E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: It was as strange a meeting as one could think of. I never thought that I would run in to Greg Chappell, K.P.S. Gill and Priyaranjan Das Munshi together at the Feroze Shah Kotla. I still couldn’t fathom what the Big Two of Indian H&F were doing there at the Kotla.
As we sat at the club and said cheers with a ‘Patiala Peg’, I thought it was a wee bit strong. But it set the right tone for our chat.
“What’s the problem with Indian Hockey? Can’t it ever be turned around,” I asked the hockey chief.
Even as I was turning towards Gill, Chappell caught my eye and almost immediately, I heard Chappell’s voice.
“Why not? We’ve got to identify some 30 young boys and take charge of them. Hockey, or for that matter, football, is a 90-minute game. That’s two 45-minutes' playtime with a 10-minute break. We’ve got to train fresh legs to run around at least 60 minutes in each half. We must take control of the game from the word go. The trick is to make the boys believe they can do it.”
I asked Chappell why cricket is so popular In India. Before he could say anything, Gill now started off.
“Cricket is popular because there’s a lot of money in it. BCCI and advertisers have spoiled the game. The cricketers and the public get all kinds of incentives. There’s so much of waste of time when they play cricket. Why, they even telecast a Test match for five days!”
I asked Das Munshi how he plans to make football popular, and get India out of the low ranking of 118 (or is it 125?), to some thing more decent. Before Das Munshi could open his mouth, it was Greg again! In fact, he continued where he had left off, earlier.
“Having a goal is the main thing in football! Where we are now 150 something or whatever, it doesn’t matter! I would give the boys a goal to work on: to reach the top in Asia in 18 months’ time. Take on the European clubs in 36 months’ time. I would get Baichung Bhutia to play in all positions. He would score goals, but if we want him to defend, he will play fullback. Ditto with Dileep Tirkey in hockey too (ask Irfan Pathan!). I don’t know any other names in Indian football or hockey! If anybody fakes injury or skips training, out he goes. There’s one more thing. Money. If my boys can beat the daylights out of China and Korea, I can assure you, the day we play Manchester United, big business will come searching to sign up the boys. ESPN and StarSports would come running to telecast India’s hockey match with Holland, live, if we have taken Germany and Australia to the cleaners. These boys will not be second to cricket stars. My boys won’t stay in 3rd grade hotel and travel 2nd class train and take all that crap!”
When we ordered third round of drinks, I wasn’t sure what I was asking and who was replying! I managed to ask Chappell whether BCCI supported him in his work.
I thought Das Munshi would butt in, and sure enough, he did. “There’s too much politics in cricket. Ministers have become chiefs of the Board and there’s lot of political pressure from everywhere. Just imagine, Rs 3,300 crore for TV and radio rights for cricket! That kind of filthy money is certainly not good for sports. Further, no coach can get any support from politicians, I can tell you that! For us, the entire money comes from the government kitty, out of Rs 500 crore for all the sports put to together. We have come here to collect our quota from that Budget.”
“Do you think football and hockey can ever move up at all” I asked both Gill and Das Munshi who are kind of lifetime presidents of H&F, before we stumbled out.
While they were still groping for words, I heard Chappell’s voice…
“… give me 36 months. I will straighten out things and get India to top-3 in hockey and get our boys to play in the next football World Cup… To the boys, having a goal is what matters. Rest will come automatically with our work…”
Chappell banged the table hard for emphasis as he got up.
I woke up when I heard a sound; something had fallen off my hand. My wife Maya was shouting. “You have dropped the remote… Why did you shout ‘goal’ during the presentation ceremony when Dhoni was declared Man of the Match?”