I have to confess that Ian Chappell became my hero in a roundabout manner. My childhood cricket hero was Sunil Gavaskar, who once wrote that he was so impressed by the way Chappell played cricket that he used to used to imitate the mannerisms of the Aussie stalwart. If someone was good enough to be the hero of my own idol, then he should be good enough to be worshiped by me as well! Thus I started following the career of Chappell, who was then leading Australia, with great interest.
I read his autobiography titled “Chappelli” when I was still in school and was impressed by the blunt and straight approach displayed by him in tackling men and matters. He replaced Bill Lawry as Australian captain in 1972. He had written that he was shocked at the manner in which Lawry was given the boot and he swore that he would not allow the authorities to treat him in the same manner. He went on to decide and announce the time of his stepping down from the captaincy, without giving the Australian Cricket Board any options. It goes without saying that I was terribly impressed.
After his retirement Chappell has earned name as a successful commentator and columnist, whose observations about the game are candid and accurate. He does not mince any words when criticizing even his former teammates and siblings nor does he go overboard in praising anyone. The essential traits of honesty and no nonsense approach that characterized his game and captaincy are evident in his comments as well.
Recently, I happened to read the extracts of a new book on Chappell titled “Chappell’s Last Stand”, written by Michael Sexton. The extract outlines the fights that Chappell had with the administrators of South Australia Cricket Association (SACA) during 1975-76 and how he stood firm and took the side to title triumph. South Australia had languished at the bottom of the table in Sheffield Shield during the two previous seasons and were not expected to create any miracles. However, Chappell transformed the bunch of no-hopers into a champion side by the sheer dint of his personality and the combative style that he adopted as captain.
Chappell’s confrontations with the authorities were the stuff of legend and helped in binding the players into a tight unit. He openly stated that he did not have any loyalty towards SACA, but only to the players who were trying hard to perform well. He also commented bitterly on the fact that the barman at Adelaide Oval was paid much more than the players. All this made him hugely unpopular with the administrators, while improving his standing with the players.
The most acrimonious row took place when SACA selectors announced a new 13-member squad for the last two matches, without taking Chappell into confidence. This broke the agreement that Chappell would be notified about any changes in the squad before it was made public. Chappell called Phil Ridings, president of SACA, and demanded an explanation. Ridings said that Chappell could not be contacted as he was batting at that time. “I thought that was my f***ing job”, fumed Chappell and banged the phone down. He then informed his teammates that he would not play in the last two matches. His teammates stood by him by and decided that if he was not playing, they would also not play.
This created an unprecedented crisis as administrators were not used to a situation where players boycotted matches. Chappell’s stand got widespread sympathy from the public who loved the way South Australia side was performing under him. The crisis ended only when Neil Kerley, the legendary rugby player of South Australia, issued a public appeal to the players to play for the state. Chappell led the side in the last two matches, the team played as if their life depended on the results and they won both the games to lift the Sheffield Shield title. Chappell thus signed off on a victorious note, ending the title drought of South Australia and conveying the message to the administrators that he played the game on his terms and convictions and not at their whims and fancies.
Reading this extract made me think whether there was any Indian captain who stood up to the administration for the cause of players. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi had stated openly that he did not believe in confronting the selectors and would agree with their suggestions once he got the core group that he sought in the side. Bishen Bedi was the first captain who spoke for the players demanding better amenities and remuneration. However, it was left to Sunil Gavaskar to show the necessary spunk to take on the authority, announce his decisions unilaterally and get away with it.
Gavaskar was reappointed a captain of the national side at the start of 1979-80 season which involved India playing thirteen Tests: six each against Australia and Pakistan, followed by a one-off Golden Jubilee Test against England. The first Test against Australia started barely a week after the last match of a four-match series in England, that followed the 1979 World Cup. Thus, there was hardly any break between the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons so far as players in the national side were concerned. India won the series against Australia and Pakistan by identical margins of 2-0 and this took the popularity of the side and its skipper sky-high.
While the series against Pakistan was going on, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that Indian team would be touring West Indies for a Test series at the culmination of the Jubilee test. This angered Gavaskar who felt that players required some rest and relaxation after playing international cricket almost continuously during the two preceding cricket seasons. After the fifth Test at Chennai, which India won by 10 wickets and sealed the series, Gavaskar announced that he would not be available for the tour of West Indies. He also disclosed that he was stepping down as captain so as to give the new incumbent experience of two Tests as skipper before embarking on the tour of West Indies.
Gavaskar’s decisions sent shock waves through the cricketing community in the country. The BCCI promptly appointed Gundappa Viswanath as captain of the side for the last Test against Australia and the Jubilee Test. But they were forced to backtrack on their decision regarding tour of West Indies following widespread criticism in the media and public forums. The West Indies Cricket Board also wrote to the BCCI to reschedule the proposed tour to another time slot when it could send its full squad.
This was one occasion when Gavaskar stood up to the authority and made them change their stance. This moral authority that he had stood the side in good stead during the initial period when he led the team. This was evident when the team came from behind to win the last Test of the series against Australia at Melbourne in 1981, at the fag end of a tour where the team was pinned down to the ropes for most part. The manner in which team rallied around the skipper who had almost threatened to walkout after being adjudged lbw off Dennis Lillee showed the loyalty he commanded from the other members. The fact that India was able to square the three-Test series 1-1 against a mighty Australian side led by Greg Chappell and boasting of such stalwarts as Lillee, Rod Marsh, Kim Hughes, Alan Border and Doug Walters was a great achievement for which Gavaskar could justifiably claim credit.
However, Gavaskar was guilty of surrendering this goodwill and sense of loyalty of fellow players when he lobbied for and won selection of his favorites into the national squad. When the side for touring England in 1982 was announced, cricket lovers rubbed their eyes in disbelief when they heard the name of Suru Nayak in the squad. Nayak had no claim to cricketing fame except for being a player with very average performance in Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad, in addition to being an employee of Nirlon, where incidentally Gavaskar also worked. What made this selection more galling was the fact was that among those excluded figured Surinder Amarnath, who was in splendid form and had a superb season in domestic cricket behind him. Worse was to follow when Nayak played two Tests on the tour, overlooking the claims of such accomplished players as Shivlal Yadav, who went through the series without playing a single Test. Nayak, of course did not do anything worthwhile with either bat or ball in his Test appearances and faded away from the scene soon afterwards.
Nayak saga painted Gavaskar in very bad light and gave the impression that he did not always place the interests of the team above his personal likes and fancies. The effect of this was seen during India’s tour of Pakistan in the winter of 1982, when the team came apart in the face of hostile fast bowling by Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, backed up by partisan umpiring. India lost the series 0-3 and despite scoring heavily with the bat, Gavaskar lost the captaincy and was replaced by Kapil Dev when the team for touring West Indies in early 1983 was chosen.
These instances involving Chappell and Gavaskar symbolize the manner in which cricket was played and administered in Australia and India during the 1970s and 80s. Cricket administrators had held the upper hand and players generally had to kowtow before them. It was Ian Chappell who stood up to the authorities in Australia for the first-time ever and because of his bold stand on behalf of the players, he could motivate and inspire them to higher performance levels and play as a team. Gavaskar followed in the footsteps of Chappell in being the first Indian skipper to successfully take on the BCCI and have his way but he could not channelize his efforts for the overall interests of the team and the players in the same manner as his one time hero had done. Thus, he was not able to get the results which, in turn, led to him losing the captaincy.
Relations between players and administrators have since undergone huge changes. These days the Indian captain invariably gets the squad he wants and administrators are willing to be more accommodative of the interests of players than they used to be in the past. But in those days when administrators used to behave like dictators, it took Ian Chappell, a bold skipper who had confidence in himself and the commitment and loyalty of his teammates, to stand up to them and be counted. Chappell’s leadership skills and the esteem in which he was held by his teammates and adversaries alike validate the use of the following phrase to portray this outstanding leader “He stood, defied and delivered.”
(The author is a former international umpire and senior bureaucrat)