When Greg Chappell retired from Test cricket in 1984, it was widely accepted
that he was the best batsman Australia had produced since Don Bradman. His
Test record certainly suggested as much: by scoring 182 against Pakistan in his
final Test innings, he overtook Bradman’s run tally in Tests and finished with a
career average of 53.86 that was second only to Bradman’s among Australians.
On top of that, though, should be taken into account what he did in Kerry
Packer’s World Series, which was every bit as good as the ‘Establishment’
cricket of the period. In 14 World Series ‘Supertests’ he scored 1,415 runs at an
average of 56.60, which was the best overall record of any batsman – more runs
at a slightly better average than Viv Richards, who had the considerable
advantage of not having to deal with the West Indies pace battery. New
Zealand’s Richard Hadlee said Chappell was the best batsman he bowled to.
Along with his elder brother Ian, who captained the side before him, Dennis
Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Greg was one of the main reasons why Australia were
the best team in the world before West Indies rose to the top in the late 1970s.
Ian was a mighty fine batsman in his own right, though very different in style.
Whereas Ian was the rugged Chappell, Greg was the more beautiful version.
Greg was technically better – and better to watch. I first got to know him
relatively late in his career, when World Series had finished and both England
and West Indies toured Australia at the same time. It was a move designed, I
suppose, to showcase the best of official Test cricket once all the star performers
were back in the fold, but England did not really approve and refused to put the
Ashes urn up for grabs (a shrewd decision: Australia thrashed us in all three
Tests). For me, as a 22-year-old, to mingle with the top Australian guys, having
previously toured and faced their second XI, was a great thrill. There was an
aura about them. Greg scored a fine hundred in the final match of that series and
made two more when we returned, this time with the Ashes at stake, three
winters later in 1982–83.
I always found Greg reasonable and got to know him pretty well. He was
actually a big help to me when I went through my first slump in Test cricket.
The Australians were in England towards the end of the 1980 season for the
Centenary Test and through the kind auspices of Fred Rumsey, who was a
surrogate father to me and knew Greg from Greg’s time at Somerset early in his
career, a meeting was arranged between the two of us. Fred thought Greg might
be able to impart some useful advice about playing Test cricket and he was right.
Greg was interesting and sympathetic. What was clear was that he knew a lot
about his subject. He said for instance that when he first went in he would
consciously seek to play with the inside half of the bat to cover for any away
movement. It wasn’t something I sought to copy – I dared not complicate things
any more than they were already – but it showed me the level of detail into
which some of the best players went. Much later, I worked alongside him in the
commentary box for Channel Nine, and I formed the same impression of a very
talented, analytical and competitive person (this was a man, remember, who
once controversially instructed his other brother Trevor to bowl underarm in a
one-dayer to deny New Zealand victory).
Greg may, in fact, have been a little too analytical for his own good. As time
went on, he certainly seemed to find the responsibility of being Australia’s
captain and leading batsman a strain (he led them in 48 of his 87 Test matches).
He took the unusual step for a serving captain of missing a couple of big series,
including the 1981 tour of England, which might well not have gone so badly for
Australia had he opted to lead the side rather than hand the reins to Kim Hughes.
Having done so well against the very best of the West Indian fast bowlers, the
barrage finally seemed to catch up with him during the 1981–82 season when
Australia hosted tours by West Indies and Pakistan, who themselves had fine fast
bowlers in Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz. For a period his form collapsed and
he fell for seven ducks in the space of 15 international innings, a bad run by
anyone’s standards. He was so concerned he even took himself off to have his
eyes tested. Fortunately the crisis proved short-lived.
Interestingly, too, Greg’s time as coach of India ended unhappily, with even
Sachin Tendulkar, who does not lightly offer criticism, saying that Greg had not
been popular with the players and had failed to take the team forward.
Greg learnt a lot from his two seasons at Somerset in the late 1960s and by
the time he was brought into the Australia side during the 1970–71 Ashes series
was more than ready to take the step up to the international arena. Tall, slim and
always well balanced in his movements, he displayed a masterly technique but
also the soundest of temperaments as he stroked an effortless century in his first
innings that belied the difficult situation his team was in when he reached the
crease. From the very start, he clearly belonged in the biggest arena. He came to
England in 1972, and scored hundreds at both Lord’s and The Oval in the two
games Australia won. In Wellington in 1974, he scored 247 in the first innings
and 133 in the second for a match aggregate of 380 that was not beaten until
Graham Gooch (333 and 123 against India) went past him in 1990.
Greg was also one of the finest slip fielders the game has seen. He retired
with 122 catches to his name, seven of them in one game against England at
Perth. The former was then a Test record; the latter still is.