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Compromise is not a recipe for excellence

This makeshift union promises to be the most tenuous of truces, where every decision made and quote uttered, will be assiduously interpreted for a hint of a slur, says Rohit Brijnath



A TAME DRAW: Is the patch-up between the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly and coach Greg Chappell the result of a temporary glue that won't stick?

Sourav Ganguly once tore his shirt off after victory and shy is not a description he wears comfortably. Greg Chappell is an iron fist in search of a velvet glove and has never met the phrase "mincing his words". Now these two strong personalities are being asked to mind their Ps and Qs. Maybe they'll attend their next press conference holding hands.

But a disquieting feeling lingers: compromise may work in Ranbir Singh Mahendra's boardrooms, but it's not the established recipe for finding excellence on the field. You don't negotiate fielding sessions.

Insults have flown through e-mail and television bites. Chappell has basically said his captain can't field, can't bat, can't lead; Ganguly has questioned the values of his coach. This marriage is beyond counselling.

But we're dealing with it like a schoolyard scrap between immature combatants who are asked to shake hands and get back to class. The decision (or very absence of it) is embarrassing in its predictability. Indian cricket cannot decide on TV rights, on BCCI elections, why would this be different?

One should have gone

This makeshift union promises to be the most tenuous of truces, where every decision made and quote uttered, will be assiduously interpreted for a hint of a slur, an insinuation of one-upmanship. Greatness is about bold moves, it demands passion and forthrightness, and it cannot be found by two men walking on eggshells. One man should have gone, preferably the captain, inevitably both stayed. Now in this fractious atmosphere we expect team performance?

Of course, coaches and captains/stars have jousted in all sport, over tactical philosophies and discipline, and inflated egos are easily bruised. David Beckham received a flying boot in the face courtesy Alex Ferguson, and that wound never healed resulting in the captain exiting to Real Madrid.

At the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant would deliberately ignore Phil Jackson's triangle offence, testing the Zen calm of his coach. Eventually Jackson would leave the Lakers (though now he is back) and this was an interruption of custom, for in most team sports the coach/manager is pre-eminent.

Cricket's long days on the field make for the exception, for here the team belongs to the captain. For all the growing authority of the coach, like Duncan Fletcher, the responsibility of command remains with the captain. Here, more than any other game, the position moves beyond the symbolic.

Chappell in normal circumstances should not be allowed to override the captain, except that Ganguly, once triumphant, is flailing (so was his team), he does not own the form, his philosophies are worn and his disciplines are poor. A good, decent man, and Ganguly is one, has compromised himself as a cricketer.

Settling for hope

Perhaps, for those with a partiality to miracles, Ganguly will rediscover his batting machismo, field with enthusiasm, be sitting in the team bus before everyone gets there, heal every team rift, and re-take control of his team. It is improbable, and instead of being pro-active, Indian cricket has settled again for hope. Indeed, the only man who took a stand is Chappell and we're so unfamiliar with it that we have been reduced to platitudes of "best interests of the team" and "miscommunication". Instead of confronting a problem, we backed off.

Chappell's refrain of "performance or perish" is what we require, his toughness must be imbibed, his philosophy is sound, but his salesmanship of it demands a rapid sandpapering. Presentations on paper are useless in themselves.

Paul Wilson's opinion is only one, but his view of Chappell as coach at South Australia is revealing, for he is quoted as saying: "Greg Chappell is a fantastic individual skills and batting coach, but he was a poor coach when it came to looking after a group of people."

Ric Charlesworth, author of The Coach, while not commenting on this particular situation for he is unfamiliar with it, said in general terms to me that any new coach going to a struggling team "must persuade players to the benefits of his philosophy", adding "you must train players to receive hard messages". Often this requires a certain finesse; players must not be appeased but gradually convinced.

Of course, situations differ and every team has its own demands. Australian coach John Buchanan, merely recounting his own experiences and not endorsing a particular method, says he took it "slow and steady" at Queensland, where he was vastly successful, and got a few senior players on his side. At Middlesex, where he was asked to enforce change, he started straightaway, but tensions with a few key players undid it all. "In hindsight," he says, "I might have tried to rush things." Perhaps so is Chappell.

Either way decisiveness was required from the committee. Ganguly should have been sacked, or Chappell, or both, for the status quo is untenable. As it stands, Chappell's way, velvet glove hopefully found, must be embraced; he, after all, deserves a second chance, the captain has had many. We must try the Australian at least, not succumb to slackers in the team, some quicker to whine than sweat.

Mainly though, we are disappointed, for success demands risk yet we remain faint-hearted, moving forward sometimes requires change but we are too comfortable as we are. This team is broken and we had a chance to build a new one. Instead we have opted for a temporary glue that won't stick.

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