Ian Chappell hooks
© PA Photos

Match That Changed My Life

Captain Hook

Leading an Ashes tour for the first time, Ian Chappell ignored advice from the press, former players, and his grandmother, and saved his captaincy in the process

1972 England v Australia

The first thing that occurred to me when I got the captaincy was that it was a pretty hard task. But then I thought we hadn't been winning under Bill [Lawry], so if I could win a game or two quickly that would give me some time. I promptly lost the first Test, in Sydney, and then at Old Trafford. So winning at Lord's bought me some time.

I had got out hooking twice at Old Trafford. In the first innings, I was out for a first-ball duck, but it was the best hook shot I ever played. Unfortunately I hit it too well and was caught at fine leg. Then in the second innings I was given out when it hit the peak of my cap. So, twice out hooking and we lost.

After losing, the next day we played Combined Universities. A couple of pisspot medium-pacers tried to bounce me with two guys back. I was thinking, "This is a bloody joke." Then our team manager told me I should think of putting away the hook for a while. Then I get a bloody letter from my grandmother, who doesn't know the first thing about cricket. She says, "Look dear, everyone's saying you should give up the hook shot, so perhaps you should."

The day before the Lord's Test, I got Jeff Hammond, who played for South Australia, to bowl me bouncers in the nets, and I could hear people behind the nets saying, "Oh, even your own team-mates are bouncing you."

We fielded first and bowled England out for 270-odd. This "will I or won't I hook?" was still at the back of my mind. I was sitting there with my pads on, waiting to go in, and Ken Barrington sits down next to me and says, "Ian, maybe you shouldn't think about hooking till you're about 50 or so." And I'm thinking, "Jesus Christ, now I have ex-England players telling me not to hook. This is getting ridiculous."

The dressing room erupts at the win. Jeffrey Hammond, not in the XI, who bowled bouncers at Chappell in the nets, is at far right

The dressing room erupts at the win. Jeffrey Hammond, not in the XI, who bowled bouncers at Chappell in the nets, is at far right © Getty Images

Now I'm thinking, "Bugger this, I'm going to hook." I went out and John Snow bowled me a bouncer. I was still undecided and it hit me. That was the thing that triggered it off: if I'm going to get hit, then I'm going to do some damage of my own. I got 56, and the bulk of them were off hooks.

To me, it was important because I felt I had to answer this challenge - for the opposition and for my players. If I had gone out there meek and mild, bobbing and weaving, then they were going to be thinking, "He normally hooks. What's going on here?" England were starting to win that battle. Eventually I got out hooking but I had changed the momentum. I got the bulk of the runs in my partnership with Greg [Chappell], which was unusual, because he usually scored quicker even though he came after me.

That sent a message to the opposition that this fella isn't going to back down. Then, that we went on to win the Test was important because I needed a win for my own confidence as captain, and for my team-mates. I felt they wouldn't sack me at the end of the series if we had won a Test.

I hadn't realised the impact drawing the series had back home till a couple of months after the tour. We played a charity game at Drummoyne Oval in October to raise money for the New South Wales Spastic Association. We went by bus to the ground. At one point the driver told us he couldn't get past all the traffic and it would be better if we walked the rest of the way. We were wondering why there was so much traffic in a suburb in Sydney. When we got to the ground we saw there were about 15,000 people there - which was over capacity. That was our first realisation of the effect the England tour had in Australia.

For some reason, it really captured the imagination. A lot of people my age and a bit younger still speak very fondly of that team and the era. Sure, we had some characters, but I think the public empathised with us because they saw us as being a bit like them.

Ian Chappell played 75 Tests and 16 ODIs for Australia between 1964 and 1980. He was speaking to Nishi Narayanan