Chappell's Ashes icons: the top five
Former Australia captain and current national selector Greg Chappell rounds out his 40 best Ashes players from the past 40 years
9 November 2017, 05:29 PM AEST
As a player, captain, selector and commentator at varying times between 1977 and 2017, legendary Australia batsman Greg Chappell is among those most qualified to judge the finest players to have taken the field in an Ashes Test across the past four decades. Here Chappell has delved into the memory bank and listed his 40 Ashes Icons from the past 40 years; men who have left indelible impressions on his memory through their deeds in Ashes cricket. Today we're counting down the final five
5. Glenn McGrath (Australia)
30 Ashes Tests 157 wickets at 20.92. BBM: 9-82. 10x5WI
The amazing thing about McGrath was the way he would bowl to good players. He would work them out and work them over, subtly shifting his position on the crease, changing his angles, and invariably winning the battle. He worried the absolute best players with his length and his bounce, and they were the hallmarks of Glenn McGrath; when I think about him, I think of accuracy and bounce off a length.
It was almost water torture for the batsman; constantly hitting that same area – again, again, again – while subtly changing his angles, and then one would bounce, bang, and get the edge. He got a high percentage of top-order batsmen out and he had remarkable longevity – aside from stepping on a cricket ball in that '05 series he didn't have too many injuries.
And he was good in most conditions but particularly Australian and English conditions, and his Ashes record is quite remarkable. At Lord's he completely dominated but you can pick any ground, he was effective. He was a pretty ordinary fielder when he started out but he took what has to be one of the great Test match catches at Adelaide Oval, running around in the outfield and diving full length to dismiss Michael Vaughan.
He had desire, a super work ethic and a very good build for a fast bowler; he was wiry and strong. And he was just incessant. The constancy of the number of balls he bowled on the spot was incredible. I talk to young bowlers about it; if you want to be a successful bowler it's about good balls, good overs, good spells.
Well, that sums up Glenn McGrath's career – he just kept bowling good overs, good balls, good spells, and bugger me, he got wickets! I reckon a few batsmen just gave up in the end – they just didn't know where the runs could come from.
4. Allan Border (Australia)
42 Ashes Tests 3,222 runs at 55.55. HS: 200no. 7x100s, 19x50s.
Border was a serious player, and his evolution from free-flowing young batsman into hardened leader is an interesting one. I remember playing him at the Gabba in a Shield game in '79-80 and he belted us everywhere (Border made 200). I bowled quite a bit that day and I remember how little margin for error I had: if I over-pitched slightly he smashed it through the covers; if I got a bit short he'd hit me up onto the then grassy bank in front of the scoreboard. I just thought, 'Wow, this is special'. And I don't know that he let himself off the leash like that often enough.
Part of that I believe was circumstantial; taking on the captaincy early, before he was ready and before he wanted it, may have impacted on the type of batsman he became. Mentally, I think he took on too much responsibility in some ways.
He got in the habit of playing backs-to-the-wall sorts of innings, and that was when he was at his best, because he was that contrary sort of personality and those innings brought out his competitiveness. That sort of spirit showed up when he or the team was under the pump; that got his adrenalin going more than a walk in the park. But I think if he'd let himself go a little bit he could have been an even better batsman.
On the 1989 Ashes tour, I got the distinct impression that something had changed. It was a different Allan Border and I thought, 'Wow, this is a positive sign'. I'd been a selector up until about that time, and we'd been forced to have a look into the future and we realised that we didn't have much option; we needed Allan as captain but we also had to provide some support for him.
David Boon was one, Steve Waugh and Geoff Marsh, and then soon after that Ian Healy and Mark Taylor. We thought, 'these are all talented cricketers who have got a future, but they're also strong personalities that will provide a core of support around Allan'. I get the impression that helped Allan to say, 'Righto, I'm going to take this on'.
And his batting on day one of the first Test at Leeds (he made an aggressive 66) was the emergence of the real Allan Border. We hadn't won anywhere for a while, and that innings was the turning point not only of that series, but of that era. Allan took on the mantle, and with the support of those guys around him, went on to be the leader that we hoped he could be.
3. Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
20 Ashes Tests 1,083 runs @ 45.12. HS: 152. 3x100s, 6x50s. 89 catches, 7 stumpings
Somebody asked me years ago, 'What are the innings that have excited you most in Test cricket recently?' I said: 'Any innings that Adam Gilchrist has played'. You'd walk across broken glass to watch him bat.
Some of the innings he played when we had our backs to the wall, when most players were fighting for their lives, he just came in and took the attack by the scruff of the neck. Batting with the tail, he was a master at being able to manipulate the strike. And the bat swing – with the hands high on the handle – there have been very few players with a swing like that.
It was almost like he had a golf club in his hand. The bat speed that he generated, I can't think of too many who have hit the ball harder than him. He certainly hit the ball with intent, but it was a lazy power; I've never seen anything like it.
He drove well, he cut well and he pulled well. He played the game in the right spirit and he was a brilliant wicketkeeper. He copped a lot of criticism in his early days because he didn't necessarily look like a 'keeper, but he didn't miss much.
Australia had some pretty good players in that era but Gilchrist was the X-factor that took them to another level. You'd see spectacular innings from him – like his first Ashes innings when he belted 152 in Birmingham, or the 57-ball hundred in Perth – but I lost track of the number of times they were four or five for not many, and Gilly came in and just turned the game.
2. Dennis Lillee (Australia)
7 Ashes Tests (1977 onwards) 43 wickets at 24.53. BBM: 11-159. 2x5WI, 1x10WM
Only a small portion of Dennis's Ashes career falls into this window but he still cast such a shadow over the game, as well as the fast bowlers that came after him, that I simply must put him at the very pointy end of this list. It's hard to imagine there's been a better fast bowler.
Glenn McGrath stacks up well from a statistical point of view, and I'm biased because I played a lot of cricket with and against Dennis, but I know from playing against him in first-class cricket, he just didn't give you anything. His indomitable will was amazing, coming back as he did from a broken back – an injury very few would have come back from. And it was through hard work and willpower.
He trained harder than anyone I've ever seen. I doubt there's ever been a fitter fast bowler, and we've had a lot; Craig McDermott used to train with ironmen. But in an era when it wasn't fashionable to be seen to work hard, he came back from his injury and did everything that was humanly possible to make sure his body was bulletproof.
The fact he got through for as long as he did after that injury, at an incredible level of intensity, is quite remarkable. He wasn't someone who leapt out at you as a natural athlete. But he made himself into a great fast bowler through sheer determination and hard work. Physically and mentally he was as strong as anyone I've ever seen, and as a captain and teammate, you just knew that if you needed a wicket, Dennis was most likely going to get it for you.
And the hardest thing was to get the ball off him – because he just wanted to bowl, and in England on that tour of '72 he bowled himself to a standstill. Seeing him bowl at the MCG, listening to people bang on the advertising hoardings, and chanting Lill-eeee Lill-eeee was just amazing. It was moving, the way the supporters and his teammates responded to him.
He was a fine physical specimen, a wonderful bowler and a great teammate. We started and finished in the same series, so our careers were parallel in that regard, and he went from the most naïve young bloke, to the greatest cynic of all time.
Whilst he believed everything at the start, he believed nothing by the end of his career, but I think he has the last laugh. The smartest fast bowler I played with or against. The blood, sweat and tears that he put into it – I don't think anyone has spent more to be a great bowler than he did.
1. Shane Warne (Australia)
36 Ashes Tests 195 wickets at 23.25. BBM: 12-246. 11x5WI, 4x10WM
Warne is one of the great bowlers in history; one of the best leg-spinners – if not the best – ever to play the game. Batsmen were just mesmerised by him. I would have loved to have batted against him – it would have been fascinating to figure out how you would try to combat him, because he drifted the ball in and spun it away, and he was a big spinner of the ball.
When a new batsman came in, he would rip a few balls, get them thinking about how much it was spinning, then get them out with straight ones. He had a high percentage of lbws, he got a lot of wickets with his drifter.
His wrong'un in the second half of his career wasn't that potent, but he had a fantastic stock ball and he let them see it, got them thinking about the one that was going to spin past the bat, then he'd get them lbw. You could almost tell when a wicket was going to fall; he could plot his way to a wicket as well as anyone.
In the second half of his career he had to adapt after shoulder surgery, so he relied on his stock ball, his cleverness and his competitive instincts. He didn't think there was anyone he couldn't get out, and he didn't think there was a situation in which he couldn't take wickets.
But when you listen to him talk about his bowling, you can understand why; his understanding of what he had to do, his ability to get in the cocoon no matter what was happening in his life, was something else. Once he got out on that field, there was nothing else. He understood that it was more about his mind than his body.
In some ways, I think a little bit of controversy inspired him; the one way he could quieten the rabble was to get wickets, or make runs or take a catch, which he could do as well. He was a brilliant cricketer.
He was an ornery character, and he did it well, but what a performer; some of his bowling exploits in Ashes cricket are up there with the best of them. You can go back to 'Demon' Spofforth, Bill O'Reilly – these guys who turned Test matches. Warney did it time and again, often against the odds.
The 'Ball of the Century' we've seen many times. He came around the wicket, he bowled into the rough, Gatting probably did about as much as you could do to not get out, and somehow it's hit the top of off stump.
I can still picture Ian Healy throwing his hands in the air. And I can still see poor old 'Gatt' looking around as if to say, 'What happened there?' It was a magical ball. But that's what he was capable of, and it was just the start.
Chappell's Ashes Icons
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21