MS Dhoni would’ve been a different player had he gone to academies at an early age: Greg Chappell

Greg Chappell (above) feels players like MS Dhoni became better cricketers by playing a lot of street cricket © Getty Images

Greg Chappell, who is in India with the Australia U-19 team, talks to Derek Abraham about developing youngsters into street-smart cricketers and DRS among other things
Derek Abraham (DA): How’s the experience of heading Cricket Australia’s Under-19 programme? How different is it from coaching a senior team?

Greg Chappell (GC): It is different. These guys are developing cricketers. At each level, the coaching experience and requirements are quite different. I enjoy working at this level because the young cricketers are very alert and wanting to learn. The focus is very much on the athlete becoming self-sufficient. You want them to make decisions. It’s more of a facilitation role where you try and create the environment where they are encouraged to explore and challenge themselves to expand their skills.

DA: You wrote in an Indian daily that India’s U-19 players play a lot of cricket. You cited the example of Sarfaraz Khan who has been playing since the age of nine. What are the advantages of the Indian system?

GC: Your guys play a lot of cricket, not necessarily organised cricket but in gullies and parks. It’s a very important part of learning. In unstructured cricket, you play without the supervision of parents, coaches or elders. Sometimes you play the older guys. The thing is that kids start learning to compete at an early age. The best example is MS Dhoni. This guy is so unique. Had he gone to an academy at an early age, he would have been a very different player. I think we love a lot of those natural environments in Australia. But a lot of our young cricketers are exposed to academy-style cricket very early. I am not convinced that’s the best way to learn.

DA: You played a lot of backyard cricket with your bothers Ian and Trevor. So did the Waugh brothers…

GC: That environment doesn’t exist in big cities. Maybe it does in the countryside. In cities, no longer do households have large backyards. There is very little spare land. And, parents are reluctant to send their children to local parks to play games.

These days, children tend to play more organised sport. The spontaneity is somewhat lost.

DA: You place a lot of emphasis on education. The truth is that many Indians are forced to drop out of school because of playing commitments…

GC: From the Australian point of view, we recognise education is important. If we don’t educate the person, we can’t develop the person as a whole. Their cricket won’t develop as widely as it could. A sporting career lasts 10-15 years. Injury and lack of form can cut careers short. There is a lot of life after cricket. It is our duty to educate our players. Having said that, I also recognise a big part of my education came after school. And much of it came through cricket.

DA: During your time as India coach, you worked with players like Anil Kumble, who is an engineer, while some others weren’t as educated…

GC: I also recognised that academic education is not just the only type of education. I think being street-smart, worldly-wise, understanding how the world works is equally important. Some are technically skilled, some are good mechanics or chefs. This is equally educational. It doesn’t have to only come from schools or universities alone. Guys like Dhoni and Munaf Patel didn’t have too much formal education but they were smart fellows.

DA: The CLT20 is going on. Are your U-19 boys fascinated by T20 cricket?

GC: We don’t talk about it a great deal. They are aware of IPL (Indian Premier League). They must learn to be adaptable. They should have the focus to play Test cricket as well as modern-day cricket. The idea is to expand their range as much as possible, to ensure we don’t produce Test cricketers or T20 players. Having said that, we don’t play any T20 cricket in our under-age championships because the boys are already exposed to it at the club level. We focus on 50-over and two-day cricket.

DA: Is it wrong to expose young boys to T20?

GC: The short format can be a very good training tool. Quite honestly, 20-over cricket has only been around for just 10 years. But the requirements are the same in all formats of cricket. You need partnerships, you need key players in key positions scoring runs.

You have to have players who have developed their cricket fully. The best players in any format are the ones who adapt the best. It’s more than just a technical thing. It’s also about mental and decision-making skills.

DA: What’s your take on the Decision Review System (DRS)?

GC: It’s a complicated subject. There are a lot of positives, but it’s not a perfect system. It’s still very much driven by human element. We need to keep looking at how we can improve the system. We need to use it to get rid of the howlers and I think we haven’t been able to achieve that. Don’t ever expect it to be 100 per cent right. Before DRS was introduced, umpires were getting it 94, 95, even 96 per cent right. DRS has taken some of the emotional element off the game. But it still needs to improve.

DA: Australia’s transition seems to be never-ending. They lost in India, England…

GC: I’ve seen Australia go through this three times in my lifetime. And each time, it’s taken them five years. I would expect them to take another year or two. We will be a strong side again.

DA: Are you open to the idea of working in India again?

GC: I am always open to anything. It’s unlikely that its going to happen. I enjoy being with the game. I enjoyed my experience and I am open to further experiences.

(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)