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The Roar


'One less adult in the room': Chappell reveals Steve Smith Ashes meltdown, calls out Lehmann, Waugh over sledging

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8th December, 2021
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Former Australian captain and selector Greg Chappell has revealed clashing with ex-coach Darren Lehmann over Australia’s aggressive approach during his regime, and offered a stunning insight into Steve Smith’s state of mind just before the Sandpapergate scandal.

Chappell has released a new book – Greg Chappell: Not Out – and there were some intriguing insights published in an extract in The Times newspaper on Wednesday.

Chappell says he first saw issues within Australian cricket when he went to work for Cricket Australia in 2007, 11 years before the sandpaper affair in South Africa.

“I couldn’t believe how the dressing-room environment had changed,” wrote Chappell. “Things like blokes throwing bats in the dressing room or having extensive temper tantrums were commonplace.”

He found it worked against team harmony.

“You never want a room that is jolted by the fear and anxiety built up by seeing a team-mate losing their rag. To see a dressing room that was the antithesis of that in 2008 was a shock to me,” Chappell wrote.

Greg Chappell

Australian selector Greg Chappell looks on during day three of the Second Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Manuka Oval on February 03, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Matt King – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

He detailed a discussion he had with Lehmann about the “attack dog” role given to David Warner, who had returned to it having previously stepped away after getting into disciplinary hot water.

“In the intervening period he focused on his cricket and was going well, at least individually,” wrote Chappell.

“But there was a feeling from the team’s management and leadership that an attack dog was needed and that haranguing opposition players and getting in their faces was part of how the team won. I disagreed totally, but the counterview from Darren was, ‘That’s the way we’ve always played cricket.’

“My response was, ‘No Darren, maybe that’s the way you’ve played cricket, but it wasn’t the way I played.’

“’Oh mate, but you blokes sledged other teams.’ ‘Mate, banter went on, the odd bit of sledging went on, but not haranguing opposition players and certainly not doing so in a premeditated way. It’s never been acceptable in any workplace, let alone on a cricket field, and it shouldn’t be acceptable now.” ‘No mate, you’ve got to do this to win’.”

Chappell also turned the focus on Steve Waugh’s time as captain.

“Why did Darren think that was the way Australia always played?” he wrote.


“Probably because of the emphasis on “mental disintegration” when Darren played most of his international matches, during Steve Waugh’s wildly successful period as captain.

“While this sort of thing was occasionally seen under Allan Border and Mark Taylor, in Steve’s time it became acceptable to stand there and harangue an opposition player as a commonplace tactic.

“Over generations it went from a necessity to something like a badge of honour to get up the opposition’s nose faster than they could get up ours. Different era, different game was the excuse, but is it that different? Sure, it is a fully professional and highly paid career, and if you get dropped you’ve lost your job, whereas we went back to work.

“But the biggest difference was that we went in the opposition dressing rooms on a regular basis. At the end of a day’s play we had to front up in the opposition rooms or welcome them into ours. If you made an arse of yourself on the field, you had to face the music that night. You’d have to stand or sit in the middle of the floor and explain yourself.”

Chappell said that leading into the fateful 2018 Cape Town Test “quite a few of us had the same feeling. We couldn’t tell you what the problem or the blow-up was going to be, but we knew that something ominous was around the corner.

“People were turning the TV off in droves, incensed at some of the things they were seeing. The alarm bells were ringing. I’m a friend of James Sutherland and I think he was a very successful chief executive of Cricket Australia over many years, who worked assiduously for the benefit of the game. But there were certain things on which we did not agree. I spoke to him about the behaviour of the players on the field and he didn’t see it as anywhere near as much of an issue as I did.

“When Tom Veivers and Brian Booth, who played a heap of Tests for Australia in the 1960s, wrote to James, questioning many of the same issues I saw, the response was that “it’s a different game today”.

“That was a misunderstanding of the complaint. It may well be a harder game, with higher financial stakes, but bad behaviour is not acceptable whatever the era. Racial, religious or personal abuse is never acceptable in any environment. The sporting field is no exception. It’s never acceptable — but it was being accepted.”


Chappell said the state of mind of Steve Smith leading into the series was another contributing factor to the scandal.

“Steve Smith was a shell of his former self,” Chappell wrote. “Having taken on the Test and ODI captaincy in 2015, Steve was also handed the T20 leadership for the World Cup in 2016.

“It’s particularly hard to captain a country in all three formats and Steve, a young leader, was having his mental and physical reserves drained away at a rate of knots.”

Chappell recounted a discussion he had with Smith during the 2017-18 Ashes series.

(Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

“Steve was sitting on one of the physio benches staring into space; I walked into the room towards him and he didn’t register that anyone was there.

“I said, ‘How are you going?’ and he blinked and said, ‘Oh mate, I’m gone. I can’t sleep, I’m not eating. During a Test I can’t do anything. All I can do is play cricket and stagger back to my room.’

“He was a shell of a man by mid-December and that was a contributing factor to what we saw in South Africa a few months later.


“It meant there was one less adult in the room. I’ve no doubt that whatever went on at Newlands went on around Steve, because I don’t believe he was even capable of participating in any kind of plot. He had become fatigued and withdrawn. I had a huge degree of empathy for Steve.

“Hopefully there will never be another decision made in Australian cricket that is as short term, as focused on winning at the expense of all else, as the call to sandpaper the ball. As for legacies, it is unfair to dump it all at the feet of the players. Cameron Bancroft [who used the sandpaper on the ball] may never recover from his involvement.

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“Smith has been able to get over it through the weight of runs and Warner has, too, to a similar extent. But Bancroft may never get over it.


“He doesn’t deserve it; you would hope if you’d been in his position you’d be aware enough to say, ‘No, I don’t want to be involved in that.’ But the trouble is when the whole dressing room’s moving in a win-at-all-costs direction it takes a seasoned character to swim against that tide.

“Ultimately, every one of us in the organisation was guilty. We all walked past things we shouldn’t have walked past, from top to bottom. There were opportunities to speak up as an organisation and we didn’t do it.”

Although Australian cricket has undergone a culture review in the wake of Sandpapergate, Chappell is not expecting immiediate change.

“One of the realities of such a long lead-up is that it may take another generation or two before the crutch of nasty, premeditated sledging is fully abandoned by Australian players,” he writes.

“I am not convinced that the good work of the past three years has fully stamped it out: undeniably, there are some cricketers who still reckon it is a competitive advantage worth having.”