Couch Talk 120 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to couch talk. The guest today is former Australian captain and also the former head coach of India, Greg Chappell. He talks about his time as indian head coach, the role of a cricket coach, his relationship with rahul dravid as captain, and as well as the kind of media access he provided, amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Greg!
Greg Chappell (GC)– Thanks, Subash!
SJ– It is absolutely me pleasure having you on.
GC– Thank you!
SJ– It has been 7 years since your job as head coach of Indian team came to an end. How do you reflect on your tenure in the job that you did with India? and, how would you have dealt with it, knowing what you know now?
GC– I look back at it with a great deal of fondness.. it was a great period, and a great opportunity and great honour to get to coach. And the other great countries in world cricket…. I have obviously reflected on it. i don’t really want to go back into the whole thing, and re-hash things. The other world has moved on, I have moved on, the individuals moved on. As I look back at it, it was a great deal of fondness. It was a wonderful professional opportunity. It was a wonderful personal opportunity. My wife and I had a wonderful time while we were there and made some great friends. I think there were periods where it was very successful, and a lot of good things were achieved.
There were other aspects that weren’t quite as successful. I am not quite particularly interested in counting and saying what I would do differently. I did the best with what I had at that time, as far as making decisions about what I thought was i the best interest of Indian cricket. And, that is all you can hope to do.
SJ– Fair enough.
I won’t go into the details of what happened. but, coming into the job itself, you had the reputation of one of the best batsman to have ever played the game, that preceded you into the job. As a global perspective, what would you like to see – the dynamic with the players that you were to be coaching. Because, you had this aura about you that, perhaps, intimidated players?
GC– Maybe. I can’t speak for others. Maybe it created an expectation that was unrealistic. Coaching and playing are very different. I have enjoyed my coaching experiences through the years. it is probably the nearest thing to playing the game. i have been a commentator, I have been a selector, i have been a journalist. Obviously, playing has been the most enjoyable and the most challenging part of it. But, coaching would be a very close second. I think, it is great to be able to work with the players and perhaps pass on some of your knowledge and experience. You can’t give something to the players, you can’t give something that you have got to them. All you can do is work with them at where they are at, where they need to go.
My expectations, I suppose, going into the job… India was a terrific cricket country and a very good cricket team. I have a philosophy is a finished article, you are trying to improve. I was looking to Indian cricket to improve and become the best in the world, because that is where they should be with the resources that they have and the love of the game. That is an expectation, and should be an expectation. So, i wanted all the players to continue their own personal improvement, and for the team as a whole to get better. That is what we worked on. Some players bought into it. Others, not quite so much.
SJ– That is an interesting point that you raised. Because, in your book, Fierce Focus, you mentioned about frustration that you felt in not bringing out the best in players like Virender Sehwag. You mentioned in an article later on in The Hindu newspaper column as well. perhaps you couldn’t get the best out of him. But, there was a time after you left, Gary Kirsten comes in and he is able to get Sehwag out of his shell and he was able to do as well as he could. But, since he left, Sehwag has struggled. With the experience of what you know, how do you think you would challenge him to bring out his best, or the best out of someone like Sehwag?
GC– Everyone relates to people differently. Virender was at a stage in his career where he was quite comfortable with what he was doing. He didn’t particularly wanted to make any changes. He didn’t want to work particularly hard on his fitness. I think all of those things were going to catch up with him at some stage if he didn’t work on them. He did start to work on them a year after I left. It benefited him for a period of time. Whether he continued it or not, I don’t know, but Virender is probably one of the most naturally gifted players that I have ever seen. As a ball striker, I don’t think there have been many better than him. What I was trying to do is to get him to understand that he had that talent and he needed to try and maximise it not only for his own benefit but for the benefit of Indian cricket. It is not for me to judge whether he did or he didn’t. As I said before, I did the best with what I had. It wasn’t obviously enough to motivate Virender to work harder on his game. i must say that in that time that we were there, there were two periods that he did world had from his game, and he benefited greatly from it. But, he wasn’t either able to or interested in continuing to work that hard.
SJ– There was an interesting aspect to your coaching tenure with India, which was that you tried to provide access to the media in a way that it hasn’t been done before or since. Did you think that it opened you up for a lot more scrutiny, warranted or otherwise, and left you in a vulnerable position considering the volume of media in India? By volume, I mean the number as well as the shrillness of it.
GC– Possibly. It was a choice that I made. I wanted to be open. I was quite happy to be under the scrutiny. I wanted to bring the media and the people of India along for that journey that we were trying to achieve. It worked in some ways, it didn’t work in other ways. There was a lot of scrutiny, as you say. It probably was the biggest challenge in the job that others have chosen not to try and invite the media along for the ride. Maybe they have been the smarter ones.
SJ– i want to talk about coaching, from a wider perspective. These days, you have specialised coaches for batting, fielding, bowling, mental conditioning, so on and so forth. You came in with your background in batting. So, as a head coach, you could double up as a batting coach. If you were to hire someone to help with batting, what would you want in a batting coach?
GC– You can have too many voices and too much different opinion around the group. You have to decide which way you want to go and what you want to see from your cricket team, how you want them to play. it is more based on the broad philosophy. I think coaching, in many ways, is misunderstood. It is not just about the technical aspects of the game – that is obviously there – it is also about the mental aspect of the game, the way you train for what you want to do is also a critical part of it. One of the things that we tried to change was the way the team had practiced for whatever – whether it was a Test match, whether it was a specific idea in mind, perhaps a particular aspect of the game. for instances, in the One Day game, India’s record in chasing was disappointing. We set out to change that, and I think largely we did change that. That was basically by practicing specific game scenarios and getting players to think about the roles that we were going to play, making the roles flexible, rather than a batting line-up from 1 to 11. It was situational.
Players… (M.S.) Dhoni was one. Yuvraj Singh was another. They were key batsmen in the middle order. Dhoni finished up becoming the best finisher in the game- someone who could read situations and read situations very well. We talked a lot about it, we practiced that a lot. It goes to say that coaching is largely misunderstood. I don’t think you need too many off-the-field experts. It is really just a matter of trying to marshal the talent that you have got and getting them to play the type fo cricket that you want them to play.
SJ– I want to get your input on how you see a batting coach and his role vs the role of a bowling coach. For example, when at the highest level of the game, you are not going to reach them how to hold the bat and the basic techniques of the game. Whereas, from bowling point of view, you may have 17 and 18 year olds coming in who are very raw. As a head coach, how do you see these two assistant coaches carrying out the roles? And, what do you expect, what kind of expertise do you want from the bowling coaches?
GC– The expectations are not that great, really. You need ours specialist coaches to observe and see if there are any issues that need to be dealt with. Again, I think it is largely about the philosophy about what type of team you want, how you want to go about your bowling. Your choice, whether you are trying to take wickets and play a positive brand of the game, or you want to contain runs. At different stages in different stages, you would be mixing the two or moving between the two. There are times when you want to attack and times when you need to defend. Again, looking at what we did with the Indian team was to try and put a team together that can take wickets as quickly as possible and make their runs as quickly as possible to give the team a time to win Test matches and One Day cricket. I have believed that the easiest way to stop the opposition from scoring runs is to keep taking wickets at regular basis. So, positive approach there is also important.
Getting the right mix of bowlers, like the right mix of batsmen… We have all heard about partnership in batting, there are partnerships in bowling as well. you want a variety of bowlers as well. it is no good having all left arm over the wicket bowlers all bowling at the same speed. You need a mix of right and left handers. You want right handers to take it away, you want right handers who can bring it back. You want left armers doing different things as well. Then you have the spinners. I prefer to try to put a team together that is capable of taking wickets. But, if wickets aren’t falling, at least they can bowl in partnerships. They bowl well together. The bowling coach is just to keep them fit and confident about their bowling, talk to them about their plans – how they are getting into an over, how they are getting into a spell, how they handle different situations. If all of a sudden the wickets stop falling and the runs are coming quickly, what fields they need to set. I think it is much broader than just looking at the technical aspects of the game. If someone has got technical problems, you need to deal with them. That is easier done away from playing which is during the periods of playing.
SJ– Would I be right in saying, looking from the outside, that the job of a bowling coach is a little more technically involved than the job of the batting coach?
GC– It can be, because obviously technical deficiencies can be problems. But, again, I think it is overstated. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies. Who could coach Lasith Malinga? No one has every bowled like that before. How are you going to understand his technique? They will get to understand it, they will recognise what works well and what doesn’t work well. so, you want a bowling coach, you want him to be able to do those sort of things and maybe get him back on track. Shane Warne was a great spin bowler. He had a mentor that he would talk to from time to time. the problems that he got into were as much mental as they were physical, but the physical things did creep in, and it was handy to have someone recognise that and maybe sort it out before it becomes a big problem. That is what you want from you. The bowling coach and the batting coach are very much the same – it is recognising what works for the player and noticing if things are going wrong and what has changed. The first thing I look is inside the head – what is happening there. Confidence to have a thinking, what their intent is. Generally when you go out to bat the intent is to go out there and get the runs and stop the good ones. When you are not batting so well, you can be defensive and worry more about getting and stop moving and you become more vulnerable. It is just trying to recognise what state the individual is in, whether he is a batter or a bowler, and help him accordingly.
SJ– There is a question from a listener, Kartikeya, and that is to do with the role of a head coach. In modern day cricket, we have specialised assistant coaches for bowling, batting, fielding etc., as we talked about. especially in test cricket, whether the team is going to do well or not is going to depend on high quality fast bowlers who are performing close to their peak, and you have batsmen who are functioning as well as they can. In that sense, what does the head coach do, really, especially when you have specialised skill coaches?
GC– The head coach has an overall role. It is about the philosophy, the game style, the game plan. How practice sessions are run, what you are expecting to get out of those sessions, how they fit into the style of the game that you want to play, managing the support staff, making sure that they are abreast of what you want form your bowler, and what their roles might be, what your batsmen’s roles might be, and what their expectations are, how they go about setting it up. Taking some pressure off the captain during the non-playing times so the captain can prepare for his own game. so, it is a multi-faceted role and I think that you need to have an understanding of all aspects of the game. if I was primarily a batsman, I did do quite a bit of bowling to have an understanding of what the role of the blower is and what some of the difficulties of the roles are. You need to have an overall view of what is going on. I don’t think that as a head coach, you can’t afford to lose contact with the players as to how they are training and what they are trying to get out of sessions. Your specialist coach is there if there might be a need for a little bit of work on the technique, you want the specialist coach to take the player for some extra session and work on some specific things.
SJ– I want to talk a bit about the coach-captain relationship. As a head coach, do you have a preference for a bowler or a batsman as a captain?
GC– No, no preference. You want the best person for hte job. I thkn, historically, the batmsen have been the ones that have been preferred probably because they have longer careers and less injury problems. You have a bowler as a captain and then suddenly he is out for 3 months with an injury. That is less likely to happen with a batsman. Really, though, whoever the best person for the job is. As for the relationship, it has to be a strong working relationship, very professional, respecting each other’s role and needs and requirements. You don’t have to be the best friends, but you have to have a good working relationship. The captain, as far as I am concerned is the boss on the field. Off the field, it is a joint operation between the coach and the captain setting the expectations and the game plan for the way the team has to play.
SJ– Continuing on that, when Rahul Dravid became the captain of India, you guys struck a pretty good relationship and as you mentioned earlier, you went on a successful streak of ODI run chases as well. You ended with a tough World Cup in 2007. What aspects of Rahul Dravid – the captain, the person and the batsman –allowed you have a very strong relationship with him?
GC– We had mutual respect, that was important. Also, philosophically, there were a lot of similarities. We were both aiming for the same thing. We needed to play a positive brand of cricket and we wanted the Indian cricket team to be the best team in the world in both formats as they were at that time. That was what we set out to do. We worked very closely together. No decisions were ever taken without both of us being heavily involved in it. i enjoyed that relationship and the opportunities to work with Rahul, who is not only a very good cricketer but also a wonderful human being. I thought he was a good leader.
SJ– You have been working with the Australian u-19 team. How does the role and responsibilities of a coach change when you are handling the junior teams compared to when you are handling a national squad?
GC– it is not that far removed, although there is a greater development requirement in the youth champion programs. It is not just about picking the best team every time. it is not just about winning every game. obviously, winning is an important part of the process, but more important thing I believe is about giving opportunities and as much experience in variety of conditions and variety of teams as possible so that they can be prepared to be moved from youth cricket into senior cricket. There is an element of that in the national team as well, where you have to take opportunities to give the players some experience. they may not be quite ready for that top level at that moment, but without gaining experience at that level, they may never be. There were times with the Indian team that we took the opportunity to give players experience so when we did need them, they had some experience behind them. In youth cricket it is very much about building up their bank of experience and give them the chance to reach their potential as players.
SJ– That is something that I wanted to ask you – your push for youth in the national teams. You tried that with India and when you were in the selector’s panel in Australia that was one of the running themes – that had more young players need to be brought inot the squad. If you look at the current set up of the Aussie Test team anyway, you have brought (Chris) Rogers back who is 36, Brad Haddin who is 36, Ryan Harris who is 34 on one knee etc. How do you reconcile with the fact that the current Australian squad is anti-thesis of what you and others had envisioned some years ago?
GC– Superficially that may look to be the case, but players like David Warner and Steve Smith and (James) Pattinson and (Mitchell) Starc and (Pat) Cummins and others who have been given opportunities over the recent years will be very important cricketers for Australia in the future. Without those opportunities they may not have reached the peak of their abilities. I am not certainly going to go into the discussion of who is right and who is wrong – the Australian selectors are doing a good job at the moment. You have to look at the team, where they are today and where it might be tomorrow and you have to keep taking some risks time to time from a selection point of view. If you are not prepared to take those risks, at some stage it will work against you.
SJ– Interesting point. I don’t question the fact that both jobs are tough – as a coach or as a selector. But, as a selector, most of the times you are taking a punt. You have a feeling about some player. You sometimes bring them in perhaps before they are ready. Having done the job, especially in the recent past – you have been both a coach as well as a selector – which one is harder, or which one is easier?
GC– They have both got their set of challenges. I don’t think one is necessarily easier than the other. The two are quite interlinked. Largely, it is about identifying talent and seeing how that talent might fit into the game style that you want to play. I have been a believer all through my career as a player and a coach that you have to play a positive brand of cricket and try to take the game forward. so, as a coach or a selector you are looking to players who can do that. But, equally, you need to have a balance. That balance is always a challenge to get right. It is not always just about performance. You have to be able to look past performances. Sometimes a player has got something more than he is necessarily obvious to the naked eye. David Warner is a question in point. Everyone has David pigeon holed as a T20 cricketer to be honest. Even his state team wasn’t picking him in long form cricket. A number of us worked hard, not only to get David to appreciate his talents but to get others to appreciate that he has more to offer than just being a barge and bash cricketer. He is someone who can play all forms of the game, and be a very dynamic cricketer in that. The challenge is to be able to look past the statistics sometimes to what might actually be underneath.
SJ– Alright! Finally, Greg, would you be open to taking up a national head coaching job if it were to present itself to you?
GC– I don’t think it is likely to present itself to me, for one thing. I am probably past the age of being looked upon in that role. I would love to do that, obviously, but it is a very demanding job. You are on the road for the best part of 10 months of the year. it is demanding physically and emotionally. 24×7 job, you are always thinking about it. There is very little opportunities away from it to freshen yourself up. You need to be conscious about keeping yourself fresh. As I said, I enjoyed every bit of it, but I am not sure I want to go again into that environment again – being on the road for so long at a stage in life where I have grandchildren, when I want to be involved in their life, and have got other family members as well. The role of a head coach is very much a single man’s job or someone who wants to be single soon. I am not in that category. I am not really looking for a role.
Thanks a lot for being on the show, Greg! Thanks for all your insights!
GC– It is my pleasure, Subash! Thank you!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman