One Can Make Minor Corrections, but the Major Ones Are in the Mind

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Sunil Gavaskar

Published — Friday 25 July 2003

Last Update 25 July 2003 3:00 am

It’s been quite interesting to hear and read the stories regarding Greg Chappell’s possible stint with the Indian team at its training camp in Bangalore before the new season gets under way. What is hard to understand is the controversy that is being sought to be created about John Wright’s position as the Indian coach if Chappell does come to India. There is absolutely nothing wrong if a coach feels that his team will be better served if another specialist comes in to help the boys out with his experience and expertise. After all, the specialist is only an invitee and not a permanent coach, so where’s the conflict with the national coach’s position? If a former Indian player were to be asked to come and give his expertise to the batsmen, would it conflict with Wright’s position?

If not, then why will Chappell’s visit, if in fact there’s going to be a visit, clash with Wright’s position and authority? Even when Wright has been the coach, there have been others who have helped the boys whenever the boys have gone to them, notably Geoffrey Boycott, Mohinder Amarnath to name a couple. Why, even I have had the pleasure of interacting with some of the players on specific areas of their batting when they have approached me.

What one must try and find out are the coach and Ganguly’s reasons for wanting Greg Chappell. Is it because India is to visit Australia shortly?

If that’s the reason, then it’s the wrong reason for quite simply, with all his greatness as a batsman, Chappell’s thinking will be Australian and what the Indians need is Indian thinking. By that, I mean an Indian who has played pace well and knows how to approach the innings and succeed against them. To give you a simple example, an Australian batsman may think only ten times about tackling the short ball, while an Indian will think maybe twenty-five times. It’s how to get rid of this thinking and making the short ball work for you, that’s the key and it can only be explained by an Indian who has gone through it and knows how to treat the demons in the mind about the short delivery.

The Australians play pace day in and day out, and so don’t think too much about it. The Indians on the other hand hardly get to play quality pace at home in domestic cricket and so find it harder to cope with it when they go on to international cricket. But there have been some fine players who have gone on to bat exceedingly well against the quick stuff and get runs against it. Not too long ago, G.R. Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri have all got loads of runs against the speedsters and they have done it after playing mainly slow bowlers in domestic cricket, so they know a thing or two about making that mental adjustment when they went to play Test cricket.

These are the guys who should be talking to the Indian team and even players like Kiran More and Shivlal Yadav, who battled it out against fearsome pace and did better than expected. They didn’t say that they were not specialist batsmen and so didn’t have to try. How they made the adjustment is what only they can tell and that’s what some of the current guys need... that inspiration that they also can tackle pace although yes, it will be painful at times doing so.

If John Wright has indeed asked Greg to help out, he is being honest with Indian cricket, for he thinks that Greg will have some more to contribute than he can, but in no way does this dilute his authority and position as coach. Maybe he feels that there are certain aspects of batsmanship that are better explained by others. He is the coach not just for batting but also for the all-round approach and attitude of the Indians to their different opponents. He has no ego hassles about his team members asking some other former players for help and that’s his strength in that he sees what’s good for Indian cricket rather than what’s good for John Wright.

Greg Chappell’s presentation at a recent seminar was very impressive according to those who attended it, but remember he was talking mainly to coaches who have the juniors as their wards. There is still some scope to make changes to the technique of juniors, but virtually impossible to do so once a player is about 18 years old, for by then he is set in the way he moves, whether batting or bowling. Where players like Greg Chappell and Geoffrey Boycott will be invaluable is in their interaction with the junior cricketers whose technique is still at a malleable stage. That, along with temperament, is what will eventually make the difference between good first-class players and good international players. Now that Geoffrey Boycott is well, it would be a great idea to have him come down to the NCA. Sure, he can talk to the current squad as well, but there’s not much that one can do to change their technique, for it’s formed and hardly possible to change.

Yes, one can make minor corrections, but the major ones are in the mind. And here, with all due respect, it’s only those who have gone into international cricket with the same kind of mind and conquered it, which can help and these are former Indian players.

To tell from personal experience, I had the good fortune of representing my country for more than a few years and tour all the cricketing countries, during which there was lots of interaction with the players and officials of those countries as well as former greats there. But the best advice I got was from former Indian players. Nobody, not even that greatest of middle-order batsmen ‘Sir DGB’ was able to give me the tips that the former Indian greats did.

There were four tips that were invaluable. The first was from my uncle Madhav Mantri who told me after a double century in an inter-collegiate game when I threw my wicket away that I should never do a favor to the bowler and to never throw my wicket away irrespective of the runs I had scored. The second was from Nari Contractor who told me to keep a diary, especially of the days when I batted well and write in it everything from the sleep I had, to how I felt on waking up and going to the ground, the walk to the pitch, the stance, the grip, the movement of the feet, just about everything. He said it would help when I was in a bad patch, for not only would it get my self-belief back but also tell me what I had done to bat well that day.

The third was from the late Vinoo Mankad who told me at a reception to stop pointing my elbow toward the bowler in my stance as it hampered my on-side play. This was after I had a few Test centuries under my belt. Vinoobhai was our coach at college and so had seen me prior to my playing Tests. The fourth was from Polly Umrigar, who told me that if I wanted to play long innings in our hot and humid conditions, then I must not waste my energy running fast for easy singles, unless of course there was a chance of another run. I kept all this advice in mind and though it wasn’t always possible to follow it, there’s not the slightest doubt that it did help me in getting a few more runs in international cricket. I rest my case.

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