The measure of the man!

Updated: 06 August, 2020 07:29 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

mid-day columnist Ian Chappell, whose documentary was aired in Oz this week, is probably the most misunderstood personality in world cricket. Behind that tough exterior is a true disciple of the game.

Allan Border being interviewed by Ian Chappell (right) before the Australia v South Africa Test at Sydney on January 2, 1994. Pic/Getty Images
Allan Border being interviewed by Ian Chappell (right) before the Australia v South Africa Test at Sydney on January 2, 1994. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloWhat's your favourite moment from the great man?" Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports posed this question to Twitter users as a promotion for their documentary, A Glorious Life: Ian Chappell.

Live Cricket Director (that's how he describes himself on social media) Hemant Buch was moved to respond: "Once in SL [Sri Lanka], the local crew invited the rest of the crew to a party. Chappelli [Ian's nickname] was the only commentator who turned up. He asked me, 'Who's paying for all this?' The local crew, I told him. 'They don't earn that much,' he said. 'Here's something from me,' and handed me 300 USD."

Buch's anecdote reflects Ian's generosity, which is a great quality to have. But he's also a man not known to compromise on his principles. Don't you remember reading how he spurned a lucrative commentary offer, saying he didn't agree to terms that would zip his lips in a way on controversial topics?

Around 10 years ago, he sent this newspaper a critical piece on how two matches in a tournament held at different times of the day could lead to corruption and that should never happen even though it delights the television rights holder. Ian touched upon this sensitive issue despite being a commentator for the same broadcaster!

I've long held the view that Ian, the eldest of the three Chappell brothers, is probably the most misunderstood man in world cricket. There are far too many myths about him and the chief one is about him being the supposed king of sledging. And because of his straight-talking ways, his critics attach a big arrogance tag to his name.

One of the many things I remember his mother Jeanne telling me when I interviewed her in Adelaide during India's 2003-04 tour of Australia, was, "Greg is the tough one; Ian's like butter."

I happened to be in the commentary area a day before the third and final India v England Test at The Oval in 2007, when a particular commentator, who was expected to do an audio preview for a popular website, insisted that it was not his turn and walked away without providing his view on the next day's Test match to the website's representative on tour.

Ian, also a contracted expert for the website, walked up to the reporter, asked him what the problem was and offered to do it. Call it sheer professionalism or loyalty, but that's the measure of the man.

In 2002, veteran writer and broadcaster Mike Coward landed up at Ian's New South Wales home to interview him for a documentary on Australian cricket. A little before they began, Ian went up to his library to refer to the controversial views that he expressed on Sir Donald Bradman in his 1992 book, The Cutting Edge. He did that because he wanted his on-camera views on the deceased legend to be around the same lines to what he wrote in the book when Bradman was alive. So, no one can accuse Ian of slamming the biggest icon of the game only when he had passed way.

For those who have followed Ian's career closely, he was unapologetically aggressive but had no time for cheats. In Hitting Out, Ashley Mallett, ex-teammate and biographer, dwelt on how Ian refused to be part of a Bill Lawry-led playing XI on the 1969-70 South Africa tour once he heard that his captain wanted to pencil in a wicketkeeper called Ray Jordon in the team instead of regular 'keeper Brian Taber. Ian remembered how Jordon cheated out Erapalli Prasanna in a South Zone v Australians game on the previous tour of India. Obviously, Lawry wouldn't go into that Port Elizabeth Test without his vice-captain and said to Ian, "I didn't realise you felt so strongly about it…We'll forget about it. Taber plays."

Does tough-as-nails Ian have an emotional side? Yes, he does. In the same book, Ian talked about a telephone call involving Ray Steele, his much-loved 1972 Ashes team manager. Steele went on to be Ian's sharpest critic when he joined World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977 and once wished WSC "great success — in Siberia." Considering what cancer was doing to him and realising that this was probably the last conversation with his captain, Steele broke down. No wonder Ian calls it "one of the worst phone calls I have ever experienced." Steele passed away in 1993.

Doug Walters was one player Ian said that he would hate going on a tour without. That is some indication of their long friendship. But on the 1972 tour of England, Ian dropped Walters for the fifth and final Test at The Oval, where Australia beat England to share the series honours. Walters had scored only 54 runs in four Tests and his dropping meant that Australia went into a Test match without a New South Wales man for the first time since 1877. When Dick Tucker, the reporter on tour for the Sydney Mirror, expressed his surprise to Ian over the dropping of his mate, he was told, "If you are surprised, you don't know me very well."

Apart from his 'team comes first' credo, Ian also believed in the 'captain for life' dictum. His former Australia and South Australia teammate Terry Jenner served a prison sentence for embezzlement across 1988 and 1990. Jenner coached Shane Warne after that and was invited to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation commentary box in 1993 to talk on Warne. Jenner accepted the invitation rather reluctantly and happened to tell Ian that he would see him at the Adelaide Oval media centre, which he would enter through a back entrance. "Pig's arse," Ian was quoted as saying in Jenner's book, TJ Over The Top, "You are coming around the front with me. Not only will you come around the front, you'll look up. You've paid your price. You have every right."

I've yet to watch the latest documentary on Ian and can only hope it lives up to its title. As far as my 'favourite moment from the great man' goes, I will keep it for another day.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 06 August, 2020 06:54 IST

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