How I forsook dreams of bus-driving for a career in cricket media

A look back at a career in broadcasting and cricket writing

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
The writer at work in his Sydney home in 2014  •  Fairfax Media/Getty Images

The writer at work in his Sydney home in 2014  •  Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Many think my post-playing life, given my grandfather Vic Richardson captained Australia and later became a writer and broadcaster - was predetermined. That's not what my mother, Jeanne, thought - she reckoned I was destined to be a bus driver. Apparently, at a young age I used to sit astride our couch humming the appropriate noises and driving an invisible bus.
I would have been a bus driver with opinions, had I been one. Opinions were as freely available as orange juice around our kitchen table, and they were encouraged by my mother.
Growing up in Graymore, I would play a lot of cricket, baseball and football on my own in the backyard. As I threw and hit a ball against the wall and kicked a football around the backyard, I commentated on those imaginary games. One day I reached 999 - the bowlers didn't enjoy a lot of success - and was stuck for when I scored my next run. Being alone, I asked next door's Joyce Mason: "What comes after 999?"
Mrs Mason told me it was 1000, so I ran back home to compile more runs.
Younger brother Greg was soon old enough to play backyard Tests. When a player was dismissed in the backyard he went to the tank stand, took off his gloves and filled in the scorebook. My entry of Keith Miller was never followed by a low score.
My father, Martin, often took me to the Adelaide Oval and he'd tell me to watch certain players. If the visiting team was New South Wales or Australia were playing, it would be "Watch Miller. Watch what he does." He always encouraged me to watch aggressive players and there were plenty who graced the Adelaide Oval but Miller was our favourite.
Of the many breaks I had in life, an important one was to play for South Australia alongside the game's best cricketer, Sir Garfield Sobers. I learned a lot talking to Garry but also acquired knowledge just watching and batting with the best player in the game.
All of those experiences - in cricket, baseball and life - helped prepare me for a post-playing career writing and commentating.
I also had the good fortune to spend much of my career with Richie Benaud, an exceptional captain in his own right and a first-class broadcaster and journalist. I never copied Benaud but I learned from watching and listening to a polished operator.
He was a masterful presenter for both BBC and Channel 9 cricket. If all hell was breaking loose in the studio, he never allowed the people at home to know. When a Channel 9 backdrop fell forward on him once, he didn't miss a beat as he pushed the prop back with his elbows. And then his watch alarm started buzzing. He continued talking purposefully while he quickly ended the racket. Typical Benaud - he always remained calm throughout a drama.
A lot of my broadcasting years involved working for Kerry Packer. It was always lively but Packer would never ring to say, "Well done."
My association began as a player in Packer's office, where he exploded. "What do you think this is, a [insert participle] democracy? I pay the bills," he shouted. "I pick the captain. You're the bloody skipper."
There was no arguing with that premise, and later it was inspiring to know the "executive executive producer", as our boss, David Hill, used to call Packer, was following every ball.
The many years under Packer, Hill and director Brian Morelli were a great learning experience, and the "Big Four" as the public dubbed us - Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and myself - grew in stature.
There were also many overseas broadcasting challenges, often masterminded by Indian entrepreneur Mark Mascarenhas. It was great to experience how others worked and there was always something to learn, as well as many champion players to follow.
Then there were the enjoyable radio years, which included the Packer network, Macquarie Radio, the BBC and the ABC. To finish my career at the ABC knowing Vic had earlier worked with the network felt like I'd completed the circle.
It wasn't all cricket. In a varied career, I also covered baseball, golf, major tennis tournaments, Formula One and even NFL gridiron from both the Willoughby studios and in the field.
Then there were the nearly nine years with Mike Gibson as co-presenter of Channel 9's Wide World of Sport. That was fulfilling and instructive, being surrounded by a lot of experienced work-mates. My association with 9 has been both instructive and enjoyable and it's one I continue to enjoy.
And finally there's a job I'll maintain because I've savoured 50 fifty years of journalism. I've worked for some excellent editors in that time and I'm most proud that - so far - I've never missed a deadline.
I've had an extremely fortunate life and the bulk of the people I've dealt with have made work fun. There is one thing I've definitely learned along the way: I prefer journalism and commentary to bus driving.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist