Aussie cricket legend Ian Chappell has recounted the “disgraceful” moment Aussie television commentary icon Bill Lawry was knifed by Sir Donald Bradman.
The infamous story of Lawry being sensationally sacked by an Australian Cricket Board that was reportedly out for vengeance has long haunted Australian cricket.
Now in Channel 9’s special feature Bill Lawry, A Glorious Life which aired on Monday night, Lawry and Chappell have revisited the dark episode that saw Chappell promoted to captain and Lawry left out in the cold.
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Lawry had established himself as one of the most stubborn and consistent batsmen on the planet at the time of his ascendancy to the captaincy in 1967 and his famously defensive tactics began to flow through to the rest of the Aussie dressing room.
British cricket reporter Ian Wooldridge famously called Lawry “a corpse with pads on” during Lawry’s first Ashes Tour of England as captaincy in 1968.
It is these frustratingly slow tactics that continue to cloud Lawry’s eventual dismissal.
While many claim the cricket board and the panel of selectors at the time wanted Lawry gone in a bid to promote more entertaining cricket, many continue to believe there were more sinister motivations behind Lawry’s axing.
Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry at the Channel Nine Sizzling Summer of Cricket lunch held at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Picture: Richard DobsonSource:News Corp Australia
Chappell told the Channel 9 feature, Lawry’s instant dismissal came as a result of the highly publicised split between the players in the Aussie cricket team dressing room and the administrators of the time.
Lawry’s rift with the board over pay and conditions for his team ultimately set the scene for the World Series Cricket war that threatened to tear cricket apart in 1977.
It began in the 1969-70 Tour of India where Aussie players were reportedly forced to stay in lodgings of squalor.
Having finally had enough, Lawry wrote a letter to the board demanding better for his teammates and eventually posted the letter with the signatures of every player in the team — on the advice of vice-captain Chappell.
Chappell told the program he feared then and there that the board would move against Lawry to ward off any player mutiny.
Just 12 months later, they made their move, claiming Lawry’s letter was essentially an “insurrection”.
“As far as I am concerned, putting in that letter was the end of Lawry as captain,” Chappell said.
“Then it was just a matter of them getting rid of him.”
Inside the channel Nine commentary box with Ian Chappell, Bill Lawry and Ian Healey.Source:News Limited
After a draw in the Sixth Test of the 1970-71 Ashes series in Australia, Lawry became the first Australian captain ever dumped in the middle of a series.
He wasn’t even told the news — saying he heard about his demise while listening to the radio.
Australia at the time only needed to win the seventh and final test of the series to retain the Ashes.
But his long-running power struggle with the board was where the real battle was playing out.
At the time the official decision came from the panel of selectors chaired by Bradman.
According to ABC Grandstand commentator Jim Maxwell, Bradman was forced to sack Lawry after fellow selectors Sam Loxton and Neil Harvey ganged up on him.
“Fellow selectors Harvey and Loxton outvoted/coerced The Don into making the change,” Maxwell posted on Twitter Tuesday.
None of the trio deemed it necessary to tell Lawry his career was over.
“You don’t get told, you hear about it on the radio or the paper. In those days, you were never advised if you were in the side or out of the side,” Lawry told Channel 9.
Ian Chappell blows up over Bill Lawry's sacking as captain of Australia.
WATCH A Glorious Life: Bill Lawry on Channel 9.#9WWOS #Cricket pic.twitter.com/hMWRQTX1IE
Despite being the beneficiary of the bloody powerplay, Chappell said the incident still doesn’t sit well with him.
“It’s a terrible thing, it’s a disgraceful thing to do,” he said.
“The service that Bill had given Australia, he deserved to hear it from one of the selectors. The chairman of selectors should have told him face to face, in my opinion.”
Lawry is reported to have said at the moment he first heard the news: “What? Have I been dropped? Well, I thought I might have been. The selectors usually come over for a word after the Test and last night they didn’t”.
It’s not hard to see that Chappell never lowered his guard around the board or selectors from that time on.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lawry said recently of his first reaction to the news of Lawry’s downfall.
“I feel sorry for Bill … he’s been a good captain.”
Chappell concluded of the board: “The bastards will never get me like that”.
Lawry recently shared some of the behind the scenes stories from his 40-year career behind the microphone for Channel 9 as part of the iconic Wide World of Sports cricket commentary team.
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