Friday, November 11, 2005

Is Greg Chappell good for Indian Cricket?

I write this at a time when Team India is winning and winning well against the Sri Lankans in cricket. The 7-match ODI series is in the bag for the Indians and, with one match to go in the series, the scoreline reads 5-1 in favour of Team India. Everyone in India is smiling. Sahara has re-engaged with Team India as its official sponsor. BCCI elections fiascos are suddennly forgotten and fogrgiven! No one cares anymore who is running BCCI today! And it appears that all roads are already pointing to an Indian victory in the 2007 World Cup! Mandira Bedi has already selected her pasta strap dresses from her wardrobe (perhaps noodle straps are passe now?) in readiness for the 2007 World Cup! Soon, someone will write a song-and-dance sequence for the team that will bring back the cup! Another movie like "Lagaan" will, no doubt, hit the production desk soon!

Just prior to the Sri Lankans arriving in India, the team had gloom and doom written all over it. Ganguly, the then captain, and Greg Chappell, the coach, had had their public spat. Rediff called it the Maha Yudh (or, the "Big War") of Indian Cricket. Indeed, there were many writers (and their ghosts!) including Ranatunga and Charlie Austin who had written Team India off. Charlie Austin compared the contrasting fortunes of the two Aussie coaches (Chappell and Moody) in their "honeymoon periods" with their respective teams. Writing on Cricinfo, he said:

Chappell, meanwhile, was plunged into controversy. During his first tour, the Indian Oil Cup, the first murmurs of dissatisfaction leaked out as some players privately indicated unease with his love of theory. Then a damaging rift opened up with Sourav Ganguly during the Zimbabwe tour that followed. The Ganguly Issue, a spat played out in the full glare of the Indian and world media, openly divided the team and uncertainly now lingers over both Ganguly's and Chappell's futures. Ganguly's timely tennis elbow created a convenient opportunity for the selectors to appoint Rahul Dravid as captain, easing the tension, but the road ahead still looks rocky.

Ranatunga weighed into the captaincy debate. At the start of the India-SL series, he talked about the "huge chasm between the two teams". He also bemoaned the lack of planning in Indian cricket and talked about the excellent work of the Sri Lankan Cricket Committee, of which he is the chair. After the finals of the Indian Oil cup (which India lost to Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka) he also talked about India's fielding. Writing on Cricinfo, he wrote:

India could be the worst fielding side in the world at present. They allowed extra runs in the field and lost a few while running between the wickets during the final of the Indian Oil Cup against Sri Lanka. Add them all up and you have the difference between winning and losing.

Meanwhile, in Kolkata, Kiran More, the chair of the selection panel had other fires to put out as his effigy was burnt by irate fans!

And despite scoring a century against a good, young, agile and solid North Zone team, Ganguly was not considered worthy of being India captain or indeed, a player. Suddenly, like a mushroom that shot out the ground overnight, a website was launched "to mourn, condemn and discuss the pathetic state of Indian cricket embodied by Sourav 'no-fastbowling-please' Ganguly".

Things were dire for Indian cricket!

Flash back to 2001, when the betting scandal hit Indian cricket, India had just been trounced in Australia and Sachin Tendulkar resigned as captain. A courageous leader was born then! Ganguly stepped forward then with pride and passion and took the proverbial by the horns.

He infused in the team, a sense of pride. He stared his opponents in the eye. He abandoned Gandhism in the land of Gandhi and took more than an eye for an eye. When an opponent slapped him on one cheek, he demanded both cheeks of the perpetrator. He never shirked a fight. When reason demanded it, he even took his team shirt off and swirled it with pride that would have brought a smile to a lion's face. It hurt him when India whimpered to defeat without a fight. He taught the team how to fight back; how to win. He soon became India's winningest captain! He backed youth. He backed his players and built a trusted band of followers around him. He was a great captain and a terrific leader of men. Make no doubt of that.

But then more was needed. He could not dig deep and find it. The troubled man perhaps could not find more amidst his own batting woes. And just as even the best wine turns to vinegar with a sense of sorrowful inevitability, the team trudged more and more into the cancer of self-preservation. The captain was the worst perpetrator in this regard. He had to go...

The change of coach hastened the highlighting of the malaise that all of India knew.

The Holy War was waged and Chappell emerged successful. The deposed captain retreated with a bruised elbow and a shattered ego.

Enter Rahul Dravid, stage right -- or is it "the right stage"?

The new coach and the new captain set about the repair job? How can a team that is so badly in the dumps stage a recovery? And stage a recovery they indeed did.

Together, captain and coach are mouthing management speak that would make Jack Welch wince with embarassment! Dravid talked about individual goals and processes. Greg Chappell talks about attitude, individual goals, aims, vision and process. Ranatunga is suddenly a convert! Not only does he think that Team India is raising the bar in every game, albeit in a cocky manner, he thinks India is the only team that can beat the Aussies! In his article on November 10, he writes:

Greg Chappell has practically built alternative for every spot. Instead of 11, India now have 22 players to choose from. As I hear names of VRV Singh and Piyush Chawla, it seems there is no let-up in experiments yet.

Interestingly, Australians are not doing the same. The nucleus of their side is still the same old faces. These men have been irrepressible gladiators but are already in their 30s. If in two years time they lose their edge, Australia could have a problem on hand. The new faces we see in their side from time to time have not looked exceptional.

What an amazing turnaround from the wily old master ex-SriLankan captain in the space of three months (to the date)!

So, is Greg Chappell good for Indian cricket? Yes, without a doubt. He has brought a new steely edge to Team India. If Ganguly believed in youth, Greg Chappell takes it to a different level. He has brought in youth. He has assigned them seniors as their mentors. In a manner similar to throwing meat into a lion's den, he has chucked these strapping young men into the thick of things with the mantra "Perform or Persish". Not original maybe. But it is working!

There are two things that worry me though! It is not the first time that I have heard Greg Chappell say that "cricket is a game of failures"! Duh! Serve me right for wanting India to win! I was backing the wrong horse! Chanderpaul may lay claim to being the best captain in the world if failure was the yardstick!!

The other aspect of his leadership that worries me a bit is his over emphasis on process and under emphasis on outcomes. Yes, there is no doubt that good processes will yield good outcomes. As I continually say to my own team, good outcomes are a result of a good plan (strategic and operational plan). However, an over-focus on process may just lead to a stifling of creativity. It may mean that the means are more important than the end. To me, they are both important. One can't lose sight of end outcome as well as the important smaller outcomes (signals) along the way.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that, the time was right for lifting the bar in Indian cricket. Greg Chappell is the right man at the right time. The team did need to be lifted from the cancer that had set in. Time to move onwards and forwards...

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