Ian Chappell: Charismatic, candid and controversial — one of the greatest captains in history
Ian Chappell © Getty Images
Ian Chappell, born September 26, 1943, was one of the most charismatic captains of Australia and one of the most controversial characters in the game. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was the architect behind the image of the Ugly Australians.
The triumph at The Oval
“I think we are the better team. And if we go home two-all, we will have been seen as one,” Ian Chappell’s simple words rang loud and clear around the dressing room, sparking resolve and lighting the fire.
The team was young. Ross Edwards at 30 was the eldest. Besides, Australia had been going through a harrowing period. They had won just one of the last 15 Tests, when Bob Massie’s magical swing had turned the game their way at Lord’s in the current series. But, as they went into The Oval, Ray Illingworth’s hardened men led the series 2-1 aided by the fusarium Test at Headingley.
Now the team wanted to drag Australia out of the trough. They wanted to be a champion side. They wanted to be a part of the celebrations that were encouraged by their captain whenever they won. They wanted it for themselves and their captain.
Dennis Lillee charged in to take five for 58. The Chappell brothers Ian and Greg hit hundreds, securing a 115-run lead. This was the first time in the history of Test cricket that a pair of brothers had scored centuries in the same innings, and parents Jeanne and Martin watched from the stands. England fought back, scoring 356, but Lillee captured five more. At 137 for four, the target of 242 looked dicey. But, Paul Sheahan held firm and Rod Marsh walked in at the fall of the fifth wicket to smack 43 from just 51 balls. The young brigade had squared the series.
Marsh and Sheahan ran off the field, swinging their bats around their heads, having scripted the most significant win in Australian cricket since 1948. And on reaching the dressing room, the wicketkeeper leapt onto the table, giving a full-throated rendition of the song that has become part of the folklore of the baggy green:
“Under the Southern Cross I stand
A sprig of wattle in my hand,
A native of my native land,
Australia, you f***ing beauty.”
It marked the advent of the new Australian side, the best in the world, a bunch of tough, competitive individuals of brimming talent, led by one of the most charismatic captains of all time.
The win even led Arthur Gilligan, the old England captain, rival turned greatest friend of former Australian skipper Vic Richardson, to pen a letter to Jeanne Chappell — daughter of Richardson and the mother of the Chappell brothers. Heaping glorious praise on the young team, Gilligan wrote, “Ian has led his team magnificently during the whole of the 1972 tour — a very great credit to him and all the boys. I am sure you are both very pleased to have had two sons who have achieved greatness over here.”
Amidst all the celebration, the young captain was both gracious and honest enough to observe that Australia may well have won the Ashes if Bill Lawry had toured instead of the New South Wales opener Bruce Francis. This was both a touching and a gutsy tribute, especially given the story behind Chappell’s ascension to the top job.
The road to the top
Chappell had replaced Lawry during the 1970-71 series against England, when the great Australian opener paid the price for standing up for his players.
In late 1969, Australians had slogged their way through the hardships of the Indian tour, roughing it out in shabby, dingy hotels. In spite of some excellent accommodations available in the country, the administrators back in Australia had not been keen on spending on basic amenities for the cricketers. The discontentment had grown with each encounter with unhygienic food and cockroaches running across the floors.
Ian Chappell had batted beautifully through all this trouble, leading the great Erapalli Prasanna to acknowledge him as the most difficult batsman to bowl to. By the end of the tour, as the disgruntled players made their way to South Africa, Lawry had proclaimed that Chappell was the best batsman of the world. Indeed, he had been a pillar ever since pinning down the number three spot in the side. Before the Indian tour, he had hammered the West Indians for 548 runs at 68.50, prompting the tourists to brand him ‘Cathedral’.
But, the South African tour had been a disaster. The wickets were tinged with green, the opponents some of the greatest cricketers ever assembled in a team, and the Australians were weary and drained. When the administrators went ahead and planned for an extra Test match at the expense of a couple of First-Class encounters, the unhappy players refused. Chappell was one of lynchpins against the extra Test, which meant going beyond their existing contracts. However, it was captain Lawry who lodged the protest formally. He was ousted days after carrying his bat to score 60 out of 116 against John Snow, Bob Willis, Peter Lever and Derek Underwood. Chappell was asked to lead in the final Test at Sydney.
Hence, openly expressing that Lawry could have won the Ashes for Australia was indeed fraught with daring. However, Chappell was never one known for mincing his words.
At the same time, no one could have been more ready for the job. He had come to know of his appointment as the Australian skipper during the lunch break of his job as a sales representative of WD & HO Wills. Chappell had been having a schnitzel and beer at Adelaide’s Overway Hotel, when he was called to the phone by the waiter. On being informed of the good news, he had reached for his wallet and had taken out a crumpled piece of paper — a note written to himself in 1959 when he had represented the South Australian State Schoolboys. It read: “My ambition is to captain Australia.”
It is not often remembered that just before he embarked on that epochal 1972 tour of England, a small lump on his chest had been diagnosed as cancerous. It was surgically removed before he could lead his men through the Australian resurgence.
When he had reached England with his side, the press had written off the Australian touring party but had liked their straight shooting captain. Mike Coward of News Ltd had found him, “approachable, thoughtful and respectful of our jobs.”
And by the end of the tour, Ray Illingworth remarked, “I loved pitting my wits against Chappelli. He was always a step ahead, looking ahead of the game — the hallmark of a good captain. He didn’t allow the game to meander along. He made things happen. I place Ian Chappell as a top-notch captain. I played under Richie Benaud in a Commonwealth tour … Chappelli for me is as good a captain as Benaud. I don’t think I can give higher praise than that.”
Ian Chappell played 75 Tests for Australia and scored 5,345 runs at an average of 42.42. He scored 14 centuries with a highest of 196 © Getty Images
What made Ian Chappell worthy of such lofty praise as captain?
Even when Chappell was scoring his first Test century, a 252 minute 151-run exhibition of application and footwork at Melbourne against the guile of Prasanna in late 1967, selector Neil Harvey was aware of his appeal to fellow players. He saw in Chappell a natural leader, a favourite of the hardened men who was could be one of the blokes at the end of a hard day. It was not long before Harvey was pressing Chappell’s name as Lawry’s successor.
In spite of the image of Chappell as an aggressive, often severely acerbic cricketer, as a captain he was of the empowering rather than the screaming, bellowing sort. He realised very early that eleven hands were better than one. His players were all professionals, to be respected, trusted and backed. Two particular instances give a clear picture of his methods.
Tony Dell, the Queensland fast bowler, made his debut under Chappell in the latter’s very first Test as captain. Knowing the straight talking hard-nosed reputation of the skipper, Dell was more than apprehensive to approach him and was a bundle of nerves as he went into the field. To his surprise and relief, Chappell spoke to him with remarkable calm, soothing his nerves and easing him into the action. In the end, Dell finished with two for 32 from 16 overs in the first innings and three for 65 from 27 in the second.
The other example is of Ross Edwards. Australia were playing MCC at Lord’s and there were a number of slips and other close in fielders. Edwards was the only one in front of the wicket at cover, and he found John Jamieson hitting Lillee square on the off side. He asked Chappell why he was not putting him squarer. Chappell’s answer was, “Rosco, if you think you should bloody well go squarer, go squarer. You’re the cover specialist in the team. I’ve got a few other things to think about other than looking after you all the time.” Offensive as it sounded to Edwards at first, he realised that his captain had given him a free rein. “Chappelli demonstrated complete trust in you and your capacity to perform.”
In spite of the sharpness of his tongue and the overbearing belligerence that he generally projected, on the field Chappell would tend to be relaxed during his days as the Australian captain. He understood early enough that a hassled, anxiety oozing captain was the last thing a team needed. Whatever the situation of the match he would be serene, his emotions under control. His signals to a fielder would involve small motions of his hand rather than frantic waves. He exuded command over the situation.
Ian Chappell captained Australia in 30 of his 75 Tests, winning 15 and losing five © Getty Images
Of course, he could also read the match to perfection. He knew intuitively which player would be most likely to click, and could change batting orders or bring about bowling changes often with astounding effect. And he could get the best out of his men. He could coax a visibly ill Dennis Lillee into producing that stunning eight for 29 against Rest of the World. With West Indies needing just 66 runs to win after lunch with five wickets in hand, with Alvin Kallicharran going great guns, he had the ability to fire up his bowlers to snatch a victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.
We of course remember his Ashes triumphs of 1974-75 and 1975 — and they were indeed supreme successes. However, those victories came riding on the express slingy-actioned pace of Jeff Thomson and the fast bowling greatness of Dennis Lillee — not to mention their celebrated pairing which was enough to plant fear in the bravest of hearts. But, his biggest triumph probably came in 1973 in the Caribbean. Thomson was in Australia, still a rather raw, unfinished work in progress. Lillee had developed fractures in his spine in three different places. Bob Massie had suddenly lost the ability to swing the ball. Ashley Mallett had been dropped by the selectors. Chappell marshalled his reduced resources, forging Max Walker into a potent weapon, squeezing the best out of Terry Jenner and Jack Hammond. He also led by sterling example with his bat. Australia won 2-0. Tony Greig wrote in Cricket: The Men and the Game, “The Chappell magic was never better outlined than in the West Indies in 1973 when, without Dennis Lillee and Ashley Mallett who would have thrived on those turning wickets, Chappell led Australia to victory … It takes a great captain to bring off a victory like that.”
Chappell backed his men to the hilt and was prepared to fight for them. When the selectors had omitted Ashley Mallett from the side against England in 1974-75, Chappell had made his feelings known to selector Sam Loxton in no uncertain words. The Invincible had been overcome by the reasoning abundantly spiced with expletives. As a result Mallett played five of the six Tests and captured 17 wickets at 19.94.
And when the administrators wanted him to talk to Lillee because the latter was blasting the Board in his writings, Chappell had refused, saying he fully agreed with the fast bowler.
He played to win, and hated to lose. According to him there was no point in playing cricket if not for a win. Victories were celebrated with beer binges of fun, frolic and togetherness. Having done all the hard work to emerge on top, Chappell sincerely felt that wins needed to be rejoiced. Players grew to love the scenes of jubilation. These formed the best memories of their careers. And with time they grew to love being part of victories, and thereby to strive for them.
All the same, defeats were not the end of the world. They could be withstood, and the best way to do so was also over a few beers. Even as individuals were initially prone to complain against the run of luck, poor umpiring and so on immediately after defeats, with a couple of beers there descended a more philosophical take on the situation. Mellowed retrospection ensued and soon there were confessions of not having performed that well. Weaknesses were gradually analysed and rectification would not be far away.
The relaxation sessions at the bar bore the Ian Chappell signature. While books, caps and bats were signed without a second thought everywhere else, Chappell refused to oblige the most persistent autograph hunter during these moments reserved for the team. Recurrent requests could be met with harsh and rather rude rebuffs. For Chappell the bar in the evening with his mates by his side was a home away from home, where he demanded privacy. It sometimes embarrassed brother Greg, who thought a five second autograph was preferable to a five minute brawl. But, Chappell was uncompromising in this respect. Yet, at the same time, away from the bar he would be most generous with his time, especially with youngsters.
Chappell the captain could shock with his peculiar dress sense. Pink suits and garish ties were often part of his much flaunted wardrobe. When vandals damaged the pitch at Headingley in 1975, forcing the abortion of a potential thriller, England captain Tony Greig responded to the summons of the administrators impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. Chappell came along to inspect the pitch in a jumper and slip-ons.
Yet, Chappell had charisma. One of his ardent admirers was actor Ed Devereaux, who said, “He reminds me of Paul Newman, he has presence. The guy walks into a room and everyone looks up. You either have that sort of charisma or you don’t.”
It was not for nothing that Kerry Packer wanted Chappell as the captain of the WSC Australian XI in the World Series Cricket. When Chappell hesitated, pointing out that at that time Greg Chappell was the captain of the Australian national team and the job should in all fairness go to him, the tycoon had exploded, “You think this is a f***ing democracy?”
Chappell had already retired First-Class cricket at the age of 32. However, World Series Cricket, with its promised benefits for the players, held plenty of possibilities. He had taken on the role of the captain. He again had wanted to win desperately. At one point, after a horrendous day on the field, he was sulking in the dressing room when Packer himself had come up to him. The millionaire was asked to get the *** out of there. And when Lillee had ended the first Packer year with ordinary figures, Chappell had spurred him on by refusing his offered hand. He had said, “I only shake hands with fast bowlers.” That had got Lillee itching to come back firing in the next season. Chappell knew his men, and knew how to get them to perform.
The Packer interlude was perhaps one of the greatest contributions of Chappell’s cricketing career, paving the way for professional management of the game and payment in accordance to the outstanding skills of the players.
Richie Benaud wrote of his leadership, “Ian Chappell left a legacy of a very good cricket team with a wonderful team spirit and a burning ambition to stay on top in world cricket. He did more than that, however, for his players. He has had more brushes with officialdom than any other player since Keith Miller and Sid Barnes just after the end of the war, and most of those brushes have been because of his unwillingness to compromise.”
The Ugly Australians
However, did Ian Chappell make cricket unpleasant with the Ugly Australians side he nurtured during his reign?
People do accuse him of popularising sledging — and he is perhaps seen as one of the pioneers of gamesmanship. Are these accusations valid?
Yes, Chappell swore a lot — and it was not restricted to the field. When he was forced to give up the habit during his broadcasting days, Garry Sobers was aghast. “Man, I have to do all the talking,” the great man had lamented. Yes, Chappell’s swearing was as famous as his pink suits and captaincy.
However, these words were not specifically directed at the opposition. There was no direct, unprovoked verbal attack in spite of the simmering aggression of the team. If Chappell swore at someone it was generally in reaction to an insult. In his autobiography he writes, “When I’m asked about sledging I quote the Macquarie dictionary definition: ‘The practice among bowlers and fielders of heaping abuse and ridicule on the batsmen.’ If we had indeed been heaping abuse and ridicule on batsmen, do you think Dickie Bird, Charlie Elliott and Douglas Sang Hue would have allowed it to continue? I was never spoken to once by any of these umpires with regard to me or any of my players swearing at the opponents.”
Chappell was also clear about not needling top players. Garry Sobers taught him a valuable lesson while blasting 254 for Rest of the World at Melbourne. All through his innings, he had suffered the pangs of estrangement with his wife Prue. On learning of his domestic problems after the innings, Chappell had exclaimed, “Shit, Garry, if that’s what’s annoying you, give me her phone number, I’ll ring her to come back to you immediately.”
However, Chappell seemed to have a drastically different attitude for lesser players. In England in 1972, the captain of Combined Universities was playing and missing constantly. At this juncture his bootlace came undone. When he gestured at Chappell and requested him to tie it, the response was, “You’re not doing anything else out here pal, do it up yourself.”
There were definitely incidents which underlined the intense competitiveness of the Australians under Chappell. At Otago, unhappy at the umpire taking the players off the field because of bad light with the home side on the verge of defeat, Chappell and his men had packed up and left the ground. Late in his career, he was indeed prone to snap at cricketers and even umpires. He got into trouble by calling umpire Bob Marshall an officious Pommy prig. After being disciplined for this offence, he recalled his words to umpire Marshall saying that his father Martin had told him to stick to the truth because it would never hurt one — and obviously he had been wrong.
But, seldom was there anything personal in the altercations. Indeed, once in a Sheffield Shield encounter, South Australia, led by Ian Chappell faced off against Queensland under Greg Chappell. With Ian at the other end, Greg was bowling to South Australia’s No 11 batsman Barry Hiern. When Greg sent down a bouncer, Ian said, “Listen pal, if you are going to bowl bouncers, bowl them to me not our number eleven.” And pat came the reply, “Piss off, Ian. You’d be better served to concentrate on your batting.” That night, Ian called mother Jeanne and informed her that Greg was doing well in Queensland. “You’ll be interested to know that we had an argument after about ten minutes.” Jeanne simply asked, “What took you so long?”
However, in spite of the celebrated ruthlessness, Ian Chappell played fair. In India in 1969-70, he noticed substitute wicketkeeper Ray Jordon’s penchant for winning decisions by knocking the stumps with his hands and fooling the batsman and umpire into believing that the former had been bowled. He confronted the stumper saying: “Listen you c**t, we are playing for Australia and we don’t have to cheat to win …” Later in South Africa he refused to play in a Test match if Jordon was included in the side.
Cricket was obviously in Chappell’s blood. Grandfather Vic Richardson never got involved in his cricket, preferring to leave the task of coaching to Lynn Fuller, a former AIF player and a decent country cricketer. But he was a legend in South Australia. Father Martin played at the district level as an opening batsman and an off-spinner. He had also been in the South Australian state squad for a season.
The family genes were not restricted to cricket. As well as being an Australian cricketer, Richardson captained the state in Australian Rules Football team, represented Australia in baseball and South Australia in golf, won the South Australian state tennis title and a was leading local player in lacrosse, basketball and swimming. Martin Chappell was a baseball catcher for South Australia.
Every Sunday of the summers from the age of five to 17, Chappell went over to Fuller’s home for coaching. At a tender age, his father started pinging balls at him off a particular dreaded spot at the wicket, teaching him to defend himself. That was when Chappell learnt to play the hook shot and was a compulsive hooker his entire career.
Apart from the training, backyard games of extreme seriousness were played with younger brother Greg. By the time Trevor, the third brother, grew up to be counted in these backyard skirmishes, Ian had left for national cricketing duties.
In his last year in St Leonard’s Primary School, Ian Chappell was chosen in the South Australian State Schoolboys team. The side travelled to Perth and he faced the bowling of Graham McKenzie.
The following year he went to Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. The headmaster, John Dunning, had been a captain of the New Zealand cricket team. Former South Australian cricketer Bill Leak was a coach. Later Chester Bennett of Western Australia joined as coach as well. In the last year at PAC, Chappell was made captain of the First XI.
Although Vic Richardson never actively influenced Chappell’s cricket, he often drove down to the ground where his grandson was turning out and watched him in the field. On the evenings of these matches, he sometimes called to say, “Well done.” However, he did pass some wisdom to both the brothers. “If you can’t be a good cricketer, at least look like one.” Another was, “If you’re lucky enough to captain Australia, don’t captain like a Victorian.” In all probability, Richardson had hinted at Lindsay Hassett.
Finally, when Chappell was the vice-captain of Australia and South Australia sides, Richardson passed him the tip, “Just remember, when you win the toss, nine times out of ten you bat first … on the tenth time you think about putting the opposition in, but you still bat first.”
Into the Test world
From afar, Don Bradman was watching as Chappell scored a century against a West Torrens side for Glenelg. When Alan Hitchcox, pace bowler of South Australia, bounced him in the match, a 17-year-old Chappell hooked him for four and blurted out, “Fancy you opening the bowling for South Australia.” After a few club matches, he was chosen for the state side to play Tasmania, New South Wales and finally Victoria.
For a couple of seasons, he shared the dressing room with the great Garry Sobers. Some invaluable tricks of the trade were learnt from the West Indian legend. “Like me you have a back and across movement, and so it’s better to start from leg.” Chappell switched to a leg stump guard. He also followed the advice of standing with both feet outside the crease to quick bowlers.
In 1963, Chappell spent one English summer playing for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League. It was an experience that would stand him in good stead later on, but he recalled, “1963 improved my drinking and swearing and set my cricket back by a couple of months.”
By 1963-64, however, he was making piles of runs for South Australia and was rather disappointed when New South Wales all-rounder Terry Lee was preferred over him for a trial match for an Australian Eleven against the visiting South Africans. That winter, he did not get into the team that toured England and spent his time playing the Claxton Shield baseball tournament. He was picked in the All-Australian baseball team. He played the Claxton Shield again in 1965 and 1966, and made it to the Australian team again in the final year.
In 1964-65 Chappell was picked for a one-off Test against Pakistan at Melbourne. He did not really get off to a great start, the innings of 11 being cut short by an impetuous hook shot. He continued to make runs in the Shield but was overlooked for the tour of West Indies.
For the next few years, he scored heavily at the First-Class level, but Test success was slow in coming. He did not score too many against England, and when he visited South Africa with Bobby Simpson’s men, he was advised to bowl more leg-breaks and bat at number six. Simpson also asked him to shelve the hook shot. On his return from South Africa, however, Don Bradman met him and said, “Ian, you used to be a good hooker. I’d like to see you playing that shot.” So, Chappell started playing the stroke once again, batting with the fullest freedom that characterised him.
The young man was also not convinced that he wanted to be a number six batsman who bowled leg-breaks. He bowled rather less frequently down the years, stopping almost totally after becoming the captain.
It was at this time that Greg Chappell also started playing for South Australia. Two Chappells in the side became a bit of a bother for the scoreboard at Adelaide. Greg became ‘Chappell G’ ad Ian ‘Chappell I’. From there it was but a small step to Chappelli.
It was finally in the second Test against India in 1967-68 that saw Chappell bloom into a superb batsman who could hook with relish and use his feet to spinners with excellence. His first Test century arrived in his 10th Test.
In 1968, he went to the first tour of England after almost missing the flight by oversleeping. He scored steadily in the Tests, if not spectacularly, but he stood out in the way he played Derek Underwood with panache. Two more centuries followed when the West Indians visited the following year, and by the time Australia toured India, he had been named vice-captain.
Down the years, Chappell did experience major highs with the bat. He hit a couple of hundreds against the powerful Rest of the World team of 1971-72.
He returned from his triumphant Ashes trip in 1972 to slam 196 against Pakistan. In West Indies in 1973, he scored 547 runs at 77.42 with two hundreds. And then there was the Wellington Test of 1974 when he and Greg Chappell both scored two centuries in the match.
He celebrated his final Ashes Test by scoring 192 at The Oval in 1975. And having given up captaincy he hammered 156 against West Indies at Perth.
So, what sort of batsman was Ian Chappell?
From the outset he was someone who wanted to be in the thick of things. The moment the first wicket went down, he would get up and adjust his cap while continuing the discussion that had been endangered by the dismissal. Grabbing his bat, he would make for the pitch, having made his last remark. He always got to the crease as soon as possible, seldom dawdling on the way — whatever be the situation.
The upturned collar as he took guard would portray a hint of arrogance. There would be some adjustment of the box, of the thigh pad, of the cap, while a quick eye would scan the field before squaring up to face the bowler.
The short balls would be hooked, no matter at what stage of the innings they were sent down. It did get him out on occasions, but got him many, many runs as well.
He could also cut and pull with power and the very back and across movement would prompt the bat-pad fieldsmen to take evasive action. Against spinners he would get to the pitch of the ball swiftly, and also use the sweep to a great effect. Short deliveries from the tweakers would be pulled and cut mercilessly.
His style was based on dominating the bowlers. Batsmen, according to him, were meant to score quickly. He relished hooking the likes of John Snow and Andy Roberts and using his feet against Prasanna and Intikhab Alam. He categorised the spinners into two groups, the good and the average. Good ones were to be worked around, with the occasional boundary a bonus. The average spinners were meant to be hit for four at least once an over. If some over was quiet, the chances of getting two boundaries in the next would be high.
The final days
After the Packer tour was over, Chappell returned to First-Class cricket and continued to score runs. Yet, he was not selected in the Test team. This frustrated him, and he was more prone to outbursts on the field in these last stages.
He did break through into the one-day side for three matches in the Benson Hedges tri-series of 1979-80, hitting a couple of fifties against England and West Indies, finishing with 131 runs for once out.
Chappell was finally recalled in the Test side for three matches, two against England and the other against the West Indies in the curious simultaneous series played in 1979-80. He ended his career with 75 and 26 not out against England at Sydney, featuring in an eight-wicket win, being there at the crease with brother Greg as his career drew to an end.
Ian Chappell scored 5,345 runs in his 75 Tests, with 14 centuries at an average of 42.42. His occasional leg-breaks got him 20 wickets and his often spectacular work in the slips resulted in 105 catches. He played just 16 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), scoring 673 runs at 48.07 with a strike rate of 77.
He captained in 30 of his 75 Tests, winning 15 and losing five. He also led Australia in the inaugural World Cup, where they were beaten in the final by West Indies.
The other facets
Ian Chappell’s batting and captaincies are just a few facets of his many dimensions as an iconic figure of cricket. Pleasant and unpleasant anecdotes can be discovered in every nook and cranny of his career.
There were many times that he fell out with other legendary figures.
As the captain of South Australia and then Australia, Chappell got into severe conflicts with Bradman. They first locked horns over the recruitment of Younis Ahmed for the state side. Chappell, opposing the selection from the start, was led to believe that the Pakistan batsman had been sponsored by Coca Cola and brought over to Australia. He realised later that Coca Cola had been coaxed into sponsorship by South Australia cricket administrators. Younis failed in his first few outings and was omitted from the side. The exclusion of the overseas import of the side did not amuse Bradman.
Chappell’s appeals for better pay for cricketers were always stalled by the tight-fisted Bradman. When the cream of the Australian team defected in favour of World Series Cricket, Bradman remarked that the players had ‘stabbed us in the back.’ However, according to Chappell, it was Bradman’s meanness with money that had led cricketers to opt for the financial security offered by Kerry Packer.
Interestingly, out of respect for Bradman the batsman, Chappell had not spoken about these showdowns until well into the 1980s. However, he broke his silence after an interview given by Bradman in the early 1980s. According to Chappell, when asked about his career, Bradman said, “I managed to do it all without getting my hair permed or getting divorced.” Chappell, who had been through a divorce and had got his hair permed, took it as a personal insult. As he puts it, “I thought, ‘Bugger you, mate. It’s personal now.’ And from then on, if I was asked a direct question about Bradman, I would say exactly what I had experienced. ”
There have also been the infamous conflicts with Ian Botham and Tony Greig.
The problems with Botham supposedly resulted in blows and the bad blood has continued till this day. The rift with Greig did not get physical but neither was there any love lost between them.
Chappell tried to explain his antagonism as, “The problem I had with him during WSC was that he was off earning money by doing ads while the rest of his team was training… he held his place in the superb team and he did not deserve to.”
However, Greig had been blunter. “I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me. As simple as that.”
His constant criticism had not gone down well with Kim Hughes. And in later days, Steve Waugh was sufficiently provoked to write, “To say Chappell’s criticism irked me would be an understatement.” The modern legend maintains that the comments were always “personal” and that Chappell “always sweated on my blunders and reported them with an ‘I told you so’ mentality.”
After retirement, Chappell moved to writing and commentating. According to him he had first commentated when he was a little more than a toddler, playing in the backyard, imagining encounters between Beanaud and May among others.
Broadcasting too was in his blood. Vic Richardson had been a regular commentator, combining into a well-known team with Gilligan. He also used to write in the papers.
When he was captain of South Australia, Chappell worked on the Sunday TV sports show with Les Favell on Channel 7 in Adelaide. He also conducted a Saturday morning cricket show on radio for 5AD. Later, in 1976-77, he joined North Melbourne, covering Tests and Sheffield Shield games.
In 1980-81, Chappell joined Channel 9, co-hosting Wide World of Sports with Mike Gibson. For another five years, he worked as a co-host of Sports Sunday with Gibson, and later Max Walker.
There were occasions when he came close to getting the sack by swearing on air. There was the ’Jesus f****** Christ, how many mistakes are we going to make today?” remark which made the switchboard at the Channel 9 studio ‘light up like a Christmas tree’. Kerry Packer himself gave Chappell a talking to: “The only reason I am not sacking you is that you didn’t do it deliberately.”
He did it again during the Ashes series in 1993.
However, with time, he has grown into one of the most popular and forthright commentators in the game. Not all of his opinions are well thought out or even correct if placed under the microscope of scientific analysis, but he continues to win hearts with the freshness of his views that bring with them the rare essence of unadulterated honesty.
After retiring from cricket, Ian Chappell (right) took to commentary. He has now grown into one of the most popular and forthright commentators in the game © Getty Images
And while controversies and a curious mix of popularity and dissent dog his candid views, he continues to be passionately vocal about the cause of granting official status to the 1868 tour of England by the Australian Aboriginals. He has also proclaimed his concern about the treatment meted out to Asylum seekers — especially in the aftermath of the Tampa crisis.
Ian Chappell was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986, and the induction into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame happened in 2003. Six years later in July 2009, Ian Chappell entered the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
In Photos: Ian Chappell’s cricketing career
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)