NEW DELHI: Indian cricket faces one of its toughest challenges in a long time.
The first-round exit from the World Cup threatens to rip apart the team, with a `confrontation' between coach Greg Chappell and some of the senior players assuming ominous proportions ahead of the crucial meeting summoned by the Board, in Mumbai on April 6 and 7, to discuss the debacle.
Even as the cricket administration was jolted by the text message leak aimed at making public Chappell's displeasure at the composition of the team for the World Cup, resentment has grown among the senior players and the selectors at the coach's attitude and `leaked' statements.
In the firing line
The seniors in Chappell's firing line are Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar for their alleged role in not allowing the youngsters to grow.
The players have plans to meet the senior Board officials and present their side of the picture before the Board has its meeting with the team management and former captains.
The pressure is on Tendulkar to stand up on behalf of everyone for the sake of Indian cricket and put things in perspective. The seniors are likely to seek a meeting with Board president, Sharad Pawar, and apprise him of the "autocratic functioning" of Chappell.
The senior players have been complaining for some time now of Chappell's policy of pitting the players against each other. Unable to make a public disclosure of their problems with the Australian, the players privately have admitted to a complete lack of communication with Chappell.
Senior Board members have been appalled at the deterioration of the relations between the senior players and the coach.
"He has destroyed the confidence of the team and made everyone insecure. He has been a great player but does it mean he has the right to make others (seniors) feel small?" asked a senior player.
Tendulkar has not been on talking terms with the coach and most of the other players have chosen the same path.
The support staff, especially Ian Fraser, has made matters worse. He earned the ire of the players to such an extent that he was asked to leave the dressing room for his attempts to ridicule them during a tense situation on the last tour of South Africa.
On the tactical front, the players feel the unreasonable expectations like hitting a century every time you bat or taking five wickets in every innings had put them under needless pressure.
"We fear approaching him. This is something we have never experienced," said a seasoned cricketer, preferring to remain anonymous.
The selectors too are up in arms against Chappell's alleged text messages to a journalist. "How can he accuse anyone of not giving him the team he wanted? He has had all cooperation from us and it is not fair to say that one player not being there made the difference. Please check the record of the player he so badly wanted," remarked an angry National selection committee member.
The Board had not expected the relations between the players and the coach to be so strained.
The defeat against Bangladesh brought the fight out in the open before attempts were made to salvage the situation. But the team collapsed under intense pressure before the match against Sri Lanka.
Said a player: "We know we played badly and let the nation down. We can well understand the emotions of the supporters but we can't wash dirty linen in public. This coach can destroy your confidence just as you are about to step out to bat in a tense situation."
The Board is not willing to accept that the seniors have been resisting the entry of young talent in the Indian dressing room.
"The team is picked by selectors and not senior members," said a Board member.
"If I can't ensure my own selection how can I influence someone else's inclusion?" one of the senior players asked.
The Board has a tough task on April 6 and 7 in Mumbai.