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How is Chappell responsible?
Arvind Lavakare
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April 03, 2007 12:19 IST
A defeat was expected, but not a disaster as transpired. And if our team got ejected in the World Cup's first round itself, it was because the squad played worse than what was visualised by the realist --- call him the cynic if you will.

Now the public is baying for blood. Nobody is being spared: coach Chappell, captain Dravid, our Cricket Board, Tendulkar and the rest of the team, the sponsors, the media hype, the bookies and even the gods themselves for not effecting the miracle of a Bermuda victory over Bangladesh. There's the wrath of passion all round.

The 'sack Chappell' cry is the loudest. But even a fortnight after the disaster, one just can't see the discerning eye pointing out the man's precise mistakes. The latest is that by his confidential disclosures to the media and selected individuals, the coach caused divisiveness in the team.

It's laughable that the alleged dissension is responsible, for instance, for Tendulkar's reflexes slowing down to the extent that he's getting increasingly bowled or otherwise befuddled by sheer pace. And if infighting in the team is indeed a reality, then our players, old and young, have obviously forgotten the sense of commitment and responsibility imposed on them when they wear the nation's colours.

The World Cup on

How is Chappell responsible for this dereliction of duty --- to self, to the team, to one's family and to one's motherland?

The only somewhat plausible complaint against coach Chappell is his persistence with the mantra of 'flexibility'. That may well be why, in Chappell's attempt to boost Irfan Pathan's batting skills and convert him into a left-handed Kapil Dev, Pathan lost his pace and his skill of swinging the ball in to the right-handed batsman. But that's like a high school boy forgetting his arithmetic when told to improve his algebra, and forgetting his algebra when asked to improve his geometry. If that indeed was the Chappell effect on Pathan, the Vadodara lad is hardly the intelligent cricketer we all thought he was.

Is that inherent lack of versatility the reason why our specialist bowlers just can't bat without embarrassing everybody? Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have withered even in the limited batting skills they once had. Agarkar is perpetually in a hurry to get back to the dressing room, his bygone Test century at Lord's ready to be in Ripley's collection of the unbelievable. Zaheer Khan and Srisaanth die trying to be heroic, and Munaf Patel as well as R P Singh and Nehra look so fragile, if not entirely comical, with the willow in hand.

Result: when we lose our sixth wicket, the end invariably has seemed dangerously near during Chappell's regime. Did the coach insist or not that our specialist bowlers all do long batting stints in the nets rather than spending hours on end at the gym or playing volley ball? If not, blame Chappell; not otherwise. But did any in the busybody media ever tell us that?

Blame Chappell, hang him, if he has also not devised methods to drastically improve our batsmen's running between the wickets. Despite his much lauded comeback, Ganguly continues to be the major offender of this critical part of all forms of cricket, especially the one-day variety.

Unlike all top teams excepting Pakistan, our top batsmen so often get paralysed in feet and mind for no ostensible reason. Yet, not one in our array of statisticians has cared to enlighten the public with an estimate of the runs lost to our team because of this poor running between the stumps. Why? Because there's only passion, and it's without a knowing eye.

Our statisticians impress our media -- and the millions beguiled by the media -- with the thousands of runs amassed by our so-called 'world class' batting often dubbed as the 'finest in the world'. But nobody asks why, if this is so, we always enter a match with four specialist bowlers, preferring to pack the team with seven batsmen, a couple of whom can turn their arm over to complete the quota of 50 overs. The reason is plain: Diffidence of our 'star batsmen', of 'the world's best line-up'.

This diffidence is crystal clear in the virtual fear of taking a stance outside the popping crease to quick bowlers --- the way, for instance, Hayden, Jayasuriya, Graeme Smith and Lara do. Pity is that not one among the array of ex-cricketers who do duty for television and the print media has brought it to public attention as to how this strategy helps to shorten the ball's length, upsets the bowler and makes a greater demand on the wicket-keeper.

Therefore, nobody has ever asked Chappell in any of dozens of press conferences as to whether he ever tried to get our batsmen to adopt that tactic.

Now consider our bowlers. Is Chappell responsible for not teaching our bowlers how to finish off the enemy's tail-end batsmen?

Or is that our bowlers just don't have the toe-breaking yorkers?

Is it because our spin bowlers of today just don't believe in taking wickets by inducing false strokes through tantalising, tempting flight?

Has any ex-cricketer of ours commented on the fact that our two foremost spinners prefer to get batsmen only with turn and spin from the pitch rather than with allurement-cum-deception in the air. Has Chappell been responsible for this? Nobody has asked.

Our statisticians only highlight the large number of wickets Harbhajan Singh has taken. But nobody asks why he should be regarded as the supreme spinner who can be replaced only by Kumble. The fact is that Harbhajan Singh is still cashing in on his one magical season against the visiting Aussies six years ago. He will continue to be just about average as long as he employs his diagonal run-up and directs most of his deliveries at the middle-and-leg stump, making it so convenient for the batsmen to tuck him on the on side without being in danger of getting out lbw excepting to the 'doosra' which seems the only extra weapon that our man has.

Actually, Ramesh Powar is certainly a better off-spinner with his variation of tempting flight, his dip and swerve, and a line of attack on the off-stump or a little outside it.

Has anyone asked Chappell or the selection committee's chairman to adjudge between Harbhajan Singh and Powar as off-spinners? How many ex-Test stars and media people advocated that Powar be put under a special trainer to remove his excess weight in a specified period?

This essay is an attempt to show that our public's current disgust with cricket is because the sport with many nuances is viewed in India only as a mere passion to be lived out day in and day out without knowing those nuances or caring to understand them.

The best example of such flippant thinking in our entire nation's cricket thinking was the recent remark of Krishnamachari Srikanth, our ex-opener and captain. Speaking on the 'Extraa Innings' show of the World Cup telecast, the man said that if an opener in a one-day match got a slam bang 30 or 40 runs, he must be considered as having done his job. But Jayasuriya, Gilchrist, Hayden, Graeme Smith, de Villiers, Fleming and Gayle --- all of them just don't see it that way, the way they aggressively go on pursuing a century for their team. That's why they are where they are and Srikanth is on the idiot box.

What seems worst of all is that our players seem to think that they oblige the country by wearing its colours rather than the other way around. That is why, maybe, reports indicate that the players think it's their right to expect every conceivable facility from the Cricket Board, to make millions of rupees out of cricket every which way and to sulk at the slightest speck on their ego. They cannot even imagine, one supposes, that, as penance for their recent deed in the Caribbean, they should offer to play one full season for the nation without a contract and without match fees.

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