The Dhoni-Sehwag rift may have been true or blown out of proportion by the media. However, far from being unique, discords such as this have been commonplace in the history of the game. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta looks at some of the most famous feuds of cricket.
Two of the most iconic characters, around whom revolved the battles and brawls of the English cricket teams of 1970s and 1980s, happened to be completely contrasting individuals.
Geoff Boycott was so thoroughly self-absorbed that it led Dennis Lillee to summarise, "Geoff fell in love with himself at an early age and remained faithful.”
The boisterous Ian Botham, on the other hand, always lived life to the full, stressing that it was not dress rehearsal.
While Boycott was a teetotaller, often discovered batting in front of the mirror in hotel rooms while the rest of the team was busy getting sloshed in late night parties, Botham’s booze and marijuana binges became stuff of legend – and he used to invite himself to John Arlott’s home in the Channel Islands where the late cricket commentator kept one of the country’s best wine cellars.
While Boycott was one of the best batsmen of his era, and Botham a supreme all-rounder, both of them were a handful for the captains they played under. To the present day, they continue to rub people the wrong way. Duncan Fletcher quite recently called the two of them a right pair of pests in his autobiography, Behind the Shades.
Boycott finds something Amiss
There are several tales of Boycott’s selfishness. Once when a teammate told him that he had figured out how to read a certain mystery spinner, Boycott replied "I've known for a week, don't tell the others."
A dangerous batsman to bat with, known to run out his partners with regularity, Boycott found himself at the receiving end during a Test match at Trent Bridge against New Zealand. On a wicket that he would have loved to occupy for days, he was involved in a mix-up with opening partner Dennis Amiss, and was run out for one.
Boycott could not believe it and sat seething in the dressing room with a towel on his head.
It did not help matters when Amiss got a hundred. Boycott remarked, “That bastard is scoring all my runs.” At the end of the match, he threatened to run Amiss out in the next Test.
Captain Ray Illingworth had to intervene and took the openers out to dinner. When Boycott was going on about the dismissal, Illingworth stopped him. The captain said that Amiss had apologised, and if Boycott could not sort it out with his partner, he would make sure that the Yorkshire-man never played for England again as long as he was the skipper.
Boycott agreed to shake hands, but things were far from forgotten.
When Amiss rang him up a few weeks later, Boycott’s mother, who stayed with him till her death, answered, “Yes, I will get him. Who’s speaking?”
When Amiss mentioned his name, however, Mrs. Boycott said, “He’s not in,” and hung up.
Denness the menace?
Boycott craved the English captaincy dearly, and when the selectors preferred Mike Denness over him for theWest Indies tour of 1973-74, it irked him to the core.
Throughout the tour, Boycott refused to cooperate, share ideas or provide tactical insights. When Denness, knowing his obsession about practice, offered him the responsibility of overseeing the nets, Boycott curtly told him that it was not his job.
Towards the end of the tour, they clashed over a match against Bermuda. Boycott wanted to play a one-day rather than a three-day game. He recalls in his Autobiography that when Denness confronted him on the issue he snarled, "Get out of here before I do something I'll regret." He also claims to have had "no confidence in Denness's professional ability and no respect for him as a man."
Ironically, with England down 0-1 going into the fifth and final Test at Trinidad, and Denness on the verge of losing his job, Boycott played out of his skin to score 99 and 112 enabling his side to square the series. This ensured that Denness would continue as captain, and as he went around the dressing room congratulating his team, Boycott remarked, “Unfortunately, that is the worst win we could have had for English cricket.”
During the presentation ceremony, Boycott turned to the physiotherapist, Bernard Thomas, and observed, “Bernard, that’s buggered my chances of the England job.”
When Boycott went on a self-imposed exile from Test matches between 1974 and 1977, he claimed to have lost his appetite for international cricket. However, many believe that the real reason was his claims to captaincy being bypassed in favour of Denness and Tony Greig.
Run the bugger out
The two protagonists of this episode had their first clash when Boycott had at long last become the captain, albeit a stand in skipper when Mike Brearley had his arm broken by a Sikander Bakht snorter.
He led two Tests in Pakistan before taking the side to New Zealand.
England lost the first Test at Wellington and Boycott did not make any friends with his defensive tactics and glacial scoring.
In the second Test at Christchurch, England had gained a first innings lead of 183 and fast runs were urgently required on the fourth afternoon. Boycott, having opened the innings, crawled to 26 off 80 balls.
It was then that a series of scintillating events were triggered when Ewen Chatfield ran out Derek Randall when the batsman left his crease before the bowler had released the ball.
Bob Willis, the vice-captain, furious and frustrated by Boycott’s stonewalling, promoted young Ian Botham in the batting order with the now famous instruction, “Run the bugger out.”
Botham walked out and first told Chatfield exactly what he thought about his Mankaded effort. The fast-medium bowler had been struck on the temple by a Peter Lever delivery on his Test debut at Auckland in 1974-75, and had to be resuscitated on the pitch after his heart had stopped for a few seconds.
Now, Botham greeted him saying, “Be careful what you do son, you have already died in a Test match once.”
After this exchange of pleasantries, Botham pushed the ball to short extra cover and called Boycott for an impossible single, in the process running him out by miles. Boycott, stunned beyond belief, kept muttering “What have you done, what have you done?” To this Botham replied, “I’ve just run you out.”
Botham went on to get a few quick runs before Willis blew away the Kiwi batting to win the Test for England.
From then on, Boycott and Botham had several run-ins.
During the tour of Pakistan in 1977-78, Boycott came into the team area and picked up a bottle of wine to take back to his room. Botham immediately put him in a headlock, threatening to pull his hair, saying, “This is the team room, if you want a drink, come and drink with the boys.”
Bye bye Boycott
Boycott reached his final goal of overtaking Gary Sobers as the highest run getter in Test cricket during the frighteningly boring tour of India in 1981-82. According to captain Keith Fletcher, he was uncooperative and did not seem interested in playing any further after the milestone.
During the Calcutta Test match, he did not field because of a stomach bug, and it was later discovered that he had spent the afternoon playing golf at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club!
In spite of his explanations that he had been advised to get some fresh air, and an apology, he was asked to go back to England. On arriving home, he quickly arranged a rebel tour and went to South Africa, thus for all intents and purposes ending his Test career.
He was still in shape and making runs for Yorkshire well into the mid-1980s, but David Gower, the Englandcaptain, remarked that the team had to look towards the future.
During the 1985 Ashes Test at Leeds, Tim Robinson struck a magnificent 175, cementing his place in the side as opener. This prompted Botham to sing, “Bye bye Boycott” from the English balcony.
Botham, in fact, had a lot of colourful opinions about Boycott, remarking that he was totally, insanely selfish who would have had greatly reduced his problems if he had a life beyond batting.
Boycott, on his part, once wrote in his column for the Sun that Botham’s attitude towards training was totally unprofessional and unacceptable.
Outlawed for mother-in-law
Botham himself had a career full of incidents, many of which had little to do with cricket.
His famous fisticuff with Ian Chappell has already been documented in these pages. He was also once sacked by the Queensland state side for assaulting a fellow airline passenger.
In 1984, having returned home early from a tour of Pakistan for surgery, he remarked in a radio interview, “Pakistan is the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid.”
His comments soon reached Asia, and the Pakistan authorities were furious. The staff at the Hilton Hotel inLahore, where the English players were staying, threatened to strike. The team management had to issue an apology on behalf of the all-rounder to soothe the ruffled feathers.
The Roebuck stops here
For almost a decade, Botham had enjoyed excellent relationship with his Somerset teammate Peter Roebuck. They in fact combined to write a book, It Sort of Clicks, which charted Botham's early career. Yet, they did not exchange a word for almost two and a half decades till Roebuck’s tragic death.
Amidst claims of partying and drug use, the larger than life all-rounder was removed as captain of Somerset and was replaced by Roebuck after a disastrous 1985 season.
"By the end of the season Caligula's horse could have beaten (Botham) for the captaincy,'' Roebuck wrote in his autobiography ,Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh.
As captain of Somerset, Roebuck supported the notion of replacing the West Indian pair, Viv Richards and Joel Garner, with the New Zealander Martin Crowe, knowing fully well that this would also prompt Botham to leave the club. This provoked raw emotions throughout the county. Botham, very close to the West Indian duo, never forgave Roebuck and also reportedly pinned the word Judas to Roebuck's locker in the changing room.
Botham finally refused to sign a new contract and joined Worcestershire. Roebuck went on to remark that the cost of the conflict had been enormous.
A reunion in court
Boycott and Botham had their final major showdown in the court in 1996 when Imran Khan was sued by Allan Lamb and Botham for libel. The English duo charged Imran for commenting that their views expressed aboutPakistan’s supposed ball-tampering had been racially motivated.
Boycott turned up as a witness for Imran’s legal counsel and provided one of the most entertaining, if irrelevant, statements. Most of his remarks outlined his grievances against Brian Close, but his act of appearing as a witness for Imran did not really endear him to Botham, especially when the latter ended up losing the case.
Irrespective of the differences, Boycott and Botham did have a healthy respect for each other’s abilities.
Botham always included the opening batsman in his all-time English XIs, and, in July 1991, when Boycott was accepting his induction into the Federation of International Cricketer Associations Hall of Fame, he paid fulsome tribute to the great English all-rounder.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)