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Wright or Chappell?
by Partab Ramchand
Sep 06, 2007
The opinion expressed by Rahul Dravid in a recent interview that John Wright adapted to his role as Indian coach better than Greg Chappell is final confirmation of how and why the Kiwi succeeded where the more famous Australian failed.

That great players do not necessarily make good coaches is an accepted truism in the world of sport. Playing is one thing while coaching requires different skills altogether. A good coach has to be firm, yet at times diplomatic. He should be able to get his point across without ruffling too many feathers. He has to be excellent at man management, at getting the best out of the players under his command. He has to motivate the players to give off that little extra when the situation demands.

It is here that Wright was seen in better light than Chappell. Shortly after he took over in November 2000 as the first foreign coach of the Indian team Wright quickly sized up the situation and knew that his job required a bit of diplomacy. As Dravid has put it both Chappell and Wright had difficulty in coming to terms with certain aspects of the Indian dressing room but while the New Zealander was willing to compromise a bit the Aussie wanted to rule with an iron fist.

That did not mean that Wright kept quiet when the situation demanded words or action from him. But generally he remained affable, accessible and communicative. As a public relations man the former New Zealand captain had few equals. He maintained a good personal and professional relationship with Sourav Ganguly and the result was a successful 4-1/2 year tenure. That generally happens when a side is a happy lot and the Indian team blended as a unit. The batting might of the Indians was in glorious evidence as they ran up totals of 705 for seven declared and 675 for five declared. And these were not recorded on Indian pitches but abroad. Centuries, double centuries and even a triple century were notched up.

The bowling, supposedly the weak link, backed the lustrous batting and nothing was more symbolic than Anil Kumble, who had a pretty mediocre away record, playing a notable role in Indian victories abroad. India won Tests in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, England and West Indies, rubbers in England and Australia were squared while a historic series triumph was registered in Pakistan. The Indians converted the ignominy of a follow on into a famous triumph at Kolkata in 2001. The NatWest Trophy triumph in England in 2002, the joint champions tag with the hosts in the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka later that year and a place in the final of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa were notable achievements in limited overs cricket. The Indians were mentally tougher and while Ganguly received the lion’s share of the credit, there was much praise too for Wright who did his job in a quietly efficient manner. And at the end of the tenure it could clearly be seen that the plus far outweighed the minus in the final balance sheet. Perhaps the finest tribute paid to Wright was by Dravid who in the recent interview said that ``John had problems at the start but unlike Greg he was prepared to adapt and by the end he (Wright) was more Indian than the Indians.’’

At the start of the 2005-06 season Chappell took over amidst a lot of goodwill. But the Aussie did not take long in showing his abrasive ways. He had an infamous spat with a captain who was almost a revered figure thanks to results which proclaimed him as the most successful captain in Indian cricket history. Chappell got Ganguly out of the way not only as captain but also as player. He came through as a highly individualistic personality with dictatorial tendencies and found an ally in the less assertive Dravid who succeeded Ganguly. But could `Mr Nice Guy’ Dravid keep the ambitions of a megalomaniac personality like Chappell under control? The answer was in the negative for Chappell started putting his fanciful theories into practice and at the start of the 2006-07 season it was obvious that he had emerged as the dominant figure and was controlling the fortunes of Indian cricket.

The season was one unmitigated disaster. Losing became a habit for the Indian team. They failed to qualify for the final in the DLF Cup in Kuala Lumpur a three-team competition. They failed to make the semifinals in the Champions Trophy held in their own backyard. They were routed 4-0 in the ODI series in South Africa and also lost the Test series. The few crumbs of comfort were the expected victories at home, a series win in the Caribbean and a maiden Test victory in South Africa. And then of course came the biggest debacle – the first round exit in the World Cup. At the end of the Chappell – Dravid tenure the report card for the Men in Blue read positively red and compared poorly with the report card displayed by the Wright – Ganguly combine.

It is a poor general who blames his troops for failure in battle and that is why it was becoming more and more tiring listening to Chappell’s refrain ``They are not playing well enough’’ - a totally irresponsible and utterly unacceptable line. Chappell was taking the easy way out by putting the blame on the players. But had he done some introspection and asked himself some tough questions? Why was the team not playing well? Why were the players out of form for such an extended period? Why was the confidence level down?

My own view had always been that Chappell failed in his role as a motivator and as an inspiring father figure. That is a coach’s main role. Chappell was an unmitigated failure because he failed to adapt as Dravid has now conceded. Thanks to his abrasive approach the Indians tactically, technically and temperamentally were playing like losers. They went about their tasks like lost lambs in the great African jungle. But perhaps the most important reason was that they did not appear to be a happy lot. And why were the players not happy? Because the side had been tinkered with and there was a sense of insecurity among some of the team members. Because they had lost the winning habit and nothing was being done to revive it. By now questions were being asked openly and agitatedly. Was the coach doing his job effectively? Was he fulfilling his responsibilities? Was he being the guiding spirit a good coach is expected to be? Had he provided a touch of inspiration in keeping with his reputation as one of the giants of post-war Australian cricket?

By the end of the World Cup it was clear that Chappell had isolated the players who feared approaching him. He had destroyed the confidence of the team members. On his return from the Caribbean he went from bad to worse blaming the selectors for picking the wrong team for the World Cup and the senior players who he said operated like a `mafia’ ganging up against the juniors. Such was the nature of his allegations that even the normally reticent Sachin Tendulkar had to speak out making it one of the unhappiest periods for the game in India.

Thankfully all this is behind us but Dravid’s revelation is important in that it will serve as a yardstick for any future Indian coach as to how he should adapt himself to arguably the most demanding job in world cricket.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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