Rise of a heavyweight
IN THE HALF-CENTURY SINCE HE FIRST PLAYED AGAINST INDIA, IAN CHAPPELL HAS WATCHED CRICKET’S BIGGEST NATION EMERGE INTO ITS OWN. IT CAN TAKE ANOTHER BIG STEP THIS SUMMER.
In the nearly 50 years since I first played against India in a Test match, their performance has evolved in spectacular fashion. A former Indian player once told me: “We’ve had guys who craved selection just so they could show off the cap, sweater and blazer.”
This aitude was epitomised by a tourist in 1977-78 who was in fine form in the state games. When told he was in line for the next Test side to play against an Australian aack headed by the tearaway Jeff Thomson, he responded: “Why me?”
While it was true the odd Indian team member actually hero-worshipped players in the opposition side, this is no longer the case. The tone for India’s present competitiveness was set by players in the mould of astute captain “Tiger” Pataudi, prolific batsmen such as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, the talented allrounder Kapil Dev and the feisty competitor Ravi Shastri.
The big hurdle for Indian cricket was to become more competitive overseas, especially against strong sides like Australia, England and South Africa. The improvement in this regard has steadily escalated, boosted by the combative leadership of Sourav Ganguly and the advent of the internationally acclaimed IPL.
India’s improved showing overseas has also coincided with a concerted effort to produce fast bowlers to complement their regular supply of wily spinners. Australians have played a big part in their pace-bowling production line, with Dennis Lillee and then Glenn McGrath in charge at the MRF Pace Foundation and a stint by Thomson at a fast bowling academy in Mumbai.
A strong Indian tour party led by Virat Kohli – a captain in the Ganguly mould – now has its best chance of winning their first-ever series in Australia, as they take on a weakened home side. However, they also had a great chance to achieve a similar feat in England in the lead-up to this tour, but fluffed that chance badly.
It was the baing – Kohli apart – that failed India in England, as the fast bowlers performed admirably. This poses two questions for Kohli’s side: will the batsmen be able to handle a strong Australian pace aack on bouncy pitches? And will their fast bowlers perform well in conditions that don’t favour swing and seam as they did in England?
The series shapes as revolving around baing: which team will make enough runs to provide their aack with some leeway in taking the required 20 wickets?
There’s no doubt Kohli has the class and the previous history to succeed against Australia’s potent aack but question marks abound with the rest of the line-up. Their opening partnership was extremely vulnerable in England and they’ll be hoping that the talented 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw can bolster that weakness.
To do so, he’ll need to repeat the success of a teenage Tendulkar who scored two Test centuries on his first tour of Australia in 1991-92, including a remarkable hundred on the bouncy WACA pitch.
With all the questions about India’s batsmen against Australia’s pace aack, the selection of the enigmatic Rohit
Sharma is an interesting gamble. A highly talented and successful shortform batsman, Sharma hasn’t achieved consistency in the Test arena. Nevertheless he has the horizontal bat shots to succeed in Australia and could be a dangerous opponent if he can overcome his fiveday demons.
The absence through injury of pace bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya will hurt India as he provided balance to the line-up. Australia’s problems with spin bowling are well-documented and Pandya’s presence would’ve made it easier for India to include two spinners in the side but that option is now more difficult to achieve.
There’s a certain amount of doom and gloom surrounding the Australian baing aer some dramatic collapses in the UAE and the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner through suspension. Nevertheless Australia has a chance in the series because they possess a potent aack.
There’s no doubt Australia has the class
With a much-improved attack, India won’t flag in their effort because they’ll have in the back of their mind, ‘This team can collapse at any moment.’
to dismiss India cheaply and it’ll be a maer of whether the fragile baing lineup can then amass enough runs to achieve victory. This will require a couple of Australian batsmen to exceed expectations and for the bowlers to adopt the creed of former West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts who proclaimed: “It doesn’t maer what the opposition bowl us out for, we’ll bowl them out for less.”
However, by repeatedly collapsing, the Australian baing line-up has made a rod for their own back. India – with a much-improved aack – won’t flag in their effort because they’ll have in the back of their mind, “This team can collapse at any moment.”
Australia versus India contests have evolved into a heavyweight clash in recent times and this series has the potential to be an entertaining scrap. Kohli’s skill as a batsman is undoubted but it’s his aacking desires as a captain that will be fully tested in Australia. The series could well hinge on Australia’s ability to contain Kohli the batsman and also whether they can force him into defensive mode as captain.
Why don't we start with the question all footy administrators hate being asked: what do you do in the off-season?
Ha ha! There’s no question it’s quieter. Obviously you’re not running around from week to week thinking about footy games and stuff like that. In my job we’re very much in the planning stage for next year. We’re talking about budgets, funding and the preparation of different bits and pieces. We’re also building our NSWRL Centre of Excellence out at Sydney Olympic Park; that’s coming to its conclusion. There’s a multi-milliondollar piece of infrastructure that has been siing with me for the last two and a half to three years which is about to be completed. So from my point of view, yes, it is a lile bit slower footy-wise at the moment, but we’re still flying along.
You have a commerce degree and also studied law at university. Was something in sports admin a main target for you post-playing career?
Oh, I don’t really know. Look, I just got the urge to study. I started later in life; I was about 25 so I didn’t do it straight from school. I went and played cricket and worked as a real estate agent as well for a lile while. I quite enjoyed the studying side of life. I got myself in and earned my Masters of Commerce. I enjoyed that and then I turned around and thought, you know, I quite enjoyed the law side of it. My marks were good enough to get myself into the law program at University of Sydney. Once I was in, I became immersed in it and away I went. I got my teeth into it and started to enjoy it.
Was it a career aspiration to become involved in sports administration? I don’t know. It is fun, I’ve got to say. When I was doing the Sydney Sixers stuff for a lile while for the couple of years I did it, I really enjoyed it and then went and worked as a lawyer for a couple of years. While that was a great experience, I’m not sure I was ever going to be a partner in a law firm; I just didn’t have the “want” to do that. So from my point of view, I think sports admin, whatever the sport may be, I think I would have enjoyed it. I thought maybe this is the calling I’ve been looking for.
As you just mentioned, you were a player/ administrator back in the initial days of the BBL for the Sixers. Did you ever honestly in your wildest dreams think the BBL would explode into what it has, and so quickly?
I was at a function today and they were talking about the BBL. Now, I went and played in the first T20 World Cup back in 2007 in South Africa. We thought it was just a bit of a joke; we were having a good laugh. Blokes were missing training to go surfing – no one thought this thing was ever going to kick off. Next thing you know the IPL started, all the mega-contracts were coming out ... people started taking it a bit more seriously.
To the credit of Cricket Australia, they created the BBL. We all thought “this might work a lile bit” and, you know, it was all a bit of fun, as long as it didn’t diminish from the other forms of the game, and didn’t take them over. But it’s a juggernaut now, T20 cricket and geing stronger and stronger. Not in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be geing huge audiences on free-to-air TV and 20-30,000 people turning up. One of the Melbourne games aracted 70-80,000 people. That was just unheard of in domestic cricket.
You rose up through the Sydney grade cricket ranks behind Glenn McGrath. You have been described as super-consistent with your line and length, just like McGrath. Did that come from learning from him, or was that just a coincidence that you were similar?
I think it was probably a li le bit of both.
We are physically and genetically very similar: tall, skinny and all the rest of it. Neither of us were ever going to bowl as fast as Bre Lee or Shaun Tait – it’s just not in us. So you end up having to work with what you have.
Glenn created this successful way of bowling, which was nice and simple, no need to bowl overly fast – you’d still be hi ing around the 130km/h mark. Bowl as many balls as you can at a good length, bouncing and hi ing the top of off stump. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I must’ve thought, well, if I do the same thing, it might work.
We both played 60-odd games of Sheffield Shield cricket before ge ing a game for Australia. He had some unfortunate circumstances with his first wife Jane being ill. He couldn’t go to South Africa. I suppose the selectors said, "Oh well, we want someone to do something similar." I was sort-of there or thereabouts and, next thing you know, I’m playing Test cricket.
You finished with 5/55 and 4/34 in your Test debut against South Africa in 2006. These were the third-best match figures by an Aussie debutant behind Bob Massie and Clarrie Grimme. Did that mean much to you back then? Were you a stats-focussed player at all?
Nah! I knew about it by the end of the game because everyone was saying it; it was on TV the whole time. But if you’d asked me before the game “do you know what the best debut bowling figures are for a Test match?” I couldn’t have told you. Actually, I had known about Massey’s 16 wickets – it was in the back of my head because I’d seen footage of it, but apart from that ... It’s not something you particularly think about. To get one game for Australia and to get a wicket would have been a highlight. I look back now and think, wow, what happened?
What was your greatest strength as a bowler? How was it that you were able to maintain such a consistent line across your 24 Tests? Were you just a good trainer ... good listener?
I had a coach when I was coming through NSW called Steve Rixon. He used to, not hound us, but he’d be standing at the back of the net with a bit of paper. Every time you bowled one down leg side he’d make a note of it. Aer bowling ten overs and thinking you’d finished, he’d say, “You bowled 15 balls down the leg side – what are you doing? Come back." Sometimes as a bowler you start almost second-guessing yourself. Sometimes when you’re not geing anyone out, you start to really hone in on geing a wicket. It’s almost a bale within yourself not to try to do something different. You fight with yourself to try something when you don’t need to. You’re not backing what you’ve done for a long period of time. You will be successful over time, but you’re living in the moment rather than in the entire space and distance of the game.
Should we be coon-wooling our bowlers, or leing them bowl as much as they like in an aempt to build up their resistance to injury?
Oh look, we all got injured. I think there is grounds for the they’re-bowling-too-much argument. There’s no question about that. But I’m at the stage now where I think we don’t bowl enough. I think there is a nice middle ground there somewhere; you don’t want to over-bowl yourself or under-bowl yourself. I think we’re residing on the side of
“The biggest price they’ll pay is they’ll have to live with this for the rest of their lives because people will always remember it.”
caution at the moment rather than testing how far we can go.
Bowling is such a natural thing. We’re not all metronomes; not everyone can bowl the same. Some people are physically or genetically able to bowl more balls than others. At the moment, we’re almost cookie-cuer approaching it. There’s no real science to that, other than “this is what they think is going to be the right answer”. My point is: guys are still geing injured. If all the injuries had gone away, maybe there would be some science to say “well, that advice was right”. We keep going down a path of restrictions in bowling, and you know what, that’s good, but the outcome isn’t any different. They’re still geing injured. So if we just keep doing that because we think it’s right, but it’s not right ... then why? But in the same breath, I agree that too much bowling .... if you’re bowling a million balls every day, you are going to get injured. We watched Sandpapergate play out with our mouths wide open in shock earlier this year: as a former player how did you see it all? What were your dominant thoughts along the way as far the penalties were concerned, for example?
There’s no question they did the wrong thing and they needed to be given a punishment. The balltampering punishment by the ICC, if you think about it, was one match. In my opinion, the penalties they received from Cricket Australia are ridiculously excessive. Yes, they’ve done the wrong thing, but yes, they’ve paid a high enough price.
The biggest price they’ll pay is they’ll have to live with this for the rest of their lives because people will always remember it, but if you want to talk about one of the most gut-wrenching and horrible things that I’ve ever seen, that press conference that Steve Smith did when he landed back in Australia ... I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as horrible as that in a cricketing or sporting sense. It was unwatchable. You felt like crying yourself. All the rhetoric that’s gone around about why and how.
Teams generally try to get the ball in a condition where it goes reverse. Yes, what he did was stupid. Yes, he needed to be punished, or they needed to be punished, but a one-year ban? That’s madness.
You were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be a part of another “gate” game – Monkeygate back in 2008 in Sydney. With India coming to these shores this summer, what are your dominant memories of that game?
I remember we won ... Andrew Symonds baed really well in the first innings and got 100-odd. I remember we couldn’t get Sachin out in the first innings; I think we got everyone else and he was not out at the other end. We just couldn’t get him out: we tried and tried and tried. I remember on day five
we were bowling in those last two sessions, trying to bowl them out, and there’s this great big hole in the pitch which had just come through wear and tear. The Indians were all looking at it and worried about it. I don’t think the ball went anywhere near it the whole game. It was just in your eye line and was quite off-puing when you when you were baing.
I ended up geing Sachin out; he chopped on. On the last day, Ishant Sharma walked out to bat. They were trying to, as all teams do, delay the game and slow it down ... He came out to bat with two lehanded gloves and then sort of halfway-out went: Oh, I’ve got the wrong glove!
We ended up geing the three wickets and there were the celebrations, but unfortunately they were marred a lile bit by what went on post-match with all the enquiries and the hearing, but yeah, a fabulous game of cricket, went right down to the final couple of overs. Some of the greats of Indian cricket were on the other end, as they’ve done to us over there numerous times. They’re still just so good in their conditions.
Rohit Sharma needs to overcome his five-day demons. Hardik Pandya's absence will hurt India.
Clark had a great time over in Cape Town in his debut Test in 2006. He is still a Blue, but in rugby league these days.
In the nets for the Sixers. This T20 thing is a joke, yeah? With a bloke they call Pigeon.
Itwaspainfulfor everyone. Not a badbowlingattack, that. TheAussies just couldn'tgetSachin out attheSCG.
PatRafterhasafew talesfromtheClassic, as doesBobHawke[ ].