What happened to harmless banter?
On-field chatter has always been part of cricket, so why are we so upset over what went on in the Ashes opener at The Gabba in Brisbane recently?
After all, the players have not given the impression that they have a problem with it. Yet, the ugliness of it all is palpable. No one expects a controversy-free Ashes series, but not everyone expected cricketing hatred to infest the series so early. Whatever happened to the good old, fair, smart and harmless aggression? Is it extinct because of sheer shortage of characters? Probably. Has it been lost in the dog-eat-dog world? Definitely. Can we hope to see non-abusive chat in today’s cricket? Of course!
In the heat of the kitchen, you still need to have a sense of humour, although that is easier said than done.
A few years ago, Barry Richards, the great South African batsman, told his interviewer, the splendid writer Rahul Bhattacharya: “There used to be some good banter on the pitch those days. There was a chap called Andre Bruyns I played schools cricket with and he went on to play for Western Province. I was batting quite well against him one day and he came up to me and said:
“Listen, just give me a little kiss on the ear.” I said: “What’s going on here?” So he said: “I like a little passion when I’m getting a good f***.”
Sandeep Patil told me about how the chirpy Javed Miandad met him on the boundary line and followed him to the batting crease where he would face a rampaging Imran Khan in the second Test at Karachi during the 1982-83 series. Miandad had heard about Patil signing up for a film and said something like, “Here comes our hero … a lot of heroines have come to watch you today.” The Pakistani stalwart mastered the art of distracting batsmen and Patil was bowled by Imran for a duck. Patil, like many other batsmen, does not remember any bowler giving him a glare, never mind saying anything nasty to him, be it Imran, Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee or the formidable West Indians. And after Miandad performed his on-field drama at Karachi, he left Patil to take guard with the words, “Sham ko milte hain.” Yes, Miandad was known for being a magnanimous host.
At times, mean bowlers have been caught off guard by batsmen. In the Perth Test of the 1974-75 series, Colin Cowdrey walked in to bat for the first time in a Test after being recalled to the England team at the fast and bouncy WACA ground of all places against the fury of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. As Thomson was getting set to bowl another thunderbolt, he saw the 42-year-old veteran approaching him: “Oh Mr Thomson, Colin Cowdrey is pleased to meet you.” Thomson shook hands and wondered, “If you think this is going to work, good luck.”
Cowdrey’s brave comeback didn’t result in many runs, but a friendship had been forged despite the 18-year age difference. When Kent played the Australians the next year, Cowdrey took a hundred off them and Thomson was grateful he was not in the playing XI.
When ‘Fiery Fred’ Trueman was on the verge of becoming the first bowler to claim 300 Test wickets at the Oval Test of the 1964 Ashes, opposition
all-rounder Neil Hawke walked up to Trueman and said, “Well FS, I wouldn’t mind being the 300th I suppose.” Hawke didn’t give in easily although he eventually became Trueman’s landmark victim. To commemorate the occasion, Trueman presented Hawke with a bottle of champagne which the Australian preserved in his Adelaide home.
In 1983, another record master — Sunil Gavaskar — decided to bat at No 4 in the Madras Test against the West Indies. This was the first time Gavaskar was coming lower down in a non-emergency situation. However, India lost opener Anshuman Gaekwad and one-drop Dilip Vengsarkar with no runs on the scoreboard. Gavaskar walked in and denied Malcolm Marshall a hat-trick. As Andy Roberts got ready to bowl the second over of the innings, Viv Richards rushed towards the great Indian to exclaim (according to Gavaskar in his book Runs ’n Ruins) “Maan, it makes no difference if you bat lower. The score is still zero.” Gavaskar ended up scoring an unbeaten 236 out of India’s 451 for 8 declared.
Hopefully, today’s Adelaide Test will see less of needless aggression which the players want us to believe makes Ashes contests special. Probably, they are in denial.
The last thing the Ashes needs is a massive confrontation.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor