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.
In some sports like soccer, raging tempers often orbit out of the seething souls and find expression in swinging fists, kicking feet and even infamous head butts.
However, the nature of the gentlemanly game of cricket ensures that differences most often remain restricted to glares, gestures, interviews and memoirs.
True, Frank Worrell did name his autobiography Cricket Punch, but the name indicated a heady cocktail of Caribbean reminisces of the most courteous of cricketers. For good measure, the only punch thrown into the entertaining pages was when the discussion wavered around one of the most intoxicating traditions of his homeland – Jamaican Rum.
JWHT (Johnny) Douglas, the former English cricket captain, was also a boxer of some repute who won the Olympic gold in 1908. But, ironically, as a batsman he was so hesitant to hit balls off the square that it saw him earning an apt expansion of his acronymic initials – Johnny Won’t Hit Today!
While Vivian Richards did throw punches in the ring as a hobby, thus being nicknamed Smokin’ Joe after Joe Frazier, and showed off his boxing skills in an ad for Bombay Dyeing in the mid-80s, his aggression was almost always reserved for the bowlers and delivered with his majestic willow.
Yet, once in a rare while, the noble game does descend to the depths of bare knuckle pugilism. The story of the rifts that we have been presenting in these pages will remain incomplete if these curious clashes involving real physical fights are not documented.
Here are the incidents, spreading across almost a hundred years, which merit the position of top five in this dubious category:
The Big Fight 1: Clem Hill vs Peter McAlister
The first fight took place in 1912, an era when Edwardian romanticism still supposedly shielded the cricket world from such ugliness. Clem Hill, the legendary Australian left-hander, one of the best batsmen of the world during the first decade of the 20th century, squared off against Peter McAlister, a Victorian batsman who played eight Tests for Australia without any major distinction.
McAlister had been a part of the Australian Cricket Board as a player and had courted huge unpopularity by appointing himself vice-captain for the 1909 English tour. His treatment of some of the players, including Hill, had not really enamoured him to the squad, even less so when it became clear that he was acting as a spy for the board.
An excellent match report of this showdown can be found in Gideon Haigh's biography of Warwick Armstrong, The Big Ship.
The tension between Hill and McAlister went back quite a distance. McAlister was known for making off the cuff remarks about Hill’s cricket and captaincy, both privately and to the papers. A few days before the incident, he had sent Hill an obnoxious telegram suggesting that the champion batsman drop himself from the side.
Things reached boiling point when the selectors, which included captain Hill and board member McAlister, met to decide team for the 4th Test to against England be played in Melbourne. The real issue, though, was the selection of the manager for the 1912 tour to Ole Blighty. The players, thus far used to choosing their own, were informed that this time someone would be appointed by the parent body. The cricketers felt that this would tamper with the income that they would make on the side apart from the regular cricket and the board wanted to keep these very earnings in a check.
During the meeting, McAlister took pot shots at Hill's captaincy during the last two Tests, which Englandhad won. In response, Hill told him in no uncertain terms that "he was no judge of cricket."
Heated words were exchanged during which McAlister claimed that he himself had been as good a captain as Armstrong, Victor Trumper and Hill himself.
Hill became sarcastic, suggesting that perhaps McAlister would like to captain the side himself, making his opinion about McAlister’s knowledge of cricket abundantly clear.
It was now that McAlister claimed that Hill was "the worst captain in living memory". It was the proverbial last straw. Hill stood up and said, "You've been asking for a punch all night and I'll give you one."
After this, as in most brawls, accounts vary. Some said that Hill delivered a slap to the face, while others maintained that the blow was much harder. The altercation lasted for almost 20 minutes, and at one point Hill had to be physically restrained from hurling McAlister out of the third-storey window!
Most accounts agree that Hill won the bout, and as he walked out of the room, McAlister, on the floor and bloodied, yelled: "Come back and fight, you coward."
After Hill left the room and returned to his hotel, quite amazingly, the selection meeting continued. The news of the fracas was predictably lapped up by the newspapers, but even more incredibly Hill was retained both as player and captain.
Hill was given a resounding ovation as he went out to bat at Melbourne. However, with the incident perhaps weighing him down, he lost his form and Australia lost the final two Tests of the series.
The Big Fight 2: Ian Botham vs Ian Chappell
This is perhaps the longest-running and best-documented of all cricket fights.
It all started in the Melbourne Cricket Ground bar in the Australian summer of 1976-77.
Ian Chappell had just retired from first-class cricket and was there to play club matches for North Melbourne. Ian Botham was in Australia on the Whitbread scholarship and was contracted for a season with the University Club.
Again there are two different versions of what took place that evening.
According to Botham’s autobiography, he was drinking with players from both sides when he overheard Chappell “giving it the typical Aussie verbals and rubbishing England”. The former Australian captain was becoming loud and it soon became impossible for the young all-rounder not to overhear him.
He told Chappell that he did not like what he was saying and warned him “that if he carried on there would be trouble.”
The Aussie, however, went on and on, and supposedly ignored Botham’s warning three times.
“Finally, I could take no more so I threw a punch at him. The impact sent him flying over a table into a group of Aussie Rules footballers, whose drink was scattered to all parts.”
Botham also alleges that Chappell fled from the bar and he gave chase, hurdling the bonnet of a car in his mad pursuit, but gave it up on sighting of a police car.
In his version, Chappell is more precise and, quite understandably, drastically different.
According to him, it started on a previous evening when Botham had obviously had a few beers and had a lot to say in a very loud voice. He made a couple of comments about an Australian player to which Chappell responded: "Yeah, you're a typical county player, you're the sort of player who thinks that if an Australian hasn't been to England and played county cricket, he can't play. You think the only guy who can play in the Australian side is Greg Chappell because he played two years for Somerset.”
Botham retorted saying that it was true, and Chappell by his own admission became graphical in his use of idiomatic expressions. "Well you blokes wouldn't know shit from a bull's foot.”
Botham responded saying that Chappell had opted out of the English tour the following year because “too many blokes are looking to knock your block off.”
Things had gone on along these lines for a while.
The following Friday night Chappell at the MCG bar again, leaning back in his chair with his feet up, making some observations about county cricket and Botham was sitting close by.
At some stage Botham supposedly said, “Everyone's looking for you in county cricket, because you are a p***k. You abused me when Australia played Somerset.” He went on to become quite explicit about the specific abuses Chappell had hurled at him.
Chappell knew that he had not played against Botham at Somerset and a long argument followed, but Botham could not be persuaded. Eventually, he lost his temper completely, grabbed an empty beer glass and pressed it against Chappell's cheek screaming, “I'll f****ng cut you from ear to ear.”
Chappell replied, 'Son, that won't f****ng impress me very much. In fact, (it) would be an act of cowardice. I'll tell you what would impress me - if you cut me with a cricket ball. And you'll get every chance tomorrow because I'll make sure I bat for as long as I can and give you every f****ng chance. But I'll just give you one tip. You better do it with a cricket ball that bounces. If you try doing it with a beamer, you had better make it a f****ng good one because if I can get up I'll get down the other end and I'll hit you over the head with the f****ng bat.’
At this Botham pushed him off the chair yelling, ”C'mon let's fight.”
Chappell claims to have said that he did not fight because it was stupid, one landed up either in a hospital or a jail and he had no intention of going to either of those places over a “c***t like you.”
According to the Australian’s version, he then calmly walked out of the bar, and as Botham started up to follow him out, another Ian (Callen), an Australian Test cricketer, grabbed him from behind and told him to settle down.
Botham, however, denies that he went after Chappell with a bottle or an empty glass.
The fight was thus kept down to one or two blows, but the duel continues.
Chappell has since then called Botham a habitual liar on radio.
Ray Martin – on Channel 9 – had interviewed the two of them together, in the eternal television attempt of cashing in on bad blood. At the end of the program, they had been asked whether at the end of the day they would still have a drink together. Botham had responded in the affirmative, saying “that's cricket mate”. However, Chappell’s answer had been negative and more colourful – “No Ray. I can find plenty of decent people to have a drink with. I won't be drinking with him.”
Thirty four years after their first spat, Daily Mail reported that Chappell and Botham, now grandfathers both, aged 67 and 55 respectively, had dropped their bags at a car park behind the Adelaide Oval and gone for each other’s throats. They had to be pulled apart by people present at the scene.
Chappell later rubbished the reports, saying that Botham and the Daily Mail correspondent in question, Charlie Sale, were two masters of the fairy tales. According to the Australian, some words had been exchanged, but little else, certainly nothing remotely approaching physical violence.
However, it is more than evident that time has done precious little to heal the rift between the two.
The Big Fight 3: Dennis Lillee vs Javed Miandad
The face-off between the great fast bowler and the phenomenal Pakistani batsman would have been a cricket lover’s dream battle had it been restricted to cricketing action. However, the clash was termed byWisden as one of the most undignified incidents in Test cricket.
Australia were on course for an easy victory in the first Test at Perth in 1981-82 with only the Pakistanskipper Javed Miandad standing up to the bowling.
Dennis Lillee who had picked up five wickets in just nine overs in the first innings, was still wicketless in the second and obviously it did not amuse him.
Miandad turned him behind square and ran a single, and Lillee moved into his path. A collision resulted, after which the versions of the two players differ.
Lillee claims that as he had turned to go back to his mark, Miandad struck him from behind with his bat; while Miandad counters that Lillee had kicked him as he passed.
Whatever be the fact, Lillee turned to confront the middle order maestro, and the latter lifted his bat above his head with a technique which will never enter the MCC cricket coaching manual.
The image that sticks to memory, is that of umpire Tony Crafter stepping in like a boxing referee, Lillee with hands raised in the classical pugilist’s stance, ready to take on the rushing batsman and Miandad wielding his bat like a deranged javelin thrower. The noble game can almost be seen in person in the background, brought down to its knees by this unprecedented ugliness.
The media and the eyewitnesses unanimously agreed that the blame lay with Lillee.
Bobby Simpson wrote that it was the most disgraceful thing he had ever seen on a cricket field. Keith Miller, in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, added that Lillee "should be suspended for the rest of the season," and Ian Chappell remarked that Lillee's actions were those of "a spoilt, angry child".
Yet, Greg Chappell, the Australian captain, defended his main bowler, going as far as to suggest that it has all been part of a plot by Pakistan to entrap Lillee.
The fast bowler was fined Australian $200, a decision which attracted almost as much anger as the incident itself. The two umpires, Crafter and Mel Johnson, were vocal at the kid gloves with which the offender had been handled, and the Australian Board swiftly reduced the fine to A$120 while adding a two-match ban. Cynics noted that the punishment resulted in Lillee missing two low-key One-Day Internationals, and none of the Tests.
Things were not helped when, in 1983, the two combatants met during a double wicket tournament inCalcutta – an event that featured Gary Sobers and Wes Hall as well. Lillee, not bowling at his full pace, unleashed a bouncer at Miandad who missed the attempted hook and was felled as the ball struck the back of his head. It was obviously unintentional and Lillee rushed up to the batsman immediately, but the press had a field day in linking it to the age old rivalry between the two.
The Big Fight 4: Rodney Hogg vs Kim Hughes
With most of the stars away jumping through the hoops of the Kerry Packer circus, and with Graham Yallop injured, Kim Hughes became the captain of Australia after playing just 10 Tests.
His stint at the top was one of never-ending turmoil. He led Australia through a disappointing World Cup campaign in 1979, followed by a series in India in which they were comprehensively thrashed. When the top cricketers returned from their World Series show, he lost his captaincy for all his troubles, and even his place in the side looked vulnerable.
With Greg Chappell sometimes refusing to lead the side, Hughes had to take on the role of caretaker captain off and on. Even when he was handed the full captaincy after 1982-83, the flamboyant batsman was not a very popular leader. He did himself no favours by losing to Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup and being eliminated from the championship before the semi-finals.
Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh, two of the greatest cricketers for Australia, had played most of their careers under Chappell, and openly resented Hughes as the skipper. In fact, even his vice-captain, David Hookes, went on air pressing the claims of Marsh for the role.
A turbulent selection process, involving resignation by Hughes which was withdrawn the next morning, allowed him to keep the captaincy for the 1983-84 home series against Pakistan, which Australia won 2-0.
However, the situation reached an unthinkable nadir when he took the team to the Caribbean to take on the mighty West Indies.
Australia managed to draw the first two Tests before losing the final three. But, the striking incident took place in the second Test.
Rodney Hogg, the mercurial and talented fast bowler, was given the ball. Hogg, who made it to the Australian team during the Packer-infected desolate Australian period, managed to hold on to his place even after the return of the stars. He also managed to end his Test career with a very decent record. But he was involved in a few inflamed incidents.
During Yallop’s captaincy, he had left the field during his bowling spell to treat an injury without informing the skipper. And during the second Test against India in Bangalore, 1979, after being no-balled 11 times in six overs, Hogg had hurled a beamer, kicked down the stumps and stormed off the field. Captain Hughes had tendered an immediate apology to the umpire and had persuaded Hogg to express his regrets as well, thus preventing an international incident.
Now, half a decade later in Port of Spain, Hogg wanted specific fielding positions which the captain did not agree to. Frustrated, angry and struggling to get wickets, Hogg threw a punch at Hughes.
In Christian Ryan’s biography of Hughes, Golden Boy, a photograph captures the moment emphatically, with Hogg, eyes glaring and crazy, forehead wrinkled in frustration, swinging at his captain. Hogg himself admits to the unfortunate event in his own autobiography, The Whole Hogg.
Surprisingly, no action was taken and Hogg ended up playing four of the five Tests of the disastrous tour.
After a few months of struggle in the Australian team, both Hughes and Hogg signed up for a rebel tour and departed for South Africa together.
The Big fight 5: Shoaib Akhtar vs Mohammad Asif
From drug scandals to turning up for county cricket without a valid visa, from violating codes of conduct to alleging that the greatest batsman of modern times had been scared of his bowling, from ball tampering to genital warts, Shoaib Akhtar has had the Full Monty of controversies. And not to be left behind in this one department, he has also made his mark – and quite a stinging one – in physical fisticuffs.
On the eve of the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in 2007, Akhtar was rumoured to have hit Mohammad Asif with a bat. The result was a big bruise on the left thigh of his fellow fast bowler, probably the only impact Akhtar has ever made with his bat.
The two were in the dressing room when supposedly Akhtar started claiming that that he had the same stature as Imran Khan in Pakistan cricket. When Asif and Shahid Afridi disagreed, and in all probability ridiculed him for this Quixotic suggestion, in a fit of temper, Akhtar used a bat to strike his new ball partner.
The injury was, fortunately, just a bruise, but, nevertheless, an investigation was ordered. Akhtar was found guilty and was recalled from the Twenty20 World Cup, and additionally banned for 5 matches. At one stage a life time ban also looked imminent.
Akhtar later tried to blame Afridi for the fight, alleging some untoward remarks the all-rounder had made about his family. But, Afridi denied these allegations adding that but for his intervention Asif would have suffered more injuries. Asif also chipped in saying that Akhtar was lying and that "Afridi had nothing to do with the fight."
Since then, Akhtar has patched up with his team mates including Afridi and Asif, and cricket in Pakistanhas continued along its turbulent path in the eternal state of volatility.
Sundries: Domestic violence
Whatever the Australians and Pakistanis can do, we can do better. Perhaps this charming thought motivated Rashid Patel, when he retraced the massive footsteps of Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad, going even one step further, pulling out a stump and attacking the late Raman Lamba who defended himself with his bat. This incident during the Duleep Trophy final at Jamshedpur in 1990-91 earned Patel and Lamba bans of 13 and 10 months respectively.
And more recently, in a corporate Twenty20 match, two Rajasthan Ranji Trophy players, Nikhil Doru and Shamsher Singh, traded even the crudest version of the noble game for a foray into the world of freestyle wrestling.
(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)