Dealing With Ian Chappell’s Culture Argument

From one brother to the next. Following his younger sibling, Ian Chappell offers a more nuanced diagnosis of India’s recent failings:

There’s also the suspicion that honest appraisal is an accepted part of life in the Sri Lankan team, while the senior Indian players are untouchable and some of the younger brigade have succumbed to sloppy habits. There could be another underlying cause: the Sri Lankans are still owed some back pay, while in many cases the Indian players have become extraordinarily rich overnight via hefty IPL contracts. There has long been a theory that hungry sportsmen are the most competitive.

Whatever the reasons for the differences between the two sides, there’s no doubt Sri Lanka have an egalitarian team culture, while India’s is more conducive to developing bad habits.

I don’t know about the ‘hungry sportsmen’ hypothesis. On the one hand, if you strike it rich early in your career, you have an easier time disregarding advice and ‘good habits.’ On the other, money is a powerful incentive and draws greater (and more) talent to cricket. [And perhaps this is naive to say, but inclusion in any national cricket squad is about more than money -- it's a stamp that validates hours and days and years of practice, risk-taking and ambition. It's proof of quality.]

But Chappell’s other argument — about India’s lack of an “egalitarian” culture — is now a firm part of the consensus. The idea is that India’s team doesn’t include 11 members striving towards a unified goal, but a collection of superstars who do what they want and have a supporting crew. To some extent, it’s unfair to say this is an Indian failing — any team with established stars will have a hard time accommodating them. But India is famous for its obsession with rank and status; recall Louis Dumont’s homo hierarchicus hypothesis. And think about the fraught politics: if Sachin Tendulkar isn’t performing or playing according to your strategy, do you want to be the person to tell him to shove off? How much room do you have for ‘honest appraisal’ when the slightest criticism could unleash riots?

Other than an aggressive selection policy that consistently rewards success and punishes failure, I don’t know how to change this. There’s some hope that after such a great generation of batsmen, those to follow will not enjoy as loyal and fervent a following as Tendulkar and Co. But I suppose this is the price we pay for superstars — they are great, awesome and talented, and at the end of the day, they get what they want for their wares.

6 thoughts on “Dealing With Ian Chappell’s Culture Argument

  1. Erez says:

    I think the one thinget Jayawardene succeeded in was to become a writer for cricinfo, ensuring himself a chorus line of cheers and adoration from the cricinfo staff wherever he goes and whatever he does.

  2. eksi says:

    Chappell brothers aren’t psychological or sociological experts for us to take their blabberings on national characteristics seriously. It is equivalent to any “insight” offered by unqualified bloggers and blog commenters. What if Sunil G had offered an insight into Natl charac, of Aussies? Would aussies take it seriously? Why do we Indians take such comments seriously? ( Not you in particular but in general – you may have a point but I don’t think Chappel bros’ insight has any value – it seems to be borne out of prejudice just as Sunny G’s insights on Aussie. It is telling of the Cricket world that the former is generally considered accurate while Sunny G is dubbed as jingoistic.I swear if Sunn G had made similar comments on Aussie culture, English and Aussie media/bloggers won’t be quoting that as accurate analysis – even if they agree with it.)

    • A fair enough point. I guess the way I look at it is, “This is a particular argument. It doesn’t matter where it came from, but I want to see if it makes any sense.” Might as well deal with the argument than the person who’s making it. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Russ says:

    The hunger-income nexus is very context-dependent. It is fairly common in US sports for players on large guaranteed contracts to be accused of coasting, and vice-versa, playing hard in their final year. It is less common in football (soccer) where player contracts are sold (not traded), and teams are willing to write off bad contracts for a fee (trading a bad contract as in the US, is much harder).

    If you look at WI-NZ cricket, it has often been the case that the level of talent-commitment required to reach the national side is lower than that required to be a successful test player by overseas standards – they seem to reach that point then plateau, knowing their income is independent of top-level performance. Conversely, when playing county cricket was common for internationals, the talent-commitment required to be a county-pro (one of 18/36 overseas players) was higher/equivalent than test cricket, and that level of professionalism became part of successful team cultures.

    Australia – generally, but not always particularly a few years ago – has been ruthless in only giving out contracts to players who perform; and that standard is both very high, and the best source of income for successful players.

    India, perhaps, haven’t been as open as they needed to be in letting young players challenge for places, and forcing older players to push themselves – even when their form was dire, you could never fault Ponting and Hussey’s work ethic. Similarly, their best source of income is the IPL, so training for that in lieu of test cricket is certainly worthwhile. Genius can be corrosive to team culture regardless of money, if they aren’t working as hard (or aren’t seen to be working as hard) – look at Botham, Flintoff, Gower, George Best… That is, even if hard work is unnecessary and surplus to what the genius (or merely experienced player) requires, you don’t want the non-genius to think they don’t need to put in the effort, particularly early in their career.

    Most of India’s players are geniuses of course, because the demographics allow nobody lesser to make the team. Do they in turn get the most out of their ability, or are they content to be slightly better than their rivals, when, as a nation, India should dominate? Is there a tendency in Indian culture to laud the lazy genius because it makes their natural talent seem greater by contrast? – Arvind Subramanian wrote an interesting article on this concept with regard to tennis. Is the praise and income for any achievement in India so great that players become content with mere mediocrity? Australians often criticise themselves for cutting down tall poppies and mistrusting genius. The Chappell’s comments need to be considered in relation to their own culturally-defined preferences/prejudices – prejudices that make their statements neither wrong nor right, they merely explain their perspective.

  4. eksi says:

    In other words,Russ, the chappels’ words say more about themselves and Aussie culture than about Indian culture. Fair enough. Tell that to people like Mike Selvey, who perhaps blinded by jealousy of Tendulkar and Indian players and general prejudice against indians, seem to make a gospel out of Greg Chappel’s inside stories and insights on Indian Cricket. The rubbish Greg and his cohort Selvey spew is enough to make a man with basic sense tear his hair in despair.

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