By Madan Mohan
“Guru” Greg Chappell gave some gyaan on Tuesday and the media lapped it up obligingly for an irate Indian public. Within days of his brother Ian Chappell insinuating that Sachin Tendulkar not playing for the right reasons, the former Australian cricketer and Indian coach stirred a storm with his comments on the Indian team.
He said: “Indian culture is not a team culture. They lack leaders in the team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, their schoolteachers make their decisions, their cricket coaches make the decisions.”
The condescending tone in some of his remarks didn’t help either. “The Poms (British) taught them really well to keep their head down. For, if someone was deemed to be responsible, they'd get punished. So the Indians have learned to avoid responsibility.”
Predictably, the overwhelming reaction from India has been to retaliate by discrediting Chappell and suggesting this is akin to a lazy carpenter blaming his tools. They have pointed to the fact that he did not make a successful selector for Australia, so the problem may be with him and not Indian culture.
That may well be so. And the character of a man who made his sibling bowl underarm in desperation is not beyond censure. But what about his comments? Do the words of a man who has made some mistakes also necessarily lack absolutely any merit? To build on that point, what if somebody else, perhaps a respected former Indian cricketer, had made similar observations about India? Would our reaction still have been the same?
Because many of the things Chappell spelt out here are things which have been repeated ad nauseum in debates and discussions not only pertaining to Indian cricket, but India as a whole. For years, people have bemoaned the lack of leadership and responsibility in many disciplines in India. And if for some reason, you have never been part of such discussions, you don’t really need to be: our roads bear silent, or rather, cacophonous, witness to the Indian condition.
What is to be said of a nation that generally finds it difficult not to jump signals, slow down to let a pedestrian pass at a zebra crossing or, at the very least desist, from honking agitatedly at a signal before the light turns green! This is not to say everything to do with India is deplorable and I don’t think Chappell has said as much, even if that may possibly be his private view. However, this is a nation that both thrives on and is held back by chaos and indiscipline.
Writer-diplomat Pavan Kumar Varma, among others, have explored the paradox of a nation that, with plenty of huffing and puffing, manages to crawl at best and yet never wilts, never fades away. One of the oldest civilisations and largest economies in the world is also home to one of the largest populations of people living in dire poverty.
It is not very different from the state of the Indian team and its performance graph over the years. There have been times, under Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar in the ‘80s and later during the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-Gary Kirsten partnership, when greatness seemed to be within the team’s grasp, but Team India has also not been down in the dumps during its lows either. Individual stars shine bright and win the respect of the world of cricket as such, cutting across national boundaries. But sustained brilliance has largely been elusive for the team as a whole.
This is, to a large extent, what Chappell has also observed, albeit in a tone that is rather harsh and blunt. But he once coached this team and is not necessarily a rank outsider to Indian cricket. Who’s to say he’s not entitled to express his opinion on the subject? If his remarks on Indian cricket are so unwelcome, perhaps he should not be asked questions on that topic in the first place nor should they reported in the Indian media.
One may not agree with him and I certainly do not agree with the part about the British ‘coaching’ Indians to keep their heads down. I do find his observations generally quite disagreeable. But is our angst also at some level a reaction to an outsider pontificating about India?
Doesn’t this reflect a general tendency to overreact to comments passed by cricketers about Team India or Indian cricket? Or, in fact, remarks about India? I remember large sections of the media protesting that the film “Slumdog Millionaire” projected Mumbai and India in a poor light. This, with regard to a nation in which 42% of its 1 billion people subsist on an income of less than $1.25 a day. Is it simply that we do not like a guest to tell us to fix our house, even if we know full well that it badly needs fixing?
Chappell’s coaching stint with Team India represents in the eyes of many an unpleasant chapter in Indian cricket, and understandably so. But his words are not necessarily entirely devoid of merit or utterly baseless for that reason alone. Don’t shoot the messenger: Chappell has simply touched a raw nerve.
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)