September 26, 2013

The other side of Ian Chappell

The former Australia captain, known for his tough and aggressive approach, turns 70 today

Ian Chappell: the sort of captain players would give their all for © Getty Images

Former Test captain, journalist and broadcaster Ian Chappell is 70 today.

Throughout his successful sporting career, Chappelli was universally known for his tough, sometimes abrasive, take-no-prisoners approach. He could sledge with the best of them, and often it was very funny. In 1972, we played the Combined Universities in Oxford. Bob Massie was swinging the ball all over the place and their first-drop, Dudley Owen-Thomas, had trouble getting a bat to it. After being rapped on the pads for the umpteenth time, Owen-Thomas got down on one knee to do up his bootlaces. It was the end of the over and he noticed the first slipper, Chappelli, walking past. He eyeballed him and said, "I say, skipper…" nodding towards his bootlaces. "Piss off pal," Chappelli barked, "I only do up the bootlaces for batsmen."

This tough exterior coloured how everyone perceived Chappelli, yet there was, and is, a softer, compassionate side to him. When Chuck Fleetwood-Smith was down on his luck, penniless, without a roof over his head, Chappelli came to his side. He lifted Neil Hawke's spirit when he was gravely ill in hospital, and he went to see my old mate Terry Jenner when TJ was suffering inner turmoil in prison.

Former Test batsman Ross Edwards is one who has seen the softer side of Chappelli. Midway through the final Test of the 1975 Ashes, at The Oval, Edwards received a telegram informing him of the death of a close friend. Chappelli, who had seen the telegram, quietly went to his team-mate and said: "Rosco, if you prefer not to go back on to the field next session, it's okay by me."

I once asked Chappelli's mum, Jeanne, what had happened to Ian since he retired from cricket. "Has he mellowed? Is there a soft side to Ian Chappell?"

"Boy, is there ever a soft side to him," she laughed. There always has been, really."

In 2003, Chappelli's toughness on the tennis court was challenged. He won the Bayview Tennis Club championship doubles and was runner-up in singles. "When I heard my opponent in singles was an 11-year-old kid, I spoke to my doubles partner, Ken Grey, and said, 'I'm not comfortable about playing against an 11-year-old. If I serve hard, everyone will say I'm a prick'," Chappelli recounted. "Grey laughed: 'If you don't serve hard he'll run you all over the court, Chappelli. You'd better be on top of your game or the kid will demolish you.' I served hard and 11-year-old Michael Clisby beat me in straight sets."

As a captain he was very much in the Mark Taylor mould. He created for his players an environment of trust, empowerment and enjoyment. He knew instinctively that if the workplace was a happy one his charges would give their all for the boss. The players in Chappelli's Test teams revelled in the success of their team-mates - an essential collective quality for successful sporting teams.

Behind the microphone with the Nine commentary team, Chappelli is insightful in his comments, and while he does not take a backward step, he mostly builds a balanced for-and-against argument.

Much of his early summer days were spent watching his father, Martin, play cricket. In winter he was a bat boy at the Glenelg Baseball Club and this environment taught young Ian a few words and phrases. One day years later, as he was presenting a Nine Wide World of Sports segment, there was a mix-up by the production crew and the expected horse-racing vision did not appear, but a US hot-rod spectacular did. Chappelli momentarily lost his cool, even uttering the magic word in front of the camera.

Kerry Packer was watching the programme at the very time of Chappelli's outburst. In the wake of an instant stand-down, he summoned Chappelli to his office for a "please-explain". "Now, look here, son," Packer said, "I sacked Graham Kennedy for saying what you said on air, but he meant it. You didn't. You just couldn't help yourself. But don't do it again."

Chappelli knew that he had to heed Packer's warning. Another transgression like that one and his TV broadcasting career was kaput. His wife, Barbara-Ann, told her husband that if he did not swear anywhere - at home, at the office or in the pub - he would effectively solve the problem. Garry Sobers heard about Chappelli's iron-willed resolution to avoid saying anything untoward, anywhere and at any time, and rang his friend. "Hey Chappelli, I hear you are not swearing anymore. That's interesting. Next time we meet up for a beer, the conversation is going to be very one-sided and I suspect fairly dull, because I'll be doing all the talking."

Chappelli has taken up some good causes, including opposition to the Howard government's handling of the Tampa crisis. "I was yelling at the TV as the specials forces boarded the Tampa," Chappelli said. "After a while Barbara-Ann said, 'Bad things happen when good people do nothing.' That made me think. Yes, Barb's right. I just can't rail at the television set and do nothing. I am in a position where I have a public voice. Maybe I can do something here."

He became a special representative for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and he put his name to a letter calling for donations to raise money for the Afghan refugees. Late in 2001, UNHCR rang him to say that some of the money raised was to be put towards redeveloping a playing field and to build a gymnasium in East Timor.

Later that year Chappelli received a call from journalist Mike Coward asking if he would like to become patron of A Just Australia, a group dedicated to just treatment of refugees, consistent with the human rights standards that Australia has developed and endorsed. He got on board.

In 2003, he was part of a delegation that met Immigration minister Philip Ruddock, calling for urgent changes to the treatment of asylum seekers being kept in long-term detention in Australia. Knowing Chappelli there will be no turning back for him on this issue.

That year at the 2003 Allan Border Medal function, Chappelli gave a moving speech that heralded the induction of the 1868 Aboriginal cricket team into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.

Chappelli loves the game with a passion. He'll get with his mates and chat over a beer or a good red. There's always good-natured banter and laughter. The stories sometimes get a bit embellished, but the blokes in his company love his passion, knowledge and extraordinary memory of long-gone events.

He was a great captain, a mighty player, and today we will raise a glass to this compassionate fighter for the underdog and elder statesman of world cricket.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on September 29, 2013, 6:52 GMT

    Happy birthday sir...i think ur views are honest...apart from 2007-srt retirement views...i m ur big fan sir.

  • David on September 28, 2013, 23:33 GMT

    I always read Chappelli's articles - he's articulate, but direct, opinionated but fair-minded, tough but compassionate. He represents everything good about Australian cricket.

  • Dummy4 on September 27, 2013, 3:02 GMT

    " Chance at mid-off...and well taken!"...Happy Birthday Sir!

  • Dummy4 on September 27, 2013, 2:30 GMT

    While I do not agree with everything Chappeli says, I must say I enjoy his commentary. He is all about making the game exciting. And yes, he is quite funny.

  • Ivan on September 26, 2013, 21:33 GMT

    Happy Birthday Ian. You have lived a rich life and you come across as a good man. When I was a young boy with dreams of playing for India my friends used to call me Chappell :-) and my brother was called Lloyd because he had curly hair.

    You grew up in a simpler and nicer time and place and it is good to see your resultant straightforward approach to cricket and life.

    Many more years to you Ian filled with good health, cheer, beer and the occasional swear:-)

  • Guru on September 26, 2013, 20:44 GMT

    Many Happy Returns of the Day. Ian always talks straight and walks the talk. He never backs down from doing or saying what is right - that is true service to the game we all so dearly love. Hope some of the cricketing great's of India can follow what this Aussie giant does and not just shrivel before BCCI or shout lustily at each IPL match at the top of their lungs. Where is honor in that?

  • Shiv on September 26, 2013, 20:27 GMT

    Happy return of the day. I do not agree with some of your articles, but I think you have a valid point most of the time and its good that you put them in writting. Also you are not one of those who want to bash the BCCI at the drop of a penny.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 19:51 GMT

    A street fighting sportsman, a upright cricket analyst and a good human being. Ian, wishes for a happy birthday and a long association wid cricket. Likes of U are'nt made more frequently nowadays.

  • Unmesh on September 26, 2013, 19:26 GMT

    I haven't seen much of Ian Chappell- the player, but as a commentator one thing I like about him is he is not afraid to speak his mind. If he thinks a player is taking a wrong approach to an inning etc. he will say it...doesn't matter how big the player is. The problem with commentary these days is that everybody is so diplomatic. If somebody is a high profile player/administrator they are very careful about saying anything remotely negative about them. But Chappell and Manjarekar are exceptions to this in my opinion. You may agree or disagree with Ian's point of view, but you can be sure he will frankly say what he wants to say..doesn't hide behind diplomacy. Happy birthday, Ian!

  • Ravi on September 26, 2013, 17:00 GMT

    Legendary is written all over from the moment such personalities surface and display skills in the field that one is passionate about. There is a discernible difference between selfishness and stamp of individuality. It is that quality and ability that is in the DNA of legends that they are able also able to draw a distinction between team work and stamp of individuality. By being able to present a clear cut difference and also being able to make the difference Chappelli is among the Legendary figures of cricket.