Rewind to ... 1977 December 11, 2010

The thirty-year feud

In a week where Ian Botham and Ian Chappell had to be prised apart in a car park, Martin Williamson looks back at the 33-year feud between the pair

Long-standing feuds, as opposed to brief rows, between players are not unknown in cricket and some of the game's greats have been involved in them. Don Bradman was almost always at odds with Bill O'Reilly and Jack Fingleton, so much so that when he was dismissed for 0 in his final Test innings the pair were reported to be rendered almost helpless with laughter. In the 1970s the animosity between Geoff Boycott and Ray Illingworth turned into genuine hatred.

Ian Botham seems to have rubbed more than one person up the wrong way. His animosity towards Peter Roebuck is well known, and he was another to fall out with Boycott. But perhaps the most acrimonious and violent dispute is the one between Botham and Ian Chappell. Neither man is known for backing down in the face of conflict, nor does either mince words. That heady mix has ensured that a deep resentment which started three decades ago continues to this day.

The whole thing kicked off during the Centenary Test at Melbourne in March 1977. Botham, at the time an 21-year-old with no shortage of self-belief and two ODIs under his belt, was in Australia playing club cricket on a scholarship. Chappell, who had retired from Test cricket 18 months earlier with a reputation for being a pugnacious batsman and uncompromising captain, had quit the first-class game to play for North Melbourne.

The pair found themselves in a bar at the MCG, next to the Hilton Hotel, during the match. On that they agree. On almost everything else that happened, they offer wildly different views.

According to Botham, Chappell was holding court and indulging in some fairly vocal Pommie bashing which got under his skin and so the pair clashed. Chappell, in a more detailed account, recounts a conversation which centred around one claiming that Australians were second rate and the other that England were much the same.

According to Chappell, Botham accused him of not wanting to tour England in the following summer (1977) because "too many blokes were looking to knocking his block off," adding for good measure that "everyone's looking for you because you're a prick". He then claimed that Botham put a glass to his throat and warned him he would "cut him from ear to ear", an accusation Botham vigorously denied. "The day I have to resort to that," he wrote in his autobiography, "is the day I know there is something wrong."

After a few more words either Botham punched Chappell and sent him flying backwards off his chair into a crowd of Aussie Rules players scattering their drinks (Botham version) or he pushed him backwards off the chair and got hysterically angry (Chappell).

"As I got up, he suggested we settle it outside," Chappell recalled almost 30 years later." I replied: 'I don't fight. You either finish up in jail or hospital and I don't intend visiting either over a **** like you'."

Chappell then fled the bar making a final rude comment at Botham as he left, resulting in Botham sprinting out of the bar and hurdling a car bonnet to get at him (Botham) or he calmly walked out of the bar pursued by a ranting Botham who had to be restrained by one of Chappell's team-mates (Chappell).

"As far as I am concerned it is par for the course," Chappell wrote of Botham's version of events. "As far as I am concerned, Chappell as human being is a nonentity," Botham retorted.

The pair clashed again in 1979-80 when Chappell was on the comeback trail after World Series Cricket and Botham was in Australia with Mike Brearley's ill-fated England side. After Botham had dismissed Chappell for 0 in a state game, with an appropriate send-off, the two men met in a Benson & Hedges ODI.

Chappell made an unbeaten 60, in the course of which Botham bowled a bouncer which was a no-ball. By his own admission, Chappell needed no excuse to have a go, warning Botham that if he did it again he had "better hit me because if it doesn't I'm going to come down there and whack you with bat."

In between innings Brearley contacted Greg Chappell, Australia's captain, and demanded an apology. It never came. When Botham came out Ian Chappell sidled up to Dennis Lillee and told him that Botham would be expecting a bouncer so to bowl a yorker. Lillee dug the first ball in short and it disappeared for six. The following over Rodney Hogg took Chappell's advice and trapped Botham leg-before.

"There are many skeletons dangling in Botham's cupboard, ranging from stories of drug-taking to general thuggery, and if he keeps peddling his lies, there's every chance more of these stories will emerge"
Chappell interviewed when Botham received his knighthood

Whereas people often tend to mellow with age, not so in this instance. They both simmer. Chappell recounts the story of when the two were on a current affairs programme in the 1990s and the host turned to Botham and asked whether the two would have a drink at the end of the day. "Yea," replied Botham. "That's cricket. You sit down and have a beer or a wine." The host then turned to Chappell. "And you?" "No," he said. "I can find plenty of decent people to have a drink with ... I won't be drinking with him."

There were fireworks expected when Channel Nine hired Botham to commentate on the 1998-99 Ashes alongside Chappell, one of their permanent team. On hearing the news Chappell said: "That's all right as long as they don't expect me to socialise with him because I certainly won't be doing that." And asked about the 1977 incident, he answered: "I haven't had many words with him since ... it would suit me if I never spoke to the guy again."

It is believed the pair have not spoken since 1980 even though they have often been in close proximity as commentators. While the initial argument may belong to ancient history, neither man is willing to accept their own version of events is wrong and, by definition, that the other is simply not telling the truth.

When Botham was knighted in 2007, Chappell was, inevitably, asked for his opinion and in Bulletin magazine said: "There are many skeletons dangling in Botham's cupboard, ranging from stories of drug-taking to general thuggery, and if he keeps peddling his lies, there's every chance more of these stories will emerge. Someone is going to regret awarding him a knighthood. And then, again harking back to that night in Melbourne, added: "Apart from having us in the same bar, the rest is a fairytale."

Both men are now grandfathers, and yet the animosity rumbles on, perhaps because neither is the kind to blink first. The latest scrap in a car park at the Adelaide Oval suggests they might well be firing verbal broadsides with the occasional flurry of fisticuffs for many years to come.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

My Autobiography Ian Botham (Collins Willow, 1994)
Hitting Out Ashley Mallett with Ian Chappell (Orion, 2005)

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa