Thursday, March 01, 2012

Australian Coaches and India

Michael Nobbs is an anticlimax to the Australian spirit. The hockey coach now handling the Indian fortunes is helping the revival of the national game in the country. The Australian who is on a five year deal with Indian Hockey surely knows a trick or two to make his survival in India memorable.

Australians have a very strong attitude and are known to call a spade a spade. However, they run into rough weather with the Australian Battler attitude in Indian environment. The Australians have never enjoyed a smooth stay in India whether it was Greg Chappell or John Buchanan.

The Two Australians, the former a great player and the latter a great coach ran into rough weather handling Indian cricket teams in various formats of the game.

John’s theory of having different captains in the Kolkata Knight Riders Team and the way in which he handled the sponsor rich Badshah team showed that the Aussie felt it better to run away from Kolkata than get drowned by the fans in the Howrah River.

Greg Chappell beat Mohinder Amarnath to become the Indian cricket team coach and ran into a series of controversies in his stint with the Indian cricket Team. His frank advice to Saurav Ganguly to make way in the Zimbabwe tour and his middle finger gesture to the cricket fans in Kolkata are all memorable things that Chappell made headlines in the country.

However, the common trait amongst the three Australian coaches is their keeping tabs in the small diaries that they carry with them. They might be making notes about their experiences and strategies. I am sure that there are huge volumes of notes that are exchanged between Chappell, Nobbs and Buchanan on how to survive the Indian thunder.

Chappell selected Rahul Dravid as the best among the trio of Sachin, Sourav and Dravid. He then got the selectors and senior players to back Dravid as the captain of the Indian cricket team. Chappell was someone who loved to speak his mind but when you have a captain who does the same and has a better following, you ideas go unnoticed. He first used Dravid to rid home his agenda which was partially good for the team but best for his survival. Dravid was used to get Sourav not only out of his way but also out of the team. The coach and captain talk in the dressing room was leaked to the media. Dada’s poor run with the bat made the captain lose his place and captaincy from the team that was build block by block by him post the Match fixing controversy.

It needed Dada’s astute knowledge of back-door diplomacy to bail him out of crisis as he approached Sharad Pawar, the then cricketing Chief of India to prolong his test career. The Indian political Czar helped Sourav make a return into the team first for the test and then for the one day team. The team won the one day series in Pakistan 4-1 and many believed that Chappell could be the new saviour of Team India. His theory of calling a spade a spade did not go down well in India but Chappell spotted the talent in Gautam Gambhir and repeatedly gave him chance to prove himself. Greg’s failure in not getting the team he wanted for the 2007 world cup showed when the men in blue got knocked out in the opening round. The seniors came together and the board did not extend Greg Chappell’s contract. The Australian had bitten more than he could chew but his frank assessment of Team India was just perfect but in India nobody cares when you call a spade a spade.

Micheal Nobbs insisted before he signed on the dotted line that he needed a long term deal. His first trip with Team India showed clearly that he wanted things to be run in Indian hockey his way. Youth is the mantra for survival and he knew that he needed to get the seniors (the newsmakers) out of his way. However, this was not an easy task and it was impossible to do it single-handedly. He did not open his cards but left for China with his first assignment with Team India. The first acid test was the Asian Champions Trophy and the Indian team came on top with a gold finish. The return trip and the federation decision to give just 25000 rupees as prize money broken by the writer made the nation cry foul. TV channels, connoisseurs of the game felt cheated and the captain was prompted the captain of the team to return the cheque. The parent body was humiliated and Rajpal Singh the captain picked up a fight with the federation in front of media glare. The full team returned their prize cheques but it was only the senior players that got lost in the way for the Olympic qualifiers.

The team announced for the hockey Olympic qualifiers raised a hue and cry. Rajpal and Arjun cried foul but no-one listened to their woes and the federation justified the team as they had an axe to grind with the players. Coach Nobbs in the best interest of the team preferred to remain silent as things unfolded. The coach finally stressed the fitness and form is paramount for getting selected. What he did not stress was that Sardara Singh is the only playmaker and in the Indian team. The game played over 70 minutes, cannot be won with one playmaker and Rajpal however unfit can fit into the role of a playmaker with his skills. It is easy to win silverware with lesser known countries but to win against fancied opponents you need to have more than two playmakers in a team. The Australian admitted that he is banking on his 3 drag flickers to bail the team out. The world would explore methods to tackle Sandeep and Raghunath and they could be stick checked in London. The team won the Olympic Qualifiers in style but the war for survival or to regain lost glory has just begun.

Nobbs was able to do what the other two Australian coaches failed to do in India. The Indian hockey coach did the turnaround or what he wanted with a straight face and a little tact, while the other two failed to get around the circumstances around them.

Success has many fathers and friends. The Indian hockey team is basking in the glory of keeping their London Dreams alive. However, success can only be achieved when one has the right mix of youth and experience. The Indian team’s in the 2011 World Cup cricket campaign and Spain’s 2010 football world cup success story are all prime examples of getting the right combination. If you have the right mix of youth and experience, you can win any obstacle that come your way even after you lose the opening round games in the world cup campaign. Spain lost to Switzerland while India lost to South Africa but they had the winning combine to make it memorable.