It was an event full of drama, controversy, gossip, a (perceived) pantomime villain, a (perceived) hero of the people. There was infighting, there was a public spat, it was spoken about on all TV channels and discussed ad idem in offices during the water cooler chats. TV commercials were made taking a dig at the entire episode and there was a bittersweet ending. Some may think it was a soap opera, and, why not, as the ‘script’ certainly had that feel to it. However, we cricket fans simply refer to it as the Ganguly – Chappell saga. We delve into what happened, why it happened and what it led to.
On one side was Sourav Ganguly, the beloved captain of the Indian team. The man who transformed the Indian cricket team into the bold unit it became. The captain who guided India to series wins over Pakistan and Australia, whose team did not lose to the Aussies when they toured there. A very popular ‘dada’ of the Indian team indeed.
On the other side was Greg Chappell – the hardened Aussie. The former captain, who left no stone unturned to get his way (ala the underarm delivery controversy under his captaincy). The man who was the coach of the Indian cricket team. The man who liked to call the shots.
Before it Began
It was late early 2005. The contract of the coach of the Indian cricket team at the time, John Wright, was coming to an end and he did not wish to renew it, citing personal reasons. So, the hunt was on for the next coach. There were many contenders in the race – Jimmy Amarnath, Tom Moody and Dav Whatmore among others, however, out of the blue, came the recommendation for Greg Chappell from none other than the captain ( Ganguly) himself. The story goes that when Ganguly had spent some time with Chappell before the series vs Australia in 2003-04 in Australia, he was very impressed with the knowledge and understanding of the game that Chappell possessed. He thus felt that Chappell would have been the right person to take Indian cricket forward along with him.
However, there were a few people who advised Ganguly against his recommendation. Prominent among them were Sunil Gavaskar and Jagmohan Dalmia but the most startling person to speak against this appointment was Greg’s own elder brother, Ian Chappell. They all felt that the kind of personality Greg Chappell had, his manner of dealing with people and his quest for control, would not go down well in the Indian dressing room. Ian Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar even suggested that Greg’s man management skills were not great at all. Regardless, Ganguly stood firm in his recommendation and finally, the board agreed and appointed Chappell the head coach of the team in May 2005. Ganguly was delighted and Chappell too was looking forward to the role.
The troubled start
When Chappell took over, his first assignment with the team was a trip to Sri Lanka for an ODI tournament. Ganguly was not to be a part of the tour as he was suspended by the ICC for 6 matches due to poor over rates in a previous series. Dravid was appointed skipper for the series.
The next assignment was a test series against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. Ganguly was back at the helm for this series. His form in test matches though, was a cause for concern as he had not scored a century in the format for over 2 years. This is something that Chappell brought up with Ganguly before the test series. Before the practice match prior to the test matches, Chappell suggested to Ganguly to step down from captaincy to focus on his batting, re-assuring Ganguly that he would soon find form. Before the first test, Chappell felt that India must always field its best 11, even if it was at the expense of an out of form Ganguly giving way to a younger, in-form batsman, with an eye to the future as well. This enraged Ganguly, who thought it an attempt by Chappell to remove him from captaincy, and he threatened to walk out of the tour and return back home. Better sense prevailed when Dravid and Chappell coaxed him to stay on. He stayed on and played the first test as captain, scoring a century to boot.
It Spirals Downwards
After the test match, Ganguly made a comment to the media that he was being ‘pressurized’ to give up the captaincy by certain team officials. Speculations were rife and fingers were pointed at Chappell who came out in his defense by stating that he would never pressurize anyone to do anything. He also said that the private conversation he had with Ganguly was to motivate him.
It was during this tour that an email sent to the board by Chappell was leaked to the media in which he felt that Ganguly was just ‘desperate’ to retain the captaincy and that he felt that Ganguly was ‘mentally and physically’ unfit to lead the team. He also said Ganguly’s negative attitude and habit of faking injuries to get out of tough situations would have a drastic and adverse effect on India’s chances to win the 2007 world cup. He further stated that Ganguly had lost the confidence and trust of his fellow teammates. This washing of linen in public created a furor, especially in Kolkata where there were protests against Chappell.
India’s next assignment was a 7 match ODI series against Srilanka in October 2005. Ganguly ( as fate would have it) suffered an injury before this series and was not picked for the team announced for the first 4 games. With India doing well after 4 games, Ganguly was not added to the squad when the team for the remaining fixtures was announced. Thus, Ganguly was left out of the Indian ODI team and was no longer captain of the ODI team. He was also not selected for the 5 match ODI series against South Africa that followed and as a result, during the ODI in Kolkata of that series, the Indian team was booed by the passionate Ganguly fans in Kolkata and there is a famous photograph of Chappell showing the finger to some supporters in retaliation for the Anti Chappell posters that was captured there.
In the test series against Sri Lanka that followed, Ganguly did make a come-back against into the team but Dravid was appointed captain of the test team and Sehwag vice-captain as well.
One thing was thus clear, Chappell had impressed upon the Indian selectors that Ganguly was not good enough to be part of the ODI set up ( losing out to younger, fitter players) and he was not good enough to lead the test side. Ganguly jostled with younger players like Yuvraj and Kaif for his position in the team and was dropped from the squad entirely for the third test after a lackluster performance in the first 2 tests. The rationale provided for the dropping by then Chief selector, Kiran More, was that it would not have been unfair to have a senior member like Ganguly in the squad but not playing. The same story continued in the series against Pakistan ( in Pakistan) and England ( at home), Ganguly was in and out of the team. In the series that followed against the West Indies, Ganguly found himself out of both teams. His extended omission from the team created ripples of support from the public, debates in parliament too, with calls for an enquiry. Effigies of the selectors and Chappell alike were burned. Then there was the famous advertisement from a beverage company with the “bhule toh nahin” question asked by Ganguly in it, which endeared him to one and all. (Ganguly in his autobiography says that he was not in favour of doing an advertisement of this kind but his contractual obligations compelled him to do so)
Ganguly’s come back
Once he was out of both teams, Ganguly returned to domestic cricket and tried to work his way back by putting in good performances in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments. His hard work was noticed and while he was ignored ( as had been the norm) from the ODI team to tour South Africa, he was recalled to the Test team to tour the country. He performed admirably in the warm-up game before the first test and was picked into the playing 11 for the first test. He scored a 51 in his first innings back and played well throughout the three test series to be the highest run-getter for India in the series.
This terrific performance propelled him into earning a call-up into the Indian ODI team as well, after a gap of nearly 2 years. He performed well in the ODI games too to earn a call-up for the India world cup team for the 2007 world cup.
India went into the tournament as one of the favourites but as many of us regretfully still remember (and will probably never forget) India exited in the first stage itself. This poor performance created enough pressure on Chappell as well and he resigned from his post as coach of the team.
Thus, culminated one of the biggest sagas in Indian cricket.
The Chappell – Ganguly saga clearly divided the team and cricketing fraternity. There were some who believed in his portrayal of Ganguly while others stated that he had a very forceful way of putting his thoughts and points of view across which was something that the Indian players were not used to thus did not know how to counter, even if they did not agree with him.
Players like Sachin (in his 2014 autobiography) have gone on to speak about the destabilizing effect he had on the team and they felt that Ganguly was ill-treated by him. Zaheer Khan and Laxman too have spoken about ugly episodes they had with Chappell as well, but have done so only years later. Harbhajan was one of the few who came out in Ganguly’s support in 2005 itself but was admonished for it, though not punished. In fact, a quote from Harbhajan goes “Chappell destroyed Indian cricket to such an extent that it required at least 3 years to again get back on track. The worst part was that some, players in that team, who sucked up to the coach would supply selective misinformation creating bigger rifts”
Thus, perhaps certain people (players) took advantage of the situation between Ganguly and Chappell to further their own case. Certainly, as coach of the team, Chappell would have wanted the best for the team. It would have also helped him leave a lasting legacy if the team coached by him did well. The way he went about doing it though, left a lot to be desired and ultimately made the atmosphere in the team a torrid one. The treatment meted out to Ganguly could not have done wonders to the confidence of the other players in the team. “If the captain can be shown the door in a ruthless manner, imagine what would happen to me” a player could not be faulted for thinking like that. It meant that players were playing to retain their places in the side; they were playing as individuals and not as a cohesive team. Cracks thus emerged and the result was the ultimate fiasco in the world cup 2007. It also forever put Ganguly’s position in the side under scrutiny and he ultimately had enough and retired in 2008.
This saga played out in what was one of the strongest Indian teams to have played, with the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Kumble, Zaheer Khan and VVS Laxman in it, all they could do was watch from the sidelines and offer a private word of sympathy to Ganguly when they could.