Greg Chappell has had a long and storied career in cricket. He played 87 Tests for Australia and 74 one day internationals. However, his latest book ‘Not Out’ shares his experience from coaching South Australia and India.
Chappell’s cricket career first kicked off when he went to Somerset Cricket club in England as the overseas player at 19 years old. Chappell stayed upstairs above the local pub whilst in Somerset. Downstairs there was a mynah bird that would greet him every morning and mynah birds are very accomplished mimics. “The first few weeks I enjoyed it. However, the next couple of weeks it got a little tiring. I said to the bird, ‘Why don’t you go and get rooted.’ The very next morning another person wandered down the stairs and said good morning to the mynah bird. The bird then responded in a strong Australian accent, ‘Why don’t you go and get rooted.’”
Taunton is a town in Somerset where Chappell played his cricket. There was one game in particular, during late April in 1968, that sticks in Chappell’s mind. “I played against Fred Trueman in my first game. He was always someone I looked up to. Whenever I would play backyard cricket with my older brother, Ian, he would always bat first and be Australia. I would be England impersonating Trueman.” Chappell came out to face a hat trick delivery. He survived it. “It was very dark; the two umpires were Tom Spencer and Jack Crapp.” Chappell appealed for bad light twice. Both times the umpires refused his appeal. “I got down the other end. The umpire, Tom Spencer, walked a bit closer towards me and said, ‘Can you see what’s up there pointing to the sky?’ I replied, ‘Yes Tom, that’s the moon.’ He said, ‘How far away do you reckon it is?’ I thought, ‘I don’t know. Ten thoudand miles?’ He said, ‘So how far do you want to see?’ The dynamics of the ground has changed now. Although, during this particular game the bar was behind the bowler and the lights were on. I stopped Trueman mid-way through his run-up. I told the umpire, ‘You’re going to have to turn off those lights. I can’t see him running in.’ Tom Spencer was gone for 10 minutes. Once he came back, after two balls, they decided to call the game off twenty minutes early with it almost being pitch black now. I had been in Somerset for about a month now. There was one communal bath and one just for the captain. The important thing to know is, once someone’s already gone into the bath it gets that sleek sweaty feel. I saw the bath. It was in pristine condition. I got off all my gear and hopped in. I was about waist deep. Brian Close, the captain, then told me we’re going back out. I jumped out quickly, tried to put back on all my gear, still very wet. I got out there in the tunnel. The whole Yorkshire team and Somerset team were there pissing themselves with laughter.”
Who will be Australia’s next Test captain? “There aren’t many that jump out. Patrick Cummins is one very smart cricketer who is always in the side. However, fast bowlers break down more than batsman due to the effort they put in. Historically there haven’t been many examples of fast bowlers as captains.” Chappell remembers an instance where it didn’t work as well. “I played against Bob Willis who was the captain of England. There were times when he was distracted. He looked knackered after bowling. He would go down to field at fine leg.” Therefore, the team was running on auto-pilot due to a lack of fielding placements and bowling changes. “I believe we got a distinct advantage on occasions.”
“I have my reservations about Steve Smith being captain. I feel he should just be left to make as many runs as possible.” Chappell is not certain that Manus Labuschagne is the answer for the role either. “Cameron Green in time, I think, could be a really good option. Obviously, that won’t happen for a while.”
Mitchell Marsh, the hero from the T20 world cup final. “The big difference I’ve seen with Mitchell Marsh, particularly after he got dropped midway through the tournament, is he batted without fear. A lot of people tend to do that in the shorter forms of the game. Whereas, in Test cricket everybody begins to worry about their technique. Technique is an outcome, not a driver. You worry about technique – you won’t be able to play. The issue is, you get inside your head worrying too much about the right technique. You don’t move. Players often get stuck in the misapprehension that batting is about not getting out, when batting is about making runs. If you’re looking to score runs you move better. Ashton Agar is a good example in his debut game when Australia was 9 down for 117. Agar came in, defended the good balls and smashed the bad ones. Batting is not as complicated as we think it is. It’s the confidence to play like that which is the difficult part.” However, Marsh did perform very well.
Chappell still sees the all rounder spot going to Cameron Green. “He is a very exciting player; definitely one to watch.” Cameron Green performed well with the bat against India in his debut series. Chappell believes that Green fractionally bowled within himself in his first outing at international level. “Cameron Green is a batsman first, bowler second. They seemed to have figured that out now. Every coach got excited about the prospect of a 2m tall bowler who could send it down at 140+km/h.” Chappell reckons he should be used in the same role as Shane Watson: only bowl ten or so overs. “I remember when I was playing in Guyana, I bowled four overs. My older brother, Ian, took me off. I said to him, ‘How do you expect me to take a wicket in only four overs?’ ‘Well you better find out because every over you bowl is runs we lose.’ he replied.”
The prospect of Australia up against Australia A to finalise the test team. “I like the idea, although I hope the selectors don’t get carried away by a one-off performance. It’s usually important to have a balanced team of experienced players and youthful players coming through. I feel they’ll be all about experience for this tournament since drawing last Ashes and losing to India at home.”
Chappell has learnt a lot from his time coaching both for South Australia and then India. “I’m glad I coached. I was never intending to coach. I thoroughly enjoyed it.” Throughout Chappells extensive playing career, he had a good understanding of tactics. He wanted to further examine the sports science behind the game. Chappell caught up with his friend, Ian Fraser, who played state cricket. He also studied sport science. Chappell wanted to further his knowledge of the game. Why a relaxed athletic stance is better than a stiff stance with the bat raised up. The thing that all successful batters have in common, according to Chappell, is their stance at the moment the ball has been released. Batsman will get there in different means, whether it be a short or a long back lift. “They’re all in preparation for the full ball. They have time then to rock back and avoid the short ball. However, if your weight is back in apprehension for the short delivery, you will miss a full ball.’
Chappell uses Steve Waugh as an example of how this benefited his career. “Steve Waugh used to prepare for the short ball in the first half of his career. He averaged mid-30s. He changed to the active, neutral position. He ended up averaging 70 in the second half of his career.”
Chappell would often meet Sir Donald Bradman at Adelaide oval. Bradman would be there to sign his fan mail. “On this particular day, I bumped into him. We started having a chat. I asked him why did he refuse the claims from the players for better playing conditions in the 1970s. I’ll never forget the response he gave. He said ‘Greg, when sport becomes a business, it loses something.’”
Chappell was in his second season playing for South Australia. They were in the away changing rooms as they were set to face India. Bradman, who was the head of selectors at the time, walked in. Bradman doesn’t often speak to the players. “I picked up a bat and started doing some shadow batting. Bradman stopped, looked at me and suggested I should change my top hand grip. He showed me his neutral grip that would improve my offside game. Bradman turned to leave he said, ‘I’ve only given this advice to one other player before; he didn’t take it. He’s no longer in the team.’” Chappell used the grip from that day onwards. It helped his career immensely.
Chappell had a farewell function after he retired. He played the remaining matches in the 1984 Sheffield Shield season. One of them was at Adelaide oval against Queensland. “Bradman was there. I was surprised to see him there. I thanked him for coming. He was a very private individual, Bradman. He was quite shy.” Chappell asked Bradman, “What was your mental process before going out to bat?” Bradman replied, “I didn’t have one. I just saw it and I hit it.”
Coaching India the biggest cricketing country in the world. “It was an amazing experience. After five years of coaching South Australia, Chappell decided to take some time off, still doing personalized coaching. In 2004, prior to India travelling down to play Australia, Sourav Ganguly contacted Chappell and asked whether he could help him with his batting. “We got on really well. A couple of months later, I got a call from Ganguly to see if I wanted to be India’s head coach.” Judy, Chappells partner, was keen to travel and explore the world. They were off to India.
“It was a very enjoyable three and half years.” Two years were spent coaching India; 18 months coaching Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. “It was like travelling with the Beatles: the crowds everywhere we went were huge. It was a challenging time to coach India. The batting line-up was aging. Ganguly was a good leader through his charisma. However, he wasn’t a good captain: poor field placement, bowling changes and he would change the batting order depending on how good or bad the pitch was.’
“The important aspect of being a captain is leading by example and setting the right standards. I told him this three times, ‘The same rules apply to you as everybody else.’ He would agree at the time but then would put in no extra effort into fielding or fitness.” Chappell endorsed Rahul Dravid to be the team captain. “I’d had a tour with Dravid as captain due to the fact that Ganguly had gotten suspended for slow over rates. The team with Dravid as captain seemed a more cohesive unit than when Ganguly was in the role.”
In the lead up to the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, India played an away series against West Indies in 2006. India won the test series but lost the one-day series. Chappell had figured out that it was the struggle in the middle overs that was losing India the game. The best batsman India had was Sachin Tendulkar who opened the batting. The solution was to play Tendulkar in the middle order where they were struggling and bring in another opener in a position where they had greater depth. Dravid, who was the one-day captain, agreed that Tendulkar should bat in the middle order. Chappell and Dravid sat down with Tendulkar prior to the tournament, commencing by saying how they believe it would be beneficial for the team if he bat in the middle order. “Tendulkar claimed he would prefer to open although he understood where they were coming from.”
However, the very next morning before a game against New Zealand, Dravid came up to Chappell. He said, “Tendulkar has changed his mind; he wants to open.” Chappell spoke to Tendulkar privately before the game. ‘“This isn’t about you, it’s about what’s best for India. You’ve always said you want to play in a World Cup victory. I feel this a key decision in making that happen.’ From that time onwards, Tendulkar was only playing for himself. It wasn’t a successful tournament for India.”
Following the tournament, Chappell declined a contract extension from India. A short time later he was requested to start a cricket academy for Rajasthan in Jaipur. “I ran that for 18 months. It was a very enjoyable time; living in Jaipur was a surreal experience.” It’s called the Pink city. “The reason is, the soil has got a pink dust. Everything becomes tinged with pink, even the dogs.”
Chappell on his older brother Ian’s captaincy style. “Communication is always key; Ian was a very clear communicator. A big aspect of leadership is identifying the players, giving them concise roles that they can perform. Captaining is a lot like being a parent. You protect them. You’ve also got to let them make their own mistakes. He was always available for players if they wanted to have a drink and have an honest discussion. A lot of the time being a captain or a leader is just about being there.”