Chappell takes on Tendulkar- and loses
Departing Indian Cricket Coach Greg Chappell has been holed up in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel, a sanctuary with a long pool hidden in the gardens and the pictures of famous visitors lining its walls.
Chappell is seeing out his last days in India by travelling from his room to crisis meetings at nearby Wankhede Stadium, where he will present a report on the team’s World Cup.Indian cricket was always going to destroy Chappell. He is reported to have said he would resign after the World Cup whether he won or lost. He argued that if the latter happened, he would be forced out. If India won, the job would become unbearable because the senior players’ position would be further strengthened.
Not even the third umpire can establish whether Chappell was pushed or jumped, but the most extraordinary thing was not that he fell victim to the blood-letting, but rather that it was Sachin Tendulkar who delivered the final blow.
The Little Master is reserved and religious, more Mahatma Gandhi than Machiavelli, but when he spoke out against the Australian, the cricket world took notice. It was a sign of just how bad things had become.
Three years ago, Chappell’s predecessor, John Wright, stayed at the Taj as his tenure as India coach came to an end. Over beer at Tendulkar’s nearby bar, the New Zealander regaled a group of journalists with tall tales about his time in the job.
The political intrigues and constant infighting would have broken a lesser man but the former Test player wasn’t bitter or even that frustrated. He loved the country and if he hadn’t been able to oversee the changes needed to drag the team towards the professional and mental standards needed, he’d given it his best shot.
Wright knew there were senior players in the side who would never bend. Their seniority, talent and political connections set them apart from criticism or pressure.
In his book Indian Summers, he wrote about a conversation with one player after the team had surrendered to the West Indies. The cricketer told his coach there were players in the team who lacked the will to fight.
“He named names: they were exactly the same names as I had on my list,” Wright said.
The coach didn’t name anybody in the book, but at Tendulkar’s bar he was insistent on one thing: Rahul Dravid was your man. Your future captain. The one bloke independent of the politics and bastardry.
In 2004 Wright had turned to Dravid to captain the side when the manipulative Sourav Ganguly had developed a last-minute groin strain during a very Indian cricket-politics dispute over the Nagpur pitch.
Chappell apparently had a list of underperformers, too, and also turned to Dravid. Indeed, one of his first and bravest acts as coach was to send Ganguly packing and appoint the champion batsman as his successor. The political fallout was extraordinary, but Chappell survived, although not before writing a scathing memo to the board that was leaked.
“I have serious reservations about the attitude of some players and about Sourav and his ability to take this team to a new high. It is time for him to move on and let someone else build their team toward the 2007 World Cup,” he wrote. Chappell said Ganguly played politics with selections and the batting order.
“I am not prepared to sit back and allow this to continue or we will get the same results we have been seeing for some time,” Chappell wrote.
Ironically, Ganguly worked his way back into the World Cup side as experiments with younger players failed, but it wasn’t his re-emergence that ended Chappell’s tenure.
Things had apparently been quite ugly between the coach and players in the Caribbean. Virender Sehwag is even said to have asked for a special coaching session with Chappell at 6.30am and not shown up.
On return to India, two of the players spoke to the Cricinfo website on condition of anonymity.
“Give us anyone but him,” one said. “He has not done any good for this team. He has no respect for the players and looks to blame one of them any time the team loses. A coach is supposed to give the players confidence, not create insecurity.”
Chappell’s battle with Ganguly was brave but if the stories coming from the subcontinent are correct, it was his decision to target Tendulkar that was his ultimate undoing.
Tendulkar is untouchable, in the western sense of the word, but Chappell was having none of that. He questioned the batsman’s fitness and later pushed him down to the middle order. Tendulkar was furious and a protracted argument broke out.
It was with this as the background that the Little Master returned to India and heard that Chappell was about to include his name among the players whose attitude was suspect.
A year ago, selector Yashpal Sharma revealed that Chappell did not trust Ganguly, Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and a fifth player. This week Sharma claimed the fifth player was Tendulkar.
“The truth has come out, but it’s too late, and come in a rather humiliating manner,” Sharma said.
In the end, the whispering was too much for Tendulkar and he launched a scathing attack in the press.
“Things have gone a bit too far to keep quiet,” he said. “I’ve given my heart and my soul for 17 years. Cricket has been my life for all these years and will always be.
“The World Cup was our passion, our collective goal, our dream and that has been shattered. We all are terribly disappointed.
“We played badly and, as a team, we take full responsibility for that. But what hurt us most is if the coach has questioned our attitude.”
Chappell resigned within hours of the outburst, no doubt aware that he had picked the wrong fight.