Ian Chappell was one of the greatest cricket captains of the modern era, but to two generations of sports fans he is one of the enduring voices of the Australian summer.
Since swapping the bat for a microphone in the late 1970s, Chappell has stayed intimately involved with the game – as a Channel Nine commentator, with the ABC and most recently on Macquarie Radio.
That career is coming to an end as the man known to cricket fans as Chappelli has decided to call it quits.
Chappell was the last remaining member of a storied Nine commentary team that included fellow Test captains Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry and Tony Greig.
Benaud and South African-born Greig have died and Lawry (85) retired from the commentary box in 2018.
The famous four all brought individual flair, strengths, opinions and style to the game and, for all of those growing up during Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket in the late 1970s, they turned the game into the best reality TV imaginable.
Now, in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Chappell, 78, says he’s been thinking about retirement for the past few years after enduring health scares.
In 2019 he underwent five weeks of intense radiation therapy after he had skin cancers removed from his shoulder, neck and underarm, and in an interview this week he revealed he had also suffered a stroke.
“So when it comes to commentary, I’ve been thinking about it,’’ Chappell said. ‘‘I had a minor stroke a few years back and I got off lucky.
‘‘But it just makes everything harder. And I just thought with all the travel and, you know, walking upstairs and things like that, it’s all just going to get harder.
“Then I read what ‘Rabbits’ [rugby league commentator Ray Warren] said with retirement and it really struck home when I read the bit where he said, ‘You’re always one sentence closer to making a mistake’.’’
Calling cricket and learning the craft from the greats
After first picking up the microphone to call cricket for the Ten Network in 1976-77 – and the BBC for the 1977 Ashes series – Chappell joined the Nine Network’s commentary team in 1980, immediately following his retirement from first-class cricket (his last Test was against England in Melbourne).
In March 1981 he was anointed co-host of Nine’s Wide World Of Sports with Mike Gibson, a role he enjoyed for eight years before handing over to Ken Sutcliffe.
In 1982, he produced Australian Sports Heroes, a 90-minute documentary for the Nine Network, as well as co-hosting the Brisbane Commonwealth Games.
Throughout his tenure at Nine, Chappell was also involved in the
network’s broadcasts of golf, baseball and tennis.
On working with Benaud, Chappell told the SMH: ‘‘I learned more from Richie about life because, for some reason or other, Rich was very good to me. Always was, right from the start of my career.
‘‘He didn’t tell you things – you had to ask him,’’ he added.
‘‘He’d suddenly say something and I’d think, ‘Where’s that come from?’ Richie had that mind – he came from left field. Mainly what I learned from Richie about life was just watching him.
‘‘But he was very, very strong on the business of, if you haven’t got anything to add to the commentary, you don’t say anything.’’
In 2018, Cricket Australia announced that the Seven Network had acquired free-to-air media rights to a package of cricket events under a six-year contract as part of a consortium with Foxtel.
After that, Chappell switched to radio commentating for the ABC and Macquarie Sports Radio’s cricket coverage.
In a later statement to The New Daily, ABC Sport praised Chappell’s “enormous contribution across the summer of cricket for the last couple of seasons”.
“Ian not only provided excellent on-air analysis and banter but also embraced the new generation of commentators imparting his knowledge at the back of the box to the likes of former Australian spinner Kristen Beams and ball-by-ball commentator Brett Sprigg.
‘He loved to hook and pull’
Chappell was an aggressive and charismatic batsman ‘‘who loved to hook and pull’’, says Nine Sport, and ‘‘fashioned an Australian team in his own personality from 1971 to 1975 after taking over as captain from Bill Lawry’’.
The eldest brother of the Chappell dynasty – which included fellow Australian captain, brother Greg, as well as younger brother Trevor –never lost a series as captain.
As a higher middle-order batsman, who bowled leg break and fielded at first slip, he played 75 Tests (his Test debut was against Pakistan in Melbourne in 1964), and 30 of those as captain.
Chappell played a major role in the evolution of Packer’s World Series Cricket, serving as Australia captain in the breakaway competition.
When asked about working for the late Packer for whom he played 16 World Series Cricket one-day internationals, Chappell told the SMH: ‘‘Kerry wanted to sack me a couple of times.’’
‘‘He used to get the sh-ts about one-day cricket, because that was his baby. And I might have said something about one-day cricket.’’
Fast-forward to when he knew it was time to hang up the whites: “I remember the day when I knew I’d had enough of playing cricket.
“I looked at the clock and it was five past 11 on a day of play and I thought, ‘Sh-t, if you’re clock-watching at that time, I have to go’.’’
‘Some will think I’ve been alright’
So, even though he’ll still write and observe the game, what does Chappell want to be remembered for as his broadcast career comes to an end?
‘‘It’s up to other people to decide what they think of me and some will think I’ve been all right [sic],’’ he said.
‘‘Some will think I’ve been a prick. That doesn’t bother me one bit.’’