Swashbuckling and fearless, Ian Chappell epitomised Australian cricket in the 1970s. When he gave up the Test captaincy, he set out to salvage South Australian pride. ABC journalist Michael Sexton has written a new book on what many consider to be the most underrated and thrilling chapter in Australian cricketing history.
In the summer of 1975-76 a revolution was brewing in Australian cricket that no one could see coming.
At the time, everyone presumed Ian Chappell was just in a bad mood.
“I was at the end of my tether,” Chappell admitted during an interview for the book Chappell’s Last Stand.
He was also at the end of his celebrated career that had seen him re-invent the summer game.
It was almost as if cricket in the 1960s was played in black and white, and when Chappell took over as Australian captain in 1971 it burst into technicolour.
He demanded exciting results-driven cricket and unleashed batsmen and bowlers who played with verve and skill – Lillee, Thommo, Tangles, Hookesy, Dougie and Bacchus.
With success came the crowds and a financial bonanza for the Australian Cricket Board.
In 1975 Chappell handed the captaincy to his brother Greg but continued playing for Australia (batting brilliantly against the West Indies) while also leading South Australia to the Sheffield Shield title.
It was a fitting finale.
But it ended in rancour. Chappell clashed repeatedly with the game’s administrators, so much so that after leading South Australia to a stunning win over Victoria he quit in frustration.
When word reached his South Australian team mates they went on strike in support of him. They wouldn’t play without him and so eventually he agreed to return.
There was no single thing that upset Chappell rather a series of events that boiled down to player welfare.
Despite the roaring success of the sport, cricketers were poorly paid. Those at the very top were earning the average Australian wage but those below struggled to make ends meet. In South Australia, they even had to cover the cost of their daily laundry while on tour.
Sheffield Shield players relied on benevolent employers for time off to play but many retired because they couldn’t afford to play. Chappell pointed out that the barman at the ground was earning more than Chappell’s team mates.
Repeated entreaties by Chappell to the ACB and the SACA for better conditions were rebuffed. He tried forming a union for players to bargain collectively.
“All this had been bubbling – you go all the way back to 1969-70 in South Africa (a dispute over being paid for an extra test match) and it was just on going. The Board’s attitude was the old ostrich job, you stick your head in the sand and the problem disappeared. They had been doing it for years rather than coming to us and saying, ‘look it is pretty obvious you guys have got some beefs – what are they? Let’s sit down and get somewhere, at least find middle ground’ but not once did they do it.”
As evidenced by the strike of South Australian players, Chappell generated enormous loyalty. It was mutual. He believed if the players gave him everything on the field then he would give them everything off it.
Chappell walked away from establishment cricket in 1976, but he did not walk away from the players.
When Kerry Packer missed out on the broadcast rights for Australian Cricket he started his own competition calling it World Series Cricket.
He needed to sign up the best players and recruited Ian Chappell to help.
In agreeing to assist the WSC Chappell fulfilled his ambition to look after his boys. There was better pay, conditions and superannuation. There was also a players’ association so the voice of the players would be heard in all decision making.
– Michael Sexton
Read more about Michael Sexton’s new book, Chappell’s Last Stand .