Dhoni was my go-to man in Indian team: Chappell
Chappell, whose two year stint from 2005 to 2007 was marred by several controversies including the infamous public spat with the then skipper Sourav Ganguly, recalls how Dhoni rose in stature in the side.
Writing in his autobiography `Fierce Focus`, Chappell said such was hierarchy in the team that youngsters were petrified of speaking before a senior such as Sachin Tendulkar in the team meetings.
"The real ray of hope for Indian team was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most impressive young cricketers I`d ever worked with. He was smart, and able to read the game as perceptively as the best leaders," Chappell wrote.
"If I wanted to know what was going on in the middle, Dhoni became my go to man. He would eventually breakdown one of the biggest problems in the India teams," he added, referring to the young players` reluctance to express themselves.
"…The youngster would say, `I can`t speak before so-and-so. If I speak up before a senior player, they will hold it against me forever.` Some were petrified, flat out refusing to say a word in a meeting before, say, Tendulkar had spoken. It was so hierarchical, it made Australian teams look like commune," he wrote.
Chappell said he began to separate team meetings into three groups-senior, intermediate and junior-so that he could hear their thoughts, which were later broken down by Dhoni as he gained in confidence and asserted his leadership. Dhoni made his Test debut after Chappell took over as coach.
Recalling his tumultuous sting with India, Chappell said at times he had to deal with mood swings, fluctuating commitment to fitness and senior players` unwillingness to get out and mix with the local culture and enjoy tours.
Chappell also delved on his stormy relationship with Ganguly. Speaking about the unhappy and stormy relationship with Sourav Ganguly, Chappell said although Ganguly`s support was one reason why he got the job with the Indian team but it turned bitter when the then skipper started expecting him to be his saviour. "His idea was probably `you scratch my back, I scratch yours`," Chappell wrote.
"He expected I would be so grateful to him for getting me the job that I`d become his henchman in his battle to remain captain. I, on the other hand, took on a job with the primary responsibility to Indian cricket and the Indian people.
"There were a billion of them and only one of Sourav. I wanted to help India become the best cricket team in the world," he said. "If that means eventually they could only become that team without Sourav, then so be it," Chappell said, adding that on field, "there was no bigger panicker than Sourav."
He described Ganguly as a player "caught with self doubt and his own struggle to survive". He wrote "Sourav had great batting and leadership talent, but never realised his potential because he was consumed by what he saw as the threats around him,".
Chappell claimed that when he was asked to frankly give his views to the BCCI on the team`s future, he told the Board president Ranbir Singh Mahendra that "I couldn`t see this team winning the 2007 World Cup, but regeneration was possible if it started with Sourav permanently handing the captaincy to Rahul." .
"I thought once Sourav is no longer in charge, his batting would improve and his followers might be brought into line and made better contributors to the team," Chappell wrote. "Sourav was reappointed for the coming tour of Zimbabwe, after which he sent me a very hurt text message asking why I wasn`t backing his captaincy," he said.
Chappell said he had no bitterness for Ganguly at that time. "I did like Sourav," he wrote. Chappell blamed Ganguly`s attitude problem to the cultural upbringing, which he said was common in India.
"I felt strongly that if he gave up the captaincy, he could find a way to batting greatness. He didn`t want a coach, or an agent of change. He wanted a political ally," Chappell said.
On the team`s trip to Zimbabwe, Chappell described how the daily results affected the moods of players and accused Ganguly of confusing them with constant changes. "When I sat down and talked with him about it, he would agree to everything I asked, but then go his own way. Some other senior players were similarly expert at Gandhian passive resistance: saying `Yes yes yes` before doing the exact opposite. Each time he agreed, then didn`t do it," he wrote.
"In a warm up for the Tests, against Zimbabwe-A at Mutare, Sourav went missing for the toss so I went out to do his duty for him. I lost. When he learnt what I`d done, he seemed more vexed that I`d lost than that the coach had had to do the captain`s job," he said.