When Greg Chappell walked off the Sydney Cricket Ground after playing his eighty-seventh and last test match in 1983, he would have thought he had seen it all. But over 7000 runs in Tests, a century on debut as well as in his last test match, and a fruitful captaincy stint with Australia which yielded 21 wins in 48 matches would not have prepared him for his latest job of coaching the Indian cricket team.
Born in 1948 in Adelaide , Chappell represented South Australia and Queensland in domestic cricket before donning the national whites. He stroked his way to a hundred on debut against England at Perth in 1970 and ended his career with 24 test centuries.
Chappell was the lynchpin around which the Australian middle order revolved. He was the Wisden Cricketer of Year in 1973. Continuing a spate of a hundreds he made a century in each innings of his captaincy debut but lost the Ashes to England in 1977. In the unofficial five-test “Super Series” against the West Indies in 1979, Chappell was in the best form of his career, plundering 621 runs at an average of 69 against an attack comprising of Wes Hall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall.
Chappell belongs to a family of cricketers; the other members of the Chappell clan who played for Australia were Greg’s grandfather Victor Richardson, and brothers Ian and Trevor. His corrosive approach to batting and his domineering personality made for interesting watching. Limited overs cricket was in its infancy about the time he quit the game in 1984, but 2000 runs scored at an average of 40 with a healthy strike-rate of 75 suggest that Chappell would have been a formidable presence in the shorter version of the game as well.
The highlight of Chappell’s one-day career though was an infamous incident wherein Greg asked his brother Trevor to bowl underarm in a match to ensure victory, a ploy which was universally lambasted and which led to the modification of certain bowling rules. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, the team which bore the brunt if Chappell’s unsportsmanlike conduct, said that the incident was – “the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket.”
Post-retirement forays into coaching led to Chappell’s association with the Pakistan Cricket Board as a consultant. In May 2005, Chappell was chosen over Tom Moody, Mohinder Amarnath, and Desmond Haynes to coach the Indian cricket team for a contractual term of two years at a salary of $1,75,000 per annum, making him the highest paid coach in international cricket. Chappell had come highly recommended with the backing of selection panel consisting of Sunil Gavaskar, Srinivas Venkatraghavan, and Ravi Shastri.
Thus began Chappell’s tryst with the great Indian cricket bazaar, a tumultuous journey part media hype and part an ego clash between two headstrong individuals. On his first tour as a coach to Zimbabwe , Chappell was accused by Saurav Ganguly of having asked the Indian captain step down from the team due to poor form. The bitter spat between captain and coach led to Ganguly’s expulsion from the side and turned public opinion against Chappell. At an airport recently, an irate fan slapped Chappell on his back to register his displeasure at the coach’s supposed policy of not including players from certain states in the playing eleven.
His innovative and experimental tinkering with match strategies and batting line-ups has caused much criticism from former players and cricket pundits. He has been chastised for stressing too much on fitness and weight-training at the expense of developing match skills.
Since Chappell took over India has won eight and lost five of the 21 tests it has played. In the same period it has won 31 out of 63 limited over internationals. These wins include an overseas series win in the Caribbean , which is only the fourth time that India has won a series outside the subcontinent. With his coaching contract expiring after the 2007 World Cup, Greg Chappell will be primarily known as one of the batting greats of his generation. Unless India turns out to be an unlikely winner of the sports premier prize, his dalliance with coaching the men in blue will be relegated to the footnotes.