Was Greg Chappell India’s worst foreign coach?

Clearly, Gary Kirsten was the best, but Greg Chappell didn’t do too badly in Tests

Shane Warne once joked that the only coach he considered useful was the one that took him to the stadium. His greatest field nemesis Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, stresses on the importance of coaches a couple of times in his autobiography, in particular training his guns on Greg Chappell.

“Most of us felt that Indian cricket was going nowhere under Chappell," writes Tendulkar in his autobiography Playing It My Way, which released last week. It is hard to quantify the impact any coach would have on a cricket team, especially when it comes to world cup campaigns and away Test victories. The win-loss ratio of a team over a long tenure, however, would be a good approximation.

The raw numbers lend some credence to Tendulkar’s indictment of Chappell, whose tenure started around May 2005 and lasted about two years. But his perceived failures mainly pertain to the shorter one-day international (ODI) format including the disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign.

Under Chappell, the Indian team lost two matches for every one it won in ODIs played overseas. On the other hand, the team had a win-loss ratio of 2.38 for ODI matches played at home, much improved from 0.83 under John Wright. On Chappell’s watch, the Indian ODI team once won eight matches on the trot and 17 straight games while chasing targets.

In Test matches, the Chappell team hasn’t done all that badly with a win-loss ratio of 1.33 for overseas matches. This included some famous victories such as India’s first Test win in South Africa in 2006. Compare that with Duncan Fletcher, the current coach, under whom the Test team has won just two and lost 13 matches abroad. A caveat here is that Chappell’s tenure is the shortest among the four foreign coaches who were in charge of Indian cricket this century.

To be sure, a team’s performance is not a direct indicator of how good its coach is. However, a coach, apart from lending technical training, is also responsible for building a work ethic, boosting team morale, and encouraging teamwork—all of which positively affect performance. So, a coach’s performance is still linked to how his team does to that extent.

Chappell’s exit and the 2007 World Cup loss paved the way for Gary Kirsten, who took over in March 2008 after the team was left rudderless with a year of interim coaches. But note that in this period, the Indian team won a Test match in Perth against Australia in the monkeygate series and a tri-nation ODI tournament as well.

Kirsten’s tenure was arguably Indian cricket’s golden age in recent years, going by the sheer weight of numbers and trophies won. With the exception of home Tests, the Indian team performed better under Kirsten than it did under any of the other three coaches in all other categories. But even there, the team won more than it lost.

Test openers, on average, played more balls and made more runs home and away under Kirsten. For example, at home, India’s Test openers under Kirsten scored an average of 60 runs each innings and faced an average of 86 balls. Chappell’s era saw his Test openers scoring only an average of 26 runs per innings and facing only 51 balls.

A similar trend can be seen in ODIs, with Kirsten’s openers not only scoring more runs, but doing so at a faster pace, but a caveat here is that scoring rates have generally increased after Twenty20 cricket has become popular.

The Test cricket numbers here exclude matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, while the ODI numbers leave out games against non-Test playing nations.

With an away win-loss ratio of 1 in Tests and 1.6 in ODIs, the Kirsten team became a true force to be reckoned with on foreign soil. That makes the current Indian team under Fletcher look all the more one-dimensional—convincingly dominant only at home, reminiscent of the 1990s.