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Though Mitchell Starc and Kieron Pollard’s horrific row has appalled a lot of purists, on-field tussles have assumed ugly proportions throughout the history of the sport. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at some of the ugliest ones.
The heat was building up. One could almost sense it. Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc had started a personal duel inside the match already, but it was restricted to cricket.
Then it happened; Starc steamed in; Pollard backed away at the last moment; Starc, not happy by this last-minute change of circumstances, followed Pollard, aiming one at the West Indian, who had already moved several steps away from the centre of action.
Intentional? Maybe. At least Pollard thought so: he flung his bat at Starc… well, almost. At the last moment he changed his decision and controlled the force, and the bat landed harmlessly a few feet away. Had that last split-second change in decision not happened…
The Starc-Pollard incident was not a one-off thing. Here is a look at some of the most notorious ones (even if we discount the infamous off-the-field bouts between Ian Botham and Ian Chappell, or Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif):
Miandad and Lillee, WACA 1981-82
It was a no-contest, which makes the incident even more baffling: after being bowled out for 62 in the first innings by Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman, Pakistan were set a near-impossible 543, and to top it, had been reduced to 27 for two. Videos show the tussle more clearly.
To cut things short, Lillee kicked Miandad when the latter attempted a run; an incensed Miandad held his bat like a javelin and rushed towards Lillee; things may have taken a more serious turn had Tony Crafter not come in the way, but cameras and television had ensured the damage had already been done.
Gavaskar and Snow, Lord’s 1971
Both men were heroes returning from recent triumphant tours: while Gavaskar had been the lynchpin of the Indian batting that had helped them clinch their maiden overseas series victory, Snow had spearheaded the attack that had helped England regain the Ashes. The first Test at Lord’s was supposed to be a clash of the Titans.
Chasing 183 for a win, India were down to 21 for two before Gavaskar and Farokh Engineer had started a recovery of sorts, when the maverick wicket-keeper pushed at a ball with soft hands and had called for a quick single. Snow and Gavaskar both charged for the other end, the diminutive, padded-up Indian trying to overtake the six-feet-plus fast bowler.
Snow had not reached the ball, and Gavaskar was some distance away from the crease. Let us quote the men in question over the incident:
Snow (from Cricket Rebel): “(Sunil) Gavaskar was doing the one thing all batsmen are taught and expected to do when they find themselves in that type of situation…namely run over the ball.”
Gavaskar (from Sunny Days): “I found to my surprise that he (Snow) was level with me, and, with the ball nowhere near him, the hefty fast bowler gave me a violent shove. Now, Snow is a well-built fast bowler with strong shoulders, so that poor little me had no chance!”
Snow: “As I made contact and Gavaskar started to fall, I could sense the shocked silence in the MCC committee room. I knew I was going to be in trouble.”
Though Times later wrote that Snow later flung the bat to Gavaskar with disdain, the Little Master denied such allegations. Snow apologised for the incident, and was dropped from the last two matches.
Hughes and Hogg, 1983-84
By the early 1980s the ugliness of the internal tussles in the Australian Test side had been exposed: it had been evident that the trinity of Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh, and Lillee (and even vice-captain David Hookes) had opposed to Kim Hughes’ presence at the helm.
Rodney Hogg, on the other hand, was no saint: he had once bowled a beamer and kicked down stumps at Chinnaswamy, and had left field without informing Graham Yallop, the existing captain, in the disastrous 1978-79 at Adelaide. This time Hogg had asked Hughes for specific field placements: Hughes did not want them.
And Hogg threw a punch at Hughes on the field.
Croft and Goodall, Lancaster Park, 1979-80
Things had turned murky at Dunedin itself when Michael Holding had kicked two stumps down at Dunedin following John Hastie’s reluctance to give John Parker out to a clear glove-edge off the fast bowler (the ball “tore the glove off”, Colin Croft later said). Holding had to be coaxed back to the ground by Clive Lloyd and Murray.
The sides then moved on to Lancaster Park.
Geoff Howarth gloved a ball from Joel Garner to Deryck Murray (Howarth himself admitted to it later) the third morning, but Fred Goodall had remained unmoved. The West Indians were reluctant to come out after tea. Lloyd was adamant: “They (the umpires and batsmen) can wait. We won’t be joining them.”
On resumption of play, Howarth again edged one off Holding to Murray and was given not out (and stood his ground). The West Indians wanted to quit the tour midways, but Don Cameron, senior New Zealand journalist, managed to convince his mate Desmond Haynes (and subsequently the manager, Jeff Stollmeyer) to stay back.
The next morning saw Croft bouncing one at Hadlee: they went up in unison when the edge carried to Murray, only to be turned down (Hadlee later admitted that he had nicked it). Croft had a verbal spat with Goodall, Steve Woodward (the other umpire) intervened, and the two complained to Lloyd: it had little effect on the West Indian captain.
Croft unleashed a bouncer barrage at Hadlee; Goodall no-balled him for bowling too wide of the crease. Croft responded by knocking down the bails at the non-striker’s end on his way back to the mark. Jeremy Coney had to pick them up.
By this time Croft had enough. As he charged in to bowl the next time, he intentionally shoulder-barged into Goodall; however, he later took a different stance on an interview with ESPNCricinfo: “In the heat of the moment they thought I did it on purpose. I did not do it purposely. If Fred Goodall was in Hollywood, he’d have picked up an Oscar. I’m six foot six and 230 pounds. If I’d meant to hit him, he wouldn’t have got up. It’s cr*p that I barged him deliberately.”
Ambrose and Waugh, Queen’s Park Oval, 1995
Had the series not witnessed anything else, it would still have been a part of history: it had, after all, marked the usurping of the World Cricket Domination Fortress by the Australians. Mark Taylor’s men took over the sceptre and the crown.
Australia were put in by Richie Richardson, and Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh bowled with fire to reduce the tourists to 14 for three, and out strode Steve Waugh to join the dogged David Boon. Ambrose kept on bouncing at Waugh, and after a while, as Waugh had recalled in his tour diary, the fast bowler “followed through to within two metres away from me and gave me the regulation Clint Eastwood stare. I thought he went on with the silent assassin-style interrogation for longer (than) was necessary, so I came back with, ‘What the f**k are you looking at?’”
Nobody, absolutely nobody had dared to utter such words at Ambrose. Waugh himself had admitted to it later.
Ambrose strode towards Waugh in long, menacing strides. He walked up to “within an inch” of the Australian and emitted the words: “Don’t cuss me, maan.”
Waugh — ice-cool Waugh — level-headed Waugh — came up with another response: “Why don’t you go and get f**ked?”
What was it they said about making the same mistake twice?
Waugh later recalled: “His (Ambrose’s) eyeballs were spinning and as he edged to within a metre, it seemed he was ready to erupt. At this point, I gave him a short but sweet reply [the one mentioned above] that went down about as well as an anti-malaria tablet. Fortunately, Richie Richardson moved in swiftly to avert what could have been my death by strangulation, and the game continued.”
As Arunabha Sengupta wrote, “The next two balls were about as fast as Ambrose has ever bowled in his career.”
McGrath and Sarwan, St John’s, 2003
Things were on track as West Indies accepted the challenge of chasing down a world record 418 with Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul putting their side on track. What the spectators saw during the incident was a finger-pointing incident between Sarwan and Glenn McGrath.
Things, however, were murkier than it met the naked eye. Perhaps out of frustration of his inability to break through, McGrath, in the heat of the moment, walked up to Sarwan and asked: “So what does Brian Lara’s d**k taste like?”
Sarwan was not willing to accept the verbal assault. He came up with an impromptu “I don’t know: ask your wife.”
Sledges involving families do happen on the field of cricket, but this particular one had actually turned out to be a bit insensitive (of course, one can safely assume Sarwan had not meant the words), since McGrath’s wife Jane had been suffering from cancer (which was why McGrath had missed the first two Tests of the series).
McGrath gave it back to the Guyanese: “If you ever f**king mention my wife again, I will f***king rip your f***king throat out.”
Srikkanth and Ramaswami, Chepauk 1986-87
And finally, an India-Pakistan incident: Pakistan had lost Rizwan-uz-Zaman and Rameez Raja without a lot of runs on the board, but Shoaib Mohammad and Miandad battled on, adding 155 for the second stand. The incident happened when Miandad was caught at bat-pad spectacularly by Krishnamachari Srikkanth off Shivlal Yadav when the batsman was on 74.
The moment VK Ramaswamy ruled Miandad not out, the fielder threw the ball at the umpire in what Suresh Menon described on The Indian Express as “a gesture that seemed to combine three separate trains of thought: disappointment at the decision, disgust at the umpire who gave it, and a desire to run the batsman out.” The last option was not very probable, since Shoaib had his bat firmly rooted to the crease.
The tussle between the close-in fieldsmen and Miandad continued; Dilip Vengsarkar abused him verbally (he had to be restrained by Ramaswamy), and had the last laugh when he ran Miandad out for 94.
Outside the international arena
Things have not been docile in matches that had belonged to a level below, either. In the Duleep Trophy final of 1990-91 Rashid Patel had uprooted a stump and had charged at Raman Lamba; Ajay Jadeja intervened, trying to defend Lamba, and was struck himself. Lamba shielded himself with his bat, but Patel continued with his assault. The crowd joined in the action, starting a stone-pelting spree.
Big Bash 2012-13 had witnessed another ugly turn of incidents in the match between Melbourne Renegades and Melbourne Stars. Shane Warne threw somewhat casually and hit Marlon Samuels on the forearm, who responded by throwing his bat underarm at the Victorian legend. The camera caught a smiling Viv Richards outside the ground: goodness knows how he would have reacted, had he been in Samuels’ shoes.
And finally, to conclude the article, let us simply share a video from a Corporate Twenty20 tournament at Udaipur, involving Rajasthan Ranji cricketers Nikhil Doru and Shamsher Singh. It may make the Pollard-Starc incident look like a coy, pleasant playful act.
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