A series of events in 2005 and 2006 led to a much-talked-about controversy at the time in the Indian cricket team. The ‘Captain vs Coach’ feud between Saurav Ganguly and Greg Chapell, resulted in Ganguly’s removal as the captain and also as a team member in the squad. The dispute was so intense that even after almost 15 years, in 2021, while recounting his days as the Indian coach, Greg Chappell said, “Sourav, as captain, didn’t particularly like working hard. He wasn’t particularly looking to improve his cricket. He wanted to stay in the team and be captain so he could control things. It was challenging.”
The controversial and highly-publicised episode not only affected the relationship that the two players shared, but also impacted the Indian cricket team’s performance in the 2007 World Cup. This world cup is remembered for a series of disappointing performances, controversies, lack of camaraderie, and its coach, Greg Chapell.
In this episode of Frontfoot, The Core’s Joshua Thomas spoke to renowned sports journalist Ayaz Memon about the Ganguly-Chapell fallout and the reasons behind India’s “appalling” performance in the 2007 cricket World Cup, where India was eliminated after suffering defeats from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the group stage.
“I mean, they beat Bermuda, which was actually a no brainer. They would beat Bermuda even while playing with one hand strapped behind their backs. But then they lost to Bangladesh, which is a shocker. And then they lost to Sri Lanka, and they were bumped off the World Cup in the first phase itself. They did not even get into the second phase. So that is how poor India's performance was”, Memon said.
Reflecting upon how Chappel, Indian cricket team’s then coach’s relationship with the players affected their performances, Memon said, “The issues started kind of spiraling out of control because stories emerged of Chappell openly admonishing senior players in front of the junior players in the dressing room. And the players themselves were not holding back in their criticism of the coach. So all this was swirling around in the environment and it put Indian cricket in a fairly grim situation, especially in the World Cup “
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
Who was selected to be part of the squad in the 2007 World Cup and what were the kind of internal issues they were having, really?
It was an appalling performance by India. They started as one of the teams that looked likely to perhaps win the tournament because they were very strong on paper. When you look at the lineup, there was Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid (who was the captain), Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, and Robin Uttappa. So this was not, by any reckoning, a weak team. There was nobody important who was missing, so to speak.
But what was missing was clearly–camaraderie and team spirit. There was just too much internal dissent happening within the Indian dressing room. And this was actually a spillover of what is happening in Indian cricket from maybe 3-4 months before the World Cup was played. The dressing room was divided over the authority of the coach then— the chief coach — who was Greg Chappell. A lot of the senior players had spoken up against him. All kinds of things that happened with Greg Chappell, who had joined Indian cricket in 2005, almost like in a very celebrated manner when he joined up and he teamed up with Sourav Ganguly, who was captain, as an Australian great who would restructure and redefine Indian cricket. But all that kind of fell apart very early because Ganguly and Greg Chappell fell apart, fell out with each other. And then Ganguly was replaced as captain by Rahul Ravid, who actually got along very well with Greg Chappell. But somewhere along the way, it seemed that a big crop, a big chunk of the Indian dressing room was not particularly happy with Greg Chappell or aligned with his way and his methods of functioning. And when I say this chunk, it included a lot of the senior players. So that, in a sense, you can imagine it also left Rahul Dravid, the captain, in a very prickly situation. As the captain, he has to also be with the team, but he is also with the coach. And that tug of war, that tug and pull which is going on within the dressing room… this was played in early March, the World Cup. But one could say that for about 6-7 months before that, it had started kind of impacting the Indian dressing room quite adversely. And the fallout, the major fallout of this adverse effect was experienced in the 2007 World Cup, where India lost badly.
I mean, they beat Bermuda, which was actually a no brainer. They would beat Bermuda even while playing with one hand strapped behind their backs. But then they lost to Bangladesh, which is a shocker. And then they lost to Sri Lanka, and they were bumped off the World Cup in the first phase itself. They did not even get into the second phase. So that is how poor India's performance was.
So, fundamentally you're saying like Dravid was kind of having to balance out what Greg Chappell wanted versus what the team wanted? Was it something like that?
In such a situation, what happens is that….it is almost like a vote of no confidence against the coach by a whole chunk of players. And then the captain, what does he do? It is almost like he becomes a little Bo-Peep because he has to meet the players. He also has to somehow be with the coach. But the stress and strain of managing so many contradictions obviously told even on Dravid. So it is not that no effort was made. Or even before the World Cup, India had actually a pretty good series in South Africa where they drew the test series—it was one all. But then issues started kind of spiraling out of control because stories emerged of Chappell openly admonishing senior players in front of the junior players in the dressing room. And the players themselves were not holding back in their criticism of the coach. So all this was swirling around in the environment and it put Indian cricket in a fairly grim situation, especially in the World Cup, because the World Cup was something that everybody was looking forward to. And remember in 2003, India had reached the final and lost there. So there was expectation that India would reach the final again and perhaps this time win. But here they could not even make it past the first round.
You are saying that Greg Chappell was admonishing senior players in front of junior players. So this is something, I know in management, is like a big no. You are not supposed to…
I am saying these were stories that emerged, going by reports from the tour of South Africa, not in the match itself. I think that in the 2007 World Cup, I think the Indian team was shell shocked having beaten Bermuda. And yes, there was… it was an unhappy dressing room and everybody knew. But you still expect or you hope that the players will go out there and play to their potential because they are professionals and they are playing for the country, representing their team. The personal pride is there. The pride of playing for India is there. But with so much unhappiness around, the point I am trying to make is that you cannot be gung-ho about a team, or how it will perform, if the atmosphere is so vitiated in any walk of life. Just reflected in the defeats against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
This was, I think, Dhoni's first World Cup right before 2011. So did he say anything of his experience or what was his performance like, seen? Was there any kind of tell for what the future held for Dhoni in these moments? Could you see it or was it just too clouded by all this controversy?
Dhoni was an emerging star. He was not yet the Dhoni as we know him. Dhoni's debut in international cricket came only in 2004. So he had not played the 2003 World Cup. But between 2004 and 2007, he had made quite an impact. After starting off a little sluggishly, he had come into his own. And especially with his batting in limited overs cricket, he was seen as a major star in the making. And everybody, almost just about everybody, had very high words of praise for him across the board. So whether it was Greg Chappell, the coach; or it was Rahul Dravid, the captain, or senior pros like Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly or whoever else, they were unanimous in their approval of Dhoni as a player. But in this tournament, actually, in the two matches that India flopped in against Bangladesh and against Sri Lanka, he got a blob in both matches. He got zero and zero. So he did not have a great tournament. And nobody knew then that this is the same Dhoni who would end up becoming one of the greatest cricketers that India has produced and with a truckload of trophies to his name, as it were.
So after the tournament, what happened to Greg Chappell? What was the state of the Indian team? What happened with the whole controversy?
Look, getting bumped off in the first round itself obviously created a lot of unhappiness in India, in the country itself. The public did not take kindly to the team's poor performance. And obviously there had to be some kind of fallout, some ramifications.
The biggest ramifications was Greg Chappell losing his job. I mean, he quit from his job, but he was, I think, sounded out that he's no longer going to be the coach of the Indian team, though he had a few months to run, remaining still in his contract or his tenure. But because immediately after the World Cup, the Indian team went to England for a series in England, Rahul Dravid was still captain. All the other players were there. And that incidentally is a series where Dhoni came into his own and made an impact. But importantly, also, they had a stop gap coach in veteran Chandu Borde for the Test Series. And India went on to beat England in the Test series. So quite a turnaround from the World Cup disaster or the debacle.
And in 2007, India had beaten England after 21 years. Beaten England in England, I mean, they had beaten England at home, but not beaten them in England. So after 21 years, after 1986, this was the first time. And after that, interestingly, Rahul Dravid also quit the captaincy. He said he wanted to focus on his batsmanship. I think he had had enough of the mental strain of trying to manage. That whole crisis, I think, took a toll on him also… leading up to the World Cup and obviously the flop show in the World Cup. So he gave up the captaincy in 2007. And 2007, the T20 World Cup, which was to happen…. I am just fast tracking you as to what happened, giving you a kind of context. 2007, the T20 inaugural World Cup, the captain was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had kind of been fast tracked into the captaincy. And he went on to win the World Cup—the T20 World Cup, not the ODI World Cup. And, well, it just transformed, that story transformed the way Indian cricket would be seen in the future, as it happens, as it evolved from there till now.