In Part Five of the series, in which we look at two cricketers who could easily be mistaken for siblings in the way they went about their game, Arunabha Sengupta compares Wally Hammond and Greg Chappell - two men related by their majesty, grace and curious unpopularity.
They were separated by four decades, and kilometres well beyond their glorious combined collection of Test runs. One walked the greens a picture of power, and the other with a hint of the tin soldier. Yet, their games and careers could be placed on one another to form an almost seamless bonanza of brilliance.
Both stood well over six feet, were magnificent exponents of the drive, and as slip catchers had no equal during their days, even now forming an exclusive bracket into which few others can fit in.
With the willow they were most exciting of stroke-makers, gifted all around the wicket, superlative with the hook shot off fast men, but with preference and penchant for the ‘V’ between extra cover and mid-wicket. With the ball, both were more than useful medium-pacers who could revert to off-spin when the situation demanded. Both stood motionless in the slips, interspersed with movements like streaks of lightning, plucking fast travelling balls with hardly a stretch or sweat. Each was hailed as the best batsman of his generation but for one corresponding solitary genius. And neither was exactly loved by one and all of their fellow men.
Walter Hammond left the sizzling mark of his majestic cover drives forever etched on the game, while enthralling the ground likewise – if somewhat infrequently – with all other strokes that his bat brought forth. Similarly, Greg Chappell’s on-drive was a thing of exquisite beauty while his every other act of run making was carved out of unlimited reserves of elegance. Both could strike the ball hard, but generally opted to persuade it to go wherever their fertile fancies desired.
And while for all his grandeur and glory, Hammond always ended up as the second best batsman of his generation behind the relentless run amassing prowess of Don Bradman; Chappell, likewise, had to contend with the gum chewing nonchalance of Vivian Richards.
During their days, both spent considerable periods at the helm, Chappell with somewhat more success, and scored at remarkably similar averages of 55 and a bit while leading their sides. Each had their moments of success while on the hot seat, but their teams plummeted to the pits of performance during one forgettable Ashes series apiece.
In both cases, balancing fame with finance influenced the scales of captaincy. While Hammond sacrificed monetary stability to become an amateur and thereby skipper of the English team, Chappell actually gave up captaincy on several occasions in favour of family sustaining business commitments.
While no one disputed their mastery on the field, neither was the most popular of figures. Hammond antagonised teammates and opponents alike with his aloofness and womanising, and Chappell with his ruthless aggression and some ‘underhand’ tactics.
Most surprising of all was the common Bradman factor. Although separated by several decades, both had his share of bitterness with the great man. Hammond as a cricketer spent almost his entire career in intense animosity against the Australian legend while Chappell had his share of disagreements when the great man was a representative of the Australian Cricket Board.
In figures the two sublime careers could hardly be pried apart. Hammond played 85 Tests to Chappell’s 87, both ending up with slightly more than 7000 runs. Hammond notched up 22 hundreds to Chappell’s 24, and pouched 110 catches to the latter’s 122.
Both scored nine hundreds in the Ashes, and notched up their career bests against the poor New Zealanders. And while Hammond piled up runs at an average of over 50 against the best side of his days, Australia, Chappell did the same with élan and grace when faced with the most formidable foes of his era, the West Indies.
However, the common thread that binds them is made up of magnificence and aesthetics rather than mathematical accuracy.
If ever an eternal manual of cricket is inscribed by divine hands, scorching through it will be drives of the two men on either side of the wicket; Hammond leaning and stroking it through the covers, while Chappell, erect and unbending, caressing it past the mid-on.
(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://twitter.com/senantix)