Greg Chappell: 'I am more committed today than the day I started'

Greg Chappell is ready to lock horns with England after surviving burning effigies and a skirmish with Sourav Ganguly. Richard Edmondson talks to India's coach
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The Independent Online

The smoke has cleared from the great subcontinental cricketing battlefield and a victor has emerged. India have beaten Pakistan, in the recent one-day series, but that is but a minor skirmish.

The most contentious of power struggles ended on Thursday evening when Sourav Ganguly, the most successful of India's captains, was left out of the Test series which begins against England at Nagpur on Wednesday. Standing on his breastplate was Greg Chappell, the India coach. The Aussie rules.

Chappell, a former captain of his country, took over from John Wright as coach to the Indian national side last year. He arrived with a vision. And Ganguly, the skipper, was in a blind spot. There followed a leaked memo, questioning Ganguly's contribution to the cause, and a subsequent backlash in the Punjab man's native Calcutta, which saw Chappell effigies burning in the streets. There was also the raising of the middle finger to the crowd when Chappell encountered ground resistance among Ganguly followers. But now the final thumbs-down is for Sourav himself. Chappell and the India selection committee have determined that old is out and the new most definitely in. That an ordinary Indian is required in the dressing-room rather than another chief.

Chappell himself pretends he does not know what all the fuss is about. But then he was like this as a player, always the good guy in comparison with his moustachioed brother Ian, the family desperado in looks and attitude. The same devilish genes were there, however.

Witness this month's silver anniversary of one of the most notorious incidents in one-day cricket, when Chappell instructed another brother, Trevor, to bowl underarm against New Zealand when six was needed to tie the match. Witness the fortunes of Ganguly. Ruthlessness still lives within Greg Chappell. As does the general's diplomatic reflex.

Chappell says he does not recognise the popular depiction of his relationship with Ganguly. "There is no fire and I can't even see any smoke," he said yesterday. "The whole thing probably had much more significance in the media than the team. The selectors made a decision to look to the future and that is very much where I am focused."

Youth may be wasted on the young, but there has been no misuse from the tiro Indians in Pakistan. Yuvraj Singh, the man of the one-day series, vindicated Chappell's decision to back him in preference to Ganguly as the stroke-playing left-hander in the middle order. If Rahul Dravid, the captain, is known as "The Wall", Yuvraj is another brick.

Newest on the block is Sree Sreesanth, the hustling paceman who is certainly bonkers enough to be a fast bowler. He is about to change his name to Sreesunth on the advice of a Bombay numerologist whom he consulted during the one-day international series, as well as switching his shirt number from 55 to 36 during the series because his lucky number is nine.

And then there is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the wicketkeeper and murderous batsman who is spawning a national obsession with mocha and blond streaks in his long hair. On Thursday, the Jharkhand government gave him a 5,000sq ft housing plot in the state capital to reward his hard-hitting achievements and he also received blessing from a yoga guru in front of 20,000 people. His father continues to fend off multiple marriage proposals for the son.

This is the Chappell-designed future, even if his own craggy features and greying hair betray a life of 57 years. There remains, however, the upright princeliness that Chappell carried as the outstanding Australian batsman of his generation.

Now he has cured an old problem, a new one has arisen, in a hail of corks. India continues to celebrate after the 4-1 thrashing of Pakistan in the one-day series. But, as a post-Ashes England proved, maintaining intensity after vanquishing the oldest of foes is a difficult feat. It is like surviving Armageddon and then going to the local whist drive.

"It is difficult to get yourself up all the time," Chappell added. "Teams and individuals do go through that lull. We have got to be aware of that, but it should be that the infusion of new blood will help us in that regard."

There is new life, too, in Chappell's coaching tenure after the ultimate humiliation of a Test series defeat in Pakistan. Only in the most fleeting of moments, as the effigies were once again glowing, did the man himself consider extinguishing his own commitment to India. "It has probably flashed across my mind once or twice," he said, "but I have never got to the stage where I thought it was not worth it.

"I have an unflinching commitment to the job. I am more committed today than I was the day I started because I have seen what can be done. I have seen what can be achieved if we get the right people with the right commitment together."

The Chappells got a lot out of Pakistan. The coach's wife, Judy, picked up as a memento a half-smoked cigar chomped by the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, which has found a place into the scrapbook at their Bangalore residence. There was, perhaps fittingly, a smokescreen, too, from the coach as he praised an Indian bowling attack acknowledged as the weakest for years. "Though the series was lost, there were a lot of positives," he said. "It was a tough series on flat wickets but our bowlers showed great resilience."

Whenever criticism of the team has arisen, especially of the bowling squadron, the old Anzac has come out of the trenches. "We do not need a bowling coach," Chappell added. "We have got hundreds of bowling coaches. We have got Michael Holding on television who tells us everything we have to do."

Now it is time for Chappell's personal old enemy, the ones against whom he scored a Test century on debut back in 1970. "England had a lull in Pakistan, but they will have got a lesson from the conditions and they will be ready for us," he said. "We know we're going to be up against formidable opponents.

"I don't read too much into what has happened on the tour so far because, at this stage, it's just about getting a feel for the conditions. I wouldn't think they would be psychologically fired up yet because, as far as they are concerned, the big games are yet to come. Their performance against the Australians was notable for the mental aspect as much as the physical aspect.

"Their bowling attack is one of the best in the world and the team with the best bowling attack usually wins Tests. It is an area we have given quite a bit of thought to. Duncan [Fletcher] is a shrewd man and he would not have them at the level he wants yet. He doesn't give much away." In that, at least, we have an evenly matched Test series.