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The Rediff Special/rediff Cricket Bureau
Bob and Greg: A tale of two coaches
January 12, 2006
Bob Woolmer is playing it cool by saying the madness over the series is affecting his golf.
And Greg Chappell has gone on record saying it is not going to be him versus the Englishman.
But there's no doubt the two foreigners are very much a part of the hottest contest in world sport that will be fought out from Friday in the middle of Pakistan's coldest winter since 1967.
A quick look at the two coaches' styles and substance:
Once upon a time in cricket, the role of the coach for an international team was limited to going through the motions of the daily practice: Overseeing the warm-up, some catching practice, some fielding, and then the nets.
It took an India-born Englishman to turn that on its head.
Robert Andrew Woolmer -– who was born May 14, 1948 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh -– can be safely called the father of modern cricket coaching.
When he took over the reins of the South Africa team, they were a new entity in world cricket, and their first India tour was remembered mostly for the goodwill generated and Allan Donald making batsmen duck.
By the time Woolmer was through with them, the Springboks had taken cricket to the age of nanotechnology. Mastering the fine art of fielding had become a must and the laptop had become as important in the dressing room as the cricket kits. Remember Hansie Cronje's wired helmet?
Here's another piece of trivia that might make you laugh, in hindsight. And it will perhaps also show the Woolmer Effect on cricket.
In 2000, then India coach Anshuman Gaekwad had reportedly sought out a journalist who had written that Gaekwad should buy a laptop like Woolmer. 'Tell Woolmer to buy me a laptop,' an angry Gaekwad reportedly told the scribe.
Woolmer, a mediocre batsman who was best remembered for being 1976 Wisden Cricketer of the Year, is no stranger to handling strong personalities in the team. As coach of the Warwickshire team, he clipped Brian Lara's wings.
And, Woolmer has already made the mercurial Shoaib Akhtar direct his fire at batsmen, and not at his teammates, as he is prone to.
You can be sure Woolmer, who jeopardised his Test career by signing for Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1977 and sealed it by joining the rebel South African tour of 1981-82, has got his strategies worked out against India.
Sample this from Woolmer's official web site: When a Pakistan supporter wrote to Woolmer about how the Aussies subdued Rahul Dravid by bowling inswingers with a packed leg-side field, Woolmer's reply was: 'Yes we noticed that.'
But the real challenge for the man who took over as the Pakistan coach in June 2004 -– after a two-and-a-half-year stint as the ICC's high-performance manager -– will be making the Pakistan team stick to the plan. The Pakistan team, while never short on talent, has the habit of flying off the handle.
Unlike Woolmer, Gregory Stephen Chappell's coaching stint will go down in history as a footnote to his profile. The August 7, 1948-born Australian is, and will remain, a great batsman first.
Greg -- whose grandfather Victor Richardson and elder brother Ian played for and captained Australia -- scored a century on debut, as well as in his last Test. He finished his career with 7,110 runs, including 24 centuries, at an average of 53.86 in 87 Tests. He played 74 one-dayers, scored 2,331 runs at an average of 40.18, including three hundreds.
Had he not played in Kerry Packer's World Series for three years, Chappell's record would have been even more impressive. Many believe his batting against a fearsome Windies bowling attack in the World Series is the best example of meeting fire with ice.
A vegan -– not just vegetarian, but off dairy products as well -– and a philosopher, Greg Chappell's coaching record is not as stellar. India is his first international coaching stint. He coached South Australia for five years.
But his cricket philosophy is perhaps best understood through two events: the first is the most-quoted incident in Chappell's playing career: Getting brother Trevor to bowl underarm to ensure a victory. The other is when he was a commentator. When Mohammed Azharuddin had thrown away his wicket in a close match, Greg spat into the microphone: 'He deserves a kick on his backside.'
Before he got the India job, Chappell said, 'I think world cricket really needs to re-think the role of national coaches. It's something that's evolving and a reasonably modern phenomenon.'
Chappell thinks a coach should be like a parent. If you ask fans of a certain Sourav Ganguly, Chappell would undoubtedly be referred to as the kind of father that gives birth to rebels without causes. Not so long ago, before he took over the reins of the India team, he told an Australian newspaper that Sachin Tendulkar was past his peak.
But if you ask the average cricket fan, he would heap praises on the experiments Chappell has successfully carried out on Team India. Never before have the Men in Blue been so unpredictable in terms of strategy. Never before have they looked so strong on ammunition in the arsenal.
And we all know they are going to need all of that in Pakistan.