Legends Month

Legends Month: The best of Greg Chappell

As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of Greg Chappell's greatest performances

Andrew Ramsey

12 May 2018, 07:00 PM

By most yardsticks, Greg Chappell's flawless Lord's hundred in conditions that made batting even less appealing than Britain's damp, chill summer of 1972 would have ensured his name was forever linked with the match that hosted it.

But the second Test of that landmark Ashes campaign is scarcely remembered for its orthodoxy.

Playing his first Test and accomplice to Western Australia teammate Dennis Lillee was right-arm outswing bowler Bob Massie, who stunned both camps over the first day and a half to pocket 8-84.

The best bowling figures for any Australian man in his maiden Test until he bettered them in England’s second innings, where he claimed 8-53.

From the Vault: Chappell flays West Indies

But between those bouts of heroics came the innings that Chappell was to rate the pinnacle of an indisputably lofty career.

To contextualise just how tough run scoring was during that dank Ashes campaign when ball routinely dominated bat, no England player labouring in familiar climes posted a three-figure score across five matches that eventually yielded a 2-2 stalemate.

The only time in more than 140 years they have failed to find a century-maker in Ashes series of five Tests or more.

When Australia began their reply to England’s 272 in the early afternoon of day two at Lord's, the average score for a top six batter across the preceding five completed innings was 25 as Lillee, then England’s paceman-cum poet John Snow, and then Massie proved untameable.

Chappell rates his Lord's century the best of his career // Getty
Chappell rates his Lord's century the best of his career // Getty

Certainly, Chappell was barely recognisable as the graceful, unhindered stylist he later came to portray as when he joined his older brother (and captain) Ian with Australia in early straits at 2-7.

The slimly built, textbook-drilled 23-year-old spent almost an hour becalmed on 14 as Ian played aggressor, and had been in occupation almost three hours before he finally found a boundary, by which time Ian had departed for 56.

Caught in the deep from a lofted hook shot, as was his want.

However, Chappell forged a stoic union with Ross Edwards – another West Australian in his first Test - and slowly his fluency found expression.

Chappell's 204 his third best knock

Much of the six hours and 13 minutes through which he endured was spent in studied defence, to nullify those deliveries that wobbled in the air and nibbled off the surface for the entirety of the Test.

With his most reliable and authoritative scoring option coming when bowlers dropped marginally short, allowing Chappell to haughtily raise himself to his full 1.87 metres (six foot two inches in the currency of the day) and deftly find runs through clinical placement.

When he reached 100 – for the second time in Tests, and the first in England – moments shy of stumps on day two, he greeted the occasion with all the languid understatement that came to characterise his cricket.

A congratulatory pat on the rump from rival bowler Norman Gifford was followed by a desultory bat raise and a weary cap doff, with the only hint of animation coming when he waved his Baggy Green in annoyance at a glory seeker who had run from the crowd on to the pitch.

Chappell is one of Australia's greatest ever batsmen // Getty
Chappell is one of Australia's greatest ever batsmen // Getty

He batted for a further 90 minutes the next morning, before a full house of more than 30,000 that ensured the ornate entry gates at Lord’s were locked long before the first ball was bowled that Saturday.

His dismissal, effected when he tried to force modest medium-pacer Basil d'Oliveira through the covers only to hack the ball back on to his stumps, brought that throng to their feet as men clad in gabardine raincoats set pipes and cigarettes in their mouths to afford Chappell a deserved send-off.

On return to the visitors' dressing room, Chappell slumped into a chair, mentally drained and physically spent from toil that ex-Test captain Richie Benaud rated for decades to come "one of the greatest innings I’ve ever seen".

And one that Chappell would tell cricket.com.au was his proudest among the 24 hundreds he ultimately aggregated from 87 Test matches.

Classic Catches: Chappell's one-handed wonder

"I only made one mistake and that was when I got out," Chappell later recalled.

"To bat that long and not have made a mental mistake was the greatest achievement of my batting career, I was so tuned mentally, and I didn’t make any physical mistakes either.

"My footwork was spot on; and it was probably the most enjoyable and satisfying innings I played as well – the challenge of making runs under those conditions."

Just as clear are his recollections of being back at the crease on the fourth day after Massie had rolled England for 116, and with Keith Stackpole as they chased down the runs needed to secure Australia an eight-wicket win.

The nation’s first Test triumph on English soil at 12 attempts, and only the third time they had tasted success in Britain over the preceding 11 years.

A victory that marked a watershed for an Australia outfit that Chappell would lead for almost eight years, while the swing that had lifted Massie to fleeting fame deserted him less than a year later and he added just five Tests and 15 wickets to his legend before he retired in 1974, aged 26.