manager (or Coach, as per nomenclature) has an active role in strategy formulation and management. In cricket, a high-profile coach works only if the team is pathetic, or at a very low ebb. So Dave Whatmore turned around Sri Lanka, and to an extent Bangladesh. Bobby Simpson did a similar job with injury and rebellion-affected Australia. But as soon as a resourceful skipper (Mark Taylor, the best I have witnessed) took over, Simpson was put in his rightful place, of organising and managing net sessions. No wonder, he quit (or was sacked) within a year of Taylor taking over.
John Wright was the best coach I have seen. To confirm my faith, he was also appointed for the same duties with the Rest of the World team, in the ill-fated SuperSeries. If you read his wonderful book, Indian Summers, you will realise he was not radically different, or innovative. What mattered was the simplicity, and the right values, he brought to his job. The laptop remained a tool to assist, not a means to win game for him. After all, in the pioneer Woolmer's last cricketing moment (for both SA and Pakistan in the '99 and '07 World Cup respectively), his science could do much in the face of art (Shane Warne and a greentop respectively).
I was actually quite excited when Greg Chappell took over from John Wright. Wright had given us the base, Chappell, with his innovative theories, could have taken us to the next level. His mantra for excellence was to put the focus on the team rather than the individual. And he started off by successfully getting the man who brought him, Sourav Ganguly, sacked. The intention was right, the execution through media-leaks wrong, and his own reaction to it all, horrible (remember the injured middle finger in the Calcutta team bus).
Chappell & Dravid started emphasizing a process, which sounded rather similar to the Hindu philosophy of Karmayoga. However, in the last year, the lack of results and the resultant patience of the average fan surely indicated that in spite of the Sangh Parivar's best efforts, the spirit of Hindutva (and its holiest treatise) had not yet perpetuated amongst the masses.
There is no doubt Greg Chappell left Indian cricket in worse shape than he inherited it. In his playing days, he was a tough, no-nonsense, ruthless cricketer, as shown by the underarm incident (which his brother Ian criticised the most, and he himself regretted). The Indian team definitely needed a dose of the same qualities, more so when Ganguly-Wright had ensured that we were a lot more competitive. Yet, to prove that man-management skills are universal, and not necessarily cultural as a lot have tried to explain, he had a fairly ordinary record when coaching the state team of South Australia for six years (with a personal testimonial thrown in by Paul Wilson).
The worrying part was the leaks about the so-called groupism created in the team. Rahul Dravid has been a total team-man, and while his leadership skills might still be developing, this most admirable of cricketers can never be found lacking in supporting his team-mates (ask skipper Ganguly, or ex-deptuy Sehwag). However, I am not so sure of Sachin. For all his recent travails, he can rarely be criticised for interpersonal relationship issues. However, what does, and has got his goat in the past, is demotion from the Opening slot in ODIs, for whatever reasons. First time round, when enforced by selectors during his first captaincy stint, he vacated the throne within a month. Second time round, during one of India's successful one-day period in 2002, he got it back only during the World Cup, when a New-Zealand-pitches' affected Ganguly was forced to surrender it to him. Apparently, this time round, his supposed spat with Chappell happened only when he was forced to vacate the favourite slot.
I am not so unhappy that Chappell has resigned. His penchant for leaking his views and opinions to friends in media was creating havoc. A coach can never be so effective, that he gets away with such shocking man-management. End of day, it is the executing team and the players, not the strategising coach, who will win matches.
However, to ensure that his two years did not go entirely waste, it is critical to get his feedback, and not through a book published in six months time. Chappell might not have been the ideal coach, but he still remains a great thinker of the game, and one of its bluntest speaker. He failed not because of ill-meaning intentions, but because he wanted to run his team with an iron-fist, surrounded by like-minded individuals. (Is that not nepotism, supposedly prevalent in the Indian culture?).
Making Sachin the captain (as the individual players want), or getting him to retire (as Ian suggests), is for the short-term. Having a competitive BCCI-backed ICL running is for the long-term. We can then enjoy the Pontings thrown up.