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For Chappell, there’s no such thing as standing still in sport

One-on-one with former Australia captain and India coach
Greg Chappell with wife Judith, in the city, on Tuesday. Picture by Gautam Bose

Calcutta: Former Australia captain and India coach Greg Chappell, who is in the city on a short visit, spoke to The Telegraph, at the Oberoi Grand, on Tuesday evening.

The following are excerpts

Q What are your impressions of the first Test and what does India’s strong performance mean for the four-match series?

A Means that it should be a good series... Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s innings made all the difference. Without his 224, it could have been a different result. It was certainly a match-defining innings and may well be looked upon as a series-defining one.

Many felt that Australia took to the Chennai Test a spinner short. Do you agree with that view or, there’s no point in including a spinner for the sake of having one more?

The Australians went with what they thought was their strength… Maybe, in hindsight, they would look at it differently. Perhaps, an extra spinner might have been useful, but they made the decision to go with their strength.

Despite such a modest target (50), the Indian openers again got out cheaply. Is that a point scored by Australia?

Despite the fact that there were three century makers in the Test, it was a tough game for the batsmen. Anyone can get out cheaply on a wicket which is difficult to bat on. The critical thing is that when you get started, you go on and get a big score, a very big score… The person who did that was Dhoni. It wouldn’t have been the same if he had got 124 instead of 224 … If India had to chase 200, it could have been a different ending. The fact of the matter is that India won. But they had also won the first Test against England!

Yes, India did and they went on to lose that series very comprehensively…

Right… The important thing is what you learn from defeats… So, I think Australia will walk away believing that there were some positives from the match.

James Pattinson’s bowling in particular?

Pattinson is back playing Test cricket, which is remarkable… Also, Michael Clarke continuing his good form and Moises Henriques having a good debut, particularly with the bat... It gives Australia another all-rounder option… That had been a problem with our cricket for a while. When Shane Watson was fit (to bat and bowl), there wasn’t a problem… But when he became unfit, we had to try out options.

Is this Clarke’s biggest test as captain?

It is certainly a big test… The next 12 months will be a big test for him.

Back-to-back Ashes…

Yes, a huge 12 months for Australian cricket and a huge 12 months for Clarke. He would want to perform, as a batsman and as a captain. He has shown us enough that he is an exceptional captain and is playing exceptionally well. Now, what he needs is to put together a combination for different conditions. Getting the combinations right will be the top challenge.

Clarke has been exceptional for more than a year… It has been a tremendous run. What makes him special?

Look, Clarke’s got an exceptional intuition... He’s got a gambling spirit, which you need to have as a captain. He is totally comfortable in that role and the responsibility that goes with it. He is very happy in his personal life… In his personal space, everything is very rosy and he is making the most of it. He is a confident and intelligent individual.

Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired… The retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have left the Australians without two heavyweights…

History tells you that opportunities come up and someone steps up. It’s the same in India and it’s the same in Australia. Other players will come… Getting opportunities is the hard part. Hussey had to wait for a long time to get one opportunity… Under different circumstances, he may never have got that opportunity and we would have never known whether he was a good player or not. In a similar way, now, someone else will step up. Whether it’s the first one who is chosen or the second or the third one, no one knows. But someone will always stand up… There is no such thing as standing still in sport. You are either going forward or going backwards… You can’t stand still… When you try and hold that line, hold what you’ve got, it doesn’t work.

Is there a right time to retire?

For each individual, yes… But it’s totally personal. I think Hussey would have loved to have played the next two series, but he, obviously, woke up one day and thought I can’t do it. I don’t know whether he made that decision in one day but, at some point, he realised that it was a bridge too far. Again, there is no such thing as standing still. To make runs consistently at the international level is a huge commitment… Mentally as well as physically.

Did you listen to your inner voice, so to say?

Absolutely… After (elder brother) Ian decided to retire, there were numerous times when I told him that he was crazy and he still had a lot of cricket left.

What did Ian say?

He said ‘No… The day will come when you will know whether it is the right time to retire’. I knew the right time for me... I am sure that there are some who realise that their time has come, but they keep pushing and pushing, for whatever reasons. But Hussey retired with a lot to give. Once I realised that I could not make the commitment mentally, and I could not play at the level at which I wanted to, I didn’t want to continue. I haven’t had one moment where I have brooded over my (January 1984) decision.

How much longer will Sachin Tendulkar continue?

Each person is different… Once you have a family, the decision (to retire) comes closer… Cricket wasn’t a full-time profession for me, for I had other interests… I may have taken a different decision had I been a full-time cricketer and had the sport been my sole source of income. For Sachin, cricket has been his whole life, but he must be having something on his mind. Sachin is the only one to make the decision and he has the right to make his choice.

While in Melbourne, did you watch Sachin’s innings of 81 the other day?

Sachin was good when he started his innings. The first couple of shots against the new ball quickly changed the flow of the game. However, the next day, with an older ball, the game changed again… Once you get past a certain point, you don’t have the sharpness in mind that you had as a younger player. If the mind is not sharp, the feet are not sharp either. When your feet are not sharp, there is not much of a difference between hitting the middle of the bat and hitting the edge. For each player, that point could be different… I had a conversation with Sachin a few years ago… And he was lamenting why batting didn’t get easier as we get older… I said experience is a double-edged sword… The problem is that you know what can go wrong and you also know how hard it is… I explained that if he thinks as a younger player, there is no reason why he couldn’t bat well.

What’s the No.1 challenge for a batsman?

It’s to get into that state of mind where you have nothing else going on in your life other than batting. It’s hard as you get older with other things in life… When you are young and you’ve got 100 per cent of your mental state going into your batting, then it’s a very different game.

Finally, just how closely do you follow Indian cricket?

I have a reasonably good understanding of what’s happening in Indian cricket, but I don’t watch every game and I don’t watch every ball. The experience of coaching India was a remarkable one and living in India was a fantastic experience for Judith and I.