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Dickie Bird and the mobile phone story: A tall tale?

By Abhishek Mukherjee | Updated:Fri, July 01, 2016 6:15pm

As has often been the case, Dickie Bird's story does not match up to the facts.

As per Dickie Bird’s claims, Allan Lamb had carried his mobile phone to the centre at Trent Bridge on June 11, 1990. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to validate whether the statement was true.

The story is well-documented, at least by Dickie Bird. If we go by Dickie Bird: My Autobiography, Allan Lamb had once come out to bat at Trent Bridge. Standing at square-leg on the Radcliffe Road End, Bird was astonished to see Lamb walking towards him instead of the stumps. The following conversation ensued:

Bird: Nay, Lamby lad, what do you think you’re playing at? Have your eyes gone or summat? The stumps are over there, this is square leg.
Lamb: I know that, Dickie, but it’s you I want. I’ve got a big problem.
Bird: Not half as big a problem as you’ll have if you don’t get there double quick so that we can get on with the game.
Lamb: But it’s my hand phone. I forgot to take it out of my pocket when I came in to bat. I put my thigh pads on, strapped on my pads, picked up my gloves and bat, charged out here, and completely forgot about the phone.
Bird: Well, what do you expect me to do about it?
Lamb: I want you to put it in your pocket and keep it safe for me. Oh, and if it rings, answer it.
Bird: You must be joking. We’re in the middle of a Test match, man. You’ll get the shot. I’m not putting it in my pocket, and that’s that.
Lamb: You must, Dickie. Please. I can’t carry it about while I’m batting, can I? Just stuff it in your pocket and hope it doesn’t ring, there’s a good chap.

Bird obliged. Lamb asked for his guard from John Hampshire. The match continued peacefully when the phone trilled in Bird’s pocket. Unsure of what to do, Bird had no option but to yell.

Bird: Lamby, t’phone’s ringing.
Lamb: Well, answer it, then. I’m expecting some messages.

So Bird took the phone out of his pocket (one must remember that cell-phones were not very common those days) and asked rather gingerly: “Hello, this is Dickie Bird speaking on Allan Lamb’s phone. Who’s there?”

The reply stunned Bird: “This is Ian Botham speaking from the dressing room. Tell that fellow Lamb to play a few shots or get out.”

Is the story true?

Let us get back to the Test in question. Bird clearly mentions that it was a “special thrill” for him to stand in MCC’s Bicentennial Match in 1987. He also mentioned making history that summer — that of being substituted for injury during a Test. He was hit just below the knee by a throw from Saleem Malik, and had to be replaced by Jack Birkenshaw. The scoreboards and match reports tally with Bird’s accounts.

We now move on to a series that Bird referred to as “three years later”. He also mentions the confrontation between Mark Greatbatch and David Constant during a Texaco Trophy encounter, following which Constant had opted out of the Lord’s Test. The incident was certainly in 1990.

Bird also mentions the venue (Trent Bridge), which makes the job of the researcher easy. All we now have to check is the England vs New Zealand Test in 1990 at Nottinghamshire’s main home ground. But what happened during the Test?

Rain reduced play on Day One by two hours, and cut down the next day to a mere 23 minutes. New Zealand, in trouble against the English fast bowlers, were reduced to 189 for 6 at stumps on Day Two, and were bowled out for 208 the next morning. The striking feature of the innings was Martin Snedden’s innings: having started on Day One, he was finally dismissed on Day Three; he had faced 29 balls over 39 minutes; and scored a duck.

England were 4 for 1 at stumps. After the rest day, they lost Alec Stewart early on Day Four. Lamb walked out at 43 for 1. According to Bird this was the moment when he handed the phone to Bird. It could well have been possible, but there were two things that should be brought into notice here:

1. Lamb was trapped leg-before by Hadlee for a duck. He faced only two balls and was out there for six minutes, so it is unlikely that anybody would have asked him to “play a few shots or get out.”

2. Botham was not playing in the match. In fact, he was touring Ireland with Worcestershire.

A case may be made for Botham having reached Trent Bridge on the June 11 and call from the dressing-room. He was at Trent Bridge two days later, playing a Benson & Hedges Cup match. The match involved neither Bird nor Lamb, so it is impossible that Bird had got confused between the two matches.

Let us try give it to old Dickie, for once. Maybe Lamb had actually given him the phone. Maybe Botham had somehow sneaked in to the dressing-room. The story still does not fit — because Lamb had scored a three-ball duck. But then, stranger recollections have happened in cricket.

What followed?

- Michael Atherton and Robin Smith added 96 for the fourth wicket. Atherton was seventh out after an eight-hour vigil of 151, and Graham Gooch declared with a 137-run lead on the final evening. The Test petered out to a draw.

- The second Test at Lord’s (during which Hadlee was knighted) resulted in a high-scoring draw. England sealed the series with a 114-run victory in the final Test at Edgbaston, thanks to Graham Gooch’s 154, Eddie Hemmings’ 6 for 58, and Devon Malcolm’s 5 for 46.

- Years later, in 2014, in a Grampians Cricket Association Juniors Under-16s match against Pomonal, a certain Marcus Elliott of Youth Club was given out hit wicket when a ball hit him, making his mobile phone fall out of his pocket on to the stumps.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 208 (Martin Crowe 59; Phil DeFreitas 5 for 53) and 36 for 2 drew with England 345 for 9 decl. (Michael Atherton 151, Robin Smith 55; Richard Hadlee 4 for 89)

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)

Published:Tue, December 23, 2014 6:00am | Updated:Fri, July 01, 2016 6:15pm

Tags

Moments in history Ian Botham Allan Lamb Dickie Bird Abhishek Mukherjee Mythbusters New Zealand in England 1990 Mobile phone

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