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Kevin Pietersen’s sudden axing has shocked the cricket world. However, showdowns between players and management are nothing new and have always existed from the very early days of Test cricket. Arunabha Sengupta lists eleven ugly confrontations across the history of the game.
1. The Australian cricket team 1884-85
The English professionals were not amused. At home they played Australia for £10 per man per match. They offered 30 per cent of the gates, but the Australians said no. There were long negotiations but no agreement was reached. The Sydney Mail went vocal with ‘great indignation’ at the ‘grasping policy’ of the Australian cricketers.
John Croswell, businessman and secretary of South Australian Cricket Association, had lobbied intensely for a Test match at Adelaide. In a desperate measure, he offered each team a flat fee of £450 and a third of any resulting profits. This broke the stalemate. The Englishmen gingerly accepted because, “Had we not done so, there would have been no match.”
England won by eight wickets, but result of the match was a minor matter. The gate receipts amounted to just £792, leaving the SACA several hundred pounds in arrears.
However, worse was to follow. The Victoria Cricket Association (VCA) was not prepared to allow the Australian team to dictate terms for the second Test at Melbourne. Neither were the English professionals willing to oblige Murdoch’s men once again. When negotiations failed, Tom Horan, who was hosting the England team in Melbourne, appealed to Murdoch’s men. The Australians remained unmoved and demanded 40 per cent of the gate. When the VCA refused, the Australian XI boycotted the match. An enraged Horan declared, “It would be a good thing for Australian cricket if they never played here again.”
The VCA banned Harry Boyle, George Bonnor, Joey Palmer, Tup Scott, William Cooper, Percy McDonnell, and Jack Blackham from playing any match under their jurisdiction. Horan himself led a hastily strung together a patchwork side to play the second Test.
2. The Big Six 1912
The struggle for control over the team — and mainly the finances — had embittered relationships between the Board of Control and the Australian cricketers for long. It was a long lasting feud that had started in 1905 with the establishment of the Board. Since then, there had been several attempts to appoint vice captains and managers of the touring teams who would act as the eyes and ears of the Board and would act as cashiers.
Matters came to a head during the Ashes tour of 1911-12. Captain Clem Hill and Board member Peter McAlister exchanged a number of telegrams about the inclusion of Warwick Armstrong in the side for the fourth Test at Melbourne. Hill wanted Armstrong while McAllister backed Roy Minnett. When they met at a Sydney Hotel to choose the team, angry words were exchanged. The last straw was when McAllister claimed that he was a better captain than Hill, Armstrong and Victor Trumper put together, adding that Hill was “the worst captain in living memory”. Hill stood up and said, “You’ve been asking for a punch all night and I’ll give you one.” And he proceeded to strike McAllister across the face.
The altercation lasted for almost 20 minutes, and at one point Hill had to be physically restrained from hurling McAlister out of the third-storey window.
Strangely, Hill was retained as captain. However, when the Board announced that their favoured candidate George Crouch would be the manager of the Australian team for the 1912 Triangular Tournament in England, there was outright rebellion. The players wanted Frank Laver. When the Board disagreed, Hill, Armstrong, Trumper, Harry Carter, Tibby Cotter and Vernon Ransford announced that they would be unavailable for the tour. A largely second string side left for England under the captaincy of Syd Gregory.
3. Don Bradman and the three-way contract 1932
In late 1932, Don Bradman returned from a three month tour of North America, thoroughly exhausted after scoring 3792 runs at 102.10. The strain had been equivalent to four Shield seasons. As the star attraction, he had had to play every game. The tired legend was not really in the mood for controversy, but that is how events transpired.
In the spring of 1931, Bradman had seriously contemplated playing professional cricket for Accrington in the Lancashire League. The move would have breached his contract with the Australian Board and ended his Test career. The country could not afford to lose his services, especially as a key attraction for the games at the height of the Depression. But the young master required the money.
Eventually, a solution was provided by three Sydney businesses. A two-year contract was drawn up according to which Bradman was to write for Associated Newspapers, broadcast regularly on Radio 2UE and promote the menswear retailing chain FJ Palmer and Son.
However, the Australian Board of Control decreed that he would not be permitted to write about the 1932–33 series. According to the rules only professional journalists like Jack Fingleton could write in the press about matches they played in.
Bradman’s answer was that he would honour his job contract with Associated Newspapers, even if that meant missing the Ashes series. He did not play the first Test, due to a combination of ill health and the ongoing problems with the management.
The impasse was resolved only when the editorial chief of Associated Newspapers, RC Packer, agreed to release him from the obligation. Interestingly, this RC Packer was the grandfather of the man who triggered the biggest conflict between the Board and the players some 45 years down the line — Kerry Packer.
4. Lala Amarnath sent home, 1936
During the early days of the England tour of 1936, the Indian captain, the Maharajakumar of Vizianagram, called the 24-year old Lala Amarnath aside and warned him to stay away from the great CK Nayudu. The star all-rounder was surprised, but complied with his captain’s wishes. Vizzy was pleased. When Amarnath scored a century against Northamptonshire, the captain was effusive in praise and started giving him regular rides to the grounds in his car.
However, the happy times did not last too long. Soon, Vizzy refused Amarnath some changes to the field as the latter bowled against Leicestershire, and banished him to the outfield. When Amarnath discussed the tactics with other team members, the skipper called him aside and informed him that he had the supreme authority to do whatever he wanted. Amarnath, with the Punjabi bluntness, retorted that it did not include the right to insult colleagues.
Vizzy informed the manager, Major Brittain-Jones. Amarnath was ordered to apologise to the captain. At the same time, he was lured with a lucrative contract to play in the Lancashire league. The young cricketer agreed and said he was sorry.
However, Vizzy continued to ill-treat him. Against Middlesex, Amarnath was again banished to the deep and under-bowled, even as he took six for 29. The all-rounder responded by scoring a century in each innings against Essex. Amarnath also picked up a back injury and it got worse as he patrolled the boundary. When he discussed his problems with Amir Elahi and Baqa Jilani, he received a severe warning from the manager.
The climax was reached during the match against Minor Counties. Amarnath was told that he would be batting at No 4 and padded up. But at the fall of the second wicket, Amar Singh was sent in. He sat waiting with his pads on and was allowed to go in only when the fifth wicket went down, 10 minutes from the close of play. He played out time, and when he came back to the pavilion, could not control himself any more. He threw down his pads and muttered loud and choice expletives in Punjabi.
Soon after the match, Brittain-Jones produced a written statement signed by several players testifying that Amarnath had misbehaved with the captain. Arrangements were made to put him on board Kaiser I Hind the very next day. Players like Cota Ramaswami, Wazir Ali, Nayudu and Dattaram Hindlekar approached to the captain and pleaded Amarnath’s case. Vizzy promised to consider if Amarnath tendered a written apology. But, the next day he informed everyone that the manager would not change his mind.
Amarnath made his lonely trip back to India and the drama dragged on for more than a month. Amidst much public outcry against the decision of the team management, the Maharajah of Bhopal did try to intervene and send him back to England. It did not work out.
India were trounced in the series, Vizzy faring disastrously with the bat and as a leader. In January 1937, the Beaumont Committee report described Vizzy’s captaincy as disastrous, noting that “he did not understand field placings or bowling changes and never maintained any regular batting order.”
Amarnath did get back into the Indian team and later captained the side. However, Vizzy did not play for India again.
5. Roy Gilcrhist and his beamers, 1957
In spite of his formidable reputation as a fast bowler, Roy Gilchrist played just 13 Tests for West Indies, capturing 57 wickets at 26.68. His career could have been considerably longer, but was cut tragically short due to altercations with the opponents and finally a showdown with his captain, the Cambridge-educated Gerry Alexander.
Gilchrist had a penchant for intimidating batsmen by overstepping by yards and hurling beamers from up close. In the fourth Test match at Nagpur, when struck for three consecutive boundaries by AG Kripal Singh, he charged beyond the line by six yards and bowled a bouncer that struck the Sikh batsman on the head. Warned by his captain, Gilchrist claimed that the Cambridge University man was speaking down to him and not at him.
Things soon reached a point of no return. In the next match against North Zone at Amritsar, the fast bowler started hurling beamers at left-handed batsman Swaranjit Singh. Alexander, who had known Swaranjit at Cambridge, asked Gilchrist to stop the barrage at once, but the paceman refused to listen.
During lunch, the captain substituted him and said, “You will leave by the next flight. Good afternoon.” It is rumoured, but never explicitly verified, that in retaliation Gilchrist pulled a knife on his captain.
6. Johnny Wardle and Daily Mail, 1958
In 1958, Johnny Wardle was in prime form with 91 wickets in the summer at 15.39 apiece. When the team to tour Australia was announced on July 27, he was an obvious choice. Captain Peter May considered him one of the most important members of the side. And then all hell broke loose.
Wardle had been piqued by the decision of the committee to appoint Ronnie Burnet as the captain of the county. The 40-year-old Burnet had no prior experience of First-Class cricket, but had led the Second XI with some distinction. The committee also asked Wardle to lend the captain the benefit of his immense experience and guide his decisions on the field.
Wardle started out helping Burnet with the field and bowling changes – but the spinner was not the only senior pro who thought that the team was carrying the captain. With time, Burnett did not take too much notice of him. Almost inevitably the dynamics soon reached boiling point.
The crisis occurred during the match against Somerset at Sheffield. During a fruitless session, Burnet accused Wardle of not trying. The spinner bristled. He turned on his captain and blurted out, “At the beginning of the season I was asked to give you advice. You’ve taken no bloody notice and, as a result, you are making us professionals look idiots out there.”
This was followed by a series of articles written for Daily Mail. They were largely ghosted for Wardle by hack writers, with the spinner hardly giving them a glance. They dwelt at length upon the lamentable decision to appoint Burnet as Yorkshire captain. His grievances, voiced without tact and made fully public, led to disaster. Three days after the selection of the team bound for Australia, Yorkshire informed Wardle that they would not be requiring his services after the season.
Soon after that, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) invited him to appear before them and explain the articles in Daily Mail. Not surprisingly, Wardle did not have an explanation handy. At the end of the meeting, he was dropped from the touring party as well. It was the end of Wardle’s career.
7. Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, late 1970s
In 1975, demands for higher pay had resulted in a majority of Australian cricketers threatening to go on a strike during an Ashes Test. At this juncture, a Bradman disciple and the Australian Cricket Board secretary, Alan Barnes, had given an interview to The Australian. He had remarked, “There are 500,000 cricketers who would love to play for Australia for nothing.”
A fuming Ian Chappell went out to toss moments after the team had read the interview. When he walked back to the dressing room, he saw that Ian Redpath had grabbed Barnes by the shirt and tie and had pinned him against the wall, saying, “You bloody idiot, of course 500,000 people would play for nothing, but how bloody good would they be?”
Till then, every negotiation with the ACB had result in an impasse. Whenever the question of money had been raised, the high pitched voice of Bradman the administrator had stopped the discussion saying, “No son, we cannot do that.”
When the cream of the Australian team defected in favour of World Series Cricket, Bradman remarked that the players had ‘stabbed us in the back.’ However, according to Chappell, it was Bradman’s meanness with money that had led cricketers to opt for the financial security offered by Kerry Packer.
8. Rebel Tours, 1982-90
The rebel cricket tours to apartheid-stricken South Africa must rank among the most extraordinary sporting ventures. Between 1982 and 1990, as many as seven international teams defied the global boycott and the Gleneagles Agreement to visit the republic and engage in ‘Tests’ and One Day Internationals. These players did not only go against their board — most of them were banned, some for life. They also prompted anger and condemnation throughout the world game and far, far beyond.
Those who took part faced public opprobrium, personal and professional ruin. But, they did go. And there was a glittering galaxy of cricketers who did fly down there to play cricket.
The first was the English cricket team led by Graham Gooch in 1982, and it included stalwarts like Geoff Boycott, Dennis Amiss, Bob Woolmer, Allan Knott, Chris Old, John Lever, Derek Underwood and Peter Willey.
Towards the end of that very same year came the Sri Lankans, a historic team of non-whites to play white South Africa. They were led by their first Test captain, Bandula Warnapura.
And with time, more teams arrived. Alvin Kallicharran, Lawrence Rowe, Collis King, Colin Croft, Franklyn Stevenson and Sylvester Clarke formed a mighty West Indian combination. They visited twice, in quick succession, in 1983 and 1984. Then it was the turn of the Australians. Kim Hughes led a team of John Dyson, Graham Yallop, Carl Rackemann, Rodney Hogg and others in 1985-86. The team returned with Kepler Wessels in tow in 1986-87.
And finally it was the turn of Mike Gatting to bring another England side in 1990. The men included Chris Broad, Bill Athey, Tim Robinson, John Emburey, Richard Ellison, Neil Foster. This final tour coincided with the recognition of African National Congress and the release of Nelson Mandela and was predictably riddled with political tension and demonstrations.
9. Indian Big Six, 1989
In 1988, six senior Indian cricketers got into a major dispute with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Dilip Vengsarkar, the captain of the side, had already faced the wrath of the Board by writing columns in newspapers during the home series against West Indies in 1987. He had been banned for six months, which thankfully coincided with his period of recovery from a broken wrist.
Things deteriorated even further when he was joined by Kapil Dev, Kiran More, Arun Lal, Mohammad Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri in a standoff against the management. The six of them signed their contracts only after striking off certain clauses.
The tensions increased further when, after a disastrous tour of West Indies, the players defied the instructions of the Board and turned out in exhibition matches in United States and Canada. In August 1989, the six cricketers were banned from international and domestic cricket for a couple of years. Six others who had gone on that tour — Sanjay Manjrekar, M Venkatramana, Sanjeev Sharma, Ajay Sharma, Narendra Hirwani and Robin Singh — were let off with a fine on grounds of inexperience. The Board also forfeited the Rs. 35000 balance due to all these players for their tour of West Indies.
In response, the six players filed a case against the Board. A Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Venkataramaiah ordered the BCCI to arrive at a settlement with the cricketers. The decree also stated that any further litigation could adversely affect the Board. This led the BCCI to lift the ban in an Extraordinary Working Committee meeting on September 15, 1989.
10. Zimbabwe, 2004
In 2004, the popular Heath Streak was sacked as captain of Zimbabwe. It was the result of a set of demands the all-rounder had made to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU). Not satisfied with the selection of teams, Streak had stipulated that all the selectors should have at least First-Class experience. He had also issued the warning that he would quit the game if his conditions were not met. In response the ZCU removed Streak from captaincy, and appointed the young Tatenda Taibu. Streak, Zimbabwe’s only world class bowler was forced to announce his retirement at the age of 30.
In protest, 15 players — which included Grant Flower, Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart, Andy Blignaut and Ray Price — signed a petition calling for the introduction of a minimum wage policy and establishment of a players’ association. They also refused to play for the country.
The minnows of world cricket managed to plunge to a new low.
11. West Indies, 2009
The troubles started when the new contract was signed with sponsor Digicel in 2005. Since then, the West Indian Players’ Association were always at loggerheads with the Board. There was general bitterness, with some sure signs and symptoms of rebellion.
However, the relationship reached rockbottom over the annual retainer contracts of 2009. Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Fidel Edwards and eight others had left the contracts unsigned since October 2008. The Player’s Association claimed that the players had participated in four tournaments without formalised contracts.
In July 2009, the fumes of dissent sparked a drastic measure. The entire first choice team withdrew from a home series against Bangladesh. A replacement team led by Floyd Reifer was hastily put together. They lost both the Test and One Day International series to the minnows of the cricket world.
When an arbitrator was appointed to settle the dispute, the original squad made themselves available. But the Board decided to send the second-string side to South Africa for the 2009 Champions Trophy.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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