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Illustration- Vasim Maner

It is sad to see the Golden Generation of Indian cricket – ‘The fab four’ – at the centre of such an ugly controversy. Sachin Tendulkar’s ghostwritten autobiography, Playing It My Way, amplifies a few of the controversies in a manner that appears selectively sensitive to fact.

With VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly joining the Greg Chappell-bashing, with Rahul Dravid as the ostensible collateral damage, the whole media circus around it constitutes one of the lowest points in Indian cricket.

The aspersions cast on Dravid are the saddest thing of the whole episode. Apart from the fact that Dravid was most emphatically a team man during his illustrious career, it is curious that during the period that the majority of the controversies date back to, he was the highest impact batsman for India, by a distance. We at Impact Index take some of the flashpoint facts and see what we can uncover.

1) Tendulkar claims in his book that Chappell met him just before the 2007 World Cup and asked him to take over from Dravid as captain so that they could both ‘control Indian cricket’.

For starters, here is the record of the Indian Test and ODI teams during Chappell’s reign (July 30 2005 to March 12 2007 – before the start of the World Cup – since that is the Tendulkar allegation).

In Tests, India had the second best win-loss ratio for any team in the world after Australia.

In this period, these were the highest impact Indian Test players:

Anil Kumble, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, S Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan.

Highest Impact Test batsmen: Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Irfan Pathan. Tendulkar comes after Pathan – a wow fact.

Highest Impact Indian bowlers: S Sreesanth, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel.

In ODI cricket, India had the most wins of any team after Australia. The win-loss ratio was the third-best after Australia and South Africa.

The highest Impact Indian ODI players during the period were Irfan Pathan, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Ramesh Powar and Harbhajan Singh.

The highest Impact Indian ODI batsmen were Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag.

The highest Impact Indian ODI bowlers were Ramesh Powar, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel.

Several of the players considered ‘Chappell’s pets’ were on these lists- Pathan, Sreesanth and Munaf. Even Powar, despite his fitness issues, did well. Pathan, in fact, figures very high on the all-time list of Indian ODI players.

Given how much success Dravid had, both as a batsman and as captain, winning in West Indies after 35 years, is it even conceivable that Chappell would want a change of leadership? Especially in a situation where Tendulkar was struggling badly in Tests? Is it even remotely logical?

2) Let’s look at the differences between the two years prior to Chappell taking the job, and the two years when he was coach.

In ODI cricket:

a) Ganguly’s dip as a batsman in ODIs was very visible before Chappell even took over. There is almost a 45% drop from his overall Career Batting Impact in 2003-05 vis-a-vis his Overall Batting Impact .

b) Tendulkar’s performance as a batsman was pretty much the same in ODIs. There was no major change from the two years leading up to Chappell’s stint and Tendulkar’s performance during his tenure. In fact, Tendulkar was a little higher impact during 2005-07.

c) There was no major change in Dravid’s performance; in fact, he was slightly higher impact in the 2005-07 period.

d) Dhoni emerged as a serious ODI batsman.

e) Significantly, there was the emergence of India as a strong chasing side during Chappell’s tenure. Most of the batsmen in the team have a very high Chasing Impact .

f) Both Harbhajan’s and Zaheer’s performances improved during Chappell’s time, relative to what it was in the two-year period before him. It is no secret that both were chastised by Chappell for their lack of fitness and form, much to their chagrin, but clearly it had the desired effect.

In Tests

a) Sachin Tendulkar’s performances dipped during Chappell’s period relative to the two year period before that. We’re talking of an almost 30% drop, very significant regardless of whatever injury issues may have contributed.

b) Ganguly’s performances were woeful between 2003 and 2005, and warranted a drop. There was almost a 20% drop from his Career Batting Impact . His subsequent successful comeback justified his dropping.

c) Dravid was more or less at the same level – high impact in both the periods. It is unfortunate that Dravid never got Tendulkar and Ganguly at anywhere near their best as Ganguly had Dravid during his own captaincy tenure.

d) There was no change in Laxman’s performance levels.

e) The biggest drop in performance level came from Sehwag. There was a 56% performance drop in 2005-07 when compared to 2003-2005.

Chappell addressed a lot of the problems that beset Indian cricket near the end of Wright’s reign, none bigger than Ganguly’s form and the politics around the side. New talent that he fostered, like Dhoni, Raina and Irfan Pathan left more than a lasting impact eventually. There were also eye-catching displays from Sreesanth (in South Africa in 2006-07) and RP Singh (in England in 2007). Perhaps his bedside manner left something to be desired, and not everything Chappell advocated worked out -the belief in Venugopal Rao and VRV Singh, for example- but the changes he brought in fielding standards and the approach to it found resonance later.

There is enough evidence to suggest that Chappell and Dravid worked well together and it reflected in the results and the mutual respect they had for each other. It is well documented that Tendulkar and Chappell fell out badly over the latter’s insistence on Tendulkar batting at No.4 in ODIs, though Ganguly and Wright had tried something similar in the run-up to the 2003 World Cup.

In the face of all this, to say that Chappell wanted Dravid removed and Tendulkar installed defies any kind of logic.

3) Laxman’s claim that Chappell threatened to drop him if he did not open the innings is the other controversy. Chappell insists that this was not true for Tests, and applied only for ODIs, something that Laxman disputes.

What is not in dispute is the fact that India had a big problem with chasing at that time; in fact, Chappell mentions in his autobiography how India used to panic while chasing before he became coach, none more so than Ganguly, and that he wanted to change the thought process involved in that.

Laxman was India’s second-highest impact ODI batsman in the 2003-05 period, when he was a regular No.3. Interestingly though, his Chasing Impact in this period was zero. As a result, it made more sense to not to use him in the middle order as in the second innings a lot of onus would be on the middle-order batsmen to finish the game. Given how Dhoni and Raina, and later Gambhir and Kohli emerged as outstanding chasers, this thought process was not outlandish at all.

He was being asked to go one position up from his regular slot, which logically should have worked for him and the team. Once Laxman lost his place, it became impossible for him to make his way back to the side, given the middle-order batting with good finishers that India developed after that.

However, when it comes to Tests, there does seem to be a phase when Laxman was treated perhaps a bit harshly, though that had nothing to do with opening or not. He was dropped after scoring 19, 21 and 0 in March 2006. He had made 104 and 90 before that, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Due to Tendulkar’s subsequent injury, he came back for the 2006 West Indies tour and did reasonably well.

Whatever man-management issues Chappell may have had, in the end, the results in that period (leading up to the 2007 World Cup) do not in any way suggest that it was a sorry chapter for Indian cricket, or that Dravid as captain had anything to be ashamed of.

That is why it is sad to see the most dignified man in Indian cricket besmirched and his reluctance to respond to what is being said – perhaps preferring the avoidance of massive irritation over the opportunity to not perpetuate misrepresentation.

 

Jaideep Varma/Soham Sarkhel