`Desire to succeed is important'

Print edition : August 15, 2003

VINO JOHN

Interview with Greg Chappell.

The sense of calmness in the man is striking. So is his upright, confident, and rather proud gait. Greatness sits lightly on Greg Chappell. A beautifully balanced batsman in his time, Chappell was a lovely timer of the cricket ball, whether caressing it through the covers or driving it past mid-on - a stroke that became his trademark - his footwork perfect, his placement impeccable.

Cricket ran in Greg Chappell's blood. His grandfather Victor Richardson and elder brother Ian played for and captained Australia. His younger brother Trevor also had a brief international career. Greg Chappell made an extraordinary start to Tests, notching up 108 at the expense of England in Perth (1970-71) and ended an illustrious career in a blaze of glory, scoring 182 against Pakistan in Sydney (1983-84). In all he conjured 7,110 runs, including 24 centuries, at 53.86 in 87 Tests and 2,331 runs in 74 limited over internationals at 40.18, including three hundreds. His record would have been even more impressive but for the three years he spent in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket; he was banned from representing Australia during this period.

Greg Chappell had his moments as captain too. In the 1975-76 series he led Australia to a famous 5-1 victory over Clive Lloyd's West Indies at home. He was in dominant form with the willow too, collecting an astonishing 702 runs at 117 in the six Tests. A wonderful all-round fielder, particularly in the slip cordon where he invariably pouched some stunning catches, he was also a useful seam bowler.

Now 54, Chappell has continued his association with the game after retirement; one of his prominent roles being that of an Australian selector. A perfectionist, it was only natural that he became involved with coaching. Greg Chappell, in Chennai recently for the MRF Coaches Seminar, spoke to Frontline. He was frank and forthright in his comments. Excerpts from an interview he gave S. Dinakar:

The Indians had a tremendous run in the World Cup, before stumbling in the final. What were the positives that you saw in the Indian team?

I thought they showed some mental toughness in the World Cup. The way things started for them, the way they came into the tournament, there wasn't much confidence. The way they turned it around in the World Cup was very encouraging. Obviously, it required some talent and also some mental toughness. Some good leadership too. I think that was evident in the World Cup.

You believe Sourav Ganguly has come on as a captain? The World Cup was a demanding assignment for him.

He showed signs during the World Cup of good leadership and tactical skills. I have seen him from a distance, I have not seen him in the dressing room or while moving closely with the players, but I think he is evolving as a captain.

Coming to the Aussies, what do you think is the secret of their astonishing sequence of victories in both forms of the game. Do you think this has a lot to do with the depth of talent in Australia?

It's the desire to succeed that is important. They've obviously got talent. There is reasonable depth in that we have been able to overcome the loss of players like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. There are good, back-up fellows like Andrew Bichel. Brad Hogg has done well coming in for Shane Warne. There is a desire to keep performing at a higher level. They think about it, they talk about it, they work towards having goals and achieving them.

What does it take mentally to keep winning, especially if many of the sides do not offer much of a challenge?

They (the Aussies) haven't been having a lot of challenges over the last few years. It is the internal motivation that has kept them going - raising the bar and taking it forward to a higher level. It's not always easy to do that when you are not being pushed by opposition teams. Coach John Buchanan has had a very strong hand in that. Steve Waugh as captain and Ricky Ponting, particularly, as captain of the one-day team - they've pushed that within the group and there has been a response. They want to continue to improve, individually and as a group. A lot of effort goes into maintaining those standards.

Australia has had three long-standing and distinguished captains from the mid-1980s - Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. How would you rate them and on what basis?

They are all different personalities. They have all done a very good job in their own way. Allan [Border] was a bit reluctant in the early days. We wanted him to be captain at that time and he was asked to do the job. In the second half of his tenure as skipper, he matured into a very strong captain. He was a particularly good captain of spin bowling. For someone like Shane Warne to come in during the end of Allan's career was very helpful. He had Tim May working in tandem with Shane. Allan handled that very well.

Mark [Taylor] was a good communicator and a very good thinker of the game. He really stamped his personality on the team. Sir Donald Bradman, Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Mark would be in the top bracket of the captains through the history of Australian cricket. I don't think I deserve to be in that bracket. They were outstanding technically, tactically, in terms of communication and leadership. Perhaps, since he was not as dominant a player as Allan Border was, Mark had to do it a bit differently. He was a positive captain in everything he did. He liked Australia to bat first and take the initiative in matches. Other captains may not have been prepared to bat first. And he was prepared to go in as an opening batsman as well. That took a lot of courage. He was very good tactically.

But they've all been good captains. In the 120-odd years of Australian cricket, there have been only 20-odd captains, apart from those who stood in because of injuries. The right people are getting the job. Within Australian cricket, the position, forget the individuals, is held in highest esteem. Whoever gets the job is given support, and a lot of support at that from within the team. That doesn't always happen in all cricket teams. I have played against teams where you felt there were three or four captains, all trying to do bits and pieces, undermining the incumbent. Steve [Waugh] started off a bit slowly. Maybe there was a hangover from Mark Taylor's days as captain and Steve didn't immediately step in, take over, and stamp his authority. The World Cup was probably the turning point for him.

How much cricket do you think Shane Warne has left in him? Will he be the same force when the one-year ban for consuming illegal substances ends?

It's hard to say whether he would be the same force. I think he would be highly motivated to come back and do well. He was obviously devastated by the whole thing. I've spoken to him a couple of times. He's pretty positive. He has to focus on what he can do to get himself fitter. The only way he can put it behind him is to bowl well at the Test match level. He may not be as dominant as he once was - even before the ban, he was having to bowl a lot more overs for his wickets. But I think he was getting close to some of his best bowling in recent times. He is still such a clever bowler and such a great competitor.

There was some bad blood between Steve Waugh and Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan during the fourth and final Test of the series at Antigua this year. Are international cricketers crossing the line?

By and large the behaviour of cricketers is generally very good, so is the spirit in which the game is played. Australian cricketers have always been aggressive. Domestic cricket is competitive and aggressive and that's how we go into Test match cricket. I don't think that will ever change. We've got a strong desire to be successful.

Generally, the spirit in the Australia-West Indies series was very good but the incidents involving McGrath and Sarwan and Lara and Steve [Waugh] were a bit over the top. You have got to accept and understand that when there is a lot of passion people will overstep the mark. The important thing is that the umpires should do what they should do and the captains should do what they should do. The McGrath-Sarwan incident was really unpleasant, the Steve Waugh-Lara one was a little more laid-back. I am sure McGrath would be the first to admit he lost it on that day.

Generally, I know from my playing days that if it looked like getting out of hand, the umpires would say, "Look that's enough." If that didn't work they would tend to go to the captain, "Hey, look, better sort these guys out." And most of the times that's what happens. We see so much of cricket on television these days that if unsavoury behaviour was going on all the time, you would be aware of it. I don't think it is a huge problem, to be honest.

Where would you put Steve Waugh in the list of the great Australian batsmen?

It's hard to say. His record would put him in a very elite group. At times, he has probably been a bit too conservative. Whichever way he has gone about his cricket, you have to admire the toughness he has brought into it. He showed some good signs and played some really good innings but this has been lifted considerably in the second half of his career. It was a conscious sort of decision on his part that he needed to be much stronger mentally.

I suppose batting down the order, like he has done for a good part of his career, would probably prevent him from being rated in the very top notch of Australian batsmen. You still got to bat well wherever you bat but there is a general sort of understanding that the top batsmen bat No.3 or No.4. You can have a much bigger impact on the game, getting in there and making runs early. Having said that, it is not easy to bat at No.5 or No.6. Particularly at No.6 when you can get caught with the tail. It's been pretty different since Australia had Adam Gilchrist. He's an incredible player at No.7. All you can say is that Steve has probably done best with the talent he had. You got to admire that but I think history would always mark him down a little bit due to the fact that he didn't bat No.3 or No.4.

`Chucking' has been one of the problem areas in cricket. Do you believe we would be finding an easier way out, if the umpires actually `call' bowlers during international matches?

It is very complicated and difficult. The law is clear in its definition of chucking. I don't like the idea of `calling' guys in Test matches. I don't think it is a positive sign for the game, let alone the people who are involved. I would rather see it sorted out off the field. It would be better if all the people concerned and all countries concerned make sure that anyone who had a suspect action didn't get that far. If there is a doubt about anybody's action, I am not talking about any individuals here, it should be sorted out before they play Test cricket. I am happy that there is a panel that looks into the individuals referred. It's better than seeing bowlers being called during Test matches.

Getting back to Australian cricket, Steve Waugh is probably in the final phase of his career. Do you feel the transition will be smooth when Ricky Ponting takes over the captaincy in Tests? How would you assess Ponting's leadership and tactical skills?

I think the transition would be very smooth. Ponting has really taken on the responsibility of captaincy of the one-day side very well. He has earned the respect of the players. He has continued improving his own game. His tactical skills are widely recognised within the team and within the community of cricket. I think he is ready to take over. There is a body of opinion within Australian cricket that would suggest that he's probably the right man to do the Test captaincy.

The Australian team under Ian Chappell and yourself had a fine bunch of players. If there were fictional matches between those Australian sides and the current outfit, which way do you believe the contests would have gone?

It would have been a good contest. Both teams are strong in all departments. There are a lot of good competitors in both teams. I think if we had played five games, it would have been a very even series.

Which way the match would have gone would have depended on a lot of things. I think we have the edge in pace bowling. Off-spinner Ashley Mallet might have found it difficult to extract as much on a good wicket as a leg-spinner might but Ashley was a fine bowler and was never really recognised for how good a bowler he was. They have good players of pace bowling, we had good players of pace bowling. They have good players of spin bowling, we have good players of spin bowling. Both, good fielding sides. I think we would fancy our chances. Gilchrist is explosive, but Rodney in his early days was pretty aggressive with the bat as well. If we had a choice we would like the matches to be played without helmet.

With a welter of limited overs cricket being played these days, do you believe technique has gone out of the window in batting, at least to a certain extent?

Technique is changing. Maybe the bat has made a difference. The heavier bats have had an effect on the footwork. The strides have shortened. It would be interesting to see if someone produced a bowling attack like the West Indies in the 1970s. The West Indies teams of that era really changed the game. They had four pretty good fast bowlers consistently during that 15-year period, and runs were hard to come by. They were bowling maybe 12 overs an hour - three short balls an over. There weren't too many scoring opportunities. Pretty hard to score at the run rates we are seeing these days - 90-odd overs, 300-odd runs in a day. That was just impossible against that attack, not only due to the pace of the bowling but due to the number of overs that they bowled in a day. It was much tougher mentally on a batting side.

Sachin Tendulkar is only 30 and is already among the most successful batsmen in the history of the game. At this stage of his career, where would you place him in the pantheon of great cricketers.

He is in the top bracket of players through the history of the game. Take a comparison between Sunil Gavaskar and Tendulkar. In some ways, I feel Sunil had a tougher time. He was an opening batsman for a start and he played at a time when the West Indies had four fine, fierce bowlers. The other sides also had very good pace attacks. There are not many teams that have that kind of bowling at the moment. So Sunil's record is pretty good. Sachin - I have seen him win so many games - can change the face of games. The thing is that a lot of it has been in one-day cricket. You remember those performances and tend to club it with Test cricket. Sachin probably hasn't been as dominant in Test cricket as he has been in one-day cricket. He is still a dominant player. The chances are by the time he finishes his career, if he doesn't have injuries, he could have 15,000 Test runs. That will be an incredible performance.

How would you compare Tendulkar with Brian Lara?

Nobody has such pressure on him as Sachin Tendulkar has from an expectation point of view. Apart from a few injury lay-offs, he's stuck with us the whole way through. Brian has taken a couple of sabbaticals. I think Sachin is a more resilient character. Brian is a fine player but if I were to rate them, I would have Sachin higher. Sachin has a lot more riding on him than anyone else in Test cricket, apart from Don Bradman.

Your views on Adam Gilchrist. Explosive No.7 in Tests, aggressive opener in limited overs cricket and a fine, athletic wicket-keeper.

Sensational player. Dominant character. Coming in to bat at No.7, is not easy, and he has had to bat with the tail most of the time. His record is incredible. The number of Test hundreds he would finish with in his career if he batted at three, four or five - he would probably double that. He has the ability to score 30 hundreds in Test cricket. If he does that batting at No.7, it has to be a phenomenal achievement. I love watching him bat. You feel as though you have done all the hard work, you got the top five or six, and he comes in and just takes the game away from you. He allows the balance of the team to be different. He becomes the all-rounder and so you can play the extra bowler.

Coming to the more traditional all-rounders, after the charismatic Keith Miller, Australia still has not discovered a world class member of this tribe.

There haven't been that many through the history of the game really. An all-rounder is someone who has to do both things well but he has to do one thing really well. He has to be worth his place in the team as a bowler or a batsman. The great all-rounders have been bowlers who can bat pretty well. They often don't do both in the same game because it is demanding. With the Australians, I don't know. I can't put it down to any one thing. Maybe we tend to specialise. Through the history of the game, people who had it in them have made it. If we had a genuine all-rounder, he would have come through.

You have faced so many great bowlers in your time, pace and spin. Who amongst them were the most difficult to handle and why?

Depends on the conditions. Different bowlers are more demanding in different conditions. Andy Roberts, Holding and Garner were pretty demanding bowlers. Derek Underwood was one of the most demanding bowlers I have played against under all conditions. Particularly if it was a dry wicket or if there was dampness in the wicket, he was probably the best bowler that I ever faced. Imran and Hadlee, given the right conditions, were difficult bowlers. Given a little bit of assistance in the wicket, greenness in the wicket, Joel Garner, because of his height, and Underwood, because of his unique style and his ability to make the ball talk on a wicket that had a bit of moisture in it, would stand out. Underwood has not been given the recognition he deserves.

And your duels with Dennis Lillee in Australian first class cricket?

Dennis is a great bowler. If I had to pick a bowler I would always pick him. Having batted against him a lot in first class cricket, he was one bloke under all conditions, who could make scoring runs difficult.

Finally, your thoughts on Australian coach John Buchanan's ideas on ambidextrous players.

I am of the opinion that it is not simple trying to make someone an ambidextrous cricketer. There are some people who have a tendency towards it. Fielding, throwing, especially under-arm throwing from close to the wicket, I could see some advantage in it. There are not many other areas that I see an advantage in it.

In the art of batting, where one side takes a lifetime to master, forget about two sides. I think we are better off trying to develop players who have a wide range of strokeplay. Equally, if you have Brett Lee bowling at around 160 kmph right-handed, why would you want him to be left-handed? The only sport where you have batters who switch hits is baseball. In an overwhelming majority of players, the difference in their statistics, whether they switch from left to right or right to left would be considerable. If you can average 50 batting right-handed, why would you want to average 35 batting left-handed? I am all in favour of lateral thinking, looking at different ways of doing things. From the reports that I have seen and the experts that I spoken to, most right-handers have no tendency towards being ambidextrous. Left-handers have some inclination towards it. If you have someone who is a super, natural athlete, who can do it either way, good luck to him.

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