Friday, 17 February 2012

Book Review - Fierce focus by Greg Chappell

Fierce focus by Greg Chappell

Melbourne : Hardie Grant Books, 2011     ISBN 9781742702360

This is a book that I've been waiting for, for most of my adult life. I'm pleased to write that the wait has been worthwhile. Gregory Stephen Chappell was arguably the most significant Australian batsman after Don Bradman, was Australian Captain during tumultuous times in the 1970s and '80s, and was one of the driving forces behind World Series Cricket. After his playing days, he has had stints as selector and coach, and remains involved in Australian cricket to this day.

What is clear from the book is that Chappell, from the earliest age, was totally captivated by the game of cricket. This is perhaps not so surprising, given that his grandfather Victor Richardson was himself a former Australian captain, his father was a well respected grade cricketer, and his elder brother Ian preceded him as Australian captain (the third Chappell brother, Trevor also went on to play for his country). The first short section of the book, describing Greg's childhood, has some fascinating insights into the development of all the brothers' characters, and as to why Greg became such a magnificent onside player (which mostly centred around avoiding knocking the fruit off the trees in their father's small orchard!).

The main part of the book is devoted to Chappell's playing days. This section of the book, while dealing with the "standard" fare of cricketing memoirs, has some fascinating sections to do with how Chappell approached the game mentally, and should be required reading for any up-and-coming young player. In particular, he discusses how careerism can destroy a batsman's natural aggression - after all, as Chappell states, a batsman is out there to score runs, not merely survive. He also goes into detail about his battles with the Australian Cricket Board and administration generally, his constant battles about scheduling and pay usually getting him nowhere. This of course led to the Packer revolution in World Series Cricket, which is generally described as the pinnacle of recent cricket in terms of quality and intensity. Chappell agrees with this conclusion.

Like his brother, Greg is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and the reader is left in no doubt about his feelings and thoughts on his fellow players. While Chappell is sympathetic to the position that Kim Hughes found himself in after the WSC players returned to the Test Cricket fold, he shows how Kim was his own worst enemy in what eventually became his downfall as captain and test player. He likewise has insights into other Australian players, such as Alan Border, Kerry O'Keeffe, and his great friends Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee.

The later sections of the book deal with his time as an Australian selector, and as coach of the Indian cricket team. These sections focus on the difficulties inherent in managing players, teams, and indeed a system of cricket that enables continued success for a country. Chappell has some strong views on these issues, being unhappy at the current state of affairs that means the top-class players never "pass on" their skills and advice because they are unable, mainly due to scheduling, to play in the lower forms of the game.

If he has one regret (although he doesn't call it that), it is that his skills as a communicator have been lacking over the years, and consequently he perhaps didn't get the best out of the teams and players under his influence. His description of his time as coach of India reads as a story of players and coach working at cross-purposes.

There are many insights into cricket history (yes, he devotes a chapter to the underam incident), cricket psychology, and life in general in this book - as well as a healthy dose of good Doug Walters and Jeff Thomson stories.

As cricketing books go, this is a Greg Chappell effort - a cut above the rest. A must read.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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