Greg Chappell

Trough luck

An unflinching portrait of a career slump, from the days before burnout became a hot button

Rob Steen

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Much as we revere them as day-makers, dream-weavers and reliably generous suppliers of crunch-worthy numbers, cricketers are just as sensitive and vincible as the rest of us. And, just as David Foot's humane study of the suicidal Harold Gimblett should be required reading for Shaun Tait and Lou Vincent, Adrian McGregor's biography of Australia's standard-bearer of the mid-1970s to early 1980s should be on Ricky Ponting's bedside table. Burnout, as it makes clear, is neither new nor phenomenal.

Although the full co-operation of the subject makes it tempting to question its objectivity, this rounded, textured, and not uncritical portrait is especially recommended for the unflinching way it tackles Greg Chappell's brief but painful nadir at the outset of the eighties. For all his peerless elegance and icy poise, that was when the middle Chappell sibling endured a trough that far out-plumbed the depths to which Ponting has sunk of late, one that also encompassed personal failure and a major international incident.

In December 1981, Chappell recorded four successive ducks in Tests and ODIs. In January he rarely broached double figures and wound up with scores of 4, 0 and 0 in the World Series finals against West Indies. In the background lurked depression, brought on by the strains of being captain, No. 1 batsman, and constantly on the road - and the consequent impact on his marriage and family life. It was this, in turn, which fuelled that notorious instruction to brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of an ODI against New Zealand underarm, a decision that left a great career deeply and irretrievably scarred.

Yes, it showed he was prepared to do whatever it took to ensure victory. More tellingly, it underlined his fatigue: he was prepared to do anything to avoid having to play another game. At least Chappell decided to opt out of the 1981 Ashes series (how different might history have been had his runs and leadership been available?). The fact that Ponting has signed to play for the IPL diminishes the sympathy more than a jot.

From the book
If Greg required any convincing of the pressure cricket was putting on his family the Year of the Underarm provided it. 'I was being paid for the stress of it,' he said. 'It wasn't part of their job. They just had to cop it.' As an ancillary, though not necessarily related matter, Ian and Kay Chappell's divorce sent shock waves through the Chappell clan. Greg calculated that if it had not been for World Series Cricket he would probably have been out of Test cricket by 1980. Ian had begun in 1965, retired in 1975. Greg began in 1969. 'The normal expectation in modern times was 10 years,' he said. 'I'd been playing that long, been away for almost half of it.'

Judy's anxiety gave Greg pause. 'I think I made the assumption that she was happy in her role as a mother with the children,' he said, 'and that she fully understood how much cricket meant to me. But I came to realise over the years - if I made a mistake - it was that it went on too long. It got beyond the realms of the reasonable.'

Greg Chappell
by Adrian McGregor

Collins, 1985

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014
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