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