Captain's constraints

Lack of a potent attack has forced Dhoni to adopt defensive ways in Tests, says the cricket legend

Captain's constraints

It’s been over seven years since Greg Chappell quit his job as the coach of the Indian cricket team and his stint is largely remembered for the controversies which eventually led to his pre-mature exit.

The opinion that 'whether he was the right man for the wrong team' may never be settled conclusively but what is unfortunately not spoken much in the din is that India enjoyed some great on-field success during his tenure.

On a short trip to India with an Australian developmental squad, Chappell took his time out to speak to Deccan Herald from issues ranging from his India experience to his relationship with Rahul Dravid and from future of Test cricket to MS Dhoni as Test captain. Excerpts:     

How do you look back on your time as India coach?

It was a wonderful experience. It was a great honour to have the opportunity to coach India and to work with some wonderful players. We had some success — more than perhaps things that I am not prepared to talk about and I don’t want to talk about. I don’t look back at them other than having a positive feeling about it.

Some of the wonderful opportunities that we had not only in terms of cricket but to live in India and make some friends with many of whom we are still in contact. I tend to look at positives than the negatives. People will make of what they will.

You and Rahul Dravid had a great relationship as coach and captain. Was he different as a captain and as a player?

I think the personality of individuals comes through in whatever they do. He was a very committed individual, very professional in the right sense of the word. He prepared well. He has a pure heart and he is a very decent human being.

He approached his cricket that way and he approached his captaincy that way. Even with his batting, there were probably more naturally gifted players than Rahul but none of them more committed than him and none of them more intelligent to be able to work out situations; what he had to do to make runs and to develop his own game and to say someone else is right.

And he was the same with his captaincy – he was thorough, quiet and very knowledgeable about the game, positive in that he knew what he wanted, courageous and stuck to what he strongly believed in.

Perhaps he didn’t have as much flair as a Michael Clarke or even an MS Dhoni in some ways. But in other ways he has the strength of personality and of conviction which made him what he was. I think lot of success we had in that period was on the back of his courage; to take selection risks, risk losing for the team to get better. And he was totally committed to that.

I don’t know if everyone had that same commitment and passion that he had. I have a great respect for him as a man and I have great respect for him as a cricketer. He made runs everywhere and coped with the most difficult situations that show the character and person that he was. We had a very open professional relationship.

For someone who won two series outside of sub-continent (West Indies and England) and a Test in South Africa, besides a great run in ODIs, do you think he is under-rated as a captain?

The role of the captain is misunderstood. Obviously decision making -- starting with whether to bowl or bat, batting order and whom to bowl when -- all of that stuff is pretty well understood. But in other areas, having the courage of conviction and being able to make tough decisions, he was equal to anyone that I have worked with. And his record suggests that he was a very good captain.

Because he was an understated individual, he never promoted himself or his captaincy. He let his performances speak for themselves. I don’t have any knowledge of whether he is disappointed with the fact that people under-rate his captaincy or not. He probably doesn’t think about it much, he has got more important things to do than worry about those things.

I think he should be recognised as one of India’s better captains and it’s a shame that he felt like he had to give it away because he was a fine person in that role.

MS Dhoni has come under scrutiny as a Test captain overseas. What do you make of his captaincy?

I think Test cricket isn’t his most natural format. The limited-over formats probably suit his personality and because it suits his personality it also suits his captaincy because it suits his mentality. I think Test cricket is a little different for him.

It doesn’t come naturally to him as it does limited-overs cricket. I think, therefore, he hasn’t done as well as you would hope he had done. The difficulty is when he goes overseas he doesn’t have the personal at his disposal to do well in those conditions. We saw in the second Test (against England at Lord’s) Ishant (Sharma) bowling and it made a difference.

Outside of the sub-continent if you don’t have a potent pace attack, it’s very hard to succeed. By and large during his time as Test captain, he hasn’t had a potent pace attack consistently.

If you are going to look at Australia in the last couple of years the big difference was Mitchell Johnson bowling at 150-plus and having two or three quality fast bowlers sustain the pressure. In limited overs cricket you can win games without taking wickets, you can’t win Test matches without taking wickets.

One thing I have understood over the years is that you can ‘fudge’ a few runs, you can sort of manipulate and make runs out of nothing but you can’t make wickets out of nothing. And just the few times that I have seen him, largely in Australia, I got the feeling that he felt that he hasn’t got an attack that can win and that has affected his captaincy.

He has tried to be conservative and I don’t think being conservative comes naturally to him. I think, perhaps, at times he should have been confident enough and courageous enough to be aggressive. Be the best with what you have rather than be conservative and play safe. It’s not in his nature and it doesn’t work for him.        
Talking of Test cricket, where do you think it’s headed in the face of increasing demand for T20s?

The positive thing about having three formats is that you can give more number of players the opportunities to represent their country. Fitting everything into the programme is the hardest part but the biggest challenge most countries are facing is the resources to develop a Test-match playing team because I know how much we at Cricket Australia spend on domestic cricket, I know the BCCI and England spend a lot too.

But a lot of other countries don’t have those options or resources… They don’t have those playing numbers also. So I think there is a lot of stress on the systems and probably that is felt at the Test level.

I think in time we are perhaps going to see some countries playing less and less Test cricket. I think that’s a shame because Test cricket is the ultimate. It’s all very well to say we want the game to move very quickly and there is no doubt that T20 is very popular but I hope we would find a way to maintain the primacy of Test cricket and if not at least equal to other formats.

Because I think the game of cricket is really about Test cricket but I am wondering if that’s old-fashioned thought than a reality. We have the modern generation and the future generations that are going to want the shorter formats.

In that light do you think the new hierarchy at the ICC that promises more Test cricket is the right way forward?

I hope that’s the right way forward because that’s what is happening and probably going to continue to happen. I am sure there are many competing agendas for various boards and they want to see the money coming in and we have seen in recent times the pressure on some lesser Test-match nations to get opportunities because other countries don’t want to host them.

Maybe we need to have two-tier structure for Test cricket so that you have promotion and relegation system so that at least there is a way for smaller countries to revive and get a chance to play against the big countries.

But if India drop out of top tier, financially it will not be viable and that’s probably why the proposed Test Championship was aborted…

That’s going to be an issue and that puts more stress on Test cricket. That probably means that in time to come we are going to see that the big four are going to play a lot of Test cricket. There is a lot of pressure on the game to move more towards limited overs.


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