Almanac Book Review: Chappell’s Last Stand

Michael Sexton was in Grade 5 at Westbourne Park Primary when Ian Chappell’s (possibly) final season in the red South Australian cap commenced.

And yes, a South Australian once led the Australian cricket team. After thirty matches at the helm (15 wins, 5 losses, excluding the Rest of the World Series in 71/72), the elder Chappell stood down from the captaincy after the 1975 Ashes tour.

Unshackled, he embarked on a memorable 75/76 season, which Sexton documents in this very readable account.

Scheduling back then was such that Chappell was able to play that summer’s six Tests against the West Indies and still captain South Australia’s Sheffield Shield side in each of its eight fixtures.

He decided that he’d had a gutful of losing (SA had been bottom of the Shield table for the previous two years) and set his mind to restoring some pride to the Croweaters, aiming as high as third on the Shield ladder (in the five state, pre-Tasmanian competition).

Chappell’s SA Squad at the time was a motley blend of blow-ins such as Ashley Mallett, Terry Jenner, Dennis Yagmich and Gary Cosier, stalwart opener Ashley Woodcock, well performed District players such as Geoff Attenborough, Rick Drewer and Barry Curtin plus tyros David Hookes and Rick Darling. Their secret weapon, opening bowler, Two Wells boy Wayne ‘Fang’ Prior was briefly buttressed by one Rodney Hogg near the season’s climax.

Sexton relates the linear events of the Shield season but enlivens this with background context about Chappell, his family, upbringing and Australian cricket of the time, so that this book will interest to those without such prior knowledge (no pun intended).

With a chapter devoted to each Shield match, the book details the outcomes almost session by session, giving the reader a feel for the ebbs and flows of the players’ successes and failures as well as the overall momentum that SA was generating.

I spent that summer in question living in a caravan in the void at the side of our Elizabeth South home where the wattle tree used to be before it fell onto Kel Hooper’s place next door during a big storm. If I wasn’t watching or listening to the cricket, I was losing at cards to Bucko, a debt that I never repaid.

I recall the Chappelli dacks-dropping incident, Fang’s hat trick, the SA players’ strike, all of which occurred during the 75/76 season. I recall Cosier’s unlikely Test Match debut and the highly unlikely debut century. I went to all four days (and the 45 minutes needed on Day 5) of the West Indies Test.  Even so, there were several “I didn’t know that” moments along the way.

For those of us that lived through this, it was enjoyable to recount minor SA cricket personalities such as Attenborough, Curtin, Drewer, Yagmich and even Barry “Nugget” Rees. Chappell regarding them as “his men” and how, perversely, he went through brick walls on their behalf, gives some insight as to why he remains a revered figure to many of us (rather than the blustering Favell-referencing Waldorf-like declaimer of modern day cricket commentary).

The prominent roles of senior players such as Mallett, Jenner and Woodcock in 1975/76 are given a fair run. One particular tale about Jenner, as the intermediary during the threatened strike and its overnight impact on his driver’s licence, is one of several gems.

Sexton provides ample detail on Chappell’s continual run-ins with authority, from Bradman down to SACA official Darby Munn. He even managed a skirmish with Doug Walters in a seemingly inconsequential Shield game.

This book doesn’t necessarily seek to answer why Chappell seemed so needlessly cranky, concentrating on his actions, rather than his motivations, although it is suggested early on that Chappell just hated seeing South Australia being pushed around. The late season SA players’ “strike”just as the team was on the cusp of taking out the Shield was an extreme measure of the  support that his players had for their Captain.

This story ends with SA’s limp final encounter with brother Greg’s Queenslanders, Ian’s pre-season hopes more than satisfied. As it turned out, there was plenty left in Chappell’s tank after this false twilight.

Michael Sexton has compiled a great essay about an SA great which will also appeal to those not fortunate enough to have lived through this turbulent cricketing and political era. Highly recommended.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent review Swish, this book is on my Christmas list.
    What a different world with a player able to play a full home Test series as well as an entire Shield season.

  2. Yes, i recall SA winning the Shield then. Twice Victoria snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against them, that turbulent summer.

    South Australia won by 7 runs @ the ‘G’. If my memory is still up to scratch Wayne Prior caused some damage. In the return bout the home side won by two wickets, with Ashley Mallet hurling his bat after copping some short stuff from Alan Hurst.

    Victoria also suffered another close loss to South Australia in Adelaide two seasons later,when debutant David Knight dropped a late catch. South Australia won by one wicket.

    Chappelli, a great Australian captain.


  3. Makes me want to read the book Swish…

  4. Good on ya Mark and congrats on your fine review, keep up the great work.

    “Chappell’s Last Stand” along with Michael Sexton’s previous effort “Playing On: the story of Neil Sachse” are two of the finest sports books I’ve had the privilege of reading in recent times. I recommend this book to any fan of I M Chappell and/or anyone who took a keen interest in the Sheffield Shield during the sensational seventies. Bravo Mr Sexton.

    Glen – I can’t remember TV coverage of the Vic v SA game in which Wayne Prior’s hat trick on the fourth day (afternoon) swung the match the way of the visitors. I was listening to coverage on 3LO Melbourne (Graham McNaney & Norman Blundell – I think). Leigh Baker didn’t stand a chance against “Fang”.

    Vic and SA staged a couple of dramatic finishes at the “G” in the mid 70’s such as the Vic’s win on Cup Eve 1973 when Max Walker smacked Jeff Hammond to the boundary to push the home side over the finish line. Sadly Walker and the batsman at the non-strikers end Robert Rose are no longer with us.


  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for your comments, it was a fondly remembered era and Mike has captured it very well.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Mike Sexton is a gun writer and remember the season fondly,Fang hatrick to win the game at the g
    Ian Chappell fantastic match winning knock against the Vics,Gary Cosier brilliant hundred on debut against the West Indies great memories thanks,Swish

  7. Now if i recollect well, the last two SA games were rain affected. The match @ the Gabba only got the first days play in, before a deluge wiped out the rest. In this period there were bonus points available for scores obtained in the first 65 overs, overs of 8 ball duration, during the first innings.

    Bob Blewett came into the side for the end of the season. This followed the omission of Rick Drewer the opener. There was the players ‘strike’, as a result of Drewer being omitted. Blewett went on to captain South Australia at different times in his shield career, his son Greg played fo Australia.

    Mick, that was Leigh Baker’s debut (only? ) season. He got early wickets for South Melbourne. I’ve got a vague recall Jimmy Higgs was not available due to hepatitis. Yes, it wasn’t on TV, unlike other shield games of that time.


  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Bewdy ‘Book, how many cans did you collect that season?

    Glen – more subtly, Chappell cracked the sh*ts because the selectors hadn’t consulted him before Drewer was droppped, which they had apparently mutually agreed would be the process. Their response was that they couldn’t because he was batting at the time. Chappell’s response to them was rather direct.

  9. Glen – Leigh Baker had just the one season (5 games – 4 SS, 1 International v WI) for the Vics.

    A hat trick for South Melbourne in the opening round of the 75/76 season against a strong Carlton side thrust his name in front of the Victorian (in name and philosophy) selectors. Another leg spinner, Colin Thwaites, got his first crack at interstate cricket in 75/76.


  10. It’s a top read, Swish. Chappell is a fascinating character very well drawn by Sexton. As you very well put he is much more interesting than his current commentary persona. Every South Australian (and everyone else) should have this under their tree this Xmas. Wouldn’t mind a footy team or two capturing this ‘the rest of you can get stuffed’ spirit

  11. Thanks Swish. Trying to get a copy. Mike’s 1964 is one of my favourite books.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Agreed Dave. Jeanne Chappell (née Richardson) sounds like my kinda person too.

    I’ve revisited your review of 1964 Chris, I’ll have to track one down.

  13. Fang’s hat trick was against NSW in early November. His victims were Peter Toohey, Len Pascoe and David Hourn. He did get the last 3 wickets against Victoria at the MCG, but it wasn’t a hat trick. SA won by 23 runs against NSW and 7 at the MCG.
    I believe that the victory against Victoria was the first time Ian Chappell had played in a winning Shield match at the MCG.
    Another great book from Mike Sexton

  14. Fav yep apologies re Fang I can remember turning on the radio and being excited that we had won at the g and remember the commentators making the point re Ian’s 1st shield win at the g

  15. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Well spotted Favelli, thanks.

    Can confirm that was Chappell’s only MCG Shield win, ever.

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