The guy we love to hate

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The Ashes might be cricket’s ultimate contest but Aussie great Greg Chappell reckons the underarm controversy he instigated three decades ago ensures trans-Tasman clashes always have plenty of needle.

Chappell, one of Test cricket’s greatest batsmen and now chairman of Cricket Australia’s youth selectors, arrived in Queenstown this week with the Aussie side here to play three Under-19 World Cup pool matches – against the United States, Ireland and South Africa.

Chappell was Public Enemy No 1 in New Zealand – and Australia – in 1981 after ordering his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of a one-day international underarm to Brian McKechnie at the MCG.

“No doubt I played a part in lifting the rivalry between the two countries,” Chappell, 61, tells Mountain Scene this week.

Chappell now freely admits he made a mistake – new batsman McKechnie needed to hit the ball for six just to tie the match.

“I have moved on and think it is time that everyone else does as well. I did not fix a match or murder anyone. I just made a poor decision,” Chappell says.

Queenstown’s Ben Perkins, a former opener for South Australia’s U19s, pads up to a hero from his home state with a slightly better batting average.

PERKINS: What are the biggest changes in modern-day cricket?

CHAPPELL: Protective equipment, better bats, wicket preparation and shorter boundaries.

Protective equipment has reduced the fear factor and the actuality that a player is likely to get seriously injured.

I doubt we would have seen batsmen – Matthew Hayden for one – walking at fast bowlers without the protection. The ability for bowlers to intimidate batsmen is thus reduced.

The modern bat is much improved on those used even 10 years ago. By reducing the moisture content in the wood, the bats are much thicker than their predecessors and seem to have a trampoline effect that appears to [carry] the ball further. Batters are emboldened to go over the top more often because mishits still travel out of the smaller playing arena. Good spinners, such as Daniel Vettori, are still a vital part of any attack in any format but it must frustrate them when they deceive a batsman in flight only to see the thick edge fly over the boundary.

Grassless wickets are the biggest blight on the game. By reducing the contest between bat and ball, we have made the game less interesting and, I believe, less exciting to play and watch.

The recent Sydney Test (when Australia beat Pakistan by 36 runs) was one of the most interesting I have watched in recent years because the game ebbed and flowed throughout and both sides were never far out of the contest at any stage. Six hundred versus 650 in the first innings is not what the game is about and must be boring to play … actually it is boring to watch.

The 50-over game would be much improved if we had hard wickets with a blush of grass to help the new ball carry for the pace bowlers and bounce more for the spinners. I don’t suggest we have wickets that go sideways throughout but bounce is a must if you want to have a contest.

Whoever decided that we had to have scores of 300 each time in 50-over games does not understand that close contests are just as exciting as big-scoring games. Some of the best matches are the lower-scoring games because every over is important and the middle overs are not just for consolidation. The ball will last longer as well.

BP: What is your perception of player behaviour?

GC: Player behaviour by and large is pretty good. It has to be remembered that the game does arouse emotions in players and sometimes those emotions bubble over.

I would hate to see a game played without emotion because it would not be a contest and would not be worth watching. Banter on the field has been around since Cocky was an egg and is usually harmless. Respect for the game, umpires and your opponent are important.

Abuse of any kind is not acceptable at any time, anywhere. When respect for any of the stakeholders disappears, it can look ugly. Captains are the most important component in managing the players, and umpires need to involve them in the management process on the field. If they do, things rarely get out of hand.

BP: Who are you tipping to be great players of the future?

GC: I haven’t been on the international circuit for a few years so I can’t speak for other countries but I believe Australia has some exciting young talent on the rise.

Our development programs are working well. I would prefer not to mention individuals because I am not sure that will help their development but we have three young all-rounders coming through, some exciting young fast bowlers and two young spinners who are not far away from international honours.

BP: Who do you see as being the biggest rivals in cricket?

GC: Ashes cricket is still the biggest rivalry in our sport. That is because of 133 years of history that gives context to each series. No other two countries have the same history and therefore they do not reach the same heights.

Tensions between India and Pakistan make each series between those two countries different from others but I don’t think the rivalry has the same feeling that an Ashes series engenders.

The history of Australia-NZ Test cricket is not as long as that between England and Australia but there is a level of feeling between the two sides that is still quite high. Neither country wants to surrender the bragging rights lightly and I think NZ always lifts when playing against Australia. It is a healthy rivalry in the main. No doubt I played a part in lifting the rivalry between the two countries by my actions at the MCG some years back.

BP: Years ago you started up Super 8s cricket, were you way ahead of your time?

GC: I came up with the Super 8s concept because I thought six-a-side cricket had too few fielders. It was a fun concept, and along with SuperMax cricket developed by Martin Crowe, was ahead of its time and had some small part in the development of the Twenty/20 concept.

The success of Twenty/20 cricket has been good for the game and can be beneficial in the development of players for the future. Short-form cricket is actually a good development tool because it develops all aspects of the individual by giving players the chance to develop their decision making and mental skills as well as their physical skills.

Net sessions will never be able to develop the whole player in the same way that contests and contextual situations that arise in a game can do.

BP: Is the game being over-exposed by so many seemingly meaningless games of 20- and 40-over cricket?

GC: Meaningless contests/series in any format of the game are a danger to the game. If matches are meaningless, there is always the chance that the bookmakers will have opportunities to infiltrate the game. More is not better. I think we can play less cricket, make each series more meaningful and still maintain the income levels needed to sustain the game. If we don’t do some of these things, Test cricket will be the format to suffer as some teams will become unbankable and will not be invited to participate in many series.

BP: How do you compare modern fast bowlers of today and yesteryear? Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson
and Richard Hadlee were just exhilarating.

GC: Pakistan’s Mohammad Aamer is one of a number of exciting young bowlers going. Australia’s own Mitchell Johnson was the International Cricketer of the Year last year so bowlers are still pushing themselves forward.

Lillee and Thomson were a sensational partnership during their era and then the West Indies threw up some of the greatest fast bowlers ever to have played the game. Richard Hadlee was one of the greats in an era that threw up some of the best of all time. Glenn McGrath’s record suggests he was one of the best of any era. His partnership with Shane Warne was not as traditional as the usual two-pronged pace attack but was just as potent as the Lillee/Thomson partnership was in their day.

BP: Which bowlers, and what style of bowler, did you rate highly and who did you want bowling both ends?

GC: I respected most of the bowlers that I played against. Pace bowlers were usually the most difficult because their pace gave you less time to make the correct decisions. We just happened to play in an era that threw up so many great fast bowlers. This was quite demanding from a mental point of view because there was so little time to relax as one pace bowler after another ran in to bowl.

Two bowlers whom I did respect greatly were England’s Derek Underwood and Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir. Underwood was not a traditional spinner but his control and subtle changes of pace made him difficult under any conditions. Given some moisture in the wicket, I rated Underwood the most dangerous bowler of his time. He was capable of bowling out any batting lineup if the ball was gripping because he was quicker through the air than a traditional spinner and could bowl long spells with great accuracy.

BP: Which players do you think were the best you played?

GC: Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner of the West Indies, Australia’s Dennis Lillee, and England’s Derek Underwood.

There were many others who could just as easily fit into that group but I chose these because they were great competitors who gave me the most trouble most often.

Jeff Thomson was the most amazing bowler in that he was the fastest that I faced – or saw – and generated incredible bounce from a good length with his unique slinging action. After his injuries (including a dislocated right collarbone) in a collision with Alan Turner in a fielding accident against Pakistan in Adelaide on Christmas Eve 1976, he could never generate the same combination of pace and bounce. That incident probably prevented Jeff from being one of the greatest wicket-takers in the history of the game.

BP: What was your favourite oval?

GC: The Sydney Cricket Ground because, along with Lords, it has the most history and most atmosphere. I always had the feeling at Sydney and Lords of the presence of all of the great players who had been in the dressing room and on the field.