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Lack of partnerships motif of Chappell tenure

The seam bowlers were sharp upfront but they were unlucky, the fielding was mediocre and the batting hopeless, writes Rahul Bhattacharya.
None | By Rahul Bhattacharya
UPDATED ON MAR 26, 2007 02:52 AM IST

Four years ago to the day India crashed out of a World Cup. Then it was the final. Now, bar a fresh face here and there, those same men, pale shadows of their former selves, hang their hopes on the cuddly amateurs of Bermuda, otherwise growing accustomed to the greatest embarrassment of their cricketing lives. “You ain’t going back home,” a drunk hollered jauntily, almost as if to console them, “they gon kill yuh”.

Insofar, as this can be analysed as a match of cricket, it may be said, as the captain and coach said on loop while facing the press, that India “did not play well”.

The seam bowlers were sharp upfront but they were unlucky, the fielding was mediocre and the batting hopeless. Pitifully it all unravelled finally, the feebleness of despairing men unable to face the heat, and the campaign that had blazed across televisions, hoardings, powerpoint presentations and a million dreams came to a virtual halt. The world will turn, but try telling that to the Indian fan.

The cricketers will take a roasting, and there is little really to commend their efforts for the past year. The batting has been frail and the bowling medium and the fielding almost superfluous.

To document the underachievement of India’s big players would be to tread an over-trodden path: the matches India played against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been time and again over the past year. And let us not even start on the system that produces and manages these cricketers. It must have to hit home that the problems in Indian cricket are at a very fundamental level.

There is another point, though, too reluctantly acknowledged. This was a side without chemistry. There was no open rebellion, as insecurity had seeped in too deep. The only hope for its galvanising lay in the bonding that comes from special triumphs. It was not to be.

Unless you have such mercurial geniuses as Wasim and Waqar, the team that is not united will find it hard to win. Rahul Dravid is an admirable cricketer in every respect, a setter of examples, but perhaps his fatal deficiency as captain was the inability to bring together people in a manner that makes them bigger than they are, a task made much harder by the coach.

When responding to one of the few questions he deigned to answer at the press conference, Greg Chappell pointed to the lack of partnerships. It could well be the motif for his tenure.

Player after player earned the coach’s greatest censure and time after time he found friends in the media, who, in awe of his stature and thrilled by the access he provided, spread his message. Word would get back to players, many of whom could not relate to his methods and style of coaching anyway. Repeatedly the bond was broken, and ultimately there hardly remained one.

It is not that there was not any validity at all in his observations. But when there is such a breakdown of trust in a team, its very spirit dies. In the eighteen months there were to the World Cup when the new regime took over, a whole new team could not have been built.

From a tactical point of view, a shake-up was very much required when Dravid and Chappell came together. But experimentation was taken a step too far. It is one thing to make a flexible line-up, another to bend it till it breaks. It was going to be all or nothing. You could have an answer for every situation, and equally to none. When it came down to it, the team had scarcely a single bankable position. India ended up with a situation where the condemned returned successful but not without baggage, and those several young ones were burnt by failure, and virtually everyone else remained stagnant.

The analysis has only just begun. It will continue with numbing force for months to come, in what, for fans and media alike over the past two years, has been the most polarised period in recent Indian cricket history.

But take some time out to look the other way. As the world-weary Indians watched impassive from the dressing room, the jubilant Sri Lankans bounced joyously off the field, and the eager teenagers of the Bangladesh cricket team beamed in the audience.

“The beauty and the cruelty of sport”, Dravid would philosophise later. Till better times, the supporters of the biggest, most decadent cricket playing nation in the world must have to come to terms with that.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the writer of the acclaimed Pundits from Pakistan.

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