Sportstar archives: Ian Chappell on sledging, Simpson and Azharuddin

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell opens up on captaincy, the various layers of leadership, Indian batting superstar Mohammad Azharuddin and more.

Former Australian captain and batting great,Ian Chappell giving tips to players at the MRF Pace Foundation in Madras in 1992.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

We will not forget for long the three-hour session with Ian Chappell at the headquarters of MRF in Madras. He had a few of us in stitches even as he downed the Madras beer with an amazingly rapid regularity. Needless to say it was pretty late when the last bottle was downed after enormous quantities of food had been eaten. But it was one of those sessions no one would have liked to miss out on because this was Chappell at his best. He proved to be a greater raconteur than the world may have given him credit for.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have been called various things in your cricket career; sinner... saint. How did you cope with this pluralistic definition of yourself?

What did Billy Joel sing? I would much rather drink with the sinners than something with the saints because the sinners are much more fun. I can't remember the exact words but Billy did sing something to this effect. I don't remember ever being asked such a question. Basically, people are going to decide to like you or hate you irrespective of what you do. Fifty per cent may like you and 50 per cent won't and I don't think you can change much anyway. All I have tried to do in life is to be myself.

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I know what I did, I know what I did not do in life. I know what I am supposed to have done. I didn't do many of the things that I am supposed to have done. Talking purely of matters on the field, talking about my cricket career, there are probably only three things that I regret having done. And given a chance to live life again I will do the same things all over again except, maybe, on those three occasions. Some may disagree and say there are more than three things I did wrong in my career. That is their opinion. What I have always said is your conscience will not let you sleep well if you are doing things you should not be doing. I have never had any trouble sleeping at night and I don't put it all down to the fact that I like a few beers. My consience lets me sleep well.

There was a writer who once called you the barbarian of cricket, of doing for cricket what Attila the Hun may have done for tourism in Europe. How would you respond to such a charge?

I know who that is. I don't get angry about too many things. But I got very angry about that because that was in the Barclays Book which is a summation of every Test player's history. I thought that was most unfair of the editor, Jim Swanton, to ask the man who hated my guts to write about me. I think that was most unfair. The writer and I had had a run-in and I told him exactly what I thought of him. And he doesn't like Australians either. If they had asked him to write about (Dennis) Lillee he would probably have written something very similar. In fact, Dennis and I sued him over something he wrote.

I asked one of the Barclays chaps in Australia about it. If I see Swanton at any time I will probably tell him that too. I am not saying he should have picked a journalist who liked me to write about me. I think it was unfair to pick someone who hated my guts. A lot of that came because of World Series Cricket. Okay. I am pissed off about it but there is not much I can do about it anyway.

A charge was also made that you allowed the Australian cricket team to descend to a shabbily dressed, cheroot-smoking lot. What do you say to that?

I will defend myself another way. The manager, when I captained Australia on my first tour, was Ray Steele. The manager on my second tour was Bill Jacobs. I can't think of two harder managers in Australian cricket as far as discipline is concerned. Both are good guys and both are great disciplinarians. You could have fun with them but you had to know where the line was. Neither Jacobs nor Steele would have let us dress the way they are talking about. If we had to go to an official function we had to wear a suit, tour tie.

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That statement may have been made without any thought to the way society was going. You are talking about the '70s when society itself was moving towards jeans, towards casual clothing. I would turn around and ask anyone who said that would he wear his best clothes to play cricket? You are talking about dressing rooms where things are basically untidy. Things get thrown around and your pants keep falling off the hook.

I get really pissed off when someone like Bob Simpson comes out with a smart alee comment like the reason he has come back to Australian cricket-to tidy up the dress standards and to eradicate sledging. My first look at the Tied Test and who do I see running on to the field with a pair of sandals, no socks, an open necked shirt and a pair of shorts? It is Bobby Simpson. I said to myself you may realise now that it gets a bit hot in other places and you begin to like the casual dress. Bobby is the world's greatest hypocrite. Everybody knows that. As a player I had never been spoken to by my captain and told to 'pull my horns in' for having made derogatory comments about an opposition batsman.

I know Bobby Simpson cannot say that if he is telling the truth because I happened to be batting at the other end when he was passing such comments. And I happened to know that he was spoken to by his NSW captain. And that came about because the South Australian captain spoke to the NSW captain and asked him to tell his first slip to put his zipper on. I don't bother too much when press people made mistakes because there is a tendency for journalists to write something in 1984 that somebody wrote in 1974-75 and so on.

If, for a moment we accept what has been said, and assume you are the real architect of sledging in international cricket, what would be your defence? Would you say that if you had not introduced sledging, it would have come anyway?

I don't acknowledge sledging as anything to do with what happens on the ground. There are three things that can take place on the ground ; 1. Gamesmanship, 2. To and froing between batsman and bowlers and 3. Abuse. These are the three categories.

The first two categories the umpires let go. If it descends to abuse, the umpire steps in and if it does not stop he goes to the captain to lodge an official complaint. They tell the captain "You have got a problem with that player and if you don't control it we will have to report it." If the player is stupid enough to continue, the authorities can suspend him and even come down on him with a harsh fine. That will let the players know abuse will not be tolerated on the field.

How do you define sledging itself, as a sort of concentrated or concerted effort at hurling abuse to weaken batsmen?

I happened to be there the day the term sledging came into being and yet I did not invent it as a lot of people believe. This happened off the field.

This is the whole story. A New South Wales player swore in front of a lady and somebody said to him "You are as subtle as a sledgehammer." His nickname then became Percy because at that stage, this was about 1965 or 1966, Percy Sledge had a hit on the charts, it was number one, which went; "When A Man Loves A Woman." It was number one on the charts. And that is why the abuser became Percy because of Percy Sledge.

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Anybody who made a faux pas in front of a woman was called a "sledge" or was guilty of sledging. To me that is what the word means. As far as I am concerned, it is unadulterated trash that I started the whole thing, that teams I was leading were sledging. Gamesmanship is as old as cricket. It may have been language or in so many different ways but it has been going on for a long long time. You know there are a number of stories written about Dr. W.G. Grace too.

Ian Chappell at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai in 1992.

 

What has happened is television has started picking up every little thing. Anything starts to happen and the cameras get there. Some player is doing badly and he makes some gesture and the cameras pick it and the youngsters see it and they go out and do the same thing. I learnt very early about life and the existence of abuse because I was the subject of sledging.

Cricket would be too dull without gamesmanship and the to and froing as you call it. How do you keep the game lively while at the same time getting rid of the excesses?

As I said there are three categories : there is gamesmanship, there are humurous asides and there is abuse. It is important to recognise the grades and take action as the umpires see fit. A lot of cricket's humour comes from the toing and froing among players. But abuse should be stamped out.

How did you see the media's role in your career? You were known to get particularly angry about references to you or your team?

I saw it this way. If a journalist wrote that I did not bat well or captain well' that was his opinion. I had nothing to say on the subject. But if they wrote muckraking stuff then I chipped them, had a go at them. But when I had done that I would ask them what they were drinking and share a drink with them. That's how I played the game and that is how I handled the media. May be, that upset a few journalists and they wrote about it in a different sort of way.

How did you view the things that went on the field in your playing days, as captain?

I was always prepared to defend our right as a team on the field, to appeal without the batsman turning around and glaring at us, as if to say whatever has come over you guys. I would also decry the right of a batsman to indicate to an umpire about whether he has hit the ball or he has not hit the ball, whichever suits him on the particular appeal. I think what a lot of people thought from outside was that I was trying to unsettle the batsman. I was merely defending our right to appeal. If I accept the term sledging, let's say for a second, if people believe it when they say sledging started under my captaincy, then are they suggesting that I have no confidence in my bowlers and what I am doing is to unsettle the batsmen and get them out.

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Strange, because I had an awful lot of confidence in my bowlers. And they always did well against England as their records will bear out but England is the source of much of the criticism. My answer to those English journalists who criticised me for sledging is I had hell of a lot of confidence in my bowlers and that showed, particularly in 1974-75.

Should not history also acknowledge that because of Kerry Packer and the World Series today's players are earning a lot more money from the game?

For some reason or other I am lumped with those who thought up the World Series. Lillee probably had a lot more to do with starting up World Series Cricket than I did. I am quite serious. All I did was sign up on the dotted line and since I agreed with the principle that was pretty easy.

How do you account then for the fierce loyalty you were able to command?

 I may have had something to do with the money improving in cricket for the players because I fought their case pretty hard. As captain, I got terrific support from my players on the field. I thought that I had to support them 100 per cent off the field. If there was a fight to be fought on behalf of any of my players I was there to fight it. I make no bones about it and if I had a chance to do it all over again I would do exactly the same.

 I cannot ask them to support me on the field if 1 do not support them oft the field. It's a two-way street. I think respect is very important and I have to earn the respect of my players. I have to earn that respect as a player and I have got to earn it as a captain. The only way I can earn respect is to be honest with the players. One of the things they say about my captaincy is, the players would do anything for me on the field. I am sure the reason for that was I gave them a honest deal. I did not tell lies to them.

How would you define the role of captain? Having been such a successful captain you should have a better insight into the job. Would you like to explain?

To me captaincy is two parts. There is captaincy which is on the field; the pinning up of the batting order, the handling of the bowling and the changing of the field; and there is leadership. That is time spent with players off the field. I am not talking about the time spent on cocktails. I am talking of time spent with the players. If the players have a problem I have to listen to the problem and act upon it. If they have a fight against the Board I had to fight that fight. Captaincy is not all to 6 job. It is hell of a lot more than that. I think there are a lot of good captains around. Also, I think there are bloody awful leaders around. They cannot lead a backside. I think the amount of time spent with players off the field is what reaps the reward. That to me is the art of leadership, to get the best out of men.

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There are some ordinary captains who say you cannot do much with a bad cricket team. Two blokes come to mind immediately ; Bob Simpson and Kim Hughes. I agree that you cannot take a bad cricket team and make a good cricket team. What you can do is to get an ordinary team and make it play better. Surely, that is the art of captaincy.  Even if you don't win a series you come off knowing your team has done its best and you will have a very satisfied captain. If your players played to the best of their abilities, you have done your job. It may not give you as much satisfaction as a series win, but it is still going to be satisfying.

Who would you say is the classic example of leading a team to do better?

The greatest example that would refute the thinking of Simpson and Hughes is that of Jack Cheetam, the South African captain. Everyone recognises that the South African side was a very, very ordinary one. But they fielded their backsides off. They drew that series with a far superior Australian side.

You were acknowledged to be one of the harder hitters of the ball. But there are so many who used to belt the ball harder in your own days. Can you recall the big hitters, those who gave you the most headaches as captain, since they were belting your bowlers around?

The Sabina Park (in Jamaica) has that big wall up on both ends. Gary (Gilmour) was bowling from the pavilion end and Lloyd (Clive Llyod) has that big straight drive. Bang. The ball was just starting to climb when it was hitting the wall. Bang. The only good thing about it was that no one had to go and fetch the ball. It was already there at the top of the bowler's mark after ricocheting off the wall. Mind you. it was not doing hell of a lot of good. Lloyd has just got a hundred and gone and Garry Sobers has just come in. So Gilmour asks Sobers, "How do you bowl to Lloyd?' and Sir Gary answers "With a helmet on."

The technical point to mull over is footwork seems to be going out of the game, the kind of footwork you used, coming ten yards down the pitch to play our spinners. Why do you think this aspect of the game is regressing in Australian cricket?

Not ten yards. (lan) Redpath was one who went a long way down the wicket. Dougie (Doug Walters) took only one short step, very quick and decisive. He was murderous on off spinners, one step and he would cut from there or pull. I remember the 100 he made in Madras on a bad pitch.

I can't think of a real good reason why batsmen don't come down the wicket anymore. To start with, maybe, poor coaching. I am a great believer in coaching every youngster all the shots in the book so that when he is out in the middle he has all the options. Then it is up to the batsman to work out what shots to play on what pitch, in what conditions and situation. But if he does not have the repertoire, how can he play the shots? Maybe, coaches don't teach the batsmen to come down the wicket.

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The second reason is that there are very few spinners in Australian cricket today. It used to be a great challenge to come down to spinners like Prasanna who had that superb arc. Spinners like (Fred) Titmus and Ashley Mallett had that good curler away from the bat. They could leave you stranded. Allan Border has very good footwork. But then he is pretty selective about when he comes down the track.

And then you have a great timer of the ball like Azhar who does not need much footwork beyond the crease to conquer the bowling. What do you think of his batting?

Beautiful wrists. The trouble with Azhar is that he tends to take the bowlers on when there is something in the pitch. That is the time you have got to give yourself a defensive chance to survive and then you can go bang bang as he loves to do. That innings of his in Adelaide was bloody good. You could not bowl a bad ball to him and on many occasions not even a good one would do. But what I could see of him in Australia was that he did not show a willingness to stay in and battle it out against the quicks. And he is the captain. He has to do it for the sake of his team. Maybe, he will learn. He is a great batsman.

Left to right: Ian Chappell with Mohammad Azharuddin and Allan Border at the toss before the start of the Brisbane Test in 1991.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

In one-day cricket if a middle order batsman is on 60 or 70 around the 40th over he should be aiming for a century too. I mean if you get a hundred your team score is around 250 and that is a winning chance. The last six overs are going to be bowled by the best bowlers in the opposition. That is reason enough for a batsman who has got runs to stay there all the end. If Azhar accepts that responsibility India will win a few more one-day games.

You must have met with different degress of success with different teams, from Test sides down to grade teams. How come success came more easily with the Australian team?

To throw your hands up in the air is not leadership. What Simpson said to me one day proved a great spur to me. This was in 1974-75 when I was sitting in the South Australian dressing room after the team had been walloped by NSW. SA had  finished last in the season before and we finished last again. Simpson was organising ads or something for the cricket team and he said to me: "You have a bad cricket team. You can't do anything with a bad cricket team. That's why I retired from the captaincy because Australia had a bad Test team". I said to myself "Thanks very much, Bobby" because I was part of that team.

At that stage I didn't think much about it because, as you have probably gathered, I don't think much of Bob Simpson as a human being nor do I have great regard for his cricket knowledge. I then retired from the Australian captaincy in 1974-75 and suddenly I had all the time to spend on the South Australian team. I am not using the Australian captaincy as an excuse for SA finishing last. All my captaincy effort used to go into the Australian team and then into the SA team and then on to Glenelg and so on.

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 I was not captaining Australia then and I had the energy to put into SA. One of the things I am very proud of is the fact that that SA team went on to win the championship the very next year. We had a couple of young players coming on; there was David Hookes and Ric Darling and Wayne Prior. I even thought of looking for Bobby after SA won the Shield but I didn't bother.

You had a good look at the Indian team in Australia in your previous summer. Where do you think the Indians went wrong? What can they do to fare better to international cricket?

I think the difference in the wickets between India and Australia was the root cause. The Indian Board may not have helped. It didn't give the team much of a chance for preparation. The basic thing is, the Indian team should be more specific about the training. Their preparation for the tour of Australia may have been nil. Take the case of (Sanjay) Manjrekar. He is a good backfoot player but the bowlers were able to tie him down on the backfoot by bowling continually short at him. Bowlers of that standard are certain, sooner or later, to get a good one in and the batsman would get out. When you are going to a place like Australia you must train on pitches you will get there. The batsmen must practise on such wickets and prepare to take on the fast bowlers in such conditions, play pull shots, etc.

This is why I am all for a project like the Pace Foundation. The aim is to prepare bowlers for Test cricket. The same kind of thought has to go into the preparation of a team. If you are going from India to Pakistan you probably do not have to make much of an adjustment. But if you are travelling to places where the conditions are going to be different, you have to simulate, you have to visualise.

The game is becoming more of an everyday thing for the players. They are virtually full-time and they have to pay more attention to the details. They have to plan better if they are to perform. To do what India did by way of preparation in Australia was to invite disaster.

This interview was first published in Sportstar magazine on 10.10.1992

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