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Ultimate champion in crisis, arguably best ever skipper: Created history in Aussie cricket

By Harsh Thakor 

In the history of cricket few cricketers knit and propelled a cricket team or had such profound influence on the game as Ian Chappell. Ian Chappell was responsible for converting a bunch of talented individuals into a world beating side, giving a dramatic turn to Australian cricket. Few cricketers ever led such a renaissance.
I doubt any skipper ever better motivated players to bring out the best in them. As a tactician few ever surpassed Ian Chappell’s prowess. He was capable as leader of enabling his side to rise from the grave like a phoenix from the Ashes. Ian was the equivalent of an army general on the cricket field.
No batsmen were more of grit personified or epitome of combative, indomitable or relentless spirit. In a crisis, Ian Chappell was the best batsmen of his time. To retrieve a sinking ship Ian was more effective than even brother Greg or Viv and Barry Richards, doing exactly what the doctor ordered. I can’t forget the countless occasions Ian Chappell resurrected Australia from the depths of despair. To be dislodged, he literally had to be blasted out. Chappell was the ultimate man to farm in a desert, like a surgeon and soldier blended into one. Ian was not as graceful or technically correct as brother Greg or Barry Richards or as brutal as Viv Richards but on bad wicket he was more of a scourge in the eyes of bowlers.
Ian was courage and skill personified when taking on short pitched deliveries or bouncers from genuinely fast bowlers and would tackle turning pitches with impeccable judgement. He relished the hook and pull short against bouncers and beautifully danced down the pitch to spinners. There was characteristic rugged aspect to Ian’s batting but still his drives, hook and pull shots were a joy to watch. He admiited that the hook shot was often his undoing.

Highlights of test career

Ian hardly made any impact in his first series versus Pakistan and later in home Ashes series in 1965-66 when touring South Africa in 1969-70. In 1968-69 at home against West Indies Ian amassed 5 first class centuries against West Indies, including 2 in tests, No Australian player tackled Wes Hall with such assurance. At Melbourne he was involved in a partnership with Doug Walters; scoring 165.Earlier he had scored 117 at Brisbane. In the test series he aggregated 548 runs at an average of 68.50.
In 1969-70 in India. Chappell possibly tackled turning pitches better than any Australian batsmen ever. It was unforgettable the manner he moved his feet to negotiate the likes of bowlers like Prasanna, scoring 99 at Calcutta and 138 at Delhi. Ian’s footwork was simply exemplary. Ian aggregated 324 runs at an average of 46.38.
In 1971-72 playing against Rest of the World Ian Chappell scored 4 centuries, relishing bowlers like Peter Pollock, Tony Greig, Gary Sobers and Bishen Bedi. He emerged the most prolific batsmen on the series taking batting domination and consistency to rare realms. Possibly at that stage he was the best batsmen in the world with Barry Richards. Ian averaged 79.25 amassing 634 runs .Ian scored 145 and 106 at Brisbane, 119 at Sydney and an unbeaten 111 at Adelaide. Never against a Wold team has a batsmen been such an embodiment or model of consistency as Ian here.
Even if statistically overshadowed by Greg Chappell who averaged above 48 and Dennis Lillee who had 31 scalps, the moral man of the series of the 1972 Ashes in England was Ian Chappell. His leadership in his debut series as captain virtually wrote a new chapter in Australian cricket, who were in the doldrums a couple of seasons ago, being humiliated in the Ashes at home. No overseas skipper ever energised his players as Ian did in that series in England, with Australian cricket never undergoing such a sensational transformation before. Although the series was drawn 2-2, Ian had sowed the seeds for Australia to rule the cricket world in coming years. Ian’s batting with brother Greg at the Oval, is unforgettable, when scoring 118, in a partnership of 201 runs.
Ian Chappell’s best batting in a test series was in West Indies in 1972-73 when he averaged 77.42 and scored 542 runs. He topped the averages and enabled his team to win the series 2-0.Ian’s 109 at Trinidad and unbeaten 106 at Bridgetown shaped a famous series triumph. Ian’s tactical mastery at Trinidad enabled Australia to pull of a win from the verge of defeat, with West Indies packing like cards, after being only 60 runs adrift from the target.
In a home series against Pakistan in 1972-73 he averaged above 68, including a gem of 196 at Adelaide. In New Zealand in 1974 Ian had scores of145 and 121 and batting with brother Greg who complied scores of 133 and 247 not out. The 2 brothers were involved in a 264 run partnership. Never in cricket history have brothers aggregated as many runs.
In the 1974-75 home series against England Chappell led Australia to a staggering 4-1 success, inculcating the most humiliating blow on England in the history of the Ashes. The advent of Jeff Thomson made the Australian pace attack, the most lethal ever in the game, with Dennis Lillee at the other end. Ian resembled giving a bone to a Doberman when spurring Thomson and Lillee.He possibly transformed Australia into the most powerful team ever in the history of test cricket. Although he only averaged around 35 with the bat, he inspired players around him, like few ever did.
In 1975 in the Ashes series in England, Ian’s 192 at the Oval played an instrumental role in Australia regaining the Ashes. It was one of most classical batting exhibitions in batting for your life. Ian was a model of consistency in that series with scores of 52 at Birmingham, 86 at Lords and 62 at Leeds, and overall aggregating 429 runs at an average of 71.50
In 1975-76 at home against West Indies Ian relinquished captaincy to brother Greg, reminiscent of handing over an empire. Australia triumphed by a 5-1 margin to win the unofficial world test championship. Although Greg Chappell was statistically outstanding scoring 702 runs at an average of 117,it was Ian Chappell’s 449 runs that morally shaped the Australian triumph, or posed the most potent danger to the West Indies bowlers. Ian’s 156 out of 328 in the 2nd test at Perth took mastery on a lightning quick pitch, to scales rarely surpassed.
In Kerry Packer World Series Cricket from 1977-1979 Ian Chappell played some gems against the most fiery pace bowling attack ever. His 141 in the 3rd supertest against West Indies in 1977-78 was masterpiece and in West Indies opening the batting, on pitches of lightning pace scored fifties .In one innings against rest of the world he came to back remaining unbeaten scoring over 60 after being injured taking batting courage to proportions rarely scaled. The fiery West Indies pace attack prized Ian’s wicket more than brother Greg, who dealt with pace with more assurance an courage than any player, remaining undeterred. Overall in WSC supertests Ian aggregated 893 runs at an average of 35.72 with 1 century and 5 fifties. It was notable that in that tournament Ian overshadowed every other player when his side was in dire straits.
In his final season in 1979-80 I can never forget Ian’s 42 out of a score of 145 at Sydney against England, on a wet pitch. It was one of the most defining Innings of Ian’s craft on bad wicket. In an ODI of the Benson and Hedges triangular tournament against England, Ian’s unbeaten 62 propelled his team to a sizable score, after being placed in dire straits. Perfect illustration of his sheer grit. Sadly he made no sizable score against West Indies that season.

Evaluation as a cricketer

Overall I would rank Ian Chappell amongst the top 3 captains ever, considering his brilliance as a motivator and tactician. No skipper inducted more masterly filed positions or bowling changes. Ian as leader took aggression to scale unparalleled in the game. Even if Imran Khan, Clive Lloyd or Steve Waugh were more successful statistically, they were not as sound a tactician as Ian. Ian would unanimously lead my world test XI of the 1970’s. Ian would unanimously lead my world test XI of the 1970’s.Pertinent Ian Chappell never lost a series as a captain, winning 15 out of 30 test matches as a skipper. I must admit Ian lost the unofficial Gary Sobers super test trophy in World Series cricket in 1977-78 and series in 1971-72 v Rest of the World by 2-1 margins.
Pure statistics hardly did justice to Ian Chappell’s true greatness as a batsman. He finished his test career aggregating 5345 runs at an average of 42.42 with 14 centuries, in 75 test matches. and 136 innings.
Unlike Viv Richards, brother Greg and Gavaskar he did not average above 50 .However notable that at one down Ian averaged 50.94 and scored 4279 runs and 12 centuries. In 50 tests and 84 innings.No Australian one down batsmen after Bradman played so well at one down position. Combining the unofficial games in Packer supertest cricket and against Rest of the Wold Ian averaged above 44,scoring 19 centuries and scored almost 7000 runs. In ODI cricket Ian averaged a remarkable 48.5, scoring 8 fifties and 573 runs. He had the best ODI batting average of his day. In first class cricket Ian averaged a health 48.35 aggregating 19680 runs.
As pure batsmen I would tag him in the club of ‘truly great’ when you consider sheer impact of Ian’s batting on his team’s fortunes. I would place him in the Steve Waugh, Alan Border or Javed Miandad class and just a notch below the likes of a Lara, Tendulkar, Greg Chappell or Viv Richards. Amongst great Australian batsmen to me only Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Ricky Ponting , Alan Border, Neil Harvey and Steve Smith are ahead of Ian Chappell.
Ina’s batting style was in stark contrast to that of brother Greg.Possibly Ian with brother Greg Chappell moulded into one would comprise the perfect batsmen. There could hardly be a better combination of Greg’s technical correctness and elegance with Ian’s defiant grit. Generally Greg Chappell is regarded the better batsmen, but some like Gary Sobers and Imran Khan, ranked Ian ahead.
In the late 1970’s Sir Garfield Sobers rated Ian Chappell as the best batsmen in the world and Imran Khan as the best Australian batsmen he ever saw. They were convinced that Ian was a harder proposition to bowl to for top pace bowlers than brother Greg and the best batsmen of their era in a crisis. Pace bowler Dennis Lillee with great conviction asserted that to select a player to bat for your life, in any conditions, without hesitation he would pick Ian Chappell. Former skipper Clive Lloyd chose him in his world XI of the 1970’s.
Facing express pace I would place Ian Chappell amongst the top dozen batsmen I have ever seen No batsmen was morally as much a thorn in the flesh for the fiery Caribbean pace attack in the 1970’s.In playing spin, only Alan Border possibly matched Ian’s skill, with Ricky Ponting or brother Greg Chappell not as competent against spin.
In a crisis in my view as a batsman I would prefer Ian Chappell to even Steve Waugh, Alan Border or Rahul Dravid, with only Javed Miandad as combative. When the chips were down it would take a gun on my head to choose Ian Chappell or Javed Miandad. Fitting that Javed Miandad selected Ian Chappell in his team of ‘fighters.”Ian was perhaps the more determined but Miandad the more gifted or innovative.  Ian was also one of the safest slip fielders of all time, pulling off the most stunning catches. Overall he took 105 catches.
Taking into account his overall influence in shaping destiny of Australian cricket, Ian would be part of my top 50 cricketers of all time. I would rank Ian Chappell just a whisker below Frank Worrell. Late John Woodcock placed Ian at 60th place in his all-time greatest cricketers, while Cristopher Martin Jenkins or Geoff Armstrong strangely excluded him from their 100 best selection. In an all-time Australian XI he would just miss the cut to Don Bradman, Greg Chappell , Ricky Ponting or Steve Smith.

Other Side of Ian Chappell

If ever there was a cricketer who put his hand up for a just cause, it was Ian Chappell. He championed refugee rights for over two decades. Ian assisted the establishing of the United Nations fund-raising campaign for Afghan refugees. He raised his powerful voice about his concern for the impact of the war on cricket in Afghanistan. Frequently he even criticised the Australian government when they failed to protect the welfare of the refugees.
Ian was in my opinion one of the games finest commentators,. Rarely has a commentator been more astute, accurate, descriptive or lively as Ian who always talked to the very point. He always gave a most illustrative picture of game. Even if outspoken he boldly spoke against aspects like technology, preparing standardised pitches or hypocrisy of ICC etc.When commentating he reminded me of an actor doing complete justice to his role. I admired his fairness and non partisan attitude to Australia. He often had golden words for Indian cricketers and teams like on India’s last tours of Australia.
Few as boldly rebelled against the administration to secure better conditions for cricketers or other unfair conventions as Ian Chappell.He was engaged in tussles with late Sir Don Bradman.
An illustrative example of Ian Chappell’s moral stand in cricket came when he refused the BCCI commentary contract because the Indian cricket board wanted the commentators to bow down to the BCCI diktat and express no criticism of the board. This was unacceptable to Ian who wanted to express freely about the selection policies of the BCCI and about the DRS system. Chappell was unwilling to relent to the unreasonable BCCI restrictions on himself and forfeited his commentary job in the process.
Ian was one of the finest judges of players. He rated Gary Sobers,Viv Richards and Graeme Pollock as the best batsmen he saw, Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts and John Snow he best pace bowlers and Gary Sobers the best cricketer ever. Regrettably he expressed scorn towards Steve Waugh.
The black mark in Ian Chappell’s career was his pioneering the art of sledging, which was a ploy to psychologically intimidate the opposition. Australian cricketers indulged in slandering or verbal abuse to frighten opposing batsmen, which went against the conventional tradition of the gentlemanly spirit of the game, placing a stain of sportsmanship. It set standards or a trend for future Australian teams be it led by Alan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh of Ricky Ponting.It placed winning at all costs above spirit o sport. Ian too paved the road for the commercialisation of cricket, playing the role of an architect of Kerry Packer World Series Cricket.
I can’t forget when Ian refused to walk when clearly being caught behind, off Michael Holding, and given not out. This also acted against traditional sportsmanship. West Indies cricketers touring in 1975-76 can’t forget the tantrums thrown on them by the Aussies, and how it instilled spirit of vengeance within them on the next tour. Ian failed to retain the legacy of Frank Worrell as a captain and pursued the ruthlessness as skipper of late Don Bradman.
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Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has extensively studied history of cricket

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