Book review: Greg Chappell’s Fierce Focus

FIERCE FOCUS
by Greg Chappell
Publisher: Hardie Grant
371pp
$45.00

Reviewer: PETER CROSSING

In early 1972, Greg Chappell was involved in a cricket match against a World XI in Hobart. The twenty three year old, who had already added his name to the list of those scoring a century in their first test, received a press clipping sent to him by his father. The article, by the Adelaide Advertiser’s long time cricket writer Keith Butler, was extremely critical of Chappell and what amounted to his cavalier attitude towards batting.  Chappell reflected on the article and on his father’s penned comment at the bottom that “it might be worth thinking about”.

It was a watershed moment.  Fierce Focus, the title of Chappell’s book, refers to the levels of concentration Chappell subsequently developed in order to overcome the fact that, as he reflected, nine times out of ten he had got himself out through mental error. The first level, awareness was followed by fine focus as he watched the bowler run in and then fierce concentration on “where the ball was going to be delivered from”. These terms could also be used in the wider context of Greg Chappell and his involvement in cricket as a player, captain, selector, commentator and National Talent Manager.

The majority of the book traces Chappell’s playing career, from the early days of backyard cricket with brother Ian, competitive in the extreme, to his final test when he passed the long standing Sir Donald Bradman record for the number of runs scored in Test cricket. As Chappell hastens to admit, statistics were never much on his mind and Bradman was “twice as good as the next-best tier batsmen who’ve ever played the game.” Nevertheless, Chappell was at the forefront of the cricketers of his generation – as an elegant batsman with exquisite timing, excellent slips fieldsman and handy medium pace bowler.

Chappell is generous in his praise of others, for example his school coach, Chester Bennett. He is frank in his assessment of his own game, other players and situations. He describes arch rival Ian Botham’s bowling as “poisonous dross”. There are many instances where he gives credit to some of the lesser lights of Australian and International Test teams – Max Walker and Jeff ”Bomber” Hammond in the West Indies in 1971-2, Gary Gilmour and Ross Edwards during the first World Cup competition in 1975 and the Indian spin bowler Iqbal Qasim. Chappell also acknowledges that, as a captain, brother Ian was a better communicator with the players under his command.

There are many anecdotes and stories. Fortunately, the few concerning Doug Walters relate to incidents involving his dry humour rather than his consumption rate. I had not heard the story of Clem Jones, Brisbane alderman and part time Gabba pitch curator who apparently remade a diabolical wicket in the middle of a Test match against the West Indies. The two captains, Chappell and Clive Lloyd, quietly accepted this illegality and after Lloyd’s comment that “We wouldn’t have had much of a game without it”, nothing more was said.

Chappell is forthright and candid in his comments concerning the acrimonious times surrounding World Series Cricket and the fateful underarm incident. He offers no excuse for the latter other than that he considers it to be an aberration due to his mental state at the time. Ironically his lapse could be attributed in part to the exhausting schedule of matches that occurred in the wake of WSC.  Chappell also notes that, many years later, it is this incident that is remembered rather than his recalling of English batsman Derek Randall after he had been incorrectly given out during the Centenary Test.

The conversations with Sir Donald Bradman are revealing, whether discussing Greg’s move from South Australia to further his cricket career with Queensland or, much later, when Chappell, as coach of South Australia, invited Bradman to talk to the players.

Chappell also writes of his time as a coach, first of the South Australian team and then India. The venture into the maelstrom of Indian cricket politics was not as harmonious as he may have wished, either on or off the playing arena. However, Chappell is justifiably proud of his efforts in terms of on-field success and in developing younger players such as MS Dhoni, Pathan and Munaf Patel. Rather than a brief chapter, there is probably a whole book to be written around Chappell’s Indian experiences.

In his characteristically thoughtful and unequivocal manner, Chappell puts forward some interesting ideas on the future of cricket. He discusses the role of selectors, the intensity with which he believes young players should approach the game and fact that game needs players whose impact is that of a “game changer”.

The emergence of T20 cricket is not mentioned. However, in a recent interview on ABC radio Grandstand, Chappell presented a considered assessment of Test, 50-over and T20 cricket and urged caution in adopting an all out embracement of this most recent form of the game.

In Fierce Focus, Greg Chappell has written an entertaining memoir of his life in cricket together with many thought-provoking ideas on the future of a game.

 

ATTRIBUTION
As a batsman, Peter Crossing always appreciated the wisdom of playing in the arc between mid-off and mid-on. It was the execution of this process that eluded him.

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. A conflicted Crows supporter and former resident of Canberra, he has enjoyed the fact that GWS brought an exciting style of Australian football to the National capital. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Interesting Review Peter Noughts Crossing and spot on re The recalling of Randall is never mentioned no more Elegant batsmen to watch than G Chappell but yes unfortunately no where near Ian asa communicator . The SA guys made the point re coaching no doubt ob his knowledge but unless you were Elite had trouble passing it on

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