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‘There was one less adult in the room’ – Greg Chappell on ‘shell of a man’ Steve Smith prior to Sandpapergate scandal

by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Greg Chappell has provided an insight into the state of the Australia dressing room in the run-up to the infamous Sandpapergate scandal in his new book, Not Out.

Chappell, a former Australia captain who averaged 53.86 with the bat in Test cricket, criticised some of the dynamics at play in the Australia dressing room prior to the ill-fated 2018 tour of South Africa.

The second Chappell brother revealed that he had had conversations with then Australia coach Darren Lehmann about the side’s behaviour, arguing that their deployment of David Warner as the side’s “attack dog” was unnecessary.

He also wrote that the mental state of Steve Smith, who he believed was struggling with the demands that come with being Australia’s captain in all three formats, contributed to the eventual events at Cape Town

Chappell wrote: “The other contributing factor in early 2018, in terms of the team’s leadership, was that Steve Smith was a shell of his former self. 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.

“You need downtime to step back, clear your mind, and make sure you’ve got a clear perspective on what is going on. I don’t think it is good sense to have someone captain or coach all three forms — you’ll lose them pretty quick.

“During the proceeding Ashes in Australia he’d had a big series and was drained. In part, this was because he wasn’t hitting the ball well, so needed to spend a lot of time over his runs.

“Exactly how drained wasn’t clear to me until I spoke with him in Perth towards the end of the third Test at the WACA Ground, where Australia regained the Ashes. 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.”

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