As Steve Waugh’s Australians bludgeoned their way to a first innings total of 556 on Day Two of the Adelaide Test on December 13, 2003, I made my way to the deep end of the famous Hindley Street to meet Jeanne Chappell.
I met this special lady the evening before at a Thai restaurant where the Chappells — Ian, Greg and Trevor assembled for a family reunion. Jeanne had been to the Adelaide Oval earlier in the day for the opening of the Chappell Stand, not far away from the Vic Richardson Gates, named after her father.
Armed with a recommendation from Ian, I requested Jeanne for an interview. Her story needed to be told. After all, she mothered three Test cricketers and was the daughter of a former Australia captain. She agreed to meet me in her retirement home the following day.
The 82-year-old was in good form, reeling off stories about how she brought up her three boys with the same pace as eldest son Ian’s pull shots, at times cautious like second son Greg’s shot selection, and on a few occasions like Trevor’s underarm delivery, which caused international outrage in the Australian summer of 1980-81.
While I listened to her speak, I couldn’t help marvelling at the memorabilia on her wall unit — photo frames, signed wine bottles and books.
When asked about Sir Don Bradman, Jeanne just said: “Lady Jesse (Bradman’s wife) was a nice person.”
Bradman’s frosty relationship with the Chappells has been well documented. He was no great friend of Richardson, who played alongside The Don in the 1932-33 Bodyline series while Ian and Greg didn’t agree to Bradman’s stonewalling when it came to improving player wages.
Jeanne spoke about the qualities of her famous sons: “Ian is as soft as butter. Greg is very calm but is fairly tough. I would say he is tougher than Ian and yet everyone thinks that Ian is the tough one. You cannot get anybody more honest than Ian. He will stick up for you through thick and thin if he believes you are right. And most people will do that for him too. Trevor is a very kind person. He will do anything for anyone.”
Her fiery side emerged when she spoke about how Trevor was blamed for the underarm incident when he was only following instructions from captain Greg. Jeanne recalled: “Ian criticised Greg then. But Greg said he did it because he was so tired and did not want to play another game (the triangular series winner was decided via best-of-five finals). I can see both points of view. But I got mad because Trev was blamed. It was not his fault. My husband (Martin) said to him ‘did you think that up?’ and Trev said, ‘no, my captain told me to do it and I had to do it’.”
Martin had a big role to play in the development of his sons, but Jeanne played her part to perfection too. She recalled how she had so many flannels to wash in those pre-washing machine days. She found following their progress crazy at times. Here’s why: “I remember once Ian was playing a Test in Melbourne and Greg was busy with a South Australia match at the Adelaide Oval while Trev was playing an inter-college match. I was listening to the radio and running backward and forward to the Adelaide Oval. In the end I got so confused that I turned the radio off; didn’t go to the Oval and ended up watching Trev play.”
As the Test at the India vs Australia Adelaide Oval progressed to the afternoon session, it was time to say goodbye to Jeanne. Like the perfect host, she accompanied me to the door along with genial Trevor. Rahul Dravid’s two splendid knocks, VVS Laxman’s 148 and Ajit Agarkar’s 6 for 41, which helped India go one-up on Australia soil for the first time in 56 years were not the only highlights of the Test for me. Meeting Jeanne Chappell was equally memorable.
Her fighting innings ended on Tuesday.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor