A few selective leaks have come out of Greg Chappell’s new book called Fierce Focus and are doing the rounds in the international sports media. What Chappell has said is not a startling insight into the secret world of Sachin Tendulkar as the lead paragraph of the Herald Sun story proclaims.
Allow me to show how it is, in fact, another glimpse into the twisted mind of Greg Chappell. Of course, Chappell and his opinion don’t deserve all the attention but Tendulkar does and so all these weird innuendos about him that keep coming in at significant moments from the two brothers must be seen as a whole. Tendulkar has lately been front page news for all the wrong reasons—extracts from Shoiab Akhtar’s book, articles culled from Jayant Lele’s recent book and the Chappell insight have all come at a time when he’s had a rare failure in a high profile series after a long time.
Guru Greg has an old habit of dealing in obvious statements for not-so-obvious reasons. It is plain that Tendulkar would have been beset with self-doubts and frustrated with his form not once but perhaps many times in his career so why is Chappell harping on it now.
Back in mid-September 2010 Shekhar Gupta interviewed Harbhajan Singh for a TV show and the transcript headline captured the most-important point: “Chappell was a disaster. He was after Sachin. He wanted Sachin to retire.”
Much before Fierce Focus Harbhajan said: “You couldn’t go and talk to him about anything. As a player, if I go to the coach and tell him, ‘Sir, my hand is not coming like this, what do you think’ or ‘I am not confident, what do I do’, his job is to give me hausla (courage). But he, instead, would go to the press and say that he is not good, he lacks confidence.”
There is something about Tendulkar that sends the Chappell brothers into a spin though they are loath to admit it. The pattern is to come out with a frank and stinging comment and then when proven wrong to either retract or concoct some other story. When Greg Chappell took over the team in the spring of 2005 Tendulkar was in London having a surgery for his tennis elbow.
Just two days after his appointment as India’s coach Australia’s Sunday tabloid Sun Herald along with The Sunday Age (both belonging to Fairfax Media) carried a story by journalist Will Swanton based on a telephonic conversation with Greg Chappell in New Delhi.
The story wasn’t a non sequitur and what Chappell said was within the realm of rationality. It was the timing of the story that was odd and the need to say what he said before he had actually taken formal charge of the team (only his appointment had been finalised) put a question mark, in hindsight, on his man management skills.
The lead paragraph said: “Greg Chappell doubts whether Sachin Tendulkar can return to the dizzy heights of his pomp, but India’s new coach will do everything in his power to get the little master back on track as he tries to guide his adopted country past Australia as the finest in the cricketing world.”
The story was candid and perhaps honest as well but you have an extraordinary player who has had a protracted ordinary period and even if you believe completely what you feel about the situation your spelling it out as the coach of the team is another dampener that Tendulkar has to deal with along with all his other demons.
From April 2004 Tendulkar had gone flat in Test matches and then for over three months he was sidelined when tennis elbow first struck him as a freak injury. He returned against Australia on a green top in Nagpur and failed in both innings. Then he conjured a minor gem of 55 on a rank turner in Mumbai where India won. Then he went flat again.
Surprisingly his ODI form was resplendent. After the surgery in 2005 he returned in an ODI to play his first game under Chappell against Sri Lanka in Nagpur. A score of 93 in 96 balls was Tendulkar’s riposte to speculations about his future. Tendulkar’s 95 on a seaming wicket in Lahore where Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul were operating like venomous Cobras and had reduced India to 12 for two was an innings for the ages. Imran Khan was floored with the performance and captain Dravid was lavish in his praise.
Then the whole fiasco of the 2007 World Cup, and Chappell later saying that we came here with a flawed group and got the result we deserved. Ian Chappell poured some acid in his column for Mid-Day and said that Tendulkar was history and should hang his boots.
In February this year Greg Chappell admitted his mistake and said that if the same situation of Tendulkar batting down the order confronted him again he would handle it differently.
This is what the Sri Lankan captain had to say about Tendulkar’s wicket the day India crashed out. “Then came the key scalp: Sachin [Tendulkar]. His loss was a huge blow for the Indian dressing room, sapping them of precious team-belief. That was a major turning point.” Kumar also said he felt bad for India’s cricketers—a favour that the same core unit returned with interest in 2011, this time chasing an even bigger score in a World Cup final.
March 23, 2007 India was out of the World Cup in the first round and Chappell resigned. The difference between the team that played with fear in Port of Spain and the one that played with fire in Mumbai is just four players and only two of them were regular seniors. Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar were replaced by Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, and Sreesanth. The other big difference was that the man behind the scene this time was Gary Kirsten.
The 2007 coach reportedly questioned the Master’s attitude and an angry and teary Tendulkar let go. The Board made Tendulkar retract. In the Feb. 2011 story Chappell also clarified that he never questioned Tendulkar’s commitment. The timing: right before the World Cup.
This is what Gary Kirsten had to say after his last match with India: “Sachin is the greatest sporting role model I’ve met in my life,” Kirsten said. “He’s had an incredible last three or four years, and he’s enjoying his cricket even more. I don’t think he is going to stop.”
Greg Chappell’s timing in coming out with sensational or not-so-sensational stuff is a fascinating study. In mid-November 2007, the Herald Sun carried a long-story with the headline ‘India old and selfish, says former coach Greg Chappell.’ The lead: “MANY of India’s cricket superstars are well past their best and need to be replaced by fresh faces for the coming tour of Australia, former coach Greg Chappell has warned.
Chappell’s honest opinion has poured cold water on the hopes of many cricket fans that the Indians would provide a more competitive series against the Australians in an already dull summer of cricket.” Chappell expected India to be well-beaten. The story by Ron Reed just before the four Test series is classic Greg Chappell—embittered by his own failure as a coach and spewing venom.
Brother Ian is a more interesting guy to listen to purely because he’s been a successful captain and his frank observations must be considered carefully by opposition captains. Not that he’s always right.
India lost in Melbourne and won in Perth; the den where Australia used a four-pronged pace attack. Adelaide was a draw. And Sydney was the whole point. The first innings scores of the old man and their strike-rates were 62 at 80.51 in Melbourne, 154 not out at 63.37 in Sydney, 71 at 55.46 at Perth, and 153 at 74.63 in Adelaide. He finished as the top-scorer of the series.
Talk about dizzy heights of the past turn meaningless when you do things even better than the past. Tendulkar had never scored so-consistently at such-high strike rates in any of his previous three tours Down Under. Only his demolition of Australia at home in 1998 had been more brutal.
Hey, what about Sir Donald Bradman. This is his dream team including (in batting order with twelfth man)— Barry Richards (South Africa), Arthur Morris (Australia), Don Bradman (Australia), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Garry Sobers (West Indies), Don Tallon (Australia), Ray Lindwall (Australia), Dennis Lillee (Australia), Alec Bedser (England), Bill O’Reilly (Australia), Clarrie Grimmett (Australia) and Wally Hammond (England) (12th man).
Sorry, no one from the four Chappell family members who played for Australia was good enough in the Don’s estimation. My views are contrarian and so Bradman is not an infallible authority in my book but the Chappells worship him and have an obligation to fall in line.
After the Sydney Test Australia has lost five Tests against India and managed a few draws but a win has eluded them. Chappell’s words came back to bite Australia as there were no immediate casualties for India but Australia lost a lot of men after the 2007 series against India.
Out of the teams that lined up for the 2008 New Year Test in Sydney, Australia has lost Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee, and Brad Hogg due to retirements; Phil Jaques and Stuart Clark due to selection; and Andrew Symonds for fishing. India has had retirements of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble while Wasim Jaffer has been dropped.
The lead can be written differently: MANY of Australian cricket’s superstars were ageing and needed replacement and this fact dawned on them after they lost two back-to-back Test series’ against India with the core of the Indian team remaining intact.
Hogg and Gilchrist retired right after the 2007-08 series and within a year’s time, at the end of the 2009 New Year Test against South Africa; Hayden, Lee, Jaques, Clark, and Symonds were all out of reckoning.
After Ian Chappell’s Mirror, Mirror on the wall piece at the end of the 2007 World Cup Tendulkar has been peerless. Since Jonathan Trott has been one of the more-successful international players though in a limited period I’ve picked him as a yardstick vis-à-vis Tendulkar to see where the Master is.
In 23 Test matches Trott has made 1965 runs at 57.79 with a strike rate of 48.51 with six hundreds and seven fifties. In ODIs he’s played 40 matches for 1798 runs at 51.37 with a strike rate of 78.51 having scored 3 hundreds and seven fifties.
The Master has played 46 Test matches for 4297 runs at 60.52 with 16 hundreds and 18 fifties. Tendulkar has played 69 ODIs for 3264 runs at 51 with 7 hundreds and 18 fifties. The comparison is not fair to Trott as he is still a rookie and can’t be compared with the greatest-ever but it is done only to show that Tendulkar is still one of the best in the business after 21 years of cricket. Dwelling into strike-rates is going into the obvious as the career strike rate in the ODIs for the Master is 86.32 and from the 2008/09 season onwards he’s struck at a rate of 95, 95.47, 100, and 88.60. The Test strike rates also bend decisively towards Tendulkar.
The timing of Chappell’s story is again interesting as India gets ready to tour Australia, just like he came up with a story that India would be well-beaten in November 2007, and quite like his undermining of Tendulkar as soon as he had joined, and then his sudden about turn before the 2011 World Cup. This time Chappell might be expecting Australia to be well-beaten as he’s also given a clarion call to Australian cricket in his book, an extract of which has been published: Chappell says be bold or fail.
The Mid-Day ran a story saying ‘Don’t read too much into it’ and gave one-half of the answer as there are only two ways that make complete sense: either look into nothing or into everything.
India can do without the diversionary screeds of Greg Chappell. They must prepare well, have the right guys fit and fresh, get the maximum out of the two tour games, remember the lessons learnt from the England series and throw the rest of the baggage. Players must stop reacting to whatever Chappell has to say and just concentrate on winning the series. A win is always the best answer.