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The personality cult is back


Indian cricket cannot afford to waste its time wrangling



PETER ROEBUCK

After a few years of calm progress under a thoughtful coach the old bad habits have returned to Indian cricket. Factionalism has reared its ugly head. The cult of personality is back. Assigned the role of objective observer, newspapers have become part of the political game. No good will come of any of it. A plague on both their houses.

A plague on Greg Chappell for overreaching himself. He was appointed to coach the team. Presumably choosing the captain was not part of his remit. Doubtless his opinions were to be taken into account but his primary task is to play the hand he had been dealt.

Admittedly he took charge at a difficult time. In his squad can be detected not the promise of youth but the intransigence of age. Of course he sensed that the side was no longer moving forwards. As a consequence he has been impatient for change.

John Wright was luckier. He inherited a few outstanding cricketers whose careers were rising. He had the sense to build his side around players of calibre and character. He was also wise. He took a look at the bowling and waited till he had settled before trying to play his shots. Even then he proceeded with due caution. As much could have been predicted from his batting. Significantly, too, he allowed his players to love him. He was both popular and respected.

Chappell is more aloof. He likes to dominate from the outset. As much could have been told from his batting, and from his record as a coach, or lack of it. Here he has been his own worst enemy. Apart from confronting a duly appointed captain in the middle of an overseas tour, he also sent an email to a senior official, a message containing his most unguarded thoughts. It is not sensible in any country to commit anything serious to paper, or its contemporary equivalent. Upon passing on a confidence one noted sage routinely avers "this is strictly between me, you and your six best friends" In India it is madness to entrust anyone with secrets.

Of course a coach ought to be able to rely on a senior member of the Board. Alas Indian cricket officials leak like professional mourners. Chappell ought to have known that. Doubtless he will be more discreet hereafter. Poor judgement and insensitivity can be detected in his recent actions.

As far as the new coach is concerned, about the only saving grace is that he is manifestly right. Sourav Ganguly's time was up a year ago. Alas no one had the strength to tell him. Indian cricket spends so much time looking over its shoulder that it forgets to consider the road ahead. Ganguly has been batting and fielding poorly and is not worth his place. Also he has missed crucial matches. That he has a fine record is beside the point. Cricket lives in the eternal present.

Ganguly has also behaved badly. Talk has spread of a renewal of the supposed north/south divide. These are flames fanned only by the self-serving. True patriots understand their danger. Kerala and Bengal count amongst the finest parts of this great country. It is not necessary to take sides. Men must think beyond tribal loyalties. Ganguly's allies have served Indian cricket ill by raising these matters.

What now? It's easy. Replace the captain and advise the coach to attend to his appointed tasks. Indian cricket is on the cusp of mighty achievement and cannot afford to waste its time wrangling or indulging players whose time has passed.

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