It~~s all not that sweet and honey for Chappell

Published: Sunday, June 12, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:When Greg Chappell begins his first coaching session next week with his mantra of "commitment to excellence", he faces the twin problems of form and fitness afflicting Indian cricketers.

All is not well at the moment with cricket in India, who lost their first home Test series to Australia in 35 years and then drew a three-Test series against a young Pakistani side last season.

Star batsman Sachin Tendulkar has been ruled out of international action for four months following elbow surgery and captain Sourav Ganguly is struggling to overcome the worst slump of his career.

The attack is also reeling with fast bowlers Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Laxmipathy Balaji in and out of the team either due to form or fitness in recent years.

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is under the scanner for a suspect bowling action. Only leg-spinner Anil Kumble has managed to keep his reputation intact, but he is in the twilight of his illustrious career.

Challenges also lie off the field for Chappell, appointed until the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

Coaching India has never been for the faint-hearted, considering inflated expectations of hundreds of millions of fans and an ever-probing media, and the former Australian batting great will be under great pressure to deliver.

Some former Indian Test cricketers have given Chappell's appointment a lukewarm reaction as they believe a local coach could produce better results than a foreigner, despite John Wright's successful five-year stint with the team.

Wright, a former New Zealand captain and Chappell's predecessor, transformed India into a force to be reckoned with after taking over in 2000.

The New Zealander was appointed with India's credibility at its lowest ebb following the match-fixing scandal and poor results on the field.

It was a tribute to Wright's skills that he managed to mould the youngsters into an outfit which beat formidable Australia at home in 2001 and reached the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa.

Chappell's task is different from Wright's in that he has more or less inherited a settled but out-of-form side plagued by injury problems.

His major worry is Tendulkar, who has been in the news as much for his lack of form as for his fitness in recent months.

Tendulkar, the fourth-highest scorer in Test cricket with 10,134 runs in 123 matches with 34 centuries, has been under fire for tempering his flamboyant batting style.

"I just need to sit down with him and work out where he is at and where he wants to go. What expectations and what goals he has, and hopefully motivate him perhaps with some new challenges," Chappell said in a recent interview.

"He's been around for 15 years and his performance has been extraordinary. He was always going to have some down periods, he's had some injuries, he's perhaps had a bit of a crisis over what his role and place is in the team."

Chappell has also to deal with Ganguly whose recent slump with the bat (48 runs in three home Tests against Pakistan) has already put his captaincy as well as his place in the side in doubt.

In-form Rahul Dravid and swashbuckling Virender Sehwag have been touted as Ganguly's likely replacement, even though both deny harbouring ambitions to lead India.

One certainty, however, is that Chappell will not tolerate indiscipline and lack of commitment even from star players in his pursuit to put India on a par with world champions Australia.

"They (Indian players) are going to have to work a lot harder in some areas. That's going to be the challenge: some of the senior players may not want to work that hard," Chappell warned.

"There are certain things you have to do that are non-negotiable and therefore a lot of discipline is required."

Chappell's first assignment is a triangular One-day series in Sri Lanka, also involving the West Indies, in August.

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