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After the recent mouthful indulged in by Luis Suarez, Arunabha Sengupta looks back at various chunks bitten off sporting history and concludes that in this one area – and perhaps the only one – cricket has remained a gentleman’s game.
Luis Suarez shows all the signs of becoming a gourmet. After sampling the Dutch fare, he moved on to the more exotic Serbian meat before settling down to Italian delights. Ottman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic have given way to Giorgio Chiellini as the Uruguayan forward’s favoured item on the menu.
Coming close to chomping his way out of the FIFA World Cup 2014, Suarez has triggered off a sensational saga of Lecterian lists that throw light on the diabolical dental deeds in sports. Anyone who has spent some time on the Suarez story in print or electronic media by now knows of the many occasions when competitiveness has been transcended at the heat of the moment and worthy men have courted cannibalism.
All that is probably good for our noble game of cricket. If we view the numerous slideshows and embedded videos of gnashing teeth through our cricketing eyes, we find that this is perhaps one of the few remaining means to stick to the fable of the gentleman’s game. After all, there is no documented history of sinking one’s teeth into flesh in any cricket match – unless one brings backbiting into the frame. Away from cricket, there have been many bites across time, sports and body parts.
We know of Mike Tyson’s infamous snap at Evander Holyfield in 1997, the gruesome act which had seen a tiny part of the latter stay back in the ring after the fight – and which had given birth to the once famous screensaver ‘Teethson versus Holyear’. A decade and a half later, British Bulldog James Graham lived up to the name of his team when his teeth closed down on the ear of Storm fullback Billy Slater in the 2012 National Rugby League grand final at Sydney.
The famous ‘Tree Bites Man’ incident of basketball in1983 saw Atlanta’s Wayne ‘Tree’ Rollins sink his teeth into the finger of Boston Celtic’s Danny Ainge – necessitating tetanus shots. The 2011 Stanley Cup finals saw digital dingo-ism repeated again when Canucks winger Alex Burrows chose Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron as his favoured finger-food. Two years before that, in 2009, heated exchanges on the frozen rink of ice hockey witnessed the Senators right wing Jarko Ruutu bring some variation into the hand to mouth tales bygnawing at the thumb of the Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters.
Down Under, the series of incidents reached the lower depths in 2012. Former NRL player Anthony Watts, turning out for Tugun Seahawks against Bilambil Jets in the Gold Coast League, was tackled by an opponent and in retaliation sunk his fangs into the sprawling man’s penis. It inspired a Taiwanese animation involving hungry jaws and hotdogs.
Perhaps the obvious greater impact of videos of such teeth clenching incidents has made the media neglect some of the early biting history. In the 1924 Summer Olympics at Paris, local middleweight boxer Roger Brousse manfully chose to demonstrate to the world that the French disdain for British fare was pure fiction. In the quarter finals, he chose to dine out on his opponent, the Hackney Wick born Harry Mallin. The British boxer showed the referee bite marks on his shoulder and chest, but his appeal was overruled by the judges. The bout was awarded to the feasting Frenchman on points. However, a later complaint by a Swedish official, Oscar Söderland, made the judges ruminate on the incident and call for medical tests that proved that the Briton had indeed been bitten. Brousse was disqualified and Mallin went on to win the gold medal.
Cricket, though, has no such toothsome tales. The nip remains largely in the air, the nibble is carried out by the tentative bat and the bite is obtained from the pitch while sometimes nails are bitten down to the quick. Shahid Afridi did bring his fangs into the fray, but the ball he masticated on was unattached to other body parts, and was made of pure leather. And while Steve Waugh confessed that his favourite animal was Merv Hughes, the cartoon that accompanied the feature showed Waugh walking the jovial fast bowler on all fours with the confirmation, “His name’s Merv and he doesn’t bite.”
One may argue that cricket is spared because of the sheer nature of the game – while encouraging every personal mark, it offers little in the way of allowing them to be made with the choppers. True, but then even the similar sport of baseball has succumbed to the occasional snack. Last month, during a game against Triple-A Albuquerque, Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Alex Guerrero got into a fight with minor league teammate Miguel Olivo and had his ear bitten in the scuffle.
Cricket has been tarnished by betting, fixing, sledging and pretty much everything that goes under the guise of gamesmanship. And contrary to popular belief, this has always been the case. It never was a gentleman’s game, other than in the pristine whiteness of the flannels donned to walk into the ground.
However, perhaps in this one area, it is still remains pearly white.
(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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