Earlier this year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the entry of Greg Chappell into the arena of International cricket which was against England at Perth in February in 1971. Ironically he scored a century in his debut after coming in with his side in a precarious position of 107 for the loss of five wickets. From the very word go he illustrated the sparkling talent he was endowed with.
In my view no batsman of his day was such an embodiment or epitome of batting perfection or as classical as Greg Chappell. Greg was technical correctness personified and could execute any stroke in the book in any conditions prevailing. Greg blended the grace of a pianist with the skill of an architect and power of a steam engine. Watching Greg Chappell in the middle was reminiscent of seeing a musical conductor in a symphony or an exhibition of classical art. When executing a stroke he exuded vibrations of a priest in a church bowing before a pulpit .Rarely have there been batsman possessing more composure or finesse. Even a hook or pull shot of Greg had a velvety effect. He exuded vibrations of harmony when batting in the manner of a flute player, which was rare in cricket.
No overseas batsman exuded the classical English style in the manner of Greg. He could also tear any bowling attack to shred or pieces, dissecting it more clinically than anyone in his era. Few batsmen more fitted the bill or tag of being ‘perfect’.’ or ‘complete’ than Greg Chappell.He may not have decimated bowling attacks in the manner of Viv Richards but in a more refined or cultivated manner could almost create the same effect. No batsman was a better exponent of the leg drive on the onside .His stance and balance reminded you of ballet dancer performing or a statue sculpted to perfection. Very few batsmen possessed such a stunning range of shots. In the area of the ‘V’, no batsman of his day was his equal. No batsman of his time executed strokes with such geometrical precision.
Arguably Greg Chappell was the best batsman of the 1970’s and without doubt one of the greatest batsmen or cricketers ever to have stepped on a cricket pitch. In my view Greg Chappell is the best Australian batsman after Don Bradman. Ricky Ponting may have been more prolific and scored more centuries or even Alan Border, and Steve Waugh or Steve Smith has a considerably higher batting average, but none possessed Greg’s classical style or technique. Steve Smith would in terms of figures outclass Greg but he faced weaker bowling attacks, and played on flatter pitches If you add scores of Kerry Packer supertests and games against rest of the world in 1972. Greg scored 31 centuries in test matches at an average of above 55.Greg had the leading aggregate in WSC supertests scoring 1415 runs at an average of 56.60 with 5 centuries.. The cricket of Kerry Packer supertests was more competitive than conventional test cricket, if you consider the quality of the teams. Greg’s feats included includes scoring 621 runs at an average of 69 and three centuries in 5 supertests in the West Indies in 1979 , against the great West Indies pace battery.
Significant that in WSC supertests from 1977-79 Greg averaged one run more and had a higher run aggregate than the great Viv Richards. No batsman ever averaged more in that era against the great Calypso pace attack in their very conditions. Above all he averaged above 70 in test matches won and adding unofficial games scored 17 centuries in match winning causes. To me, statistically he was the best batsman of the 1970’s, if you consider aggregate against best bowling attacks and matches won. Officially Greg Chappell score 7110 runs at an average of 53.86, with 24 centuries in 87 tests and 151 innings. His highest tst score was 247 not out .In ODI cricket he scored 2331 runs at an average of 40.18 and three centuries with 14 fifties.
The fortunes of Australian cricket in the late 1970’s virtually revolved around Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee.It is hard to describe the extent to which Australian batting depended on Chappell, with Australia unable to regain the Ashes in England in 1981 ,during his absence. It was the combined efforts of Greg Chappell with brother Ian and Dennis Lillee that took Australian cricket to the top of the pedestal.
BATTING PERFORMANCES OF GREG CHAPPELL
Greg revealed mastery in any conditions. being equally at home on the bouncy Caribbean surfaces, seaming English conditions, green tops of New Zealand or turning tracks in the sub-continent.
No batsman of his time was as prolific or consistent on the fast Carribean tracks. He averaged 69 in 1979 in WSC supertests scoring 621 runs and 3 centuries. and above 48 in 1973-74.His 150 out of a total of 282 on a turning pitch at Trinidad in a supertest in 1979 was a true classic, in most challenging conditions.
In England with the ball seaming and condition soften overcast Greg was the ultimate epitome of technical correctness and consistency .Even if he averaged fewer than 50 in 2 series in England, at his best like his 131 at Lords in 1972, he took the classical element in batting to sublime proportions, like a work of Michelangelo. His unbeaten 125 scored during a rain drizzle on the pitch at the Oval in the 3rd ODI of the 1977 prudential trophy, was batting of such a classical height that it was worth preserving in a museum.
He never played in India but scored a classical 235 at Faisalabad in Pakistan in 1980, which was a true classic. Rarely had an overseas player displayed such virtuosity in batting, with the domination complete. Overall he average above 56 in that series.
On slow, green tops in New Zealand Greg often gave glimpses of Bradman like when scoring 247 not out and 133 not out in a single test in 1973-74 and 176 in 1982.His level of domination was simply in surreal proportions.
At home on fast bouncy surfaces Greg Chappell executed many an innings which took batting domination to it’s pinnacle. He tore apart the likes of bowlers like Imran Khan,Ian Botham,,Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and John Snow.
What would come to my mid most was his domination against West Indies in 1975-76 when he exuded the invincibility of a great emperor. He scored 702 runs at an average of 117 including a classic unbeaten 182 at Sydney, which was simply majestic. I doubt ever the likes of Roberts and Holding were taken to the sword with such degree of finesse. Above all his batting Won Australia the unofficial World test cricket championship, with his Sydney classic being the turning point.
Greg was a model of consistency in the 1974-75 Ashes where he averaged 55, scoring 608 runs and was thus one of the architects of Australia’s 4-1 triumph.
At Brisbane against Pakistan in 1981-82 he took domination to realms rarely seen against the great Imran Khan, dispatching him all round the wicket, with most clinical execution. His 204 versus India at Sydney resembled a combing operation, where he took apart both Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri with absolute disdain. His match-winning unbeaten 98 at Sydney against England was classic in it’s own right on rained wicket, enabling his team to cruise home to a winning target of 216 in the 2nd innings. In 1982-83 against England his centuries at Perth and Adelaide were executed as methodically as al true great test innings, while he finished his career against Pakistan in 1983-84 batting as well as he did in his peak years in the 1970’s when scoring 150 at Brisbane and 182 at Sydney.
Playing against Rest of the World in 1972 Greg took consistency to heights rarely reached averaging 100.His unbeaten 197 at Sydney in the 4th test revealed batting art in sublime proportions.
In 1977-78 his 174 and 246 in the fifth and sixth supertests against the World XI were simply mythical performances, arguably surpassing that of any great batsman of his time.
In terms of batting average Greg was consistency personified more than anyone of his time if you asess the number of occasions he averaged above 50 or even 70 after 1976,including Kerry Packer WSC cricket in Australia and West Indies.
Greg Chappell was also a handy medium pace bowler capturing 47 wickets at an average of 40.70. ,with 138 his highest score.He was also an outstanding fielder in the skips pulling off 122 catches, which was an Australian record at one time.
ANALYSIS OF WHERE GREG CHAPPELL RANKED AS A BATSMAN AND CRICKETER IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT
To me Greg suffered in comparison with brother Ian as a captain, even if his record was similar. Ian was the greater motivator and tactician. Greg Inherited the mantle of captaincy from his brother in 1976-76 against West Indies, leading his team to a 5-1 victory in what was billed the unofficial world test championship. Greg led Australia to an Ashes win at home in1982-83 but was unable to lead Australia again to regain the Frank Worrall trophy against West Indies. Still it is remarkable that Greg led Australia to 21 victories, in his 48 tests as a captain. To me his best achievements as a skipper was leading his side to a 5-1 win against West Indies in his very debut series and later leading his team to achieve a drawn rubber against West Indies in 1981-82. and a home Ashes series win in 1982-83.
Where Greg Chappell may have fallen out in comparison to Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar was his weakness against the short, lifting or bouncing ball After 1979 Greg displayed vulnerability against the rising ball like in 1979-80 and 1981-82 versus West Indies. Greg did not demolish great pace bowlers with the same contempt as Viv Richards. Greg also did not equal the mastery of seaming conditions or over the moving ball in England in the manner of Viv Richards or Sunil Gavaskar. Greg also did not prove his prowess on turning tracks or spin like Alan Border or even Tendulkar or Lara later. To an extent Greg’s average was helped by his numerous not outs. Greg also did not equal the mastery of seaming conditions in England in the manner of Viv Richards or Sunil Gavaskar.
Greg’s batting was in complete contrast to his brother Ian‘s who was more rugged and crude but still more combative ,and a better player of the short ball or bouncer and better exponent of the hook shot. Arguably Greg and Ian moulded into one would constitute the perfect batsman.
Greg also missed out on crucial tours of England in 1981, Pakistan in 1982 and India in 1979.Unlike Gavaskar Greg did not score over 10000 runs nor prove himself against the four pronged Carribean pace battery ,after 1982.. To an extent Greg’s average was helped by his numerous not outs.
I would overall rank Greg Chappell in the category of the very greatest batsmen. Unlike Viv Richards, Lara, Barry Richards or Tendulkar Greg could not invent strokes from out of the book or desecrate bowling attacks in as mercurial a manner as Viv Richards ,Virendra Sehwag or Brian Lara. Still for sheer technical skill and elegance he surpassed Viv ,Sehwag and Lara and even if less mercurial, took degree of domination to similar realms.
I would bracket Greg Chappell in the class of Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Pollock or Rahul Dravid, considering all factors, in test cricket. Overall I place Greg at 10 th place amongst test match batsmen of all, just a whisker below Gavaskar and possibly Graeme Pollock. I rank Gavaskar ahead by a whisker as he opened the batting and bore the brunt of a much weaker team in his era. Steve Smith is no doubt statistically in the top 3-4 of all, but when I weigh all factors, I still rank Greg ahead. Steve Smith has hardly faced the same calibre of blowing or proved himself in as testing condition s or bowler friendly wickets as Steve Smith.
I would not hesitate to place Greg amongst the 6 most consummate batsmen of all time. Statistically Greg may have overshadowed the great Viv Richards or been more complete, or perfect, but I rate him below Viv, because he was not impactful or intimidating, in the same degree.
Gary Sobers rated Greg below brother Ian Chappell and Gavaskar because he felt Greg did not relish pace and Ian was a better player in a crisis. Generally cricket experts like late Cristopher Martin Jenkins and Geoff Armstrong have ranked Greg Chappell a whisker below Gavaskar but ahead of Alan Border ,Javed Miandad and Ricky Ponting .However David Gower rated Ponting ,Miandad and Border ,also ahead of Greg. Fast bowler Jeff Thomson still ranks Greg Chappell as the best batsman of his time, even ahead of Viv or Bary Richards. Great Kiwi pace bowler and all-rounder rated Greg as the most ‘perfect ‘batsman of his time and the best batsman he ever bowled to in an all-round sense.
Overall as a cricketer I place Greg Chappell amongst the 30 best of all .Combining test cricket and ODI’s Greg would still in my view rank amongst the top dozen batsmen of all time. Geoff Armstrong rated Greg Chappell at 24th place, Late Cristopher martin Jenkins placed Greg at 38th place, while former batsman David Gower ranked Chappell at 37th place ,amongst the best cricketers of all time.12 former cricketers selected Greg Chappell in their all-time X1,including Ian Botham Mohammad Azharuddin, Alan Donald, Graeme Pollock, Mushtaq Mohammad, Arjuna Ranatunga, Joel Garner , Dilip Vengsarkar and Richie Richardson. Personally Like writer Geoff Armstrong I would select Greg in my 3rd all-time test XI.
Greg rated Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall as the best pace bowlers of his time and Gary Sobers,Viv Richards and Graeme Pollock as the best batsman
After his cricketing carer Greg became a coach but sadly his term or stint with India was most controversial, with many holding him responsible for demise of Indian cricket by creating a duel with skipper Saurav Ganguly.I would not like to take sides but admit that he was a true mercenary.
It is a travesty and regrettable that in real life as a player and coach Chappell e never exuded the same grace or composure as in his batting and could be agressive ,crude or even unsporting. He is a living example of how even ornaments of sport are not the best of characters. A most regrettable incident was in a ODI game against New Zealand in the best of 3 finals of the triangular tournament in 1980-81, when Greg asked brother Trevor to bowl and underarm delivery, with 6 runs required for the Kiwis to win. It was an act which violated the spirit of sportsmanship at its very core. I also regret the incident when Dennis Lillee kicked Javed Miandad at Perth in 1981 but Greg Chappell accused the Pakistani players for launching a plot and did not reprimand Lillee.
It is sad that inspite of the fact that in recent years the Australian hegemony over the cricket world or stranglehold over other cricketing nations was almost unprecedented in the history of the game, they took spirit of sportsmanship to an all time low.
Whatever his flaws I would love to remember and thank Greg Chappell for reviving the Golden age of Cricket on the field. I would have backed Greg to average around 60 had he played in the modern age in test cricket, and also been a most prolific ODI batsman
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com