Mike Selvey in Nagpur
Wednesday March 1, 2006
must have taken 20 minutes or more to get from the entrance of Bangalore
Golf Club to the terrace at the rear. Everyone wanted a slice.
"Congratulations, Mr Chappell . . . Please sign this, sir . . . You
are doing a marvellous job for us . . . A photograph please . . . Hats off
after your wonderful win, Mr Chappell . . ." Greg Chappell obliged
them all courteously. It goes with the territory.
same morning, back at the bungalow in the stunning grounds of the Taj West
End hotel, which is the India coach's base, his wife Judy had taken
delivery of a new DVD player and furniture that had been promised a while
since. Neither put it down to pure coincidence of timing.
disappointing end to the recent Test series in Pakistan and a defeat in
the first of the five one-day internationals that followed, India came
good in resounding fashion, winning all of the remaining four games and
sending a billion people into raptures. "It is astounding, isn't
it?" said Chappell, before observing wryly: "The hats will be
back on soon enough if we start losing. We'll come back home here one day
and be sitting on the floor."
It is nine months
since Chappell, one of the game's great batsmen in his time, gave a
presentation to the Indian board's selection panel on the theme of
"commitment to excellence" and was appointed unanimously as the
man to succeed John Wright and take the side through to the end of the
2007 World Cup. Thus far it has not been the easiest of rides, with
battles to be fought with an often aggressive media and, by no means
least, a vastly publicised and unsettling spat with the former India
captain Sourav Ganguly that has divided sections of the nation, and which
rumbles on still.
That side of
things has proved a disappointment to Chappell, an unwelcome distraction
from the task of taking the side onwards from the level to which Wright
took them during his five years in charge before he became wearied by the
relentless and onerous nature of the task.
For a while, the
Ganguly issue - the captaincy passed to Rahul Dravid after it all came to
a head during the tour of Zimbabwe - became all consuming. For the good of
all, Chappell is keen to move it on from it now. Some years back, Ganguly
had come to him for coaching. "I helped him with his batting
then," said Chappell, "so maybe he thought I would be his mate
and support him now. Certainly there is no way I would have got the job
here without his influence. I'm sure he thought he would be able to run me
as he did John in the latter part of his time as coach. But we clashed
because his needs as a struggling player and captain and those of the team
"I'm not the
hard-nosed control freak that I have been portrayed. I'm thorough, a
realist, a pragmatist and I'm honest. Much has been written and said, a
lot of it misleading, but in essence I told Sourav that if he wanted to
save his career he should consider giving up the captaincy. He was just
hanging in there. Modest innings were draining him. He had no
energy to give to the team, which was helping neither him nor us. It was
in his own interest to give himself mind space to work on his batting so
that it could be resurrected. He was not prepared to do that. What
I didn't realise at that stage was how utterly important to his life and finances being captain was.
controversy will carry on but I have learned if I can't be totally
impervious to it then it is beyond my control. I have to let it wash by
and say 'people have their reasons for saying what they do and I can't be
distracted by that' and do what I believe in. At the end of my time,
whenever that might be, the team and therefore I will be judged ultimately
on the results we achieve, not whether I have been able to convince this
or that member of the media that what we are doing is in the best
interests of Indian cricket."
existence, even for the coach, is something for which no outsider can be
truly prepared. In the hotel lobby after golf, Chappell sat and looked
around at the numerous staff watching his every move, waiting on a whim,
and shook his head. A teenage girl walked by and did a double-take.
"Greg Chappell, oh my God, I don't believe it." Then, beaming,
she just stood and stared, transfixed.
think anyone can imagine just how much of a goldfish bowl it is until you
are in it," Chappell said. "I have travelled here before and
been conscious of it but once you are inside that bowl it is quite
amazing. The job I do carries with it an enormous responsibility, not so
much to my employers but to a cricket-mad nation. I genuinely feel that,
while I am being paid by the BCCI , I am working for the people of India,
those who support the team, and they are many and varied and from all
walks of life. I am lucky that I have been exposed to many different
aspects of this country.
played in the big metros of course but we have also played in some of the
smaller cities and it is quite eye-opening to see how the average person
responds to the Indian cricket team. When we arrive at airports, large
crowds accrue. They want to see the high-profile players, they want to
touch them, get a photograph of them. The most intrusive invention in
modern times has to be the mobile phone-camera because everyone has a
phone, everyone wants an autograph or a snap.
"It is an
unnerving experience to drive out of stadiums after we have won games or
lost them and see the streets lined with people from all walks of life,
particularly those from poorer communities whose only glimpse of the team
would be as the bus flashes past and to see their faces light up. The only
thing I can liken it to is the Beatles motorcade when they arrived in
Australia in the 1960s. People lining the streets from the airport to the
city. That happens here every day with this team.
have the status of pop stars and the response is very much like that. I am
constantly amazed and impressed by the way the players cope with it. For a
while I wondered why some of them didn't respond to all these waving
people and smiling faces and I realised they can't afford to. Just to give
a little bit of emotion to each person would drain them. So they really do
just have to live in their own private little world as they are carried
from hotel to ground, from ground to airport, from airport to plane, to
the next airport and the next horde of waiting people all wanting a touch,
a glimpse of their heroes.
oblige as much as is humanly possible. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, is
still the one who is most in demand and the way in which he just copes
serenely with it is a lesson to us all. You know he gives what he can but
he has learned that there is a limit. So he gives that much and then has
to shut himself down. But we do realise our responsibility to a billion
people, most of whom follow avidly the fortunes of the side. The passion
we receive has no middle ground, no grey area. It teeters from one extreme
to the other.
"There was a
very poignant photograph in the paper one day recently just before we
played in Lahore. A lot of Indian supporters wanted to come to the match.
Now they can cross the border but you have to drive there, then leave the
car and walk across and get a car or bus the other side. It is a huge
effort for many to support the team.
was of a woman, elderly, scrambling through the border. It is for people
such as her that we are playing the game and the players and I realise
that. We pinned the picture on the dressing room wall to remind us. We
drew a lot of inspiration from that."