India in Australia 2011-12 March 7, 2012

Ian v Greg at the Chappell backyard

The Chappell brothers' has to be the ideal childhood, one every lover of cricket would commit heinous crimes to enjoy

The Chappell brothers' has to be the ideal childhood, one every lover of cricket would commit heinous crimes to enjoy. They grew up in Adelaide where, Greg Chappell says, the weather was so good, they could play outdoors from daybreak until dark. Their father, Martin, turned their backyard into a cricket pitch, gave them proper cricket balls and bats, and they played proper simulated Test matches. Chappell says he learned reacting to various situations in actual Test cricket because of the fiercely competitive Test matches he played with elder brother Ian in the backyard, "more battleground than playground". He got his trademark flick off the hip from backyard cricket.

Ian is four-and-a-half years older. Greg says Ian began to acknowledge his existence only when he turned nine. Until then, Ian wanted to play with mates his own age, and when he finally began playing with Greg there was no allowance for the age gap. Test matches, like many of us did as kids, were elaborately played. Being younger, Greg always represented England, and Ian Australia. Each brother batted 10 times, and at the fall of every wicket had to walk into the laundry, write the score, and come back as a new batsman. The only way it probably differed from other kids' childhood Tests was that other kids also tried to simulate the style of the batsman they represented. The kind of batsman Greg turned out to be bears no resemblance to the style of the Englishmen he represented.

Ian was good at hitting a ridge on the pitch, and bouncing Greg. Greg says the days and days spent playing such cricket helped him with actual Test cricket significantly. He says the atmosphere was not protective, as it is in today's coaching world. If he couldn't play the cut, he says, he didn't shelve it, he tried to get better at it. He hated getting out, but it was not "terminal" as it is in nets and games kids play nowadays.

The most endearing story about Greg's childhood has to be the genesis of the flick off the hip, and also the on drive. He realised only when Mike Brearley once asked him about the shot, and how Brearley thought it was a unique shot. Greg then thought about it, and realised he acquired it in the backyard. Martin Chappell had been careful to protect the windows of the house, and those of the neighbours. He was also an amateur gardener, and loved his fruit trees. There were fences around those areas too.

All that really didn't leave him many scoring areas in the on side. If he had to score runs on the on side, Greg would have to score wide of a tree at mid-on, or between two behind square, "between the apricot tree and the almond tree".

Apart from their father, grandpa Vic Richardson is a part of the story of the Chappell boys. When they played for their school, they could see Richardson's car outside but never see him. Only once in a while the head of the grandfather would bob out from behind a tree. This is reminiscent of how Mohammad Azharuddin's grandfather used to watch him play without letting him know he did. On days that they played well, Richardson would then call his daughter, ask the phone be handed over to them, and say, "Well played, and hang up."

Chappell related these anecdotes at Adelaide Writers' Week, where he was promoting his new book, Fierce Focus, which has many more insights into his life as a cricketer, coach and selector.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on March 22, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    I guess this article reminds all of us how we were "the next big thing" if only the selectors could see us play. I remember spending days and evenings playing with my brother in Libya of all places; getting ready for matches with the seniors on weekends. One instance I remember getting runout for 3 successive matches and then spending the whole week practicing "running" - no, not wrt fields but just "running". Good times.

  • testli5504537 on March 11, 2012, 9:12 GMT

    Nice article. Reminded me of How i perfectioned my on drive and flicking the ball well wide of the off stump. The short pitch of mere 6 7 metres and my younger brother bowling with Steyn's action made me very secure outside off stump and made my timing immaculate and when i batted on actual pitch, ball was looking like a football.

  • testli5504537 on March 11, 2012, 6:59 GMT

    Excellent article... reminds me of my childhood... used to play anywhere anytime... never minded the hot weather... when bowling I used to be Imran Khan and when batting always pretended to be Richards... pretended like Abdul Qadir too for a while... there was an innocence in cricket which is not there anymore... now its all about the money and no one really cares about the game and having fun...

  • testli5504537 on March 10, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    nice article and would remind many of us about our growing up thing to note though that the chappels have not grown up unfortunately in their wisdom and their cricketing comments are still churlish..

  • testli5504537 on March 10, 2012, 8:38 GMT

    Ian is a GREAT commentator & good analyser of the game. Greg spotted out Suresh Raina

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    I believe Greg spent most of his time playing cricket and didnt learn much about anything else. He was probably a good cricketer but not a good coach or sportsman. His views seem so rigid and sometimes so absurd that he becomes his own worst enemy.

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2012, 18:57 GMT

    Any one want to be a styilish crickerter then follow tha beutiful foot works of ian chappell.

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2012, 17:23 GMT

    Greg and Ian I am sorry to say this but you guys have really bought tears in my eyes when I see your dedication to the game.

    I like Ian talking even today, and I am not very fortunate to have watched Greg bat live but I have see very little from the ESPN cricket legends tapes.

    You have both made Australia very proud in my eyes, but I must say that I hope the English will do more justice to Greg by granting him a proper place as a coach or a selector. Greg you are my hero though I have seen very less of your play.

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2012, 14:26 GMT

    I played in a triangular series with my younger brother and father in a shearing shed, for years. There was only one slip, a wool pack. A drive straight to the end of the shed brought six., a drive to a wall at cover four, hitting to leg only one. Hence, I learnt the on drive only late. Hitting into a wool bin was out. The bins were at point and extra cover, with their mouths about waist height. The ball was a tennis ball with a hole cut in it with a penknife to reduce the bounce. The pitch was of wood and cutters were bowled a lot, by pulling the fingers down the side of the ball. My father liked to bowl leg cutters and got a lot caught in the wool pack. There was room for one fielder, at cover. The wicket was two oil drums. Occasionally there was a spectator. The shed was eight shearers' stands long, which allowed a reasonable run-up but demanded quick reflexes of the batsman. I became an opening batsman and got to tour India and Africa as a schoolboy, in 1964-65.

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2012, 12:48 GMT

    There is nothing extra-ordinary about this story ,in fact it could be the story of every oldest child who had a sibling to play cricket with.Ian and Greg in my opinion were highly over-rated cricketers hyped up by the media for Aussie consumption in their desperate search for cricketing heroes in a period where the Englishman and the West Indians dominated the game.

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