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If Test cricket is allowed to slip, then the soul will be lost: Greg

Greg Chappell with wife Judith and Sharmila Tagore during the Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, on Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Greg Chappell fears for Test cricket. He fears the longer format of the game is in danger of dying out in the face of an onslaught from the shorter versions of the game.

“I’m concerned if we allow Test cricket to slip… Cricket will then lose its soul and will be poorer,” the former Australia captain and India coach told a packed ballroom at the Oberoi Grand, on Wednesday.

The occasion: The second annual Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, a joint venture of The Telegraph and the Bengal Club in association with the Oberoi Group. Much like Imran Khan at the inaugural Lecture last year, Greg, too, stressed on the need to give top priority to Test cricket and the importance of a sound domestic structure.

So focused was Greg for the evening that he spent the entire day preparing his speech and jotting down points.

Greg kept the audience spellbound for close to 25 minutes with his in-depth analysis of the game, his discussions with Pataudi, how Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s “unique skills” and “bottom-hand dominant grip” have played a role in his success, how the environment, and not academies, shape a player’s skill and the way forward for Indian cricket.

“I’m delighted to be back here… I’ve special affection for the country and the people here… I spent few wonderful years in India…. There were also days when I wondered if all was worthwhile, especially when the effigywallahs were doing their work,” he remarked.

That was the only reference to the troubled times during his tenure as India coach. But he remains positive about the game’s future in India.

“Indian cricket’s future is in strong hands… I’m excited where it can go. The players and administrators are the custodians of the future generation.

“The importance of Test cricket has to be protected. The advent of Twenty20 cricket has taken the game to a different direction. But the importance of Test cricket has to be protected. Twenty20 cricket has taken the game in a different direction.

“The modern players are more flexible than any generation and each one has different challenges. A lot of thought has to go into how we need to protect Test cricket … Take care of all the three formats at the same time.

“There’s room for the 50-over game too. If we only let Twenty20 and Test cricket to survive, it will be a big mistake.

“Only four/five nations can afford the development programme for Test cricket’s survival… If we allow that to happen, only four/five countries can play Test cricket… That would be a shame,” said Greg.

“We’ve got to remember that Test cricket will always be the No.1 challenge. It’s a great learning experience. It harps on patience, discipline and teaches you to take the good with the bad… The lessons learnt during my playing days have helped me in other aspects of my life.”

Describing India as a “powerhouse off the field” in world cricket, he harped on the need to adjust playing in different conditions. He was all praise for BCCI Ground and Pitches committee chairman Daljit Singh. “He’s one of the best curators… The pitches in Mohali are as good as anywhere in the world.”

“In Australia, each of the states offer different conditions. Brisbane and Perth are bouncier, Sydney favours spinners, Adelaide and Melbourne are batsmen-friendly, but with wear and tear, the ball goes up and down… That’s how you get used to playing in different conditions,” Greg said.

Recalling a “wonderful evening” with Pataudi during his days as India coach, Greg said: “India, in cricket, should be as strong as Brazil in soccer. Tiger was supportive of what I was trying to do.

“Excellence and success are never an accident… Choice and chance determine destiny. Tiger agreed that for India to be a champion and super power in cricket, some things needed to change… That success doesn’t come with an ad-hoc strategy.

“For India to be successful, the team had to win overseas… We talked about what made up a successful team. Tiger was one who had a plan and knew their strength lies in spin.

“He also knew for India to succeed, self-belief was important… He was the first to make India think positively… He realised the need to include great fast bowlers in the team and didn’t believe it wasn’t possible.

“Tiger used to cite the example from across the border… The way Pakistan produced great fast bowlers. And he knew it had to start in domestic cricket and had to be a long-term plan.

“The standard of pitches also had to improve… He knew that any team that dominated the game over the years has had good fast bowlers,” Greg recalled.

He lamented never playing against Pataudi and blamed it on his “fate”. But he couldn’t stop praising Pataudi’s “amazing” 75 and 85 during the Melbourne Test in 1968, a match India lost by an innings. “He batted with flair and courage in both the innings despite an injured leg…”