On Tuesday, Indian coach Greg Chappell was in an expansive mood, talking to the media on a variety of issues, ranging from (what else?) Sourav Ganguly, to other, lesser issues like India's chances at the World Cup, what was instrumental in them winning the Wanderers Test and about the new, organized leadership group within the playing XI that was making such a difference. Excerpts from a chat:
What has made such a dramatic difference?
For any team to be good, you need a strong leadership group. When we got to Potchefstroom, the management sat down and had a look at where we were. One of the main things that needed to happen was that everything from that point onwards had to come from the playing group. It couldn't come from the coaching group. We had done pretty much whatever we could do. The players had a meeting on their own, without the coaching staff, and talked about getting together and being stronger as a group. They started each day with a 20-minute session with one player taking responsibility for it. All of that has really made a difference. It's kept the group together.
Was it your suggestion — mentoring is something the Australian team does?
It's certainly an Australian thing but it's also a success thing, whether a sporting group or one from another sphere, there's a strong leadership group. That's something that we perhaps didn't have as well defined as it needed to be. Rahul was taking on too much responsibility, more than what one person could possibly hope to handle, not just too much physical responsibility but the emotional responsibility. You've got to share it around. That's something we've tried to get Rahul and the senior players to understand. Some have had their own problems that have probably taken up their time and mental space. I think Potch was the turning point. We've got small groups within the team that meet from time to time. We also need to build leadership within the middle group and the younger group. In time they're going to be leaders and senior players.
How do you react to criticism?
I don't like it any more than anyone else does. But worrying about it is not going to change it nor help me do my job. I can't expect everyone to agree with what I do or understand it but I'm like anyone else, I don't like to be criticized, I would much prefer that everyone loved me but I know they won't. So let's just get on with it and accept it.
You had been pretty emphatic about non-negotiable things in one-dayers like the fielding. But in the face of proven experience, would you compromise?
I think at all stages in life you have to be prepared to compromise and yes, I would be prepared to compromise. Runs and wickets are more important than the runs you can save on the field but there is still a balance I think is non-negotiable and I think its trying to get that balance is the most difficult thing.
Do you think players have been unable to come to you because you intimidate them?
I am sure it happens, which is why you have different persons and a coaching and support staff. Sometimes, I am the wrong person, the worst person to carry a message to a player. Everyone has different personalities. There are some players, I won't mention names, I have no problems going to with a strong message because I know they can take it, there are some who can't take it.
That is one reason why I insisted on having Ian Frazer with me from the start. He's a different personality, not as intimidating to some as I can be. But we believe in the same philosophies and I know he's not going to take mixed messages into the group. Greg King is another one, John Gloster, Ramki (the video analyst). (Masseur Ramesh) Mane is very important because the players come to see him when they are mentally and emotionally down. He is massaging their minds as much as he is massaging their bodies. And he is very important because he does carry messages through, not in the sense of a secret agent, but he is able to carry the message in a much softer and meaningful way that I can.
Do you think Rahul has the same approachability problem?
Whether we like it or not, we (captain and coach) are perceived to be a part of the selection process and so there's always going to be some diffidence in opening up to the coach and the captain. That's why a strong leadership group is absolutely critical…. You understand Indian culture much better than I do. It's that elders and seniors and people in responsibility have to be listened to, no matter what. But the players need a voice, need to be heard and understood. And one person can't always be guaranteed to do that.