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Chappell has a demanding job ahead

S. Dinakar

MAN MANAGEMENT: Greg Chappell will need to draw the best out of players like M.S. Dhoni, L. Balaji and Virender Sehwag. — File Photo: S. Subramanium

CHENNAI: : Does Greg Chappell inherit a stronger Indian side than John Wright in 2000? This is a pertinent question ahead of Chappell taking over as the Indian team coach and may have a significant bearing on his handling of the side.

Wright was appointed during difficult times. The team, emerging from the match-fixing scandal, had suffered a 0-3 Test battering in Australia, and a rare humiliation at home with South Africa blanking the host 2-0.

But in Wright's favour was the fact that the side's five key cricketers were at that stage of their careers when they possessed, apart from the right experience, the freshness of relative youth. Captain Sourav Ganguly was 28, Rahul Dravid, 27, Sachin Tendulkar, 27, V.V.S. Laxman, 26, and Anil Kumble, 29. Wright, thus, could mould the team around this core group, giving it the required shape. Five years hence, Chappell faces a situation, when these cricketers, all into their 30s, not only have to deliver consistently, but maintain their fitness. While it is true that Chappell has a booming Virender Sehwag (26) at his disposal, the Aussie legend will have to induct new talent, brick by brick, apart from lifting the side's morale after the reverses against Pakistan. Does Chappell have enough options?

Says former Indian left-arm spinner Maninder Singh, "The true test of any coach is the bench strength at the time of his leaving, and I feel John Wright failed in this respect. Wright got the team on a platter while Chappell will have to build one. Wright was lucky that the batsmen were firing and the bowlers, including Anil Kumble, were much younger."

Searching queries

In the present batting line-up, Ganguly faces searching queries on form in international cricket, Tendulkar stares at a difficult path following his tennis elbow operation, and Laxman has hardly been consistent. Only Rahul Dravid has remained rock-solid.

National Cricket Academy (NCA) chairman Brijesh Patel says, "You see the NCA has given to the National side players such as Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, and several others even during Wright's tenure. This is an ongoing process."

However, Patel, with the World Cup 2007 in mind, believes the senior members will have to stay fit. "That is critical. Otherwise, Chappell may have to seek younger talent."

One of the departments where Wright excelled was in building a potent attack, where pacemen Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan complemented spinners Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Then, when Srinath drifted into the sunset, Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji entered the scene.

And, on occasions when either Kumble or Harbhajan was unavailable for selection due to varying reasons, left-arm spinner Murali Kartik performed a fair job. There is no denying though that Chappell will have to keep his eyes open; the pace attack has often been rocked by injuries and despite outstanding form spin spearhead Kumble is not getting any younger. A replacement will have to be groomed.

Wicket-keeping great Syed Kirmani feels much hinges on how Chappell is able to motivate his men. "You see while Wright constructed the team, Chappell has to take it to the next level. However, Chappell has a greater stature than Wright to inspire them." Young wicket-keeper batsmen Dinesh Kaarthick and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were welcome additions during Wright's stint, but Chappell has the task of consolidating on the gains.

He has a demanding job ahead, even if Team India wears a well-settled appearance.

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