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During his rearguard action at MCG, Kevin Pietersen accidentally swallowed a fly. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at miscellaneous fauna that have invaded cricket grounds over history.
It was the 75th over of the Boxing Day Ashes Test at MCG. Kevin Pietersen pulled Ryan Harris hard; George Bailey made a superhuman lunge but the ball spilled out of his hands; a fuming Pietersen cursed himself profusely at the lapse, and then coughed: he had accidentally swallowed a fly. The physio was summoned, but there was little he could do.
The fly was not the first animal to feature on a cricket field. Let us have a look at some of the others.
Note: The list does not include Merv Hughes, whom Steve Waugh had famously referred to as his favourite animal.
There have been multiple dog invasions on a cricket ground (Sunil Gavaskar was famously petrified of them; he still stays clear of Ravi Shastri’s dogs — Bouncer and Beamer). The most famous incident probably came in the Trent Bridge Test of 1993: Hughes was ready to run in to bowl the first ball of the Test to Mark Lathwell when there was a commotion at Radcliffe Road End: there was a mongrel on the loose.
Of all people, Hughes himself approached the canine and went down on his knees to plead it to leave. Even more surprisingly, the dog was subdued and Michael Slater carried him away and handed him over to a steward. The mutt was later adopted by one of the immediate callers, and rumours are that they had named it Merv.
Sri Lankan grounds have possibly witnessed the most dogs over the years; the most famous among these was probably during the first ODI of the 2007-08 series at Dambulla that trotted smugly during a Stuart Broad over.
However, none of these had changed the outcome of a crucial match. That happened during the match between Surrey and Yorkshire in 2002, where Richard Blakey and Ian Salisbury were pulling off an excellent rearguard action. During the innings, Blakey swept Saqlain for a shot that went past the ropes of the Guildford Cricket Club Ground into the press tent.
When the ball was returned, Adam Hollioake, the Surrey captain, noticed that some serious tampering had been done with the ball. “The ball was wet and pierced, almost mangled,” wrote Arunabha Sengupta. Hollioake immediately asked for the new ball that was 21 overs overdue, and James Ormond, Ed Giddins, and Rikki Clarke bowled Yorkshire out. Ian Ward then chased down the target, leading Surrey to a six-wicket win. The culprit behind the tampering was discovered later: it turned out to be Bumper, the Labrador of Geoffrey Dean of The Times who had accompanied his master to the ground.
Brutus was the resident dog at Headingley (well, not quite: he lived in a house that overlooked the ground). Though he never attained the stature of Peter (see below) he was often considered a lucky mascot by the English side. England won the Ashes Test in 1961 and the Pakistan Test in 1962 when Brutus had decided to bless the ground with his presence. He did not turn up in the Test against West Indies in 1963, and England promptly lost!
The World Cup had been blessed by the august presence of the canines as well. During the Group B match between India and West Indies at Cheapauk in 2011 a dog had decided to bless the ground by its appearance. It turned things around for India: they beat the four ex-World Champions in a row to clinch the title.
When they took IPL to South Africa a black dog (with a red collar on it) decided to invade the match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at Cape Town. Play had to be held up as the dog, though quite tame in nature, was a significantly large one.
On a rather sad note, the 1985-86 tour of West Indies, Bruce French was assaulted (and bitten) by a dog while out for a training jog.
Peter the Cat is, of course, the only animal to have appeared in the Wisden list of obituaries. MCC Secretary, SC Griffith described him: “He was a cat of great character and loved publicity.” Peter used to frequent Lord’s and caught the tongue of the fortunate sighters.
One can only speculate whether it was curiosity that had led to Peter’s demise. The famous obituary began with “CAT, Peter, whose ninth life ended on November 5, 1964, was a well-known cricket watcher at Lord’s…”
Despite his stature, Peter was never captured on the camera. The photograph that is usually referred to as Peter’s actually features Sinbad, Peter’s worthy successor.
The match between Southern Schools and The Rest in 1963 came to a halt when a black cat walked nonchalantly on to the ground, completely oblivious to the proceedings. It then lay down at the non-striker’s end, holding up play for a significant amount of time.
Fox sightings have been rare on cricket grounds. Edgbaston (no less!) had witnessed one during a John Player League match between Warwickshire and Kent in June 1982. It ran behind Derek Underwood’s arm before making its way into a bemused crowd. If it had made this venture to hone its wiles, it had picked out one of the best.
A simian representative had decided to have a closer look at what their descendants do with leather balls and willow during MCC’s tour match against Maharashtra in December 1951 at Poona. The monkey, who went by the name of Jacko, was standing nonchalantly at mid-wicket before it had to be chased away with a stick.
One of its mates had later tried to emulate it – once again to keep an eye on the Englishmen – in England’s tour match against Haryana at Motera in 2012-13.
The Gabba witnessed a live piglet written BOTHAM on one side and EDDIE on the other (referring to Eddie Hemmings, thus paying a “homage” to the two most corpulent men in the English side) being released on the ground. But how was the pig smuggled in? Apparently the spectator in question had put an apple in its mouth and had convinced the guards that he would have it for lunch.
The fourth day of the Test at The Oval (when India famously defeated England) fell on Ganesh Chaturthi. The local Indians had arranged to lease Bella, a three-year old elephant (!), from Chessington Zoo; the elephant was made to walk around the ground during lunch. It turned out to be a good omen, after all.
Mihir Bose begins his A History of Indian Cricket with the chapter The Day the Elephant Came to the Oval, which obviously referred to the incident.
Well, not really. An ECB Southern Electric Premier League match was scheduled between Hampshire and South Wilts at the Rose Bowl Nursery Ground. It was then that a spectator spotted a tiger on the adjacent golf course. He was using the zoom lens of his camera.
As the petrified players dashed to the pavilion, the golf course was plagued by helicopters with thermal imaging cameras. The police rushed in when no life was detected – only to find a toy tiger. Play had been held up for twenty minutes.
It is not every day when you find eight animals taking field in a cricket match, but that was exactly what had happened when James Lillywhite’s XI played the Goulburn XXII at the Goulburn Sports Ground in 1876-77 (the tour that featured the first two Tests). The pitch was invaded by, er, a grand total of six hares and two kangaroos.
The match between Derbyshire Second XI and Leicestershire Second XI was going on peacefully at Dunstall in 2005 when a bull (probably on Red Bull) jumped the fence and ransacked the ground; it was followed by its desperate owner, and there was utter chaos for a phase of twenty-odd minutes.
Earlier in 1987, there was another bull invasion: this time two bulls trampled the Swardeston Cricket Club Ground at Norfolk in the opening match of the season.
The fairer sex had been at it as well. Kentisbeare Cricket Club were playing Exmouth at home when a ball was hit for four. The ball could not be retrieved and had to be replaced with immediate effect because – a cow had swallowed it.
A runaway horse (dragging a cart, no less) had stopped play during the Yorkshire-MCC match at Scarborough, while two rampant horses dug up the pitch with their hooves during a match at Tintwistle Cricket Club in Cheshire in 1976.
Most famously, however, John Willes (brother of Christina, who had apparently started over-arm bowling) had bowled over-arm at Lord’s. When he was no-balled he was furious and left the hallowed turf, pledging not to play cricket again – on a horse that was waiting for him outside the ground.
The incident goes back to Bradford, 1918. An inexplicable damp spot was found at one end of the pitch in the match between Undercliffe and Lidget Green. Investigations revealed that it was the club donkey that had, well, urinated rather generously on the pitch roller. The match was replayed, but Undercliffe was barred from hosting any tournament matches.
Launceston Cricket Club was hosting their match against Old Suttonians when a group of camels entered the arena, taking the Cornish spectators by surprise. They had apparently escaped from a nearby circus.
When you think of a zebra on a cricket field you probably get a fleeting image of Africa, but when Investec was announced as the new title sponsor of ECB in 2011 they insisted the England captain posed with the animal on their logo – which turned out to be a zebra. November 24, 2011 thus became the first day when a zebra had stepped on Lord’s and made it closer to the pavilion than most men in history have.
August 1948 (the season when The Invincibles toured England) saw a substantial flock of sheep invading Ebbw Vale during the County Championship Match between Gloucestershire and Glamorgan. The ground had to be cleared, and ten more minutes were consumed to clean, well, the residues.
Mumbles Cricket Club and Skewen are really not big names as far as cricket teams are concerned, but they etched their name in the annals of the sport when play was held up as a group of stoats suddenly ran across the pitch.
First-Class cricket has claimed more non-human lives than human ones, but the most iconic of these was caused by Jahangir Khan of Cambridge University against Tom Pearce of MCC. The ball hit a sparrow and killed it immediately. The stuffed bird is on display at the museum at Lord’s.
If sparrows could make it, why would swallows be far away? John Inverarity was batting against Greg Chappell at Adelaide in 1969-70 when the ball changed direction abruptly and dipped almost vertically to hit the stumps. Colin Egar had no option but to call a dead-ball; Inverarity went on to score 89.
Almost a quarter of a century back Petero Kubunavanua, the Fijian who often fielded in his sulu, was once irritated by a pesky swallow. He then carried out a stunt even Bruce Lee would have been proud of: he simply caught the bird with one hand and tucked it in the pocket of his sulu till the next break.
Jacques Rudolph was the ‘assassin’ on this occasion. Fielding for Yorkshire in a Twenty20 match against Lancashire at Headingley he fielded a ball at deep mid-wicket. The throw, however, never made it to the bowler’s end: it killed a pigeon mid-air. Poor Rudolph had to carry the dead bird out of the ground himself.
Almost a century-and-a-half earlier, there was another pigeon-killing incident, only that it was intentional. Bowling for Middlesex against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s (no less) Tom Hearne spotted a flying pigeon, and brought it down with his hunter’s instinct. The bird, just like “Jahangir’s” sparrow, had been stuffed and still owned by one of the Hearnes.
Greg Chappell was running through a lean patch (including a string of ducks) in 1981-82 when Australia took field against Pakistan during the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup match at MCG. A Victorian spectator had decided to take it out on the Australian captain, brought a live duck to the ground, and released it on the arena just as Chappell walked out to bat.
The English were definitely relieved when they had seen the last of Donald Bradman in 1948. 59 seasons later after Donald, however, the ducks arrived to stop play during the Wisden Trophy Test at Chester-le-Street also held up play for some time.
Glamorgan was not happy after they were defeated rather easily by Nottinghamshire in 2005 at Sophia Gardens. Apparently there was a wet patch on one end of the pitch that the Notts bowlers had exploited to the fullest. Glamorgan had the matter investigated, and it was found that the tarpaulin pitch cover had been pecked by seagulls: when it was needed the cover did not turn out to be as effective as it should have.
Harry Thompson had immortalised the event of penguins stopping a cricket match in his classic Penguins Stopped Play. Thompson (possibly the first man to play cricket on all seven continents) had gone on an expedition to Antarctica, only to find that there was a cricket ball with the team (“trust a Kiwi to pack a cricket ball in his luggage on a trip to Antarctica”).
They used oars as bats; the match was eventually stopped by a pitch invasion by a group of Adélie Penguins.
Wagtails are small birds and hence supposed to be difficult targets, but after Jahangir’s sparrow, nothing can be ruled out. During the New Road match between Worcestershire and Leicestershire in 1953 Gerald, Smithson’s booming drive killed a poor wagtail that was out for a stroll along the boundary.
When Young England toured Sri Lanka to take on the local Colts they were up against a rather unpleasant surprise at Colombo. An iguana, of all things, had decided to invade the ground.
During England’s 2007-08 tour of England they played the Sri Lankan Board President’s XI at Colombo. Several England players blatantly refused to field at deep fine-leg during the match because there was a snake just outside the boundary line.
A more famous snake incident is the one that never happened. During Pakistan’s tour of India in 1998-99 Shiv Sena had threatened that they would release venomous snakes in the outfield during the Test at Kotla (where Anil Kumble took his ten-wicket haul).
BCCI, however, was not to be intimidated. They were a group of twenty-odd people – the best snake-charmers in the city.
The remote places of Queensland are known for their unique fauna. As late as in 2003-04 Australian cane toads held up play in four separate matches in Queensland.
In July 1934, a ball from Sohar’s Birkat Ullah was hit into the sea (the match was apparently played on a matting-wicket on a beach of Sohar, generally believed to be the birthplace of Sinbad the Sailor). The ball was promptly swallowed by a shark. The scoreboard apparently received an entry “caught Fish bowled Birkat Ullah”.
Simon Hazlitt of the Old Cliftonians Cricket Club was batting against Stowe Templers at Bristol in 1986 when a huge mackerel fell from the sky and splattered all across: it had apparently been dropped by a seagull that had nicked it from the sea-lion pen of Bristol Zoo. It was one of the rare occasions when a mackerel actually could have been a greater threat than a shark.
The 2007-08 Test between England and Sri Lanka at Kandy was interrupted by a swarm of bees, while the England-India Test at Trent Bridge in 2011 began on a sorry note when Marcus Erasmus was stung by a bee at the start of the match.
Nearly half a century back, in 1962, a match between Oxford and Worcestershire at The Parks was held up because a swarm of bees had “invaded the pitch”. The situation got so bad that the players had to hide in the safety of the dressing-rooms and a beekeeper had to be summoned.
A match had to be abandoned in Bangalore in 1981 when children threw stones at a beehive, and the creatures took their revenge on the innocent cricketers: six players and an umpire had to receive medical treatment. Another big swarm of bees known to have stopped a cricket match had arrived during the match between Lampeter Cricket Club and Bronwydd at Lampeter in June 1988.
A Sheffield Shield match (no less) between South Australia and Queensland was stopped for a substantial amount of time due to a grasshopper invasion.
August 1990 saw a match between Chard Cricket Club and Sampford at Arundel being interrupted by a swarm of flying ants. More recently Champions Trophy semi-final between Australia and England at Centurion was stopped by another swarm – which not only held up play but also dropped dead on the pitch. They had to be cleared off for play to be resumed.
And lastly, another fly…
With the 1897-98 Ashes levelled 1-1, the teams moved to Adelaide for the third Test. Archie MacLaren was playing a lone hand, trying to save an innings defeat – when a fly hit him in the eye the moment Monty Noble bowled to him: he was caught-behind by James Kelly as a result for 124, and England lost by an innings.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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