The Ashes with Greg Chappell

The Ashes with Greg Chappell
Mat McLachlan
September 7, 2019
Greg Chappell
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Mat: Hello everyone. Welcome to Living History and we are in the middle of an Ashes series at the moment, one of the most hallowed institutions in world sport and so what better person to talk to about this than former Australian captain, Greg Chappell. Greg, thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Greg:  My pleasure, Mat. Nice to be with you.

Mat: Now you grew up in South Australia and your grandfather was the great Victor Richardson, a bit of a hero of mine, and he must be one of the great all-around sportsmen that Australia has ever produced. Not only did he captain Australia in the cricket he was a great Aussie Rules player. I believe he represented Australia in baseball. He was an accomplished golfer. He must have been a huge influence on your young life growing up in South Australia.

Greg: Yes he was, but funnily enough I probably became more aware of his achievements much later. He was very, very humble and very quiet. He didn’t have a huge involvement in our day-to-day life particularly our sporting life. our father was probably the more important one as far as our sport and particularly our cricket was concerned, and looking back on it I think Vic probably, he’d had enough of his own sport and enough of his own cricket. He probably didn’t feel he needed to spend time trying to coach another generation of cricketers and he knew that our father had things well in hand. So Vic was at arm’s length from us as we grew up.

I can remember once as a nearly five year old I stayed at his place when my younger brother Trevor was born. Mum was obviously in hospital. Dad probably didn’t have the time because of work to do all the domestic duties so I was suddenly farmed out to my grandfather’s place and Vic had a place at Westbourne Park in Adelaide which was a corner block. he’d obviously bought three blocks so the house was on the corner, one of the side blocks was the tennis court and the other side block was a garden basically with fruit trees and so on, but up in one corner he had a turf pitch so I obviously discovered the turf pitch and I dragged him out one day and made him bowl to me as an almost five-year-old, and that’s really the only time that I can remember him directly being involved in our cricket. But as we grew up, he was very supportive. He would come to our school cricket when I was playing school boy cricket.

He would never actually come to the ground itself and again when I look back on it, I think it was probably because he knew that if he turned up, that would become an event in its own right and the distraction away from our cricket. So what he tended to do was park down the road and sometimes I’ll be batting at the front oval at school and I’d look down the road and I’d see the big black car parked half a kilometre down the road, and I would just keep looking and every now and then, a head would poke out from behind the tree and then disappear again and then next thing I look up and the car’s gone and maybe if I’d had a good day, that night the phone would ring at home and Mum generally answered the phone and she’d say, it’s Pop, your grandfather on the phone and I’d go to the phone. “Hello”, he’d say, “Well done.” CLUNK – the phone would go down and that was the end of the conversation, so he certainly got to see Ian play Test cricket. He died in 1969 so I didn’t start playing Test cricket till 1970, but he had at least seen me to play some first-class cricket before he passed away.

Mat: Now Greg, you grew up in a very sporting family and obviously cricket was in the blood. What did it mean to you as a young bloke? What did the Ashes mean as a young bloke when you were learning your trade, first beginning to play playing with your brothers? It must’ve been something that was always significant in your family.

Greg: Yes, it was. I was aware of Test cricket from a very early age and it always seemed to be Ashes Test cricket. We used to play cricket in the back yard. Ian’s five years older and I reckon I was nine before he even recognized that I was alive, because he had mates of his own age that he wanted to play with. He didn’t want to play with a brother who was five years younger but obviously he ran out of friends about the time I was nine years of age. All the sudden I was seconded into the Test matches in the back yard, and they were always Ashes Test matches. The bad news for me was that Ian as the older brother was Australia and I had to be England, so my first experience of Ashes Test cricket was as a Pom, so that was a real challenge for me because whilst I didn’t want to be beaten by my older brother, I didn’t really have my heart in playing for England and winning for England so I had to suck that up and learn to compete, and when I look back on it again I realized that a lot of the lessons that I learned in that back yard was so important in the process of me in developing as the cricketer I became because I was smaller, I was younger, I was weaker. I was out gunned from the start so I had to learn to compete. I had to learn coping skills. I had to learn to just keep up as best I could, and whether he did it knowingly – probably not – but the fact that Ian treated me as an equal and made me have to compete was a really important part in my development and our father insisted that whenever we played cricket, we played seriously. He insisted we played with a hard ball and gave us no pads and gloves to play with, so he wanted us to find out what a hard ball felt like. Well, I found out quite a bit what a hard ball felt like because Ian didn’t hold back.

Mat: Well, obviously it worked.

Greg: Yes

Mat: Talking about the Ashes series and we mentioned Victor Richardson and he played in the bodyline series in 1932-33, probably one of the most famous historic ashes series. How as a cricketer, as a leader, as a professional cricketer, as a captain, how did you look back on that series because the tactic of the short-pitched bowling, the leg side field was later banned. It was legal at the time but looking back on that, do you think England were justified in those tactics?

Greg: Absolutely. I mean I think you know they had a situation where Bradman had just been making runs for fun and you know he came to Australia as captain with the plane and it was legal. People didn’t enjoy it very much but as a captain, I can absolutely understand where he was coming from and why he used loud in the manner that he did because somehow he had to curb the runs that Bradman made if they were going to win the series, so I don’t really understand what all the angst was about. He had a job to do and he tried to do it to the best of his ability.

Mat: You played in 35 Ashes Tests I think it was, over your career. Just for those of us who haven’t played cricket at the top level, just explain to us what it means, the significance of playing in the Ashes. To us mugs out there watching it, it’s the epitome of cricket. It must be the same for the players as well.

Greg: Yes, I mean growing up in a sporting family but all my mates, all my school friends, anyone who played cricket in that era dreamt of playing Test cricket for Australia, and we dreamt of playing against England. I can remember as a youngster lying in bed at night listening on the radio, with the transistor radio under the pillow so that I could wake up in the middle of the night and hear the scores, and hearing the sound of Test cricket coming down the radio waves was quite something for me because as I said, I dreamt of one day doing it, but I don’t know that I ever really thought that it would happen. It was just something that all of us did, all my mates dreamt of it. I don’t know that I ever really thought that it would happen, and it was probably again good luck for me that I had an older brother who was that step ahead of me and so I would have been 13 when Ian first played for South Australia, and so that was the first time that I thought, ‘hang on. If he can do that maybe I can do that’ and then when he got to play Test cricket I would have been 16 and so that was another spur to think ‘well, maybe this is more real than I think it is’ so that was always great encouragement for me.

But those memories of listening, there is something different about listening to cricket on the radio than watching it on television

I think because you haven’t got the pictures. the commentators are sort of building word pictures for you and you know your imagination is doing the rest, and I have a great belief that  imagination is a very important part of being good at something, and most of the good cricketers that I’ve met and that I know that I’ve spoken to, they all grew up playing their own little back yard games and in their mind they were real games and I know that when we were playing those Test matches in the back yard, they were real games in our mind. They were real Test matches so we were making decisions in real time and that’s important in that development process. Batting in the nets is not quite the same so I think that imagination is really important.

and the other interesting thing about that is that each ground around Australia and around the world had its own personality coming across the radio waves, and they all sounded a bit different and the two grounds that excited me listening to cricket on the radio were the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Lord’s Cricket Ground, and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed with either of them when I got to play on them because they had an aura around those two grounds which came across the radio waves all that time before, but then as an adult when I got to play on them, I wasn’t disappointed so it says a bit about the commentators too just how good they were at painting those word pictures.

Mat: What was that first Ashes moment like when you ran out on the field in your first Ashes Test?

Greg: Well it was a bit surreal. As I said, whilst I dreamt of playing I don’t know that I ever really thought it would happen and it was a different era obviously because I mean we didn’t have much contact with selectors. We didn’t have much contact with the Cricket Board. I found out about my selection through a phone call from one of the administrators at South Australian cricket who rang me up to say he just heard it on the radio so that was how I found out I was playing. In fact, we were at the airport and he came up to me at the airport. We were going to Perth I think to play a Sheffield Shield match and he came up to me. He’d just heard it on the radio in the car coming to the airport. At that point I hadn’t heard it so that was strange.

Then I got to Brisbane which was the first Test of the series in the 1970/71 series against Ray Illingworth’s England. Somebody – and I don’t recall who – handed me a bag with a baggy green cap and a sweater in it. the rest of the cricket equipment and cricket clothing we had to provide ourselves, and on the morning… well I got a bit of an inkling on the day before the first Test match, Bill Lawry was Captain of Australia and we were training at the Gabba. In those days the Gabba nets were on the Gabba proper, so we had a morning training session of the Gabba in November. It was pretty hot and steamy and we were having a team lunch after the training session, sort of a pre-Test match lunch which the captain was obviously going to tell us what was happening.

I knew that I was in a bit of a battle with Terry Jenner, a leg spinner from South Australia (formerly West Australia) as to who would be 12th man, and in those days you found out who was 12th man 20 minutes before the start of play on the morning of the Test match. but at this lunch I was obviously pretty hungry because I wasn’t a big breakfast eater in those days so I’d probably gone to training without much to eat, so after a few hours in the hot, sweaty sun in Brisbane, I was ready for food so we lined up at the Queensland Cricketers Club. The old Cricketers Club used to be on the edge of the ground at ground level and a table had been set up on the veranda. I was one of the first there and interestingly enough, sitting down opposite me was Terry Jenner and one of the waiters put a basket of bread rolls on the table in front of us and I reached out. obviously I wanted something to eat and I reached out to get a bread roll at the same time that Terry tried to stab one with the fork, and he took a chunk out of the back of my hand and I said something along the lines of, ‘Oh, be careful Terry. I’ve got to play cricket tomorrow.’

At which point Bill Lawry was just sitting down alongside me and he said I wouldn’t worry about it if I was you. So it didn’t come as any great surprise that at 20 to 11 the next morning when he tapped me on the shoulder to tell me I was 12th man, so in some ways that was a blessing. I think it gave me a chance to experience an Ashes Test match, any Test match as 12th man before I actually got to play in one, which happened in the second Test of the series in Perth.

Mat: And over your career what are the some of those moments that stand out, those great moments during Ashes Tests?

Greg: Well I think walking out on the ground for the first time. I can remember being in a bit of a fog for a bit of time during that Test match because it seemed a little bit unreal. After all those years of having played the Test matches in the back yard to actually be walking out in a real Test match was not overwhelming, but it was certainly a big moment and again I was probably lucky that England batted first so I had a chance to spend some time in the field to get a little bit of a feel for the atmosphere of Test cricket, and England did pretty well. They got nearly 400 in that first innings in that Test match so I had plenty of time in the field to soak up the atmosphere, and actually I was picked as the all-rounder in that Test match. I batted at number 7 in my first Test match and was the first change seam bowler so I bowled 20-odd overs in that first innings and was fortunate enough to pick up my first Test wicket, which I remember quite fondly was Colin Cowdrey, for whom I had battered many times in the back yard when I represented in England in those back yard Test matches.

Cowdrey was one of the great England batsmen of his era so I actually got him out caught and bowled with a slower ball to get my first Test wicket, so that sort of sticks in my mind quite strongly and then when we had batted, batting at number 7 was quite strange for me because I mean all through my school days, I had opened the batting and in first class cricket up to that point, I had batted sort of a number 4 largely, occasionally number 3, but I had been a top order batsman, so it felt strange to be waiting for that length of time and it was quite surreal because we didn’t start very well. Bill Lawry was out without scoring. Keith Stackpole was out for not very many. Ian made some runs – he probably got 40 or 5. Ian Redpath was his usual dogged self and then Paul Sheahan was batting at number 6 before me and luckily again for me, I hardly had my pads on. In fact I reckon I was still strapping on a second pad when Paul Sheahan managed to run himself out, so I’d hardly had time to sit there with the pads on and get worried and nervous about batting, so all of a sudden I was out there.

We were 107 for 5 from memory when I walked out to bat and again it felt surreal. I again felt like I was in a bit of a fog. Didn’t quite sort of really comprehend where I was and what I was doing and England had a very good fast bowler in John Snow in that era. Not quite as quick as Chopra but certainly one of the quickest bowlers that I’d face. Very similar sort of action in that he just cruised up at the crease and it was a very strong shoulder action, so that the pace actually was quite surprising but I took 48 minutes I think from memory to get my first run. Now it didn’t seem that long to me but all my family and friends who were watching it on television said it was a very long time, but when I look back on it I don’t think I faced a lot of bowling in that first 48 minutes. Firstly I think England recognised that Ian Redpath was the danger, that I wasn’t the danger so they were focused on getting him out, and he’s never admitted it to me but I reckon he tried to shield me from the bowling at that stage, knowing full well that we just had to get as close to the England score as possible.

So it took me a long time to get off the mark but then the fog sort of lifted and I realized there was a real conTest on.  John Snow was working Redpath over and I thought perhaps I’d better start doing a bit of the heavy lifting and help him out. Thankfully we got to build a big partnership, 200-odd partnership that got us actually back in the game, and in fact I think we finished up with a sizable maybe 40 or 50 run lead on the first inning so that sort of got us back into the Test match which in the end, there was no result so I sort of got through it unscathed, more good luck than good management. Managed to get a hundred in my first innings

Mat: What other Ashes Tests stand out for you, Greg? What are the ones that will stay with you for the rest of your life?

Greg: My first tour of England, Ashes tour of England. I’d played a couple of seasons of county cricket for Somerset so I’d been to England before and I’d played on all the grounds, but just to walk out as an Australian player against England in England was probably the pinnacle of Test cricket,  particularly for a batsman. I think any runs that you got in England in those days were hard earned runs. The pitches were a lot more amenable to bowlers than Australian pitches.  The ball used to move around a lot more, not only in the air but particularly off the pitch.  We didn’t get a lot of seam movement in Australia. The ball didn’t go sideways off the pitch like it did in England so it was a real challenge and England always had a good bowling attack, very, very solid bowling attack and in that era with someone like John Snow leading their attack, they were the best Test attack going around in those days so and to walk out for the first time in an Australian cap at Lords really stands out. To be in that dressing room that W. G. Grace and Don Bradman and all the greats of the past had been in was something special.

There was an aura of the ghosts of the past and I think again that’s why Sydney and Lords stand out to me because they’re probably the only two grounds in world cricket that still have the same dressing rooms from that era, from those days and to think that all those great players of the past have graced those dressing rooms made them special, and to walk out to bat for Australia in a Test match at Lord’s for the first time was really… I don’t know that I’m that emotional sort of a person about the cricket, but I reckon even I had some tingles going down the spine first time walking out to bat for Australia at a Lord’s Test match, and again we were struggling. So it needed someone to make some runs and I was one of the top six batsmen and we’d lost… I think we had lost 2 wickets for 5 when I went out to bat to join Ian, so again interestingly enough, batting at the other end to Ian when we first started batting together as adults – because of that age difference, we never played any junior clicking together – it was quite strange because we’d always been opponents in the back yard, so to see him actually at the other end as a teammate was quite strange for a while but by the time we were batting together at Lord’s in ’72,  it wasn’t a strange thing to see him down the other end and  we had a partnership of about 80,  I think which Ian made 50-odd, so he did most of the heavy lifting there until he got out hooking and I went on to make a hundred on debut at Lords so again that stands out as a great memory. Bob Massey had a magnificent Test match on debut in that Test match – sixteen wickets, 8 in each innings. It was a real bowler’s Test match so to be the only one that was able to make a century in that game stands out for me. Probably one of my best innings in any Test series, let alone an Ashes series and then at the Oval at the end of that series, Ian and I batted together for a long time and in fact it was the first occasion on which brothers made a century in the same innings in a Test match.

Mat: You went on obviously Greg to an illustrious career and will be remembered as one of the great captains. It’s been said that the two most revered jobs in Australia or the Prime Minister and the captain of the Australian Test team. How did you deal with that immense weight of responsibility as Australian captain, particularly during those Ashes series?

Greg: Sometimes pretty well, sometimes not quite so well. It was a demanding role because there were no coaches, no full-time team managers, no media managers, so as Captain you were the focal point of all the interest on Australian cricket, and it was a big part of our culture and a big part of our summers in those days. We had cricket on the radio and cricket on the television … always seemed to be on in the background so it was a big part of most people’s lives and therefore the focal point for those summer months was with the Australian team and that focus often centered on the Australian captain, so it was seen as an important role and it was an important role and I took it as an important role. again I’d been lucky that I’d had Ian go before me and so I’d had a close look at what was entailed in the captaincy, and even though I had that insight, it was still a shock to realize just how big a role it was and how people and the media were interested in what was going on. I mean, I can remember getting phone calls at home at 6 o’clock in the morning and midnight at the other end of the day. at the hotel, someone would ring… someone from media would ring and get put through to your hotel room so there was no filter between you and the outside world so you were often surprised,  snuck up on for comments about one thing or another.

I thought it was a big job before World Series Cricket, but after World Series Cricket  and Packer and Channel 9 taking over and really promoting the game in a much more vigorous way than had been the case before World Series Cricket, and Ian had come back and played in World Series Cricket and had been captain, so I only had a couple of years relief from the captaincy role and I was grateful for the break to be honest, because  I had had a couple of years as captain and it was a big job. But after, I was staggered how much it had grown. The role had grown exponentially after World Series Cricket because there was much more media involved.  Before it had been ABC radio and ABC television and the print media, but all of a sudden after World Series Cricket, it was every radio station in Australia, anyone who had a microphone or some sort of interest in cricket seemed to come out of the woodwork and again, we had no support.

As Captain I had no support, no filter between me and whoever wanted to approach. the demands were huge and it was probably from my experience, and then after I retired I went on the Cricket Board and Alan Border became captain after Kim Hughes and I made the comment to the cricket board at the time that we’ve got to put some support around Alan to take some of this workload off him; otherwise he won’t survive.  Nobody would, and there aren’t that many people that you can have as Captain at any given point, so if you’ve got someone like Alan who you knew had the cricket mastered to be captain, and be able to cope with all of the pressures of it and still play well, then we had to have some support around him. So coaches became part of the scene. Full-time team managers became part of the scene, and media managers became part of the scene just to be able to put some protection around the captain to allow him to have some time to prepare himself for a game of cricket.

Mat: You played through that time Greg of that huge change – World Series Cricket, the first one dayers – and the game is still evolving today. How do we juggle the importance of tradition in the game of cricket but with this need for innovation in the modern era?

Greg: Yes, it’s a very important point that you make because it’s hugely demanding as an administrator as well. The game has changed enormously. I grew up dreaming of playing Test cricket. It was played in sunlight in cream clothing with a red ball and white sightscreens, and then all of a sudden during World Series Cricket, we started playing night cricket in coloured clothing with white balls and black sightscreens. Helmets came into being.  The game changed very quickly.  the change in 2 years from the start to the end of World Series Cricket was probably as great as the change that had been in the 50 years prior to that, so there was a lot of scrambling from players, from administrators to try and make sense of it all and I can remember the dramas and I was heavily involved in the dramas around programming at that time because all of a sudden we had 2 touring teams and we were playing concurrent Test series with England and the West Indies.

We’d play the first Test against England, second Test against the West Indies. We throw in a couple of one-day games and would come back to a Test against England and another Test against the West Indies, a few one-day games. It was tremendously challenging for everybody and not least of all the players and again as Captain, I was right in the middle of it all and was juggling a lot of stuff off the field that had never happened before.

But what we saw with the introduction of one-day cricket, then day/night cricket particularly for one-day cricket was a new generation of cricket lovers grew out of it.  Obviously it was very fortunate that World Series Cricket coincided with color television. I think that had a huge impact. if World Series Cricket had happened when black-and-white television was around, it wouldn’t have had the impact that it had but Kerry understood sport better than anyone and how it worked on television, and all of a sudden instead of being a distant speck on a black and white screen, we were right up close on color television in everyone’s lounge room.

So the focus on the cricket became even greater and the adaption that had to be made was huge, but as I say the new generation came. A lot of women and a lot of kids started watching cricket because of one-day cricket, colored clothing day/night cricket, and a lot of those people then stopped and took time to notice Test cricket because Tests we get up until the early 70s was slowly dying and I think  we had a bit of success in the Australian team during the early to mid ‘70s and that gave Test cricket a bit of a boost, but  I think the boost that one-day cricket gave the game generally was fantastic and I think 20-over cricket is doing the same thing to be honest.

It’s a huge challenge managing three formats. It’s a huge challenge for the players but it’s a huge challenge for the administrators and I think those of us who grew up only knowing Tests, we didn’t worry about the future of Test cricket, but I don’t know that we need to worry overly because I think  the 20/20 cricket has brought a lot of people to the game, and a lot of those people will start to take notice of Test cricket and that last Test match at Leeds, the interest in this current Ashes Test series is huge  because there has been some exciting cricket matches but I think just because there are more people watching the game, they maybe not going to the ground in such huge numbers in some parts of the world but there are more people watching cricket than ever before and so I think whilst the challenges are there, most of it’s positive for cricket.

Mat: Well Greg, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it especially noting how busy you are in the middle of an Ashes series so I really just thank you for taking the time to share your reminiscences with us. It’s been absolutely wonderful.

Greg: Thank you, Mat. It’s been a pleasure

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