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'Being with the Indian team was like travelling with the Beatles'

Greg Chappell in 1977. He rates the 40 he scored in a low-scoring first innings in the Centenary Test of that year as one of his finest innings PA Photos

What would you say was the best atmosphere you ever played in?
The 1975 World Cup final and the Centenary Test were pretty special. I must admit, though, I really enjoyed my first tour of the Caribbean, in 1973. The atmosphere around the game, the love of the game, the lightness of attitude, the joy of the game.

I loved touring England. I'd grown up dreaming of playing cricket in England and particularly representing Australia in England. But there was a very conservative air to the way cricket was played and viewed over there. In the Caribbean it was much more creative, relaxed and fun-loving. At that stage, they respected good cricket no matter who played it. On subsequent tours of the West Indies, when they started to do well, there was an expectation that West Indies would win. But in 1973 there was an air of joy about the cricket.

What was the most difficult attack you played against?
It can be very demanding batting in Tests. Any Test attack is a good attack and can be hard to score runs against. I played against some good sides, but just for the sheer torture of batting against four quality pace bowlers, that West Indian side of the late 1970s and early 1980s was the most challenging.

Do you think you would have beaten England in 1977 if the World Series Cricket (WSC) controversy wasn't going on in the background?
Without the Packer thing, I think we would have lost anyway. That was a bit of a sideshow. Not having Dennis [Lillee] was a big blow. I think he would have bowled well over there. You've got to remember that Thommo [Jeff Thomson] was coming back from his shoulder injury and was probably only about 70% fit. We took the risk of taking him because we didn't have Dennis. We thought that to go without either of them was going to be a bridge too far.

What was the hardest thing about that series?
It was just a tough series. I don't know that there was a lot we could have done to change it. I had implored the selectors to give us as much experience in batting as possible. Batting in England in those days was really tough. Very different from Australia. I think that's changed a lot in the modern era with better drainage of grounds and methods of preparation. Wickets dry out much earlier in the season. Back then, right up until July, batting could be pretty tough. And we didn't have a lot of batsmen with English experience in that series.

"There wasn't a lot of money in the game, even after WSC. I was still making a lot more money off the field in business. I was starting to look to my future beyond cricket"

Why didn't you go on the 1981 Ashes tour?
We had a young family, three young kids. I had business partners who'd been very generous in allowing me to play a lot of cricket in previous years. I felt I owed it to my family and to my business partners to spend some time at home. And I needed a break. I'd been playing cricket non-stop for quite a few years. I wanted to keep playing cricket. I'd toured everywhere except India and Pakistan by that stage. I'd been to England three times. There wasn't a lot of money in the game, even after WSC. I was still making a lot more money off the field in business. I was starting to look to my future beyond cricket.

You played mostly at home, after that?
I thought, if I'm going to keep playing, the place I enjoy playing most of all, is Australia. So from 1980 onwards, I decided to confine myself to playing at home as much as possible. When the opportunity came to tour Pakistan, I was glad to take that. Later on, when we had our first series against Sri Lanka, Kim Hughes wasn't available for family reasons and I was prevailed upon to take that side away. It was a relatively short tour, so I was happy to do that.

Who was the better player, Viv or Barry Richards?
Too hard to split. Very different players, but both in their own way extremely talented. Viv could win a game in a session - he could take a game away from the opposition. But Barry was no slouch in that regard either.

Strangest player you played with?
Greg Matthews came into the Australian side during my last season. He was just different to any other cricketer I played with. He came from a different background, spoke a different language, a surfie's language. "Bro", "cool" being a major part of his language. He didn't meet the stereotype of what an Australian cricketer looked like, spoke like, sounded like. And yet he had a love of the game that was as strong as anyone I ever played with or against.

And against?
Arkle [Derek Randall] was an interesting character. The first time I remember playing against him was in the Centenary Test. What an innings he played. But on the field he was perpetual motion. Talked gibberish, no one really knew what he was talking about. Extremely loveable character and a really nice fella.

The best innings you ever played?
The Lord's Test in 1972, just because of the conditions and the situation of the game [Chappell scored 131 out of 308 to give Australia a narrow first-innings lead]. Technically and mentally it was as good as I'd played. The conditions were very much in favour of the bowlers.

"Sixteen wickets on his Test debut was the worst thing that happened to Bob [Massie]. He felt the pressure, thought he had to take 16 wickets every time he bowled"

The 40-odd I got in the first innings of the Centenary Test was up there as well. Because that pitch was really difficult to bat on for the first day and a half. Australia got 138, England were all out for 95. It turned out to be one of the best batting wickets I played on, for the last three and a half days. By that time my two innings were over, so it didn't matter much to me.

Was it difficult coming back from World Series Cricket? Did you feel the establishment had it in for you?
It wasn't that difficult for the senior players. It was tougher for the younger players or people who were struggling to get into the team or stay in it. A few suffered because they went to World Series Cricket. Some of us were considered untouchable but some paid the penalty for defecting to Packer. That was a sad thing. A few cricketers who could have and should have played a lot more Test cricket for Australia were compromised because of WSC.

Who was the fastest, Jeff Thomson or Michael Holding?
Jeff Thomson by a considerable amount. Even Michael Holding admitted it. I remember someone asking him a similar question at a function and he said, we were all quick on our day and then there was Jeff Thomson.

There was one other difference between Thommo and Michael. Michael, because of his classical action, you saw the ball the whole way. He put it out in front of you before, and as he delivered it. Thommo stuck it behind his back and you didn't sight it until, all of a sudden, it appeared out of his hand.

Would you say that Australian team was at its peak from 1974 to 1976?
Yeah. Thomson and Lillee made the difference. They were a wonderful combination. I remember that cartoon: "Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. If Thomson doesn't get you, Lillee must." When those two bowled, we were standing at slip expecting a catch every ball. It was phenomenal to be standing there watching those blokes bowl, knowing it was only a matter of time before the next catch would come.

What happened to Bob Massie? With him at his best and those two quicks, Australia would have been unbeatable.
Sixteen wickets on his Test debut was the worst thing that happened to Bob. He felt the pressure, thought he had to take 16 wickets every time he bowled. And he started trying to really make it swing, whereas at Lord's in that game, he just ran up, bowled, and it swung. At Trent Bridge on the 1972 tour there was another innings where he bowled beautifully.

After that, he lost his swing, and once he lost his swing, he lost confidence and lost everything. We went to the West Indies in 1973 and they were pretty benign wickets. The ball was totally shagged after about 20 overs. He was trying to make it swing and it wouldn't swing. He lost his rhythm. A little bit like a golfer who tries to change his swing to get a bit of extra distance and loses his timing and never gets it back. That was Bob, unfortunately.

Was the Indian team you coached better than the Indian teams you played against?
The one that I coached had more depth in talent. There was a lot of talent in the teams we played against, in the top half a dozen players, but then it dropped away a bit. More from an experience and a belief point of view rather than a lack of talent.

"I would have loved to have coached an Australian team, if that had been available. But failing that, to get a chance to coach India was a great honour"

The Indian teams that I coached, on paper, had one of the best batting line-ups that any Test team could boast. Not many that outshone it as far as talent was concerned. The depth of talent in that group was extraordinary. I don't know that they got the best out of the group that they had. Other teams probably got more out of the talent they had. There are a number of reasons for that. Partly because they didn't have the bowling attack to make the most of that batting line-up. Away from India it didn't do as well as it probably should have done.

A lot has been said and written about the problems you had while coaching India. What was the most rewarding thing about your time coaching them?
It was a great honour to get a chance to coach someone else's national team. I would have loved to have coached an Australian team, if that had been available. But failing that, to get a chance to coach India, which at the time was, and currently still is, the powerhouse in world cricket, and to have some of the great names that that line-up had was a great honour.

Did you realise what you were getting yourself into when you took the job?
It was perhaps a little bit more complicated than anyone could have imagined. There were so many layers to life in India, let alone cricket. That was pretty hard to expect anyone to master, particularly an outsider.

Being with the Indian cricket team was what it must have been like travelling with the Beatles. It was remarkable the way they were feted around the country wherever they went. Big crowds gathered at airports. The whole airport would come to a standstill.

To see it from the inside and to understand some of the pressures on the players. It wasn't an easy thing to be an Indian cricketer, especially a renowned Indian cricketer. The expectations, the interruptions to their day-to-day lives, and the restrictions on their ability to move freely - I marvelled at the way they managed to absorb all of that and just get on with it.