`The secret of success is doing the basics very well'

Print edition : July 15, 2005

Greg Chappell after a media conference at the Chinnaswamy stadium inBangalore on June 16. -

Interview with Greg Chappell.

Gregory Stephen Chappell, the 56-year-old, Adelaide-born former Australian cricket captain who has been recently appointed for a two-year term as India's cricket coach, was always known for his technically correct batting, copy book grip and stance, high back lift and wonderful strokes in the `V' between extra cover and midwicket. The tall and unbending Chappell was always known to be an astute thinker of the game. A man whose cricketing brain was as fearless as it was creative. He has served as a coach to the South Australian and Australia `A' teams. Reserved in demeanour and polished in speech, Chappell said that he was ready to take up what he calls the greatest challenge in the cricketing world - guiding the Indian team to the summit of cricketing glory. Excerpts from an interview he gave Ravi Sharma:

You had never toured India as a player, but are very keen to be a coach here. Why?

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to tour here. India is the epicentre of cricket at the moment and economically and financially it dominates the game. Indian cricket is at a very exciting phase of its development and for someone who is its coach it is a very great career opportunity. It was not something I lay awake dreaming for 20 years but the opportunity presented itself and I was ready for it.

Australian cricketers like Dennis Lillie, Jeff Thomson and yourself reportedly did not want to tour India. There was always this talk of the possibility of upset stomachs...

That is unfair. I played a lot of cricket with both Dennis Lillie and Jeff Thomson. We would have come to India or Afghanistan or Iceland if given a chance to play cricket. It was untrue that nobody wanted to tour India. It was and still is a tough tour. But it is a different tour now and from the Australian point of view, Australian teams come here more often, whereas in the past if you got one tour to India in your career that was it. I was unlucky to play in an era when we did not come to India. Timing was against me. I was disappointed not being selected to tour India with Bill Lawry's team [1969-70].

None of cricket's successful coaches had been big stars in their time - John Wright, John Buchanan, Bob Woolmer, Duncan Fletcher, Geoff Marsh, Ray Jennings, and so on. On the contrary, superstars like Viv Richards, Kapil Dev and even Javed Miandad have failed to deliver... You were a superstar.

Bob Simpson was a successful coach and he was a superstar in his time. The biggest fallacy about coaching is that a coach can make a player. All a coach can do is provide the information, create an environment where players are allowed to go and maximise their potential. I can't make Rahul Dravid a better player than what he is. But what I can do is create an environment that allows the players to do better more often. Coaches are facilitators. It is about managing resources, managing assets; it is about preparation and planning. The execution comes from the players. The only way you can learn is by making mistakes. But they must learn from their mistakes and improve as players.

Is the current Indian team overrated?

I really don't know. They are a good team with some very talented players. Whether they've been as successful as they should have been - who knows. Whether they have been more successful than they should have been - again who knows. The fact is that they have done what they have done and in doing that they have learnt a lot and gained some wonderful experiences and insights. I'm more concerned about what we do from here rather than what has been done. It is a matter of using this experience and the available resources and planning how we can be successful. Whether as successful or more successful, only time will tell.

You have spoken of getting the Indian players to develop the vision of being the best side. Do you think it is going to be difficult to do this?

No. I do not know a cricketer who does not want to be successful or who does not want to be part of a successful team. The vision that I'm talking about is to be remembered as part of a great team. These guys will all have good records/reputations when they finish their careers. But, let me tell you from my own experience that the things that I remember about my cricket career are the things we did as a team. The fact of the matter is that all my great individual performances do not come readily to mind. What does come are the celebrations that we had as a team at the end of a successful game or successful series; being part of a team that gave everything it had during the game, some of which we won, some of which we lost. The disappointment of sitting down in the dressing room after losing a close game, the exhilaration of winning a close game or close series is what I remember. The discussions I had with Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Bruce Laird, Bruce Yardley, Jeff Thomson... these are the things that stick in your memory long after the days of cricket are gone.

When I look back at my career, I am more satisfied that I did everything I could have done to be a successful cricketer and that I played in a successful team.

This is what I want to sit down with the boys and talk about. The players will understand the vision, whether they buy into it or not only time will tell.

The Australians are always known to go for the jugular, the kill. How do you plan to bring this aggression to the Indian team?

I think it is already there. I think Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh... all of these guys will be offended if you say they are not aggressive. Maybe not as overtly or demonstrative as the Australians but internally and mentally as tough as any cricketer. I don't think I have to bring anything to someone like Virendra Sehwag, he is a very aggressive, positive and attacking cricketer. The culture of India is much softer than that of Australia. We are a much more overtly demonstrative and aggressive people.

Should India be more demonstrative?

Not necessarily. They need to be as aggressive as they need to be. Focus is what we need to work on rather than trying to get people to be something different from what they are. I was a fairly introverted character as a cricketer but I was equally determined as Dennis Lillie or Rod Marsh, both of whom were more demonstrative. But I'll defy them to be any more determined than I was. And that is what it boils down to, the inner fire that allows you to be competitive, a competitive instinct that allows you to give on yourself all day, every day. I think we have to be conscientious that we apply ourselves for every minute of every day's play for the full five days of a test match or the full hundred overs of a one-day game, for a full series, for a full season.

You are talking about being consistent. That is something the Indians have not been. What will you say to the Indian players?

Talk to them just the way I'm talking to you. That we have to be focussed, that we need to understand that to be a champion team our focus cannot waver. We need to be focussed all day, every day. We need to be focussed on doing the basics well. There is no magic potion or magic wand. The secret of success is doing the basics very well. Doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well.

Greg Chappel in action, as a batsman.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Pressure from the scoreboard or from the media or from the selectors can deflect you from that focus. And anybody who allows himself to be distracted is reducing the chances of being the best player he can be.

Part of my strength was the ability to focus on what I had to focus on at any given time. In between balls it was important for me to relax. And my way of relaxing was to look around the ground and take in the surrounding. This took my mind off concentrating. If I was playing at home, I had a look and saw whom I knew in the crowd and observed what they were doing. That is why I could tell my family and friends what time they arrived, who they spoke to, the time they went to the bathroom, lunch, etc. It was part of the process of concentrating.

You advocate doing the percentages well?

Yes, it is about percentages. But it is not meant to be boring or negative. You can be determined and risk-free and still be aggressive. Nothing is risk-free. Life is about managing risks. To win, you have to take some risks. What you have to do is minimise the risks. Keep the odds in your favour. There is no good in taking risks where there is only a 10 per cent chance of success. We need to focus our risk-taking in areas that will give us the best chances of success. Managing the risks is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. We will be taking risks, but they will be risks that are well calculated and based on positive action. Trying not to lose will not win you any games.

Indian teams in the past have done just this...

Most teams have from time to time gone through this. If you stop trying to win you are giving up control of the game to the opposition. The philosophy I have about playing winning cricket is that you always try to apply pressure on the opposition. The art of winning is putting more pressure than they put on you, and being able to maintain that for longer.

You are only as good as the opposition allows you to be. The Australians are the number one team in the world. Is it because the others are letting them be number one?

I have no doubt that the Australian team is more talented than many other teams. But what has made them a champion team is that they have applied themselves to doing the basic things well. They have minimised the mistakes. They catch their catches, they cut off the runs, force run-outs, they bowl well and force mistakes from the opposition. That is the art of cricket. If you have more talent than the opposition, it allows you to make a few more mistakes.

The senior Indian players know that they have the talent. How will you make them listen to you?

It is very simple. It is all about a commitment to excellence. It is not some airy-fairy slogan, but about a commitment to doing the basic things well. The message I'll be taking to them is focus on the things we need to do to be successful. Build our strengths, minimise our mistakes. Utilise all our resources. And we have as much talent as any team in the world.

So you would not say the present Australians are more talented than this Indian team?

No I wouldn't say that. I'm not going to elaborate on that other than to say that if we apply ourselves to doing the basics things well we will be talented enough to compete with anyone.

The Australians have kept it simple and have been winning matches. Can we make it simpler?

I think so. A player/team that is going through a bad patch has lost focus, not talent. So the simple key is to focus on the simple things; catch our catches, anything else is a bonus. We have to cut off the runs and take the run-out opportunities. In doing that we will force a run-out opportunity and take a spectacular catch. But if you don't do the basics right even the spectacular catch won't be enough. The simplest way to play your cricket season is one ball at a time. If you can concentrate for one ball you can for a million. Let's work on concentrating for one ball at a time: that is the message I'll be taking to the team. As simple as it sounds it's not that easy. There are many distractions that can take your focus away. My job and that of the support staff is to take as many of these distractions away and allow the players to focus on what will allow them to be successful. On some days it will work, some days it won't work so well, or the opposition will do it better than us or the opposition will have more talent than us.

In the present Indian side while the batting sorts itself out, the bowling is weak. Do you think a bowling coach like Wasim Akram or Ian Bishop is necessary?

I'm not convinced on the need for a full-time bowling coach. The more voices, the more noise and the more distraction. From time to time, it will be good to bring in another voice. We will keep the number of voices down to the minimal most of the time and will add a fresh voice every now and then.

I don't have any doubt that we have the bowling resources to be a good bowling side. It comes back to focus. If necessary, I can coach a batsman, bowler or fielder, but I don't see that as the biggest part of the role. The biggest part is getting them to believe that they are good enough to take on an opponent. I'm not going to change the way Dravid or Sehwag bat or someone bowls.

In other words not tinker with bowling actions?

That might happen sometime. But by just changing their focus their bowling action changes because what you do physically is a reflection of what you are thinking. If you feel under pressure and you are frightened to let the ball go your bowling action will be very different from if you run in totally confident. The same with a batsman; if you feel threatened by the opposition your technique will be affected.

Being one of the great batsmen of your generation how will it now be to interact with, even play second fiddle to a bunch of superstars?

I'm not going to go and bat or bowl.

But in your time you could have shown Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman or Ganguly a thing or two.

I hope I can show these guys a thing or two now. (laughs) I think what my reputation does is, it brings a certain amount of respectability, the players will listen, give me a hearing. After that, it will depend on how good I am as a coach, not as a player. At the end of the day, if my message is not understood and if I cannot build a relationship with the players then all my knowledge, experience and reputation is useless. The biggest thing for me is to be able to build a relationship with the players based on what I can bring to them now. Not based on what I have done in the past or can do in the future.

Would you insist on the coach having a say in the composition of the team?

I met the selectors. I provided some inputs about the selection process and policy but the selectors pick the team.

As you are aware the five selectors represent the five zones and there are zonal quotas.

I heard about all this stuff. But I'm not overtly concerned about this. It is a peripheral issue. If I'm going to be distracted by every negative connotation I'm not going to get the job done.

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