Tony Deyal | Cricket at its boisterous best and worst
Australian wicketkeeper, Rodney Marsh, known as ‘Iron Gloves’ for his sloppy catching, was one of the Aussie ‘hitmen’ or ‘Ugly Australians’ known for their hard-nosed cricket, hostile fast bowling but, most of all, for their verbal abuse of the batsmen on the other team.
Tom Graveney, one of the greatest English players of all time, wrote, “Behind the batsmen, Rod Marsh and his captain Ian Chappell would vie with each other in profanity … . It was an open secret that he (Chappell) used to encourage his players to give a lot of verbal abuse to rival batsmen when they were at the wicket in an attempt to break their concentration.”
Marsh once tried it on an even more colourful character, Ian Botham, one of the greatest all-rounders of all time, cannabis user and famous for having such wild sex with model Lindy Field in Barbados in 1986 that they broke the bed. Marsh, hoping to rattle or at least unsettle Botham, asked, “So how’s your wife and my kids?”
Botham replied, “The wife is fine, but the kids are retarded.”
This was ‘sledging’, described by spinner Shane Warne as “an effective cricket weapon”. It was first used by Australian newspapers in the 1970s, but according to a BBC sportswriter and broadcaster, it started in the mid-60s when there was talk that the wife of fast bowler Grahame Corling was having an affair with one of Corling’s teammates. When Corling came in to bat, the fielding team started singing When A Man Loves A Woman, the old Percy Sledge classic, and that is how the term ‘sledging’ started.
However, Ian Chappell has a different story. He says the use of ‘sledging’ started at the Adelaide Oval in the ‘60s when a cricketer reacted to an incident “like a sledgehammer”, and so the direction of insults or obscenities at opponents became known as ‘sledging’.
What is true, though, is that regardless of what name you give it, this kind of gamesmanship involving ‘chaffing’ or teasing opponents to unsettle them goes back to the early days of cricket, and even the great W.G. Grace was famous for it.
Despite Shane Warne’s belief in sledging as an effective weapon, it is not as funny when you’re on the receiving end. Warne loudly told South African batsman Darryl Cullinan as he strode to the crease, “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate you.”
Cullinan replied, “Looks like you spent it eating.”
Sometimes, though, the sledgers are the ones on the losing end of the confrontation.
Another famous story about a sledger on the receiving end is about Vivian Richards who severely punished bowlers who dared to sledge him. In fact, some captains in the English League forbade their players from sledging Viv. Unfortunately, Glamorgan bowler Greg Thomas was what my Guyanese friends describe as “hard ears”. After Richards played and missed a few times, Thomas decided to rub it in, saying, “It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces, in case you were wondering.”
Legend has it that Richards hit the next ball out of the grounds and into a nearby river and then told the bowler, “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it.”
THE GREAT SLEDGERS
There are many other stories about the great sledges and sledgers.
While batting against Australia, the present Indian coach and one of the few people to hit six sixes in an over, Ravi Shastri, was warned by the substitute, fast bowler Mike Whitney, “Stay in your crease or I’ll break your effing head.”
Shastri responded calmly, “If you could bowl as well as you talk you wouldn’t be the effing twelfth man.”
Glen McGrath, the Australian pacer, tried to sledge the obviously overweight Zimbabwe batsman, Eddoe Brandes, about his eating habits and asked Brandes, “Why are you so fat?”
Brandes replied, “Because every time I (expletive deleted) your wife, she gives me a biscuit.”
While not responding to that particular reference to his wife, McGrath replied angrily to another, Ramnaresh Sarwan, the West Indies batsman, and it got extremely heated.
He was having a bad time and Sarwan was leading a West Indies recovery. Not known for his sledging, he asked Sarwan, “What does Brian Lara’s *#&* taste like?”
Sarwan responded, “I don’t know. Ask your wife.”
McGrath, whose wife was suffering from cancer, went berserk and threatened to rip out Sarwan’s throat.
The umpire, The Reverend David Shepherd, intervened, but incredibly Mike Procter, the match referee, let both men go scot-free.
Given the background of sledging, the stories, the language, the McGrath-Sarwan incident, and the fact that nobody ever got punished for some of the harder-edged responses and language, I was very surprised when West Indies fast bowler, Shannon Gabriel, was charged with “personal abuse” and worse, given a four-match ban and fined 75 per cent of his match fee by match referee, former New Zealand batsman Jeff Crowe.
It is interesting that Crowe’s brother, Martin, when he was New Zealand captain, is quoted by journalist Arunabha Sengupta as asking a journalist at a press conference, “Do you think I am a homosexual?”
Sengupta writes that because early in their career, the Crowe brothers were managed by a gay rock-concert promoter, Darryl Campbell, and were making serious money, there were soon rumours circulating that Martin Crowe was one of “Darryl’s boys”. According to Sengupta, “Crowe did change his manager after a couple of years, but the rumours only became dormant, to resurface whenever there was the burning necessity for the media to haul their star batsman over fire.”
While the punishment inflicted on Gabriel may not have anything to do with Crowe’s past, the more important issue for me is why the team manager and Gabriel did not appeal its extreme and unprecedented severity.
It would have been interesting if the match referee was David Boone, who so stubbornly resisted fast bowler Malcolm Marshall that Marshall said nicely, “Now David, are you going to get out now or am I going to have to bowl around the wicket and kill you?”
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that if Jack Warner the former football honcho was around, his response to whether he liked boys would have been his usual, “Ask your mother” and that would have been the end of that. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org