`That teams other than Australia are struggling is a problem for world cricket'

A superlative strokemaker, an outstanding slip fielder, a useful medium pace bowler and a shrewd captain, Greg Chappell was the epitome of elegance on and off the cricket field.

KANTA MURALI

"Australia has the advantage at the moment. The success of the Australian team ahsn't come about by accident. The decisions that were taken 20 years ago have borne fruit and have been bearing fruit now for some time."-Pic. V. GANESAN

A superlative strokemaker, an outstanding slip fielder, a useful medium pace bowler and a shrewd captain, Greg Chappell was the epitome of elegance on and off the cricket field. Playing in, arguably, the finest era in Test history and against some of the best bowlers ever seen, Chappell scored 7110 runs in 87 Tests at an average of 53.86 including 24 centuries. One of the greatest batsmen of all time, he was a brilliant shotmaker, technically sound against fast and spin bowling, and with an insatiable appetite for runs. He is particularly remembered for his text-book perfect drives, rasping cuts and effortless leg glances.

Few have begun and ended their Test careers in as resplendent a fashion as Chappell. Coming in to bat at 107 for five on his debut against England in 1970, he scored 108 invaluable runs in the company of Ian Redpath and helped Australia to a secure position. His final Test appearance against Pakistan in 1984 was as memorable. At the start of his final Test series against Pakistan in 1983-84, he needed 251 runs in the five-match series to surpass Sir Don Bradman's Test aggregate of 6996 runs. Before the start of the final Test, Chappell announced his retirement although he still needed 87 to overtake the Don. A man with a tremendous sense of occasion, Chappell scored 182 in the first innings and, in doing so, went past Bradman and became the first Australian to score 7000 runs. Chappell also played two years of World Series Cricket and missed 17 official Tests during that period. He was very successful in World Series Cricket, scoring 1416 runs at an average of 54.

After his retirement, he has been active in other areas of the game, most notably in coaching and administration. He is also one of the outstanding thinkers of the game. Greg Chappell, recently in Chennai for the MRF Coaches' Seminar, spoke to The Sportstar on a range of issues. Excerpts from the interview.

Question: You come from a cricketing family. Your grandfather Victor Richardson played for and captained Australia as did your brother Ian. Trevor played a few Tests for Australia as well. How big an influence was your family?

Answer: It was a huge influence. More particularly, our father and mother because they made quite a few sacrifices. Dad was the one who imbued us with a love of sport and cricket particularly. It was his passion and mum's support that helped. My grandfather really stayed out of it. I think he realised that Dad had things under control, so he made a choice to stay in the background with regard to our cricket. As I grew up, as I played in secondary school as a teenager, I would often have a look down the road and see his car parked a few hundred metres away and sort of search around and find him hiding behind a tree somewhere. He'd be watching for a while and then he would disappear. If we had a good day, he might ring that night and say well done. That was it pretty much. It was very much our father's influence with the support of mum.

V. GANESAN

The current Australian team have had an unprecedented run in international cricket. Do you think their dominance is affecting the game adversely?

I don't think their dominance is. I think the fact that other teams are struggling is really a problem for world cricket. I think the fact that England and the West Indies, in particular, have been down for a long time is not a healthy thing for cricket. I think at any given time, you need three or four strong teams for the health of world cricket. The West Indies are showing signs of rebuilding at the moment. England show signs of rebuilding but really I think their infrastructure is not producing the right sort of players for Test cricket. Their domestic cricket just doesn't produce the right sort of players and I don't know how they can change that. If one team dominates for a long time, I think it gets unpleasant for cricket. At least when the West Indies were strong, they were still two or three other sides that were giving them a good contest. They were probably more dominant in one-day cricket at that stage than they were in Test matches. Australia have now set the bar; we need two or three countries to sort of reach that standard quickly.

Increasingly, there is transfer of information between cricketing nations. Rod Marsh is a national selector in England. You and Dennis Lillee have coached here. Do you think this will help bridge the gap?

I think so. I think it's important we do share information. Australia has the advantage at the moment. The success of the Australian team hasn't come about by accident. The decisions that were taken 20 years ago have borne fruit and have been bearing fruit now for some time. A lot of information has been discovered; a lot of information, research and resources have been applied to Australian cricket in recent times. Out of that has come a lot of information that I think would be unhealthy if we held it to ourselves.

What MRF Foundation has done this week (June 28 - 30, 2003) is a tremendous thing for Indian cricket. It is probably the best cricket seminar that I've been to as far as the quality of information is concerned. It would be tremendous if in ten years time India was the dominant country and all of a sudden was sharing the information it had developed. So I think the more we can share the information, the better.

V. GANESAN

A lot of people looked at Australian cricket and said, "Oh, Australia has got an academy and that is the reason for their success. We need an academy and once we've got an academy, we will be okay." There is a lot more to it than that. The decisions that were taken in Australia more than 20 years ago were to improve identification programmes, improve elite development programmes, and build on the infrastructure that was already there. We had a fairly solid development programme anyway — the centrepiece of which is our domestic cricket. The academy is a finishing school. It's not only a matter of getting the academy in place. It's getting the right students into the academy.

The domestic structure is very important. That is a requirement for all countries. Domestic cricket has perhaps suffered because it's been sort of forgotten and has languished somewhat. We seriously, as a cricket community, must call a halt and have a moratorium for a while and say we can't afford to keep playing all this international cricket, particularly the meaningless one-day cricket. It's been the golden goose, but I think the golden goose, if it's not dead, has been seriously wounded. We perhaps need to look at how much cricket we need our international players to play to be able to generate the income that is required to sustain the game. Maybe we've got to look at having, instead of just an ad hoc array of one-day cricket all round the world at any given time, some "major tournaments" (stealing ideas from tennis and golf) through the year for one-day cricket plus our Test programme. That relieves the players of some of the pressure of playing non-stop, but builds a product that is good for television and sponsorship — a product that generates the income the game needs but doesn't drain all the resources to the extent that is possibly damaging to the long term future of the game, particularly at the infrastructure level.

There seems to be a parallel between this, the balance between Test and one-day cricket, and journalism. We talk about quality newspapers and tabloids. Tabloids are necessary to some extent. They popularise, they are more accessible etc but if there is too much tabloidisation of the press, then I think surely you lose out. Would that be a fair comparison?

A very good analogy. One-day cricket attracted a new generation of watchers and a wider range of audience but it's become tired and the product needs some rejuvenation.

We have debased the product to some degree by just playing so much of one-day cricket that it has become boring. I am sure from the playing point of view. By talking to some of the players, they certainly find it boring. If they find it boring, people will find it boring because that will come through. Sure, we don't want to see the excesses that we occasionally see of emotions running over but if the players aren't emotionally involved in what they are doing, then the product is debased.

Not only has there been an overload of one-day cricket but, all around the world, we allowed one-day cricket to take over and we denigrated the Test match product as well. If the game and the people involved with the responsibility of minding the game are prepared to debase the product of Test cricket, then you can't expect people to take it seriously and want to come and watch it in large numbers. I think we've seen a resurgence in Test cricket - the style of cricket that the Australians are playing at the moment is a very good brand of cricket. We need to spend a bit of time rebuilding the lost image of Test cricket.

It is difficult to compare across generations but how do you think the current Australian team would fare against the West Indies team of the 70s and 80s, led by Clive Lloyd?

I don't know but all I know is that they could beat better teams than they are playing against at the moment. Had they had and if they have more competition, I think they would get better. I think it is a great credit to the Australian team that they continue to keep improving and aiming to improve despite the fact that they can win comfortably.

They are a very good side. They will play well against any team. Different eras aren't that different. Players are probably fitter and stronger than they have ever been in the history of the game but the basic talent doesn't change that much. I think, perhaps, a lot more thought goes into the planning of your own game plans and looking at the opposition than ever before. The good teams might not have had the technology that is available today, but they did it and they learnt what it took to be successful. They would be successful sides in any era. Good players, by and large, would have been good players in any era. In some ways I feel that the current Australian team have been cheated a little bit by not having had the opportunity to play against some strong teams because I think it would have really drawn the best out of them.

Chucking is increasingly a problem in world cricket. How do you view the International Cricket Council's procedure of clearing players?

I think what they are trying to do is the right thing. I don't think we want to see situations where you've got players being continually called in international games. Equally, you don't want guys running up and flouting the law. A lot more thought needs to be given to it. Again, I don't claim to have any simple solution. It really needs to be sorted out before it gets to Test level.

The super slow motion camera highlights actions like never before. I am sure there would have been bowlers in the past — had the super slow motion applied to them, you would see some flex. There are forces being applied to that arm that will cause, at different points, some flexion. What we need to know is whether at five percent, ten percent, fifteen percent — at what point does the bowler get some advantage? Maybe we need to rewrite the law to reflect what modern technology can show to us. Players who have some concerns in their action should be stopped long before they get to international cricket.

Left to right: Dennis Lillee, Trevor and Greg Chappell during MRF Coaches Seminar in Chennai. "What MRF Foundation has done is a tremendous thing for Indian cricket," says Greg Chappell.-Pic. V. GANESAN

How does the standard of umpiring today compare with the standard during your era? Are we more critical now only because we are looking at things more closely?

I think that is probably the main situation. I think they are umpiring a lot more. Umpires have always made mistakes and they will always make mistakes. One of the strengths of our game is that you have to accept as a player that, from time to time, you are going to get decisions that may not have been the right decision.

I am not in favour of too much technology becoming involved. For run outs and stumpings and the sort of things we have in place at the moment, I don't have any real problem with that. But get to lbws and caught behinds and all that sort of stuff, I am not sure that the technology is there that would make it perfect anyway. To lose the human element — if I was an umpire, I wouldn't want to go out there and stand there and just count six balls! One of the things I've noticed since television has come in more and more is that umpires make a lot of good decisions. We never ever talk about that. I think there has got to be a greater responsibility again amongst the community of cricket, not least of all the media, to give the umpires a break.

From a playing point of view, it's always been my belief that you get the standard of umpiring you deserve. If you are going to put pressure on umpires, they will make mistakes. I think the players have a responsibility to make sure that they make the job of the umpires as uncluttered as possible. I mean people like Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist who have shown, I think, the way. I don't expect all players to walk. I am not sure that is necessarily solving the problem but if there is something that is obvious — if you nick the ball to second slip and stand around — I don't think you are doing the game a service! But if there is a thin edge through to the wicket-keeper, I think you've got every right to stand your ground. If he gives you out, you go without fuss. The harassing of umpires by bowlers and fielders — running at umpires, demanding decisions — I don't think that is acceptable. If the players can take that responsible sort of attitude, I think they are going to find the umpiring standards will reflect that. Playing five Test matches in a row is hard enough. To umpire five Test matches in a row would be extremely difficult because they are out there all the time. If we are going to get the best standard of umpiring that we can get, then the players have got to play their part.

Your batting average was higher when you were captain than when you were not. Many in the current era have struggled to cope with the pressures of batting and captaincy. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara in his first stint for example. Do you think captaincy affects batting?

I think it does. From my point of view, it made me even more aware of the need as a senior batsman and as a senior player to make runs. While I had always been aware of the game situation as a player, you are even more aware of it as a captain. The fact that the `W' and the `L' go against your name — I think that was a great motivation for me to want to score more runs.

The difficulty is that is you get caught up in the responsibilities of captaincy and the role of captain can divert your attention and your focus away from what you are doing. Thankfully, I realised early on that I had to keep the two separate but there were periods in my career where it didn't always happen. I found it was more beneficial than non-beneficial for the most part because it just made me that more aware of my responsibility as a player to make runs and take my opportunities when they came. If I had got a start then it was really important that I went on. I think that probably — I've never looked — I made more big hundreds as a captain and that is probably why the average went up. (He scored 13 of his 24 centuries when he was captain. Five of those scores were over 150, including three double centuries. He had three scores of 150 or more when he was not captain, including one double century.)

The 1970s in general were tumultuous for cricket. You were one of those who played in World Series Cricket. What were your impressions of World Series Cricket?

It was the most exciting period of my cricket career. The two years of World Series Cricket were probably the most demanding from a playing point of view. It was tumultuous but it was exciting. It was a revolution. There was this unspoken understanding among the players. Fifty-odd of us had been approached and we joined World Series Cricket, not just for money. It was always talked about as for money but it was respect as well. We believed we had a lot to offer cricket, not only on the field. The administrators weren't interested in listening to us. We were probably fairly strong minded individuals but there were some pretty intelligent and strong minded individuals in other parts of the world and those guys felt very similarly to the way we felt. We were demanding respect as much as anything else.

It catapulted the game into the 20th century. It was a game that was on the decline in popularity. One-day cricket, coloured clothing, lights, all of that sort of stuff really gave it a blood transfusion. Some of the toughest games of cricket I played were in that two years because the emotional level and the commitment to play from the players were greater than I had ever experienced before.

It was a breakthrough, a historic victory for players as a professional community...

Yes, it was. It was a first stand by the players, really. While we didn't all get together and join an association — World Series Cricket was our association. We lost part of the ground when the two came together. The Australian team was in the West Indies playing a series over there when the traditional administrators finally put their hands up and said: "Look, this can't go on. We need to sit down and talk." Unfortunately those peace talks took place without the players being involved. That is where we made a mistake. We hadn't planned for what happened if it got to that stage. We were on the other side of the world when the talks took place. While we were given some input from a distance, by and large we fell back into that position from where we had come from, although the players were being paid a little better.

We still didn't have a seat at the table and it took another fifteen, twenty years. England probably had a players association before anyone else. In Australia — I finished in 1984 — we had an association but it was a fledgling association and basically passed the banner on to the young players when we retired. It took nearly ten years from when I retired for the players to realise they needed a strong association. From that point onwards, they certainly got themselves a seat at the table now.

You were the first Australian to score 7000 Test runs, which you did in your last Test against Pakistan. You scored 182 in that game. Do you think you retired too early?

No. I retired at the right time for me. I had a young family, I had business interests. I had done pretty much all of the things I wanted to do from a cricket playing point of view. I felt I had a responsibility to my family first and foremost and to my business associates to start putting some time into those areas.

From the minute I walked off the cricket field, I've never really thought I wanted to play cricket again. So that confirms in my mind the decision I took at the stage was the right one. I just consider myself so fortunate that I played in the old era, went through the revolution and got a taste of the modern era of cricket — the much more demanding schedules and so on. I think the players do play too much now. I get back to what I said before — we could perhaps come up with a playing calendar that allows for the Test series that each nation wants and has to play and instead of these ad hoc one-day series, some sort of major events.

I went into administration straight away. I didn't go cold turkey — I eased myself out of the game by being involved as an administrator and selector for a number of years. I suppose there is still a hole in my life to the degree that cricket was my creative outlet. Cricket was my sort of reason for being. I am not an artist, I don't write poetry and I don't do all those sorts of things. I don't write music or play music. Golf sort of fills that void to some degree for me these days but I don't want to play at an overly competitive level. But I enjoy it — the physical expression is how I get my kicks, I suppose. From that point of view, I miss the cricket but I have never regretted stopping.