Former Australia captain Greg Chappell, speaking on the Cricket Life Stories podcast, reflected on his coaching stint with India, recalling how his advice to an out-of-form Sourav Ganguly ultimately led to Chappell getting a job as the Indian side’s coach.
Chappell served as Australia selector from 1984 to 1988, but admitted that he “never had any ambitions to be a coach”. In the 1990s, the South Australian Cricket Association approached him for a coaching role, an idea he was reluctant to pursue at first.
“I (later) realised that there were quite a few positives about becoming re-involved in the game in a different role,” Chappell said. “So I took that role on and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I could.”
After Chappell had wrapped up his stint with South Australia, Ganguly, the then India captain, approached him for technical advice on his batting. Ganguly had had an abysmal 2002/03 season, managing 78 runs in eight Test innings (average 9.75), and ahead of the 2003/04 tour of Australia, reached out to Chappell to pick his brains.
“After I finished [my role] with South Australia, I got a call from Sourav Ganguly, a contact from Ganguly, to see if I was living in Sydney at that time and whether he could come to Sydney and spend some time with me, as he was struggling with his batting.”
“So he came out [to Sydney],” Chappell said, “and we had a week together in Sydney where we worked on his mind as much as his physical skills.
“What I found in my own career and generally talking to most other players is that you don’t lose your ability, but you often lose your way mentally and a slump is generally brought about by poor thinking which often maybe is brought about by some failures. And then you get caught up in this spiral of what’s going on anxiety and all of those things. So I worked with Sourav on whether he had a mental routine, and he wasn’t aware of it. [Chappell asked] ‘Ok? If you thought about it, do you think that you’ve got a routine in there that you use sometimes that you don’t use always’ and he started to think about it at night time between our sessions, and he finally worked out that ‘Yes, I think I do have a routine that I use sporadically’.
“So we worked on getting him to understand what his routine was and what it should be and manage that on a ball-by-ball basis and a couple of things from the physical point of view.”
Chappell then went on to explain that, while coaching in South Australia, he had a friend who had a large library of cricket videos, and they looked at the batting footage of several great players, ranging from Don Bradman to Ricky Ponting. Chappell noted that all these batsmen got into a particular position at the point of release because they were getting ready to play the full ball. “The longer the ball stays in hand, the less likely it is going to be a full ball,” Chappell said, “So all of the good players prepared for the full ball and then reacted to what came.”
While talking to Ganguly, Chappell realised that the left-handed batsman’s conditioning had shifted from the usual, following his struggles with short-pitched deliveries.
“What I found talking to Sourav was, he was preparing for the short ball because it worried him and therefore when they pitched the ball up, he didn’t see it. So, he was having trouble because he wasn’t seeing the ball. So, we just got him back to prepare for the full ball and react to what comes. So, at least he was seeing the ball leave the bowlers’ hand. All of a sudden, he had time, he was seeing the ball well and he (went back to India and) started making runs again.
When John Wright, the then-India coach, deciding to leave after the 2004/05 season, his potential replacements included Chappell. Ganguly is said to have put forth the Australian great’s name twice in 2005.
“He [Ganguly] was the one who approached me about coaching India,” Chappell said. “I had other approaches but I decided that (since) John Buchanan was coaching Australia at that time and would likely be that way for a few years to come, and my window of opportunity as a coach was closing. If I couldn’t go to Australia then I would love to coach the most populous, fanatical cricket country in the world, and that opportunity came about because Sourav, who was the captain, made sure that I did.”
The subsequent two-year stint was one of the most acrimonious periods in Indian cricket history, headlined by a spat between Ganguly and Chappell. In his autobiography, Ganguly later called Chappell’s hiring “the biggest mistake of my career”.
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