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.
Thrown Out: Ian Meckiff’s trials with the Australian selectors
Ian Meckiff is forever etched in our memories as the man run out by the superb throw of Joe Solomon to produce the first tied Test.
However, Meckiff’s connection with the throw went beyond that. In the late 50s and early 60s, men like Geoff Griffin, Peter Loader, Charlie Griffith, Jimmy Burke, Gordon Rorke and Tony Lock – to name a few – had formed a formidable army of bowlers with suspect action. Meckiff was singled out by fate to be the most unfortunate victim.
Having a beautiful leisurely run-up, somewhat reminiscent of Ted McDonald, Meckiff’s actual delivery and follow through showed all the symptoms of a chucker. Ian Peebles, who observed him in the nets on the morning of a Test match, remarked“… his action exactly resembled a coach throwing the ball to a young batsman at the net.”
When Meckiff took six for 38 against England in the second Test at Melbourne in 1959-60, it raised some infuriated English voices. Although the diplomacy of the day prevented skipper Peter May from lodging an official complaint, journalist EM Wellings wrote, “He runs no faster than Hedley Verity, yet the balls leave his hand at express pace.”
One of the reasons why England refused to complain, as admitted later by May, was that they had their own share of suspect bowlers on the tour – Tony Lock and Peter Loader.
At the Imperial Cricket Conference of 1960, Don Bradman, then acting as a member of the Australian Cricket Board and also one of the selectors, refused to admit that he had picked bowlers with illegitimate action. Interestingly, the one who locked horns with him was his adversary of the 1930s, Gubby Allen.
As Allen remarked, “He wouldn’t budge an inch and neither would I. He said Australia had no chuckers and I said that was rubbish … I had film of some of the worst offenders, but Don and the other Australians would not look at them. But deep in his heart he knew they had a problem …”
It was the way this problem was tackled that left a lot to be desired.
Meckiff did not tour England in 1961 because of injuries, but was picked to play against South Africa in 1963-64. It was surprising because he had been called for throwing in two matches during the Sheffield Shield immediately before the series.
In the opening Test at Brisbane, after Australia had batted first and scored 435, South Africa took strike just after lunch on the second day. After Graham McKenzie had bowled the first over, Meckiff started the second from the Vulture Street End to Trevor Goddard. At the same time, South African manager, Ken Viljoen, set up a camera and started filming his action.
Umpire Col Egar had officiated in three Sheffield Shield matches and two Test matches featuring Meckiff and had never had any problem with his action. Now he called the second, third, fifth and ninth ball as throws.
Captain Richie Benaud had a word with the bowler and removed him from the attack. The rest of the 133.5 eight ball overs in the innings were shared by McKenzie, Alan Connolly, Tom Veivers, Benaud himself, Bobby Simpson and Norman O’Neill.
At the end of the game, Meckiff retired from all forms of cricket.
The crowd stood vociferously behind the bowler. Egar was heckled during the infamous over, and before the close of the second day’s play, chants of “We want Meckiff” grew louder. When play ended, spectators entered the field and carried the Victorian off the ground on their shoulders. Egar had to be escorted out by the Queensland police.
Meckiff later said that he not bear Egar any grudge, but added that although he had done what he had thought was correct, the calls had felt like being stabbed in the back – more so because the umpire was a close personal friend.
Meckiff - victim of conspiracy?
Several sections of Australian cricket community believed that Meckiff had been the victim of a conspiracy to demonstrate thatAustralia was serious about the throwing issue. At a dinner for the visiting state captains hosted by Bradman in January 1963, it had supposedly been hinted that Meckiff might turn out to be a sacrificial offering. At the dinner, Bradman had run a film showing bowlers with suspect actions – Meckiff among them. The legendary batsman definitely had his doubts over Meckiff's action, yet he was one of the selectors who ensured his inclusion in the Test side.
Phrases such as "smacks of a set-up", "obvious fall-guy", and "sacrificial goat" flew about. Several, including Keith Miller, wanted Bradman to resign. Cricketer-turned-journalist Dick Whitington said that Egar and Bradman had travelled from Adelaide to the Brisbane Test together, making it look very much like a plot. It was also revealing that Benaud did not try to bowl Meckiff from the other end and that the Australians played an extra bowler in the match, indicating prior knowledge of the events to follow.
Connolly remained adamant that his teammate's action was legitimate and implied treachery, saying "I wasn't amazed ...There was a good reason for that, which I can't disclose and won't disclose."
Veivers, who made his Test debut for Australia in that match, said that at the pre-match function, the other umpire Lou Rowan had mentioned, "It's going to be a very interesting game.”
For his part, Egar always denied any conspiracy.
Bobby Simpson, in his memoirs, Captain's Story, branded several cricketers, including Meckiff, as chuckers. In 1965, fast bowler sued his former teammate for libel. The case ended five years later with an out-of-court settlement and apology from Simpson.
However, the affable Meckiff continued to socialise with people involved in his last Test, including Simpson, Egar and Rowan.
Brian Close vs Geoff Boycott
The 1960s ended with one of the most stirring controversies of cricket – leading to the boycott of South Africa from international cricket.
That is the story of political drama with disgraceful racial overtones and will not be covered in this series. However, half a decade before the apartheid centred turmoil, there had already emerged another dubious Boycott.
Geoff Boycott made his tentative steps into first county cricket and then Tests as a bespectacled, reticent and severely self-absorbed young batsman in the early 60s. In a career spanning almost two and a half decades, he was destined to become one of the greatest batsmen of the world and one of the most controversial cricketers ever to walk in flannels. His immense popularity in India as a scathing commentator, where even young kids try to copy his accent, may make it difficult to believe, but he was the most unpopular cricketer of his times, and will grace these pages more than once. As David Gower put it, “He had the ability to be extremely charming, and an equal ability to be a complete sod.”
The initial days of his career were spent under the watchful eyes of Yorkshire and England captain Brian Close. Although team mates often complained that he was excessively selfish, often intolerably rude, and sometimes involved in run outs, Close lent the young man excellent support during his early days.
Boycott’s incredibly slow batting often became a pain for his team. However, during the 1965 Gillette Cup final, egged on by Close who had promoted himself to No 3, he hit 146 sparkling runs against Surrey, with 15 fours and three sixes, with flamboyance and attractive stroke-play that no one ever saw him demonstrate before or since.
In his autobiography, I Don’t Bruise Easily, Close mentioned that as a captain he had spent hours talking to Boycott and analysing him. He also remarked to Leo McKinstry, Boycott’s biographer, that the change in attitude during that particular innings was due to what he had said on arriving at the wicket. “I told him to get a move on or I threatened to wrap my bat round his bloody neck.”
However, in his Autobiography, Boycott denied any such interaction. “The myth about my attitude and motivation supports the image of a bold, decisive captain ... but not once did he threaten or cajole me into playing the strokes I played.”
It was natural to have two versions, considering the long feud that the two got into from the latter half of the 1960s.
In 1967, Boycott was dropped from the English team for scoring 246 in 573 minutes against India. The devastated batsman was of the opinion that captain Close had not really batted for him against the selectors.
Close ran into problems with the administrators due to what many consider to be the last remnants of the old world distinction between Gentlemen and Players. He was removed as the captain of England in 1967 and then stripped of Yorkshire captaincy in 1970.
The veteran professional, who had earlier backed Boycott to take over the county captaincy after him, now felt that the introverted loner was not ready for the job. From then on, the two entered a phase of constant confrontation.
Along with ex-Yorkshire pro Fred Trueman, Close continued to be scathing in his criticism of Boycott as a captain and player for Yorkshire, sometimes having reservations about his batting for England as well.
In 1971, when Boycott score many, many runs, and yet Yorkshire could win only a few bonus points (awarded for every 25 runs over a total of 150 in the first 85 overs), Trueman remarked, “It will never cease to amaze me that a man can average 100 and we still end near the bottom in the batting points ... disgusting.”
It did not help that Yorkshire did not win any major championship during Boycott’s leadership. Close, who had by now become the chairman of the cricket sub-committee, made no effort to conceal his hostility.
When Boycott’s relationship with the Yorkshire committee reached a crisis in 1984, Close told him somewhat uncharitably, “You ought to be the most popular man in cricket, but you can’t name me two blokes in the game who have a good word to say for you.”
In 1986, Close advocated Boycott’s removal from the county side. The contract with the opening batsman was not renewed for the following season, effectively ending the great batsman’s first- class career. Close announced afterwards, “I would have loved Geoffrey to have gone on breaking records, but in reality I had to say that his retention would not have helped us. We just couldn’t carry on with a cult figure grinding out his personal glory while the rest of the players simply made up the numbers.”
The animosity between the two perhaps reached comical levels when, in 1996, Ian Botham and Allan Lamb unsuccessfully sued Imran Khan over remarks he had made about their alleged racism. During the trial, when Close was asked whether Boycott was an honest man, he refused to comment. Boycott then exclaimed, “Can I say one thing, it will take three minutes,” and in spite of the demurring of the judge launched into a detailed listing of his grievances against Close.
Chappelli speaks out
The image of the Ugly Australians possibly developed during the captaincy of Ian Chappell. Yet, perhaps, the founder of the team that swore, sledged and played hard, was not one to stoop to dishonesty – as this incident demonstrates.
During the 1969-70 tour of India, the eldest Chappell brother was the vice-captain to Bill Lawry.
In a match against South Zone at Bangalore, Alan Connolly was bowling to Erapalli Prasanna, considered by Chappell to be the best off-spinner ever. The reserve wicketkeeper of the squad, Ray Jordon, was standing up to the stumps.
Prasanna missed a ball from Connolly and the off stump was knocked forward. While Prasanna waited, convinced that the ball had missed the stumps, Jordon appealed loudly while telling Prasanna, “Piss off, you’re out, mate.”
Eventually, Prasanna walked and the game continued.
When Doug Walters later confided to him that the ball had rebounded off Jordon’s pads and hit the stumps, Chappell remembered South Australian wicket-keeper Barry Jarman dismissed in the same way during a Sheffield Shield match, again with Connolly bowling and Jordon standing up. When he discussed it with Lawry, the captain remarked, “Everyone knows Slug’s (Jordon) a cheat.”
A fuming Chappell gave Jordon an earful during tea, “Listen you c**t, we are playing for Australia and we don’t have to cheat to win ...”
Later that season, during the South African tour, Lawry had a word with Chappell in private. He reasoned that wicketkeeper Brian Taber was not getting runs, and if Jordon replaced him in the Test side, it would perhaps be better for the team. According to Chappelli Speaks Out, the biography of Ian Chappell by Ashley Mallett, the response was immediate, “Bill, you are the captain, and you can pick whatever team you like, but if you are going to pick Jordon in the Australian cricket team, please don’t consider me for selection.”
Taber was retained for the Test, and with a young man named Rodney Marsh knocking at the doors, Jordon never got to play Test cricket.
(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)