Teams must go deaf to expectation and stay true to their disciplines, writes Rohit Brijnath
Melbourne: Some people see Greg Chappell as preacher of a fine cricketing gospel. Some contend he's a snake-oil salesman. Some say he deserves credit, some say he grabs it. He is, depending on where you stand, imperious, accessible, fascinating, indiscreet, dynamic, polarising.
Either way Chappell is compelling, and you rarely walk away from a conversation with him without being stimulated. This writer has not always agreed with him, but he is a man of ideas, and whether interesting or wacky, they have, if not elevated, then energised the debate on Indian cricket.
Ok, fine, he can say "processes" so often you roll your eyes, and has a bit of the middle-aged hippie about him in the way he goes on about "philosophies.'' But all that, and the intelligent desire his captain (who Chappell calls "the rock that holds everything together") brings, are working, for this team has forged a startling one-day renaissance.
In a lengthy interview (to appear in Sportstar, dated May20), Chappell spoke on various issues, but it is the young players, invigorating in their boldness, who somehow seemed to always steal centre-stage, on the field and in his answers.
India's ipod legion may own little experience, yet neither do they wear the memory of previous failure. There is no past to assist them, or weigh them down. As Chappell says, it was Tendulkar who told him that "experience was a double-edged word." Or as he put it later: where young players see only opportunity to succeed, senior players sometimes see an opportunity to fail.
Chappell sees this attitude, too, in the players' impressive response to being shunted up and down the order. Coach and captain made a judgement call, and mostly it worked, and Chappell says: "Again, if you see it as a chance to fail then you probably are not going to succeed, and thankfully people like Irfan and Dhoni and Yuvraj have taken it on as a challenge rather than thinking, 'jeez, what if I can't do it'."
It's not easy for young players, thrust from small towns into hysterical celebrity and the unreality that is the universe of the Indian cricketer. It is an education for them, and it has been for Chappell as well, for he says now: "I look at some of the young blokes and I see their background, where they come from and where they've got to, and the way they cope with it all is absolutely remarkable. The resilience of the Indian character is, I think, one of its major strengths."
Now, with only two of its four horsemen (Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman) in fit, working order and some of the young quicks still wearing their fast bowling L-plates, India must translate this success into the Test arena. The West Indies pose as an opportunity, but Chappell sees victory not only in numbers but in what his team learns.
"We've got to keep learning and understanding the type of cricket we need to play to give ourselves the best chance of success. If we go to the Windies and get beaten 4-0, obviously I won't be that pleased with it. "But in doing that if we've actually played some good cricket, and we're showing that we're playing the type of cricket that's going to give us a long-term chance of being one of the best teams in the world then I won't be devastated by it."
"This was the thing with the one-dayers. The reason we've gone from one of the worst chasing teams in the world to the best ever is that we've changed what we focus on. Instead of focusing on the outcome, we focus on the steps in the process we need to put together to be successful at chasing."
It is a fair call. Teams must go deaf to expectation and stay true to their disciplines. Greatness, if indeed this Test team is to ever find it, has its own timetable.
Yet I remind Chappell that, without suffocating him with an exact timeframe, eventually this team will be expected to win, that is its purpose. His answer is blunt. "If we're not winning Test matches and we're not a good Test match team by the end of 2006, we've got the wrong people.''
Forget 2006. Make it 2007. If India isn't winning Tests abroad by then, he's right, it will mean we've got the wrong people. Players. Selectors. Administrators. Captain. And don't forget coach.