By Ashis Ray
The cricketing fraternity now in the West Indies for the World Cup are aghast at the shadow boxing, the apparent blame game that’s erupted in India over who were responsible for India’s unspeakable performance in the premier one-day tournament.
Did Greg Chappell, the Indian coach, really make the remarks attributed to him by a TV channel? If he did, this was most indelicate of him. If he did not or his statements were not for reproduction, then the media concerned have done him an injustice. The absence of a denial, however, irreparably damaged him.
It was surprising, though, that the Secretary of the board, instead of setting a good example, aired his “personal opinion” in support of Rahul Dravid being retained as captain. While I agree with this view, he had no business to do so. It is for the five selectors to conclude who will lead the country.
Winter before last, it was decided by the tour management the day before a test in Pakistan that Sourav Ganguly would open. The same night, however, Rahul Dravid informed Raj Singh, the manager, that this would not be fair and that he, rather than the Bengal star would initiate the innings. Therefore, he resisted “pressure”.
In January, on the eve of India’s final test against South Africa at Cape Town, it was Chappell and the chairman of selectors, Dilip Vengsarkar’s impression that it had been agreed that Virender Sehwag would be dropped for this match. However, “senior players” spoke up for the Delhi opener and he was eventually accommodated as a middle order batsman.
At the end of the day, any sensible skipper listens to all shades of opinion, but takes the final decision himself and shoulders the responsibility that goes with this. While it is only wise of Dravid to take into consideration the views of seasoned campaigners like Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly, it is erroneous to conclude that he would allow himself to be pressurised by them.
It has been suggested that Dravid was bounced into taking first strike against Bangladesh by “senior players”. Not for a moment did Dravid indicate after the match that he had batted first contrary to his wishes. On the other hand, he manfully conceded this might have been a mistake, as he didn’t expect that wicket to possess as much life as it did.
As Bangladesh’s performances against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand have proved, it should hardly matter to a team of substance when they bat against them. It is a reflection of the desperate state of Indian cricket that batting first against Bangladeshi is being cited as the cause of defeat.
At Mumbai, too, a year ago, Dravid inserted England after winning the toss. It was, arguably, the wrong choice and India lost this test, thus permitting Andrew Flintoff’s side to square the series. The stories that emanated from the dressing room then pointed a finger at “senior players” persuading Dravid to field first, reportedly against the captain and coach’s inclinations.
Dravid has been at the helm for about 18 months. It is too short a period to master the challenges of captain. Tiger Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Ganguly all improved with experience. But the Karnataka man could set more attacking fields in favourable conditions, as demanded versus Sri Lanka in the World Cup.
Tendulkar is not only a great batsman, but a decent human being. He is also known to avoid controversy. Clearly, in giving an on-the-record interview in this week, he made transparent that he believes Chappell was behind the inflammatory statements sourced to him. It is absurd, indeed wholly unjust, to describe senior members of the India squad as a “mafia” and accuse them of being a barrier against younger players’ progress. Several of the relatively junior exponents were, in fact, hand-picked by Ganguly when he was in-charge. And incidentally, is there an automatic replacement for Tendulkar among the up-and-coming batsmen? But that’s another issue and one that the BCCI need to answer.
If Chappell was indeed responsible for plants in a TV channel and the views expressed therein, he was wrong; and his future as India’s coach consequently became untenable. He has, thus, paid the price. It’s a pity, though, that a brilliant cricketing mind could not benefit Indian cricket more.
(Ashis Ray is author of the recently launched “One-Day Cricket: The Indian Challenge” (Harper Collins), which can be bought online on www.ians.in)