Greg Chappell: I enjoyed my time in India; it was a tremendous life experience
Greg Chappell represented Australia from 1970 to 1984 © Getty Images
Greg Chappell, born August 7, 1948, is one of the greatest batsmen to emerge from Australia. Hailing from a sporting family, Chappell took to cricket at a very young age and went on to represent the country along with his brothers Ian and Trevor. In 87 Tests, he had scored 7110 runs at an average of 53.86 with 24 tons. After retirement, Chappell has moved into coaching, having served his time in India and is currently working with the Australian representative sides. Nishad Pai Vaidya caught up with him during the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2014 in Dubai and spoke to him about his career — playing fast bowlers, backyard Test matches with his brothers, World Series Cricket, influence of Sir Don Bradman, coaching India and a lot more.
CricketCountry (CC): Sir Don Bradman had corrected your grip when you were playing for South Australia in 1967 against India. Can you tell us about that experience?
Greg Chappell (GC): It happened during a tour game. We were in the visitors’ dressing room at the Adelaide Oval, as the touring team was using the larger dressing room. Sir Donald Bradman came into the dressing room as he did on most mornings of a home game, had a cup of tea with the captain Les Favell.
He rarely spoke to any of the other players, but this particular morning he was walking past me and there were a few bats in the dressing room and I picked one up. As he was walking past, I said, “Good morning, Sir Donald.” He wished me back and looked at my grip and said, “I’d change that grip if I were you.” I said, “What would you suggest?” And he said, “Your top hand is too far around the front and you need to bring it around the back. The grip that I used would work well.” I asked what it was and he said I could read about it in his book. I didn’t have a copy of his book so I handed him the bat and said, “Show me.”
So he did. His grip had the two V’s down the back of the bat and I had my top hand further around towards the off-side. He said it would improve my off-side play, and I was predominantly a leg-side player. He said that it may take some getting used to as I was doing the other one for 19 years of my life up to that stage. I thanked him.
He turned to go and stopped to say, “I’ve only given this advice to one other player. He didn’t take it and he is no longer in the team.” I was batting at five that day and the game hadn’t quite started. I asked Terry Jenner and Geoff Hammond to come back to the nets and bowl to me as I wanted to try something different. I batted for about 15 minutes with these two guys bowling and it felt quite comfortable, quite natural. So, I used it that day and every other day throughout. I have no doubt that it was very beneficial.
CC: You have often spoken about the backyard Test matches with your brothers Ian and Trevor. Can you tell us more about them and how they helped you and your brothers?
GC: Ian is five years older than I am, so he was well on the way by the time I was old enough to pick up a cricket bat. He was playing cricket at primary school. Being that much older, that was quite a gap at that age. He wasn’t particularly interested in me playing in any of these cricket matches in the backyard which he and his friends played. So I didn’t get much of a look in. I think I was about nine years of age when he ran out of friends — he had beaten everyone else and needed a new opponent. So he invited me to play in the Test matches in the backyard. Our father always insisted that when we played cricket, we played seriously — it wasn’t a game to take lightly. If you wanted to improve at it then you should take it seriously. He also insisted we play with a hard ball because he wanted us to understand what it was like. He didn’t give us any pads or gloves to play with, so I found out what a hard ball felt like.
Ian, being that much older and bigger, was quite fast for the backyard. And we had a practice wicket that our father had laid in the backyard, which had a ridge on it. Ian was pretty adept at hitting that ridge and getting balls to fly around my head. Those Test matches were played very seriously and were games between Australia and England — the Ashes Test matches. The bad news for me was that Ian as the older brother was Australia and I had to be England. That was my first real conflict — whilst I didn’t want to be beaten by my older brother, I didn’t really have my heart in winning for England.
It was a bit of a challenge, but something that I seemed to get over okay. The great thing about it was that every game was played seriously; we used to record the matches. I used to bat through the order for the England team and each time you got out, you had to go into the laundry at the back of the house, fill in the scorecard and come back. Each of those games in our minds was a Test match. The greatest thing I learnt in the backyard was coping against someone who was older and bigger; taking it seriously which meant each ball was important. I learnt to make decisions in real time.
Looking back, learning to compete, and learning to be a good decision maker were important lessons to become a cricketer. All of the good players I have seen, played with and against, have all been good decision makers. That has been more important than their technique.
Technique is an outcome of your personality: it is an outcome of your thinking, your mindset and that has a lot to do with how you play the game. My brothers and I came up in the same environment, with our father giving us the same advice. But, we all played slightly differently because of our personalities. I subsequently became tall. I wasn’t tall growing up. Being long and lean, had a bearing on how I played.
Both Trevor and Ian were shorter and stronger. Ian particularly tended to be a cross-bat player — the cuts and pulls were his forte. Driving was probably more my forte. Trevor was somewhere in between. Coming back to those Test matches, Ian eventually grew up and left home. So, I became Australia and Trevor became England. So I was able to pass on all that I had learnt from Ian — not least of all the aggression, the competitiveness and the will to win. I learnt to lose against Ian and then learnt to win against Trevor.
All those lessons were very important. On top of that, our house was on the off-side. On the leg-side, there were fruit trees and our father was very proud of them. He didn’t want us damaging those trees, so we hit the ball along the ground. It went under the trees and not into them. I couldn’t hit the ball particularly hard in front of the wicket on the leg-side because of the fruit trees. But, where they ended was about square-leg — then there was a gap before we had some almond trees. Again, the almonds were off limits. I learnt to clip the ball off my hips between the almond trees and the fruit trees near square leg.
That wasn’t a shot I was aware of really until many years later when Mike Brearley asked, “Where did you learn that shot off your hips?” I said, “What shot are you talking about?” He said, “You are the only player I have seen who can take the ball off the hips and hit it with power behind square-leg.” I said, “I don’t know, but I am assuming it is because of the fruit trees in front of square-leg and the almond trees behind square leg. Any gap was just through there.” So, obviously, I had decided that it was a place where I could score boundaries. The grounding we had in the game firstly with our father. Our grandfather, he had played Test cricket but he didn’t have much involvement in our development as cricketers. Genetically he was a great athlete and he played a lot of sports. We were athletically gifted from the genetic pool, but I think the cricket side of it came from our father and the environment in the backyard.
CC: And you used to bowl some leg-spin in your early days…
GC: Yes I bowled. Ian was a leg-spin bowler. I mean, in the backyard, we used to bowl medium-pace. Ian thought he was bowling fast and I thought too at the time. But, when I look back at it now, he wasn’t that quick. But, for a nine-year-old, he was quick enough. Ian’s hero was Richie Benaud. So, he bowled leg-spinners with his collar turned up his buttons undone down to his navel. With that example close at hand, I started bowling leg-spin. I was only slight and short, so it suited me and I bowled them quite well in school cricket. In primary school, I used to open the bowling and then come on to bowl leg-spinners later on. It wasn’t any great difficulty. Later, when I went to Somerset, in my first season, there was a national single wicket competition. Each county used to have its own Single Wicket Competitions and the winner of each would go and play at The Oval. I happened to win the Somerset Single Wicket bowling medium pacers. I had gone there as a batsman who could bowl leg-spin. The coach asked me how long I was bowling those. I said, “All my life. I used to open the bowling and then bowl leg-spin.” He said I would be handy bowling those. I started bowling seam-up in county cricket and rarely went back to the leg-spinners after that. After I grew eight or nine inches in a very short space of time, my leg-spin bowling was never the same after that.
CC: So, was it a conscious decision to focus on batting? As you said, you could bowl.
GC: I enjoyed it as a youngster and in my mind I was always a batsman. I was probably lucky that Ian was my captain for much of my career with South Australia and particularly with Australia. I played as a third seamer for South Australia on a number of occasions. I complained to Ian one day about not getting enough overs. He’d only bowl me in four-five over spells. He said, “You better get used to it. That’s all you are getting! You are in the team to make runs and the more overs you bowl, the less runs you make.”
I didn’t appreciate it at the time and certainly didn’t let him think I did. But, he was right. I know on the occasions when I had to bowl more often, it did impact on my batting. I was happy to be primarily a batsman. I enjoyed one-day cricket when it came as it gave me a chance to bowl 10 overs in a game. Batting was my mentality. I was an angry bowler — I didn’t like getting hit for four and didn’t like not getting wickets. I would have been a frustrated bowler because I wasn’t good enough.
“The greatest thing I learnt in the backyard was coping against someone who was older and bigger; taking it seriously which meant each ball was important,” says Greg Chappell © Getty Images
CC: Sir Don had the practice of hitting the golf ball on the wall when he was young. Is it true that you followed a similar regime?
GC: Not so much the hitting of the golf ball. I did a little of that, but I wasn’t aware of the Bradman regime when I was growing up. It is just because Ian is five years older — he was always that far ahead of me. Trevor is about four years younger than me.
Probably large chunks of my childhood were seemingly as an only child. My older brother was gone doing something else and the younger one wasn’t old enough to be involved. I spent hours and hours playing games by throwing all sorts of balls against the back wall and hitting them. There were tennis balls, golf balls, etc.
We had a water tank in the backyard on a brick and block cement stand. Mum used to get annoyed with the ball banging against the back wall. So I would turn and throw them against the tank stand. At the base of the stand, we had one brick as a foundation. There was an edge sticking out on that. So there was a brick, a flat bit and some cement work before the metal tank started. With the cement at the base, I could try and half-volley the golf ball at the base of that.
So, it would come off at all different angles because of the different shapes and configuration. So, the balls would be coming back at me — I found the golf ball was much better for sharpening the reflexes. The tennis ball came off too slowly and the cricket ball was too hard to get any life off the walls. That sharpened up my catching. I would throw the ball at the back-wall and then hit it right-handed or bat left-handed, if I was Neil Harvey, one of my heroes. Neil Harvey always made runs and never missed out on any Test match I played in my backyard.
That imagination was also an important part of the development process. Seeing myself and playing and although nobody was running up to bowl — in my mind, I could see (Brian) Statham, (Fred) Trueman bowling for England as I batted for Neil Harvey, Norm O’Neill or Richie Benaud or Alan Davidson. I was immersed in cricket at a very early age and the only cricket we could watch was live cricket. There was no television until I was about 15 or 16. If I wanted to see cricket, I was either watching our father play when we were very young and then go to the Adelaide Oval and watch the Sheffield Shield matches.
Our father would say, “New South Wales are playing today. You should go and watch Neil Harvey, Norm O’Neill, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson.” They were the main ones. He said that we should watch everything they do: not just batting or bowling, but watch them in the field and in the practice nets.
So I used to follow these guys around. Whenever they came down the back stairs to go to the practice nets I would quickly come down the grandstand to go watch them train. I would watch Neil Harvey train, walk along the ground.
Then, I remember a Test match at the Adelaide Oval when Australia played England. It must have been the late 1950s as Ray Lindwall was still playing. He was bowling from the scoreboard end of the ground.
The Member’s Stand is in the west, where we normally watched side-on. But, this time I went around the mound at the northern end to watch Lindwall bowl from behind. I noticed he came for a second spell and obviously he had bowled in the morning when the grass was nice and fresh; his footprints had left a mark. I was fascinated to see that in the afternoon, his feet landed in the exact same places.
I never thought about it before. I couldn’t wait to go home that day and go around the corner from our place where we played baseball in the winter. The grass on the outfield there was quite long. I went and I measured out my run and tried to replicate what I had seen Lindwall doing.
Those were the sort of things I would take away from each game. Something would come up. Our father would be at work and couldn’t be at the cricket. He would come home and ask, “What did you see today? What did you learn?” I can remember him saying things to us in the backyard, where he spent hours throwing balls to us.
The best lesson I learnt from him: You’ve got a cricket bat in your hand, it’s for scoring runs with. It is not for survival, not for protection, but to score runs. If you do that properly, you won’t need any other protection. That’s why he didn’t give us any pads or gloves. He wanted us to use the bat properly. It was very insightful — very clever.
Sadly, he died before I became a coach. I would have loved to sit down with him and ask him what exactly he understood. He must have understood a lot because he got so much right — it couldn’t have been by accident. He really understood the game. He was a first grade cricketer in club cricket and had been in the state squad for many years, but never played a Sheffield Shield game. I think he was frustrated somewhat by that. He had represented South Australia at baseball, so he was a quite good sportsman in his own right.
I think cricket was his first love and would have loved to have played state cricket and Test cricket. But the fact that he would have been 20-21 years of age when the World War II broke out — he lost a good chunk of his sporting career due to that. That frustration was perhaps what fuelled the time and energy he put into us to help us develop cricket. He had this grand plan where Trevor would open the batting, Ian would bat at No 3 and me at No 4. I wasn’t aware of it when I was young, but Ian mentioned it much later about dad’s great plan.
But our father had planted a seed in our minds and I was lucky to have Ian as someone who was the pathfinder before me. He created an even more indelible footprint for me to follow. I remember I would have been 13 when he first played State cricket and about 16 when he played Test cricket. Each one of those moments was great for me to think, “Wow! If he can do that, then maybe I can!” I grew up dreaming of playing Test cricket. It was a pipe dream all my friends had and I didn’t really expect it to happen. But, Ian made those marks, it made me sit up and take notice.
CC: How was Les Favell as a captain? What was his style of leadership?
GC: Les was an aggressive, attacking and positive captain. I was very lucky that he was captain when I first started playing. He was a very good example of how to play the game. He set out to win cricket matches: he wanted to take wickets as quickly as possible and score runs as fast as possible.
This pretty much fitted with the philosophy of our father who thought cricket was a game to be played positively, to try and win. Ian being those many years older to me, Les was a newer captain when Ian came into the side and apparently was very strict on the young players and quick to criticize.
I think he’d been probably matured or mellowed a bit as a captain; he was nowhere near as tough on my generation of players as we came in. I remember turning up on the morning of my first Sheffield Shield game with a sore throat.
I hadn’t slept very well and I had woken up with a stiff neck. I was quite conflicted as I wanted to play but I didn’t want to let my team down. So I thought I should talk to Les. He was quite older to me and was in his mid-30s at least. I went up to him and said, “Les. I have woken up with a sore throat and a stiff neck. I’m not sure whether I should play.” He said, “You think about it and come back and tell me if you are fit enough. You are the only one who knows.”
I went away —down to the nets and had a hit. I couldn’t turn my head very much to the right, but as a right-hander I could turn it to the left and see the bowlers coming. That was all I really needed. So I thought if he is giving me responsibility, I should take a responsible decision and I think I am fit enough to do what I have to do. So, I didn’t say anymore and I played.
That is the insight into Les — he gave us lot of responsibility. With being allowed to make decisions, comes responsibility. He left it up to us to make the right decision. He certainly encouraged us to play a brand of cricket that was positive. Shield cricket had four-day games — six hours a day’s play. His philosophy was that rather be bowled out by the end of the first day than be prodding along and make a score the opposition couldn’t get.
His belief was that he’d have to be bowling before lunch on the second day. You had to make enough runs by then to be in a good position. He thought 300-330 was enough, 400 wasn’t going to make that much of a difference. He would say, “Let’s get on with it and then try and get the opposition out.” I liked that philosophy and it fit well with what I believed cricket was about.
CC: You once scored 150 against an attack comprising Graham McKenzie and Tony Lock. What are your memories of that knock?
GC: The memories are that I learnt a very good lesson. Ian had batted against Graham McKenzie. I had watched him bowl, but had obviously never faced him before. Ian said “Just be aware when you are batting against McKenzie. He’s got two bouncers. He has got one that he’ll roll his arm over and give you a good look at and the other one is quite a bit quicker.”
We were in trouble. I went in to bat at No 5. We were three for not many and five for not many more when Barry Jarman, the former Australian wicketkeeper, came in to bat. We were around 100 or less than that. I remember batting before lunch on this particular day.
McKenzie came back to bowl his second spell. He bowled a short ball which I hooked for four. I had a thought, “Well, he is Australia’s opening fast bowler, one of the quickest at the time. That didn’t seem that fast.” The next ball clipped my chin on its way through. It was a couple of yards faster than the previous one. That triggered my memory which told me to watch out for the two bouncers.
I didn’t take any liberties with the short ball from McKenzie after that because he was quick, clever and the Adelaide Oval surface on that day had a bit of life in it. It was a big challenge for me because he was the quickest bowler I had faced up to that point.
In the backyard, Ian was the quickest and at every stage (as I progressed) I came across one quicker than the other. You had that step up in pace at each stage. Many years later, when we got to face the West Indian fast bowling — the grounding I had in the backyard also bore fruit.
I think more importantly, it was after my first Test series against England when John Snow bowled very well and gave us a lot of trouble. He had a very good bouncer, was very accurate and got it into the armpit area. You had to do something with it. He never wasted short balls which you could let go.
I remember at the end of the series, Ian was already married and living away from home. He said, “We better do a bit of work on short pitched bowling during the winter. We don’t want to be caught in that position again.”
The worst thing as a batsman against short-pitched bowling is to get caught with your hands in front and close to your body because you can’t do anything with it. You got to free the arms up, either to turn it around the corner or pull or hook it. Ian was living not too far from our family home. Near his place was a school which had a cement practice wicket. We had four or five sessions over the winter months and were trying to kill each other with baseballs from 15 yards. The cricket ball did not bounce properly on the cement wicket and we found that baseball actually bounced on cement like a cricket ball on a turf wicket. We had plenty of baseballs around the house so we used them to work out a method to
(a) Defend ourselves, and
(b) Score some runs off it.
And it was an important point I think in both our batting. It certainly was in mine as I learnt that with short balls you had to keep them on the leg-side of the body; you had to get to the off-side to play it; whereas with full balls, it was preferable to keep the ball to the off-side of your front-leg. That was the distinct learning for me. I didn’t want to get caught in line with the ball.
So either I had to let it go on the off-side or if I wanted to score from it, preferably get to a place where the ball was passing my left shoulder. I could either let that go or hook it. That really stood me in good stead later when the West Indies started to produce all their fast bowlers. A lot of guys struggled to score against them. If you couldn’t score against them, it was unlikely you were going to survive. That particular lesson was an important development for me.
CC: You spoke about the West Indies. Let us discuss the 1975-76 series when you captained the side to the 5-1 victory. How important was that for you as a captain? Here was a side that had some quality players.
GC: It was important. We were an experienced team and had experienced more success up to that point. We were probably the team that had reached the peak and were maybe coming over the peak.
The West Indian team was a younger team coming up to peak. I certainly appreciated that there wasn’t that much difference between the two teams. We fortunately got away to a good start by winning the first Test match in Brisbane, which was my first as captain.
I had some personal success in that Test match which was stabilizing for me and took some pressure away. We lost the second Test at Perth and, I don’t quite know why, but we played a one-day game. One-day cricket wasn’t prevalent at that stage. We played that game at Adelaide, between the Perth and Melbourne Test. I remember saying to the guys, “Look, don’t take this lightly. This is a very important game. These guys have got a bit of momentum from the Perth Test match. We need to stop that momentum and get back on top of them because once they start to enjoy winning and learning how to win, we will have some trouble with these guys.” It was a pretty hard-fought game which we managed to win.
That slowed their momentum down and kept us going. There wasn’t much difference between the two teams. The score-line — 5-1 — was probably reflective of how we played. But from a talent point-of-view we all knew there wasn’t that much between the two teams. We got into positions to win and were able to finish them off. West Indies just hadn’t had enough experience then and probably didn’t have enough depth in batting and bowling at that stage to stay with us.
Clive Lloyd, at the end of the series, apparently said to Rudi Webster: “I know what I’ve got to do. Going home to find the best fast bowling attack and I am going to come back and beat them.” He not only put the best fast bowling attack, but also put together the best batting team ever and probably the best fielding side that had been seen up to that stage. After that, the ledger was firmly in their favour.
CC: And you did face them during the World Series Cricket (WSC). What was that experience like? We understand there were some good quality games.
GC: It was some of the best cricket I’ve played. The most competitive cricket I have played against some great teams, not only the West Indian team but the Rest of the World side was full of some household names from that era as well.
There was no respite. During the first year of World Series Cricket, we weren’t allowed to play on traditional grounds. Some of the pitches we played on were a little bit uneven and not quite up to Test match standard. I look back at that period as some of the best batting that I did in my career because of that challenge. I probably got away with using 80-85 per cent of my ability at that stage.
But World Series Cricket forced me to use 100 percent of my ability to be able to survive and prosper. I look back at a great deal of personal satisfaction in that period where I was able to succeed against probably some of the best fast bowling the game has seen.
I don’t think anyone enjoys batting against fast bowling — I didn’t enjoy it more than anyone else. There weren’t too many options. If you wanted to play, you had to play against them. I had to find a way to get used to it and we all had to find a way of dealing with it. The mental skills I had developed over the years really came to the fore in that period because you basically had to take the emotion out of it.
If you got emotionally involved while batting against those guys: this is Michael Holding running in or this is Andy Roberts or Joel Garner — if you got caught up in that, you lost the ball. You had to basically remove them from the contest and it was you versus the ball that was coming down from the other end.
My ability to switch on and switch off concentration really came to the fore then. They were probably bowling 72 overs a day, so you were getting 12 overs an hour. They were bowling 3-4 balls an over off which you really couldn’t score as they were going through at head-height — off-side, leg-side.
With the best will in the world, you weren’t going to score quickly. So, if you got caught up emotionally again with the scoreboard not moving, you were going to frustrate yourself into getting out. I just understood at that time that if I was going to make runs against them; I had to just forget about the fact that it was Joel Garner or Michael Holding or Andy Roberts or Colin Croft and that the scoreboard was moving at snail’s pace. You weren’t going to score quickly and you had to bat for a long time.
I set myself to concentrate one ball at a time and that allowed me to concentrate for long periods. You physically can’t have fierce concentration for longer than a few seconds at a time. I save that energy for the moment the bowler hit the delivery crease.
I was only concentrating for a second or two at any given time and then I would mentally relax by looking into the crowd, then I’d come back and connect with the bowler again at the top of the bowling mark. That allowed me to bat for long periods, which you had to do if you were going to make runs against them.
I got a 240-odd in that Football Park at Waverly, Melbourne in the first year of World Series Cricket. It was probably one of the toughest and the best innings I played in my career. We went to the West Indies during World Series Cricket and I had a very successful series there — a couple of hundreds and a 90 in three consecutive innings against them.
To be fair, I think if I had to choose to bat against the West Indies, I would rather bat against them in the West Indies than in Australia because the bounce was less. They had to work a lot harder to get the ball up in the West Indies. It was more like Indian conditions. It was much easier to bat them in those conditions than it was to bat against them in Australia where without much effort they could get the ball up around head height.
Again, in the first year of World Series Cricket we played at the Sydney Showgrounds, next to the cricket ground, with a drop-in wicket that John Mailey developed. It was the fastest, bounciest wicket I have played on. Forget Perth! In fact, one of my own little personal triumphs came in World Series Cricket on that ground as a bowler.
I hit Viv Richards in the head with a bouncer. I said to him at the time, “Don’t worry, I was just making a point. I won’t bowl many more of them. This is the fastest I have ever played on.” I wasn’t trying to hit him; I was just trying to beat him for pace. I hit him on the cap and he didn’t have the helmet on. Obviously, I wasn’t very quick. He shook his head and got ready to face the next ball. That was the most challenging pitch to bat against the West Indies, because they really had to only roll their arm over to get the ball going through head-height. And they did!
Greg Chappell finished with a great record in Test cricket. He is one of the most respected voices in the game © Getty Images
CC: You emphasized on how you focused hard during that one moment to face a delivery. That requires a lot of mental toughness. In fact, throughout your career, there were many moments when you had to show that mental strength for example your two tons in New Zealand after a personal tragedy. Then, the ton in your final Test. Do you think you took that mental strength to another level in those games?
GC: When I look back on my career, the number of times that I made runs at significant moments in my life or family or career was very much attributable to that mental process I had developed. It allowed me to concentrate for long periods of time and divorce myself from whatever else was going on around at the time.
The hundreds in my first and last Test innings; two tons in my first Test as captain; a hundred in my first Test at Lord’s; my father’s birthday on one occasion, where I had promised him a hundred to celebrate and I was able to achieve it; things like that.
Once I set myself to do something, I tended to stay on the task pretty well. That again goes back to the backyard Test matches. Not wanting to be beaten by my older brother — learning to compete and fight hard.
I think I was lucky that I was small for most of my early life. I was always playing up. In primary school, I was in Grade Three, which meant I was eight years of age and I was in the school first eleven when most of the other kids were in Grade Seven. They were four years older. So I was always playing against much older opposition. I never found runs coming easily as I was always out of depth until I got to senior cricket.
But even when I was playing First-Class cricket as an 18-year-old, I was playing against men who were eight to 15 years older than me. I was always striving to keep up. I never faltered, apart from a few fleeting moments in my school career where I got on level footing with others and actually had periods of dominance.
I had struggled in the early years and that taught me the important things. If you had to make runs in Test cricket, you had to work hard. You had to be prepared to put the mental as well as the physical effort in it. I have played with and against, coached players who had enormous amount of talent, more than enough to succeed at the top level but I don’t they ever appreciated just how hard they needed to work at it. I don’t think they made the commitment to do that work.
I loved it: the contest was what it was all about to me. It was about pitting me against the bowler and trying to come out on top; not to let him have the victory on the day. I never enjoyed getting out and I learnt from each innings I played. I was always frustrated and annoyed when I got out but by the time I got back to the dressing room, I had pretty much processed it and put it aside to start looking forward to the next innings. They were key ingredients in being able to survive at that level.
Greg Chappell coached India from 2005 to 2007 © Getty Images
CC: After playing you took on coaching. You were, of course, with India and now have a role in Australia. How do you look back at your whole coaching career?
GC: I’ve enjoyed it. I never set out to be a coach and had no intentions there. It came by accident and I am glad it did because I have enjoyed it. It is probably the closest thing to playing the game. The difficulty or the challenge with it is that there is so much out of your control and you have to accept that.
You can only do so much. You can only pass on information and create environments where players will learn things. I think the one thing that I have learnt from coaching that was reaffirmed is that you can’t give anything to somebody else. I mean I can’t help them be better players or give them the knowledge — they have to learn it.
I remember, at different stages in my early career, our father was our main coach and always was until the day I finished playing Test cricket. If I had any issues I would generally talk to him about it. If we were away on tours, it would be teammates. I remember, my father would say things to me in the backyard, and being our father he was talking to us all our lives.
You get to a point where you stop listening. I could remember occasions where I would go into a cricket match and I would get out and then think, “That’s what he was talking about. That’s what he meant me to avoid.”
Sadly, you can’t avoid it, but at least by giving that information, he perhaps helped me learn from those mistakes quickly. That’s what I have tried to do as a coach — using moments, when somebody gets out or some incident happens in a match, make a note of it.
At the end of the day or at the appropriate moment, sit down with the player and say, “Do you remember what happened today? How would you handle it differently if you got the opportunity again?” So, I try to help them learn from their mistakes. Sadly, you have to make mistakes to learn. I think as a coach, you’ve got to allow players to make mistakes. If you get upset or frustrated as a coach when players make mistakes you will have a very short life, let alone a career.
I enjoyed the time I had in India. It was a tremendous life experience and a learning experience as a coach. Much of it was very successful and very enjoyable — I enjoyed working with most of the players. It was a wonderful opportunity and a great honour for a foreigner to be allowed to coach someone else’s team.
Ideally, I would have loved to coach Australia but that opportunity never presented. So, to get to coach somebody else and coach India was a great honour and a great experience. The media played up a lot of the stuff — it was never quite as bad as it perhaps appeared. But, to get to work with Sachin (Tendulkar), (Rahul) Dravid, (VVS) Laxman, (Virender) Sehwag and (Anil) Kumble, some of the greats of Indian cricket through that era was a great honour.
To work with some young players coming through — (MS) Dhoni is one of the most impressive young men I have ever come across from a coaching point of view. He understood the game as a young man better than any other young cricketer that I have ever experienced. It was obvious to me from very early on when I met him that he was a future captain of India. He has had a huge positive impact on Indian cricket.
To have had that honour to work at that level, with players of that class and whether they would agree or not I am confident I had a positive impact on most of their careers in some way or another. One of our Australian football coaches was quoted, “Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.” When someone is successful, everyone wants to claim part of that success and when there is failure everyone wants to run away from it.
We had our success in that time. We played a lot of one-day cricket during my time at India. There was that period when we had a great run of success. I enjoyed being involved with those guys, talking through strategies, the processes we needed to go through to be successful. As a coach, you are bound to fail.
Someone else made the comment, “A coach is either been sacked or about to be sacked.” You are always on the verge of being sacked. At some stage, your energy is going to run-out or the team’s energy is going to run out — team is going to have some failure and the easiest person to blame is the coach and the coach has got to go. If you don’t understand that as a coach, you are bound to be miserable because at some stage you are going to have to go. I knew that my time at India wasn’t going to be a long time. I would have loved for it all to be rosy, happy and successful — that is an unrealistic expectation. I am grateful for the opportunity and for the experiences we had.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)