History, it is said, is written by the victors.
If this is what happens, and it generally does seem to be the case, is this victor-history to be regarded invariably as the truth of the matter when contentious issues are discussed?
This question has been generated for me by some emails I have exchanged with the former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell regarding his feisty exchanges with the New Zealand star batsman Glenn Turner during the 1974 Test match at Christchurch which New Zealand won, the first Test victory for them against the baggy green caps.
Turner’s heroics with the bat during the Test was one of the main reasons for New Zealand’s victory.
Turner has claimed that he was abused by Chappell during his second innings after an incident involving one of the umpires.
In an article on The Roar, I quoted Turner, a victor-author if ever there was one, giving his version of what happened.
According to Turner, he challenged the way Chappell was “abusing” the umpire over whether a mistake had been made about awarding a four or six to a boundary shot.
Then, again according to Turner, Chappell turned on him: “Then he set about me as well. The language continued, and I just walked away. When I got to the other end, he had another crack at me.
“Normally, if you play and miss, you would expect a few choice words, but when it is one sentence after another abusive sentence, it is taking it too far. He made reference to the fact that he would sort me out afterwards. I don’t believe you go to the office to be abused … The series took an unsavoury and regrettable turn then …”
A couple of days after The Roar published the article I received an email from Ian Chappell:
“Your piece on The Roar made me angry because it was not factual and included Glenn Turner’s lies “
The email then gave me a long and detailed account of the incident Turner wrote about. It ended this way: “That Spiro is my side of the story.”
I replied to the email noting that “I went through all the clippings and statements on the incident and did not find any public statement refuting what Turner alleged.”
Ian Chappell replied immediately to this email: “Hi Spiro, I am refuting them now and I could find you a number of Australian players who were on the field that day who could do the same. Ian”
I then asked Chappell whether he had published a refutation of the Turner story before.
He replied: “Hi Spiro, In my book ‘Chappelli’ I go through the whole episode on the field. Pages 135 – 138.”
Ian Chappell, like some other great Australian cricketers, notably Bill O’Reilly and Richie Benaud, always writes his own copy for his articles and books.
This means that you get the flavour of the man through his writing, informed, combative, articulate and fiercely protective of his integrity.
For this reason, I won’t paraphrase Chappell’s version of the events described by Turner. Here is his version, as he explained the incident to me in an email:
“I was not abusing the umpire – I went to Bob Monteith to find out where he thought the ball landed. It was important because of the atrocious playing conditions concerning boundaries at Lancaster Park.
“When Turner interrupted I told him to shut up. I was talking to the umpire, not him.
“When he continued to interrupt (twice more), I again told him to shut up with the addition of the four letter word.
“Shortly afterwards he was at the striker’s end facing Ashley Mallett when I was returning to the slip position and he was complaining to Rod Marsh about my language.
“I again told him to shut up and stop annoying my players and get on with his batting, with the four letter word again used.
“That was the end of the incident on the field.
“That night after play, when it was NZ’s turn to come into our dressing room, captain Bev Congdon (whom I respected) told me Turner wanted an apology for what I had said on the field. I told him to tell Turner to ‘sing for his apology’ and Bev said: ‘That’s the end of the matter as far as I’m concerned.’
“What Turner doesn’t say is that in 1976 on the international Wanderers tour of South Africa he used the same four-letter word in front of my wife at a social occasion …
“Contrary to what has been written (on many occasions) I didn’t indulge in personal abuse to unsettle opponents: as a good Australian we could not that with an aggressive brand of cricket.
“There were a few things that annoyed me about the way opponents played the game and when this occurred I would let them know that I wasn’t happy. It was never done to put them off their game and it was never premeditated.”
For me, and I wonder whether readers on The Roar will agree with me on this, there is a clear ring of truth in the detailed way in which Ian Chappell has explained his behaviour during the Glenn Turner incident.