Magellan Ashes 2017-18

Greg Chappell's Ashes icons: 10-6

Former Australia captain and current national selector Greg Chappell picks the 40 best Ashes players from the past 40 years

Greg Chappell

7 November 2017, 07:43 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 looking at numbers 10-6… 

10. Matthew Hayden (Australia)

20 Ashes Tests 1,461 runs @ 45.65. HS: 197. 5x100s, 2x50s

Yes Moments: Perfect partnership punishes Poms

Hayden could've easily got the nod for the opener's spot alongside Mark Taylor in '93 but they went with Michael Slater, probably for the left-hand, right-hand combination. I always felt from the time I first saw him that he was going to be a very good international player.

He had presence, he had a work ethic that was second-to-none, he had a determination to succeed, and he was physically and mentally very strong. He prepared thoroughly – it wasn't just about the number of balls he hit in practice, but his routine of going out into the middle of the ground the day before a Test match and just picturing himself making runs was important to him. He had a great self-belief and he was a dominating player; he took games away from the opposition.

Hayden brutes away a boundary on his beloved Gabba deck // Getty
Hayden brutes away a boundary on his beloved Gabba deck // Getty

He intimidated bowlers with his size and aggression, and while I don't know if he could've walked at fast bowlers the way he did in an era without protection, it still took a lot of courage to do it. He challenged the bowlers in that way and he hit the ball as hard as anyone. Perhaps his most famous Ashes moment was that century in each innings (197 and 103) in 2002-03 at the Gabba, where he almost took the series away from England before it had begun.

He'd grown up on the Gabba, he'd played first-class cricket there when it was a bowler-friendly wicket and dominated, and he just made a massive statement on behalf of his team from the outset of that series. During that period, he was as good a batsman as there was in world cricket. 

9. Derek Underwood (England)

5 Ashes Tests (1977 onwards) 13 wickets at 27.84. BBM: 7-119. 1x5WI

People often ask me who the best bowler is I've faced and they expect me to talk about fast bowlers. And there were some great fast bowlers in our time. But Derek is someone I've always regarded highly, and because of that, I've placed him high on this list despite the fact only a part of his Ashes career came after '77.

Given a little bit of assistance in the wicket – particularly a little bit of moisture – he would be the first one I would pick to bowl out any side, and you can put Don Bradman in that side if you like. His ability to control length while bowling subtle variations of pace was quite uncanny. A lot of blokes mix up their pace and their length, but he didn't mix up his length.

Even in Australia on a good wicket he was a hard man to get to; he bowled at the speed of a medium-pacer but with quite a bit of work on the ball. They would curve in the air, they would spin and bounce – there have been very few like him. He was clever, too.

I can recall two or three occasions where playing against him in England on difficult pitches was a real education. Batting against him in the Centenary Test on day one on a damp wicket, he was nearly unplayable; I don't reckon I ever had to work harder to get 40 runs and that was largely due to 'Deadly'.

I remember walking out to the middle of the SCG for an Ashes Test in 1980. I was concerned at how damp the wicket was looking, I didn't think it was fit for play, so I said to the umpires, 'Surely you're not going to start on time?' They said it was essentially out of their hands unless I could get Mike Brearley, who was England's captain, to agree with me.

So I spoke to Mike and he just looked at me with a smirk and said, 'I'm quite happy with how that pitch looks'. I didn't say so at the time but I thought, 'If I had Derek Underwood in my side, I'd want to start on time as well'. Luckily I won the toss, fielded first and we went on to win the match, but I don't reckon we'd have made 100 if we'd batted first. 

8. Jeff Thomson (Australia)

11 Ashes Tests (1977 onwards) 48 wickets at 26.43. BBM: 8-127. 2x5WI

Aussie Legends: Jeff Thomson

Thomo didn't like the Poms much. He was a shy, knockabout Aussie bloke, and he hated England – it was too cold, wet and miserable for him. But he loved taking wickets against them. While Dennis Lillee was a self-made sportsman, Thomo was a natural.

He was born to be an athlete – the best I've seen play for Australia. He was the fastest runner, he had the best throwing arm, he bowled the fastest, he tried to hit it harder than anyone else – he just did everything flat out. Up until he busted his shoulder, I don't care who you put up – no-one has bowled faster than Thomo. He genuinely frightened blokes, and it wasn't only batsmen; there were times in the slips that it was scary.

At Perth one day, you could see the footmarks where Rod Marsh had been 'keeping to Dennis, who was sharp enough, but he was another 10 paces back to Thomo and was taking the ball so high that he couldn't have gone back further because it would have sailed over his head. I remember the ball slapping into Rod's gloves, him shaking his hands and saying, 'Wow, that hurts, but I just love it'.

His bowling in the '74-75 series put him on the map but he was plenty lethal from '77 onwards as well. His classically simple explanation of his bowling action – 'Aw mate, I just shuffle up and go wang' – was spot on. At his peak, he ran in off about 14 paces, tiptoed in as if he was in his slippers, and he went wang. And man, it was quick.

He got timed at 100 miles an hour (160.9kph) and I've since heard the technology back then timed the ball at the end of its run.

Players these days are timed just after the ball comes out of the hand, so there's no loss of velocity. So he could have been bowling at 170kph by today's measurements. And as much as the speed, it was the bounce off a length – he would bowl balls you'd go forward to and they'd come through at shoulder height. Guys just didn't know how to handle it. And he had a killer yorker.

Early in the season he could be a bit wayward, but when his radar was calibrated, he was as accurate as anyone. I was at a function once when someone asked Michael Holding who was the quickest bowler of that era. He said, 'We were all quick on our days, but then there was Thomo'.

I'm pleased I played with him, I'm just sorry he didn't have longer before he did his shoulder, because his 200 Test wickets could have been 500. 

7. Steve Waugh (Australia)

45 Ashes Tests 3,173 runs @ 58.75. HS: 177no. 10x100s, 14x50s 19 wickets @ 45.42. BBM: 5-159. 1x5WI

From The Vault: Steve Waugh's perfect day

The first time I saw Steve and Mark bat was at the Gabba in a Shield game for New South Wales, and they both batted really well. Steve was as free-flowing as Mark and he hit a couple of hook shots that day that still stand out in my mind, and you knew they were both serious players.

But I think Steve's more determined outlook was what gave him the edge in terms of Australian selection at that stage because we were looking for those pillars to surround Allan Border with. It suited the need at the time; we didn't need free-flowing batsmen – we needed blokes who were going to bat for a while. And Steve came across to us as one of a few blokes – along with David Boon and Geoff Marsh – who were going to put their life on the line for the Baggy Green cap.

He took 27 Tests to get his first hundred and these days you wouldn't be allowed to play that long, but once he got through that, he decided, 'This Test cricket is pretty hard – I'm going to have to be mentally very switched on'. And he went into himself in a way that very few players have been able to do.

The downside of that was we didn't see the free-flowing Steve all that often, but while we all would've loved to have gone out and batted like Mark Waugh, it's not that easy to do. We've all been through that realisation that, 'Wow, if I want to survive at this level, I have to pull it in a bit'. And that was really the making of him.

He scored big runs consistently against England and later he prospered as a captain as well. He became more aware of the responsibilities which made him an even better player, and he savoured the tradition and history of the Ashes, and seemed to thrive off that. 

6. Ricky Ponting

35 Ashes Tests 2,476 runs @ 44.21. HS: 196. 8x100s, 9x50s

Yes Moments: Punter's revenge on the Poms

I saw Ponting as a 16-year-old and you just knew there was special talent there. He was way beyond his age as far as cricket maturity was concerned. When you think of the great players through Ashes history, the majority of them were risk-takers, with a little bit of larrikin. Ponting was like that.

You've got to have that kind of spirit, that ability to laugh at yourself, and the ability to get up after you've fallen over. Succeeding at the top level is as much about dealing with failure as it is about talent. Even Punter had to rein himself in a little bit later on but he could still take a game apart in a short space of time because of his ability.

He was a super talent as a kid. I don't know that I've seen a better one before or since, and I look forward to seeing the next one come through the system. Your great players emerge as those who come out in difficult times and do something special. And Ponting played a lot of special innings.

Ponting reflects on his Test debut

I still think in the modern era he's in the top few batsmen of them all – alongside Lara and Tendulkar. I can talk about watching Ashes cricket for 60 years and there haven't been many better in that time, on either side. As someone who played a lot of Test cricket, you can sometimes be a bit blasé, but every time Ricky Ponting came to the wicket I'd sit up and take notice; he was the sort of batsman who made you want to watch.

I commentated a bit during that era and you wanted him to succeed because you knew it would be interesting to commentate on. And you just knew, if he came in and hit one down the ground for four early, well you could sit back and enjoy the ride because the show was going to be good. From his first one at Headingley to that big one at the Gabba in 2006, there were plenty of memorable Ashes hundreds that were right out of the top drawer. 

Ricky Ponting on the origins of his pull-shot

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