Top 5 player-coach feuds in the modern cricketing era
Grouchy coaches who bring out the best in their protégés have been part of movie folklore since time immemorial. The basic storyline is usually predictable – we have a young sportsperson who is yet to realize his or her full potential. Throw in a no-nonsense coach who chips away at the raw edges and chisels the perfect athlete, usually after tormenting them with intense training schedules and inspirational pep talks (read, verbal lashings). Everything ends well, and the moviegoer returns home happy.
Al Pacino has done it, Clint Eastwood has done it, and even Shah Rukh Khan has done it. While such coach-protégé stories provide excellent material for blockbusters, real life stories – particularly within the cricketing domain – haven’t all ended happily.
This article explores the top 5 coach-player feuds in modern cricketing history, a majority of which have ended badly for one or both involved.
(Some of the notable omissions from the list are as follows:
1. As I am only focusing on international cricket, the article does not consider the Sourav Ganguly – John Buchanan feud during IPL 2009, which deserves an entire article to itself, and redefined the concept of cricket blogging. However, both feature prominently on the list, albeit with different opponents.
2. John Wright’s Sehwag-collar-grab and Mickey Arthur’s homework incidents: While both generated significant public interest at the time, none were long-lived enough to be considered feuds.
3. Ross Taylor vs Mike Hesson: Definitely significant, but misses out due to the heavyweight feuds in the list.)
#1 Sourav Ganguly vs Greg Chappell
The most ironic thing about the Sourav Ganguly-Greg Chappell feud is the fact that the Australian may not have got the job as coach of the Indian national cricket team if not for the captain’s backing. A relatively inexperienced Chappell came on board in 2005, seeing off competition from Tom Moody, Mohinder Amarnath and Desmond Haynes, impressing largely through his presentation on developing a superior Indian cricketing structure.
Chappell’s first tournament, the Indian Oil Cup in Sri Lanka, coincided with Ganguly’s 4-match suspension due to India’s slow over rates against Pakistan earlier that year. This led to Rahul Dravid leading the team throughout the tournament, and Ganguly playing under him after his suspension term was reduced. Though India lost in the final, the tournament advertised Dravid’s captaincy skills, and would have sowed the first seeds of doubt in Chappells’s mind.
The tumultuous Zimbabwe tour
The next tour of Zimbabwe is possibly the most controversial in the history of Indian cricket. After rumours that Ganguly faked an injury in the first Test, where he crawled to a century against an extremely weak Zimbabwean attack, the southpaw, in a media conference, accused the team management of pressurizing him to resign. If that was not controversy enough, an email sent by Chappell to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), where he stated that Ganguly was unfit to lead the team, was leaked in public, triggering widespread outrage. One can only imagine the repercussions in the Indian dressing room during the period.
With the situation resembling a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) verbal brawl more than a cricketing scenario, it seemed likely that one of the two would have to go. However, the BCCI, after a four-hour long meeting, brokered peace between the two, and issued a statement that the feuding duo would work together for the best interests of Indian cricket.
From bad to worse
Matters were to get worse; after an injury forced Ganguly out of the first four One Day Internationals (ODIs) in a total of seven against the visiting Sri Lankan side, Dravid donned the makeshift captaincy mantle again. India cantered to a 4-0 lead, on the back of superlative cricket and innovative captaincy, which included the promotion of Mahendra Singh Dhoni to number 3 in the third ODI. Dhoni announced himself to the world with an imperious 183 not out, and India eased to the nearly 300 run target with almost 4 overs to spare.
This led to the first of several snubs meted out to the Prince of Kolkata during Chappell’s reign; though he was available for the remaining three ODIs, Ganguly was overlooked, and Dravid continued to lead. The southpaw was again omitted for India’s next home series against South Africa; sentiments ran high, particularly in Ganguly’s hometown, Kolkata, and when the teams arrived in the city for the third ODI, angry mobs greeted the team, with anti-Chappell protests in full swing. The coach did his cause no good by allegedly showing the middle finger to the crowd.
Indian cricket hit a particularly low point during that match, with crowds booing Indian players, and cheering South Africa on to a 10-wicket win.
A cat and mouse game ensued, with Ganguly being ignored on several occasions over the next year. What began as a clash of egos between two aggressive personalities had now become a national spectacle, even triggering debates in the Indian Parliament.
The last laugh
Ganguly forced his way back into the team after a disastrous batting performance by the Indians in the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy and the South Africa ODI series. His modified batting style saw him accumulating several significant scores, and helped cement his place in the side, albeit for the time being, across both formats. India’s stunning ouster in the first round of the 2007 World Cup, one in which they were considered among the favourites, resulted in Chappell’s resignation, bringing to an end one of the most tumultuous coach-captain relationships in cricketing history.
To rub salt into the wound, Ganguly emerged as the second highest run-scorer in Tests during the year, behind Jacques Kallis, and the fifth highest in ODIs.
The uneasy relationship did not end there, with Chappell ranting about the southpaw’s inadequacies and insecurities in his 2011 released autobiography, Fierce Focus. Ganguly paid back the compliment by highlighting Chappell’s inability to help Australia when he was invited to speak to the Australian team ahead of India’s tour.
One can safely conclude that this is one relationship which has withstood the trials of time!
#2 Kevin Pietersen vs Peter Moores
In spite of a striking resemblance to the aforementioned Ganguly-Chappell saga, the Kevin Pietersen-Peter Moores episode had a very different climax – both men lost their jobs, Pietersen as captain and Moores as head coach, with the latter being dumped more unceremoniously.
According to the Daily Mail, though revealed much later, Pietersen was not a fan of Moore’s training methods from the onset. The former Sussex coach’s focus on tactical and statistical tools as a mode of training was diametrically opposite to Pietersen’s beliefs.
2008 tour of India
England’s 2008 tour of India was fraught with tension of a kind not normally associated with cricket. The seven-match ODI series was cut short (with India leading 5-0) by terrorist attacks at multiple locations in Mumbai, which left hundreds dead and brought the country on the brink of a possible war with the alleged perpetuators of the attack, Pakistan.
The England team was whisked off to safety, but in a move which won Pietersen significant praise and goodwill in India, something still evident today, the English returned within a fortnight to play two Tests, drawing one and losing the other. Though the series, in India, will always be overshadowed by the tragedy surrounding it, for England, it was one without a single victory across both formats, including a humiliating 0-5 defeat in ODIs (with every possibility of a 0-7 whitewash, but for the terror attacks).
In a move apparently aimed at contingency planning, in January 2009, Pietersen requested the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for an emergency meeting to discuss Moores’s role in the team, in a gamble which did not exactly pay off for him.
The Vaughan angle
According to most reports, Pietersen was infuriated by the omission of Michael Vaughan from the team selected to tour West Indies in January 2009; he felt that the former England captain was an absolute requirement in the side, and had thrown his weight behind his inclusion. The final squad announcement, without Vaughan’s name in it, appeared to be the spark which ignited the dynamite.
An alternate view
The Mirror added a twist in the tale, when it published an article stating that at no point had Pietersen argued over Vaughan’s inclusion in the side; the main trigger allegedly came from a clash between the duo’s wives. Mrs. Moores considered herself a bit of a mother figure to the English cricket Wives and Girlfriends (WAGs), and severely criticized Jessica Pietersen’s handling of the media, something which was not taken lightly by the Liberty X pop star.
The final showdown
The stage was set for a classic showdown – Pietersen had already set the tone by tipping off the media about the unhealthy situation prevailing in the England team, and voiced his displeasure about Moores’s coaching methodologies in his emergency meeting with the ECB. The board, however, did its homework, and appointed managing director Hugh Morris with the task of researching the facts behind the dispute, and to identify which party commanded more backing in the dressing room.
Morris’s report, which indicated that Pietersen was not backed by all players in his criticism of the coach, severely undermined the captain’s all-or-nothing gamble. After a telephonic conference on January 6th 2009, the executive board of the ECB formally sacked Moores the next day, which also saw the resignation of Pietersen from his captaincy.
While Andrew Strauss took over as captain, Andy Flower, Moores’s assistant coach, was appointed the interim coach for the Caribbean tour. Pietersen’s run-in with Flower is equally colourful, but that is another story – deservedly getting a mention in this article.
#3 Kevin Pietersen vs Andy Flower
Exactly five years after the Pietersen-Moores double-execution, on January 7th 2014, the Daily Mail reported that England coach Andy Flower had issued an ultimatum to the ECB: to choose between him and Pietersen. One of them had to go.
It was a gamble similar to the one Pietersen played five years back, the only difference being that this time the former Zimbabwean wicket-keeper batsman succeeded, with his move effectively ending the international cricketing career of the flamboyant right-hander.
The rant which set the ball rolling
The saga began on December 30th 2013, though I am sure misgivings between the two predate the day, when Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, captain and vice-captain respectively, called for an emergency team meeting without the knowledge of coaching staff, after being walloped by Australia in the 4th Test of the 2013/14 Ashes.
The premise of the meeting was that the players were being over-reliant on Flower, and needed to be more responsible. Pietersen, possibly muddled by his own feelings about Flower, interpreted it as an accusation against the coach’s domineering nature, and started ranting about him. The players listened in shocked silence for a while before Pietersen was stopped and the premise was re-explained to him. The news of the rant got back to Flower, who was not impressed at all.
A slightly different version of the story is that, during the meeting, all players agreed that Flower’s behaviour was too schoolmaster-ish, but it was Pietersen, as the knight in shining armour, who took it upon himself to break the news to the headmaster, er…coach. While what exactly transpired in the meeting is not known (due to legal reasons), Pietersen clearly did not sugarcoat his opinion.
Irrespective of which version is true, the bottomline is that Pietersen ranted about the coach, and it got back to him, either directly or indirectly, and he wasn’t very happy about it.
The battle soon spilled over on to Twitter, with Pietersen finding support from Piers Morgan, notorious in his own right, and wife Jessica, who was allegedly in the eye of a ‘coach-storm’ even earlier. As reported by the Telegraph:
“It also turned nasty as Prior was drawn into a row on Twitter with Piers Morgan, Pietersen’s loudest public ally, over the events in Melbourne. Morgan said that Prior addressed the team meeting in Melbourne and “slaughtered” Flower. He also said that Prior “stabbed” Pietersen in the back when he spoke to Flower about the meeting.
Even Pietersen’s wife took to social media to attack her husband’s critics. She described Dominic Cork, the former England player turned broadcaster, as a liar for suggesting her husband and Cook nearly came to blows in Sydney. Cork had told Sky Sports that there was an altercation between the pair at the SCG. Jessica Taylor, a member of the pop group Liberty X, tweeted: “Dominic Cork – there was no ‘squaring up’ to Alastair Cook or ‘off-field antics’ in Australia – you are lying, plain & simple.”
Flower’s response and Pietersen’s unceremonious exit
This is where we head back to the opening of this story. Flower, who had positioned himself as a strict disciplinarian, laid out the ultimatum to the ECB – one that he later denied, but which in all probability is true. While he himself stepped down as team director after a successful five-year stint (yes, one that began after Moores’s exit), he wagered a continued relationship with the ECB in lieu of Pietersen’s career.
The board, probably fed up with Pietersen’s constant brushes with controversies (this article limits itself to coaches, but the big right-hander would probably find a mention across several other parameters), issued a statement in February 2014 declaring the forced retirement of the cricketer, in one of the most unceremonious sackings in modern cricket history.
#4. Chris Gayle vs Ottis Gibson
While not as heated as the previous cases, the Chris Gayle-Ottis Gibson story was an important sub-play within the Jamaican’s overall feud with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). While Gibson, the coach of the West Indies national cricket team from 2010 to August 2014, was the more diplomatic of the two, the big left-hander frequently complained about the former quick’s double standards in his context.
First signs of the grudge
The known beginnings of Gayle’s tiff with Gibson slightly predate his more well-known dispute with the WICB. After losing to Pakistan in a one-sided quarterfinal during the 2011 World Cup, Gibson had severely criticized the senior members of the team, Gayle included. The Jamaican hit back strongly, posting on his Twitter account, “It is easy to blame the senior players but difficult to accept the truth!!! Curse me blame me!!!!”
What appeared to be a minor tiff, soon escalated into a full blown battle, with Gayle being omitted from the team for the initial part of the home series against Pakistan. The Jamaican retorted by signing up for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) for the entire Indian Premier League (IPL) 4 season, after declaring himself unavailable for national duties. A fired up Gayle had a majestic IPL season, after which the WICB tried to end the dispute. But the initial meetings bore no fruit, with Gayle tracing the discontent back to 2009, when current (2011) WICB chief Ernest Hilaire had expressed concerns on his ability to lead the country.
Tirade against Gibson
While Gibson tried to maintain a diplomatic stance during the period, Gayle came out in harsh criticism of his coach. As reported by Cricinfo, Gayle said: “He [Gibson] is a man who sought my advice when things were not going well. I could never imagine he would deliberately try to destroy my character, reputation and livelihood or question my commitment to West Indies cricket. I would not have believed, until I saw it in black and white, that he would devalue my leadership and try to destroy me without giving me a chance to respond.”
Very strong words, indeed. Gibson, however, appeared unaffected, and responded by saying that he was dealing with larger issues within the team, and could not afford to get distracted.
After a long drawn process, which also included intervention from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government, Gayle’s self-imposed 15 month exile ended in June 2012, when he was picked in the West Indies squad for ODIs in England. Gibson’s calmness ensured that the public was not granted the entertainment some of the other cases mentioned here provided, but after an uneasy calm of more than two years, Gayle is likely to breathe easier after the coach’s exit last month.
#5. Shane Warne vs John Buchanan
It may come as great news for fans of Sourav Ganguly that John Buchanan, his chief tormentor during the elegant left-hander’s unhappy IPL voyage, has been at the receiving end of a series of insults from Australian spin legend Shane Warne for several years now. Warne shared an unhappy, if not disrespectful, relationship with Buchanan during the latter’s eight-year stint as Australian coach (1999-2007), which ended shortly after the iconic leg-spinner finished his Test career in early 2007.
Jibe at Warne’s fitness
Buchanan had no clue that he was playing with fire when, during Australia’s unsuccessful Test series campaign in India in 2001, he took several pot-shots at Warne’s fitness. After Australia lost the 2nd Test match in Kolkata, Buchanan observed that Warne was “not one of the fittest characters running around in world cricket”. He even expressed doubts over the leg-spinner’s inclusion in the 3rd Test, stating that he was looking for “11 blokes who can give five days of hard cricket and not be affected by any sort of physical limitations”.
Back then, Warne played down the incident, stating that Buchanan had apologized for his comments. “I said he would probably need to get to know me a little bit better,” the leg-spinner clarified. Buchanan has come to know Warne ‘very well’ in the coming years, and continues to learn new things about him even today.
Warne’s comments on Buchanan
With most of Warne’s warfare against his coach being verbal as opposed to action-oriented, the best way to capture his sentiments would be to share some of his quotes:
“These boot camps are a big waste of time. We were forced to push a car uphill, and after a bit I just turned to the coach and said: ‘I’m as weak as p—, I hate your guts and I want to go home. You’re a d—head.'”
“Im a big believer that the coach is something you travel in to get to and from the game!”
“He has been our coach during a successful era but that begs a question – does the coach make the team or does the team make the coach?” (In 2006, after being hauled off to one of Buchanan’s boot-camps)
“I disagree with John Buchanan all the time. I don’t think he has made one good point in a long time, actually. Everything that I have read that he says, he is living in pixieland. It just shows what us players had to put up with. We had to listen to his verbal diarrhoea all the time. He is just a goose and has no idea and lacks common sense, and you can put all that in there.” (In 2007, post retirement)
“I think that’s a great move because that means we’ve got more of a chance. Hopefully Buck (Buchanan) will be doing his stuff and he’ll be working and doing all his things and hopefully over-complicating things. I reckon it gives our chances a big boost and makes our blokes more hungry.” (In 2009, after hearing that Buchanan had accepted a role to coach England’s budding cricketers)
“John Buchanan had no idea about coaching. The Australian team I was part of hardly needed a good coach. Even my 13-year-old son could decide when to bowl (Glenn) McGrath, (Brett) Lee or (Jason) Gillespie.” (In 2013, during an interview)
Buchanan: the puppet or the puppet-master
In an interview with Fox Sports in 2013, Michael Hussey revealed that Buchanan was deliberately harsh with Warne so that he could fire him up and extract the best out of him. Mr. Cricket’s stance was that Buchanan was not really affected by Warne’s open hatred of him, and in the larger interest of Australian cricket, was actually puppet-mastering one of the biggest talents in the game.
Buchanan himself doesn’t seem as confident; in his book, The Future of Cricket, released in 2009, the former Australian coach expressed disappointment at Warne’s continuing criticism of him.
With no signs of a hatchet burial in sight, and the former leg-spinner very much active on commentating and social media circuits, we can continue to expect more insightful observations on Buchanan in future.
This article was first published in Sportskeeda: