John Arlott called him, “a cricketer of effect rather than the graces”. An animated presence at the batting crease, he constantly adjusted his equipment and clothing, and restlessly tapped his bat on the ground as the bowler ran in. Basing his game on a sound defence learned during many hours of childhood lessons, Chappell employed the drive and square cut to full effect. He had an idiosyncratic method of playing back and across to a ball of full length and driving wide of mid on, but his trademark shot was the hook. A specialist slip fielder, he was the fourth player to take one hundred Test catches.
Since his retirement in 1980, he has pursued a high-profile career as a sports journalist and cricket commentator, predominately with Channel Nine. He remains a major figure in Australian cricket: in 2006, Shane Warne called Chappell the biggest influence on his career.
Chappell grew up in the beachside suburb of Glenelg and attended the local St Leonard's Primary School where he played his first competitive match at the age of seven. He was later selected for the South Australian state schoolboys team. He then enrolled at Prince Alfred College, a private secondary school noted for producing many Test cricketers, including the Australian captains Joe Darling and Clem Hill. His other sporting pursuits included Australian football and baseball: Chappell's performances for his state in the Claxton Shield won him All-Australian selection in 1964 and 1966 as a catcher. At the age of 18, his form in grade cricket for Glenelg led to his first-class debut for South Australia (SA) against Tasmania in early 1962. Chappell replaced West Indian Garry Sobers who was selected for a Test match in the Caribbean.
The aggressive style of Sobers and SA captain Les Favell heavily influenced Chappell during his formative years in major cricket. In 1962–63, Chappell made his initial first-class century against a New South Wales team led by Australian captain Richie Benaud, who was bemused by the young batsman's habit of gritting his teeth as he faced up; to Benaud, it looked as if he was grinning. Chappell spent the northern summer of 1963 as a professional in England's Lancashire League with Ramsbottom and played a single first-class match for Lancashire.
In England, Chappell rewarded the faith of the selectors by scoring the most first-class runs on the tour (1,261 runs, including 202 not out against Warwickshire) and leading the Australian Test aggregates with 348 runs (at 43.50). His top score was 81 in the fourth Test at Leeds. Wisden lauded his play off the back foot and judged him the most difficult Australian batsman to dismiss. In a summer severely affected by rain, Australia drew the series and retained The Ashes.
Following up with a successful tour of India in late 1969, Chappell demonstrated his fluency against spin bowling by compiling Test innings of 138 at Delhi and 99 at Kolkata. His ability against both fast and slow bowling earned high praise, most famously from his skipper Bill Lawry. When the Australians arrived in South Africa in early 1970, following their victory over India, Lawry told the local media that Chappell was the best all-round batsman in the world. His appraisal looked misguided when Chappell managed just 92 runs (at 11.5 average), with a top score of 34, as Australia lost 0–4.
On this tour, Chappell clashed with cricket administrators over pay and conditions for the first time. The South African authorities requested that an extra Test be added to the fixture and the Australian Board of Control consented. Incensed that the players were not consulted about the change, Chappell led a group of his teammates in a demand for more money to play the proposed game. Eventually the match was cancelled after Chappell and his supporters refused to back down.
Chappell became SA captain when the long-serving Les Favell retired at the start of the 1970–71 season. His younger brother Greg made his debut in the second Test of the summer. Facing an English attack led by the hostile fast bowling of John Snow, Chappell scored a half-century in each of the first two Tests, but failed to capitalise on good starts while Greg Chappell scored 108 in his initial innings. Rain caused the abandonment of the third Test without a ball bowled. Temporarily promoted to open the batting, Chappell failed in the fourth Test as Australia lost. In the fifth Test at Melbourne, he returned to number three and started nervously. Dropped on 0 and 14, Chappell found form and went on to post his maiden Ashes century (111 from 212 balls), which he followed with scores of 28 and 104 in the sixth Test.
The washed-out Test resulted in a late change to the schedule and an unprecedented seventh Test was played at Sydney in February 1971. Trailing 0–1 in the series, Australia could retain The Ashes by winning this game. Australia's performances were hampered by playing slow, defensive cricket. In a radical attempt to breathe some aggression into the team, the selectors sacked captain Bill Lawry and appointed Chappell in his stead. Dismayed by the manner of Lawry's dismissal, Chappell responded with an attacking performance as captain. However, Australia were beaten in a close match by 62 runs and lost The Ashes for the first time in 12 years. Chappell gained some consolation at the end of a dramatic summer when he led SA to the Sheffield Shield, the team's first win for seven years.
Chappell's battles against the short-pitched bowling of Snow during the season compelled him to reappraise his game. Following a conversation with Sir Donald Bradman, he decided to reinstate the hook shot and spent the winter months practising the stroke by hitting baseballs thrown by his brother Greg. Although he still regularly lost his wicket after playing the shot, Chappell felt that the psychological benefit of showing aggression to opposing bowlers offset the times that he was dismissed for a low score.
Australia lost an unofficial Test series to a Rest of the World team that toured in 1971–72 as a replacement for the politically unacceptable South Africans. Chappell was the outstanding batsman of the series, with four centuries included in his 634 runs. He took the team to England in 1972 and was unlucky not to regain The Ashes in a rubber that ended 2–2. The series began disastrously for Chappell when he was out hooking from the first ball he faced in the opening Test at Manchester. He fell the same way in the second innings and Australia lost the match. However, the team regrouped and had the better of the remaining matches, apart from the fourth Test at Leeds, played on a controversial pitch that the Australians believed was "doctored" to suit the England team. Greg Chappell emerged as a prolific batsman during the series, batting one place below his brother in the order. The siblings shared several crucial partnerships, most notably 201 at the Oval in the last Test when they became the first brothers to score centuries in the same Test innings. Australia won the game, an effort that Chappell later cited as the turning point in the team's performances.
In 1972–73, Australia had resounding victories against Pakistan (at home) and the West Indies (away). Chappell's leadership qualities stood out in a number of tight situations. He hit his highest Test score of 196 (from 243 balls) in the first Test against Pakistan at Adelaide. Pakistan "appeared probable winners of the last two Tests on the second last day of each game", yet Chappell's team managed to win on both occasions.
On indifferent pitches in the Caribbean, Chappell was the highest-scoring batsman of the Test series with 542 runs (at 77.4 average). He hit 209 in a tour match against Barbados, two Test centuries and a "glorious" 97 on a poor pitch at Trinidad in the third Test, batting with an injured ankle. This set up a dramatic last day when the West Indies needed just 66 runs to win with six wickets in hand at lunch. The home team collapsed against an inspired Australian bowling attack supported by Chappell's aggressive field-placement. Chappell's team would be the last to leave the West Indies as winners for 22 years.
... although we didn't deliberately set out to be a 'bunch of bastards' when we walked on to the field, I'd much prefer any team I captained to be described like that than as 'a nice bunch of blokes on the field.' As captain of Australia my philosophy was simple: between 11.00am and 6.00pm there was no time to be a nice guy. I believed that on the field players should concentrate on giving their best to the team, to themselves and to winning; in other words, playing hard and fairly within the rules. To my mind, doing all that left no time for being a nice guy.
The increasing prevalence of verbal confrontation on the field (later known as sledging) concerned cricket administrators and became a regular topic for the media. Its instigation is sometimes attributed to Chappell. By his own admission, he was a frequent user of profanity who was often at “boiling point” on the field, but he claims that the various incidents he was involved in were not a premeditated tactic. Rather, they were a case of him losing his temper with an opponent. Sledging continues to cause controversy in the game; when the Australian team is involved, the phrase “ugly Australians” is still invoked in relation to the issue.
The highlight of Chappell's career was Australia's 4–1 win over England in 1974–75 that reclaimed The Ashes. Strengthened by the new fast bowling partnership of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, the Australia team played aggressive cricket and received criticism for the amount of short-pitched bowling that was employed. Chappell scored 90 on an "unreliable" pitch on the first day of the opening Test at Brisbane. He finished the six Tests with 387 runs at 35.18 average, and took 11 catches in the slips. The Test matches attracted big crowds and record gate takings, enabling Chappell to negotiate a bonus for the players from the Australian Cricket Board (ACB). Although this more than doubled the players' pay, their remuneration amounted to only 4.5% of the revenue generated by the series.
Within months, Chappell was back in England leading Australia in the inaugural World Cup. His dislike of the defensive nature of limited-over cricket led to the Australians placing a full slips cordon for the new ball and employing Test-match style tactics in the tournament. Despite the apparent unsuitability of this approach, Chappell guided the team to the final where they lost a memorable match to the West Indies.
The workload of the captaincy was telling on Chappell and the four-Test Ashes series that followed the World Cup dampened his appetite for the game. After winning the only completed match of the series, the first Test at Birmingham, Australia’s retention of the Ashes was anti-climactic: the third Test at Leeds was abandoned due to vandalism of the pitch during the night before the last day’s play. In the last Test at the Oval, Chappell scored 192 from 367 balls to set up an apparent victory. However, England managed to bat for almost 15 hours to grind out a draw and Chappell announced his resignation from the captaincy on the last day of the match. In 30 Test matches as captain, he scored 2,550 runs at an average of 50, with seven centuries.
Approached to lead an Australian team in World Series Cricket (WSC), a breakaway professional competition organised by Kerry Packer for Channel Nine, Chappell signed a three-year contract worth AU$75,000 in 1976. His participation was, "fundamental to the credibility of the enterprise". Chappell devised the list of Australian players to be signed, and was involved in the organisation and marketing of WSC. His central role was the result of, "years of personal disaffection with cricket officialdom", in particular Don Bradman. Recently, Chappell wrote:
While captaining Australia, I was approached on three separate occasions before WSC to play 'professional' cricket, and each time I advised the entrepreneurs to meet the appropriate cricket board because they controlled the grounds. On each occasion, the administrators sent the entrepreneurs packing and it quickly became clear they weren't interested in a better deal for the players.
That's why I say the players didn't stab the ACB in the back. The administrators had numerous opportunities to reach a compromise but displayed little interest in the welfare of the players. It wasn't really surprising then that more than 50 players from around the world signed lucrative WSC contracts and a revolution was born. About half of the WSC players were from Australia and this high ratio can, in part, be attributed to Bradman's tight-fisted approach to the ACB's money.
In WSC's debut season of 1977–78, Chappell hit the first Supertest century and finished fifth in the overall averages. The prevalence of short-pitched fast bowling and a serious injury to Australian David Hookes led to the innovation of batting helmets; Chappell was one of the many batsmen to use one. Following their 1975–76 tour of Australia, the West Indies adopted a four-man fast bowling attack, while the World XI contained fast bowlers of the calibre of Imran Khan, Mike Procter, Garth Le Roux, Clive Rice and Sarfraz Nawaz. The constant diet of pace bowling undermined the confidence of some batsmen during WSC. Chappell’s form fell away during the second season and he scored only 181 runs at 25.85 in four Supertests. During the last six days of the season, the WSC Australians lost the finals of both the limited-overs competition (to the West Indies XI) and the Supertest series (to the World XI), thus forfeiting the winner-takes-all prize money. After the latter match, Chappell vented his frustrations on World XI captain Tony Greig by refusing to shake his hand and criticising Greig’s inconsequential contribution to his team’s victory. The final act of the competition was a series between the WSC Australians and the WSC West Indies played in the Caribbean in the spring of 1979. After the Australians suffered a heavy defeat in the first Supertest at Jamaica, Chappell rallied his team to draw the five match series one-all. His best effort were scores of 61 and 86 at Barbados.
|1972-73||West Indies (away)||5||2||0||3|
|1973-74||New Zealand (home)||3||2||0||1|
|1973-74||New Zealand (away)||3||1||1||1|
|1971-72||Rest of World XI (home)||5||1||2||2|
|1977-78||WSC Supertests (home)||5||1||4||0|
|1978-79||WSC Supertests (home)||4||1||2||1|
|1979||WSC Supertests (West Indies)||5||1||1||3|
In Wisden, Richie Benaud wrote, "Chappell will be remembered as much for his bid to improve the players' lot as he will for his run-getting and captaincy". During the WSC period, he founded a players' association with a loan provided by Kerry Packer. Despite Chappell's continued support for the organisation after his retirement, apathy and a lack of recognition from the ACB led to its' demise in 1988. Revived in 1997 as the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA), it is now an important organisation within the structure of Australian cricket. In 2005, Chappell became a member of the ACA executive.
Chappell was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986, the FICA Cricket Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2003. Two new grandstands at the Adelaide Oval were named the Chappell Stands; at the dedication ceremony in 2003, the SACA president Ian McLachlan called the Chappells, "the most famous cricketing family in South Australia". In 2004, the Chappell family was again honoured with the creation of the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, an annual series of ODI matches played between Australia and New Zealand.
Chappell is the leading advocate for greater formal recognition of the first Australian sporting team to travel overseas, the Australian Aboriginal cricket team in England in 1868.
He supported the claims of Rod Marsh to the Australian captaincy over the incumbent, Kim Hughes, in the early 1980s. The constant campaign against Hughes, a relic of the WSC era, destabilised his authority. Compounding the situation, the ACB compelled Hughes to be interviewed by Chappell on a regular basis. When Hughes resigned in 1984, throwing Australian cricket into turmoil, Chappell received a share of the blame for the outcome.
Chappell had a direct influence on Hughes’ successor, Allan Border. Early in his captaincy tenure, Border was struggling with the burdens of the position so the ACB appointed Bob Simpson as team coach to assist. This led to animosity between Chappell and Simpson as Chappell derided the need for a coach. Simpson responded by writing that the peer influence of older players helping younger players fell away during the era when the Chappell brothers led the team, and he was redressing the problem. Chappell believed that the Border-Simpson leadership was too defensive and that Simpson usurped too much of Border's control of the team; Border heeded Chappell’s assessment and adopted a more aggressive on-field approach later in his career. Mark Taylor, who captained the team after Border, moved to dilute Simpson's authority. Chappell remains a long-standing critic of the use of coaches by national teams.