Ian Chappell August 13, 2009

'Talking on the field doesn't make you tough'

Interview by Simon Lister
One of cricket's most outspoken players and most acclaimed captains talks frankly about Bradman, Vic Richardson, and starting and going at the right time

Ian Chappell was never a shrinking violet. Born into a cricketing family, he played Tests over 16 years and captained Australia for four, in which he never lost a series. Tough, even curt, but articulate and thoughtful, he was passionate about Australia playing great cricket. Decent legbreaks supported fine batting. Run-ins with officialdom led to involvement with World Series Cricket but he returned for more Tests before taking his forthright views to the airwaves.

Tell me about your maternal grandfather, Victor Richardson.
Vic was a pretty big influence on me. First, he had played Test cricket and had captained Australia. At some point it struck me that if there was somebody in our family who had played Test cricket, why couldn't I? I liked him and I admired him. When I was older we went drinking and I listened to all his stories. He was a great raconteur. When I was a schoolboy my mum would tell me that he'd been to see me play cricket, even though I hadn't spotted him at the ground because he'd parked down the drive and then stood behind a tree.

He hated the phone, really hated it, but he would ring me up if I'd done all right and he'd say, "Well played today". Then before you could reply, you'd hear boom! and the phone would be put down. But it meant a lot because he wasn't the sort of bloke who'd ring up just because I was his grandson. It meant that I had played well.

He lived long enough to see me play for Australia and he gave me three pieces of advice: "If you can't be a good cricketer, at least you could try to dress like one." Second: "Nine times out of 10 when you win the toss, bat first, and on the 10th occasion think about it, then bat." And the third bit was: "If you ever get the chance to captain Australia, don't captain like a Victorian."

It has been said that you were brash and self-confident when you first played for South Australia.
Absolutely not. Not at all. I had opinions but not self-confidence. I mean there were more opinions around the Chappell breakfast table than there was orange juice. Once on a bus trip up country, I disagreed with Barry Jarman about how I should bowl legspin. The point was that, when I threw it up I got less spin on it. Jar said I should flight it more, because like most keepers he wanted a stumping. Anyway, I kept saying, "No I need to put it through for the ball to spin." We'd both been having a beer, and in the end he said: "You're just like your bloody old man - you think you know everything."

Your Test career started slowly. Did you begin to doubt that you had the necessary skills?
Definitely. I hadn't had a lot of success and always seemed to get out stupidly. Then I had a bolt-of-lightning moment. It was the last Sheffield Shield match of the season at the MCG before the '68 tour of England. I was going really well, but then got myself out twice. I was really cursing myself as I walked off, thinking I'd cost myself a trip to England.

We were in these temporary dressing rooms, which were locked, so I had to sit outside with my bloody pads on. And for some reason as I was sitting there I made a deal with myself. I said: "Mate - you've got to relax a bit. If you get picked, treat it like it's your last tour. Have a good time, take your cricket seriously but enjoy it." And that was the best thing I ever did. I had a good tour and things went from there.

"If I am asked a direct question about Bradman, I say exactly what I have experienced"

The 1969-70 tour to India was pretty grim. Did the discontent felt by the team play a part in your agreeing to sign for Kerry Packer a decade later?
There's no doubt that the bulk of us were pretty pissed off. The board refused to put us in good hotels, just to save money. We didn't blame the Indians but the ACB. We knew there were much better hotels there because we went and bloody drank in them. Then we heard that [Donald] Bradman, who was certainly a selector, if not chairman of selectors, had spoken about my brother, Greg. He was asked why Greg wasn't on the tour, and he replied: "He's better off making runs in Australia, not getting ill in India." We all thought that was a pretty tactless comment. Then we found out that if we died on the tour our families would be offered something like 400 dollars. There was a whole bunch of other stuff too. We were sold up the river, and the board didn't give a damn. Certainly the seeds of disenchantment were sown there, but you know, the history of Australian cricket is littered with blues between the players and the administrators.

Does the Australian public's deification of the Don leave you irritated?
Well, I understand it, because they didn't have to deal with him. But whatever I've said about Bradman since he died, I made very sure that I had said the same things when he was alive, because to have done otherwise would be pretty gutless.

What opened the door for me was a statement from Bradman in the early 1980s. He replied to a question about his career with, "I managed to do it all without getting my hair permed or getting divorced". Now I took that to be a direct shot at me. I had a couple of perms during World Series Cricket, for the simple reason that when I asked the bloody hairdresser what the perm involved, he said: "Well, you won't have to comb your hair anymore," and I thought, "That'll do me!" The perm part from Bradman didn't bother me, but the divorce bit did, because I wasn't the only Australian cricketer to get divorced, and I wasn't even the only Australian captain to have got divorced. Richie [Benaud] was divorced, you know. 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.

When you captained Australia, did you consciously try to give the side a tougher image?
Nah. There's a lot of crap talked about toughness, mental disintegration. Talking on the field doesn't make anyone tough. One of the toughest cricketers I ever played against was Andy Roberts and he never said a word. I've even read that I shaped the team in my own likeness, moulded to my personality. You're talking about Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath - very, very strong characters. To think that I'd be able to shape them into something they didn't want to be is absolute codswallop.

We were just a very competitive bunch of guys, and I was lucky that they were so skilful and such a decent bunch. Dennis Lillee? There's no way in the wide world that Dennis will do anything other than what Dennis wants to do.

You could have gone on longer as captain of Australia, but you didn't want to suffer the same fate as your predecessor, Bill Lawry.
Well, that's what I told my wife when I was given the job: "The bastards won't get me that way." [When Lawry was sacked in 1971, he found out from team-mates who had been told by a reporter.] So I guess that indicated that I would go early rather than too late. But actually, after The Oval Test here in '75, I was done. I knew I wasn't in the right frame of mind to lead the side against the West Indies so soon afterwards. If I'd had six months off, I would have gone one more, but I was mentally done. I was thinking I wasn't aggressive enough any more. I didn't have it.

It's interesting, though. I remember speaking to Richie soon after I got the job, and I said that stepping down as captain must be a pretty tough decision to take. And he replied: "No, Ian. It's the easiest decision you'll ever make." And he was exactly right - as Richie is 99% of the time. It was easy. I just walked off the field at The Oval, and I was going to the press conference with the tour manager, Fred Bennett, and I said, "I'm gonna go" and he said, "You're tired. Why don't you think about it?" And I said, "Fred, it won't make any difference," and I just did it.

Your brother Trevor played much less Test cricket than you and Greg. Tell me one thing he's better at than you.
Oh, he could run so much faster than us. There's nine years' difference between him and me. We all used to play this backyard soccer game we'd dreamt up. Now I was about 20, I'd left home and Trevor was about 11 and I'd come back to visit and we were playing our soccer game. If Trevor was dribbling and took it past me I would just trip him up because I knew that he was so fast he'd be away: I couldn't catch him. He was a pretty talented sportsman - great at baseball too.

You see, I've always said if you want a reason why boys should play men's cricket as soon as they can, look at our family. When Greg and I were at our school, it was always entered in the local grade competition - club cricket. We were 14 or 15. But when Trevor came along, the school reverted to playing only schools. So he got a lot more runs than us, and they all said, "Oh, he's the best of the three" but they didn't look who the runs were made against. Get kids with ability playing against men as soon as possible. I've always said it.

This article was first published in the August 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here