Life lessons from a hard but fair father

Cricket's royal family … Ian, Trevor and Greg Chappell with their parents Jeanne and Martin in 1965.
Cricket's royal family … Ian, Trevor and Greg Chappell with their parents Jeanne and Martin in 1965.

Ian Chappell was only 12 when he put the scorer's pencil down and picked up a bat for a third-grade team in Adelaide that was captained by his father, Martin.

Glenelg were one short and Martin put it to his players whether to play the kid or go into battle a man down. They'd seen the youngster in the nets and when it was finally his turn to bat at No.9 the pre-pubescent Chappell thought he had justified their collective faith as he withstood missiles launched by grown men and talented teens for 45 painstaking minutes.

While Chappell didn't score many runs he expected to be complimented by his father for a job well done, but it wasn't until dinner that Martin spoke to his eldest son about his effort. The ensuing conversation explained the philosophies that moulded Chappell into one of Australia's most competitive captains who, in turn, shaped the 1974-75 Australian team that was spearheaded by pace aces Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson into a ruthless machine on the field and a happy-go-lucky group off it.

''You're not playing C-grade any more,'' Chappell recalled his father's blunt comment in his latest book, Chappelli - Life, Larrikins and Cricket.

The future Test captain was devastated and upon asking why his father reached that conclusion he felt confused. ''He said I was scared and had backed away from one delivery by a fast bowler,'' Chappell told Fairfax Media. ''I didn't think I stepped away but Martin was either trying to get a message across or he did feel I'd moved away.''

There were obviously many other messages - and lessons - along the way, including the time when a 10-year-old Chappell watched his father appeal for a young West Torrens batsman to be given out for handling the ball. The opposing captain demanded the decision be reversed but Martin Chappell stood firm.

On the drive home the father asked his son what he thought of the controversial dismissal and he seemed happy to hear young Ian say it was correct because the rules stated a batsman can't stop the ball from hitting the stumps with their hand.

''I had this discussion, argument, call it what you will, with [co-commentator Ian Healy] in Brisbane when someone picked the ball up,'' he said. ''I still occasionally say on air 'don't touch it, son'. It's ingrained in me. I was on air talking to Heals about it and he said 'Ah, mate, he just picked the ball up' but I said there's a sure way not to be out handling the ball - you don't touch it!

''The ball has nothing to do with you when you're batting, it belongs to the fielding side. He said it doesn't matter because you're not out anyway, but I said I know a couple of guys I played against - Sarfraz Nawaz and Javed Miandad - would've appealed and you'd have been given out. So, don't pick it up, can't be given out.''

Despite his father, who was also a baseball catcher, being tough and hard, Chappell stressed he was also fair and simply wanted to teach his sons how men behaved. He offered Ian his first beer at 14 because he was determined to ensure his son ''learned'' how to drink.

''I said no to that first one,'' Chappell recalled. ''But not long after that I said, 'All right, I'll try one'. I realise now the old Martin was trying for me to learn to drink in his company rather than elsewhere. He told me, 'Son, you don't drink to get into fights and arguments, you drink to enjoy yourself and the company of others'. I found when I wrote my book the stories had a sporting theme but there is a bit of drinking around them.''

He also taught him from a young age to be a man and to accept defeat with dignity. ''Our school, St Leonards, started a baseball competition in my last year of primary school,'' he recalled. ''All of my mates played cricket and they were around at my house throwing baseballs and hitting balls and we played a bit in the backyard.

''We formed the baseball team and we belted the hell out of the teams in the Glenelg area. We won our way through to a tournament where we played the winning side but St Leonards, we were thinking 'we're pretty good we'll win this'. The first team we played had been together three or four years and they belted us - a hell of a shock. Here am I at the end of having been belted and I'm sitting there bawling my eyes out when Martin came up and said, 'Son, you take your team over there and you shake them all by the hand and say well played'.

''I said, 'Piss off Martin, they've just beaten us'. He grabbed me by the scruff of the shirt, pulled me up and said go over and shake them by the hand. It was a good lesson because I had to walk over, make it look as though I hadn't been crying. There might be some fathers who tell their son they have to win at all costs - if you call it in your favour, so be it. Well, my father as I say was a very hard man but a very fair man, and I have no doubt if he saw any of us cheating on the cricket field he would've walked out, interrupted the game and said we wouldn't get back out onto the field until we behaved properly.

''There'd be some fathers around who have played sport at a decent level who could understand that. I've asked Greg a couple of times whether he felt as though he felt as if he was forced into doing something and he said 'never', and that he always enjoyed it. I think Martin was able to hit that fine balance; he encouraged us a hell of a lot but not to the point where we thought 'oh to hell with I, we'll do something else'.''

Chappell's father-son relationship is only a small part of a book crammed with colourful anecdotes ranging from Chappell playing golf with Sean Connery, his mates, including the gambler who took the odds when he thought he was having a fatal heart attack and decided to not tell his wife about the $10,000 he'd stashed away, batting at the age of 52 against Shane Warne and his relationship with Kerry Packer.

Chappell's insights about a childhood in which he was the bat boy for Glenelg, listened to the stories of his grandfather and former Test captain Vic Richardson, scored grade cricket games at a stage other kids struggled with their times tables and learned the language of men's men through his father and his teammates in sporting dressing rooms, give an insight into the early lessons in life that shaped one of Australian cricket's most aggressive and determined skippers.

''I've often said to Greg and Trevor that I came along when Martin was still playing sport,'' he said. ''I was in the thick of it because I was always in the dressing room after play and I heard all the stories and the swearing. It was quite funny, there was a bloke named Geff Noblet who played for Glenelg, South Australia and in three Tests … everyone said 'Nobby' chucked. I heard all these stories, starting when I was five. He managed the 1969 South Australian side for the eastern tour and when we were at the Gabba, Nobby took his jacket off and bowled half a dozen deliveries. ''I said: 'I see you're still chucking them, Nobby.' Well, he whirled around and gave it to me both barrels … about his action … I realised while he accepted it from his teammates he wasn't going to accept it from this little prick he'd seen as a five-year-old. It was a good lesson.''

This story Life lessons from a hard but fair father first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.